Miss Agnes Trout might be a spinster of uncertain age, but her instincts were very good where men were concerned. Not only that but shed spent twenty years working for a divorce attorney so when a shaggy-looking man entered Remington Steele Investigations bright and early Monday morning, the first thing that popped into her efficient mind was troublemaker.
She eyed him with distaste. A man ought to wear a suit not jeans and a sweater when making a business call. And, really, she thought with a sniff, the man ought to get a proper hair-cut. That longish, curly black hair gave him an unsavory look, like Gorgeous George, the wrestler, or something equally undignified. But it was the dimple in his chin that set her firmly against him. It reminded her of Kirk Douglas, an actor she had never liked despite some very good films, Spartacus, for example, but she could never abide his chin.
Can I help you? She asked in a tone that clearly said she hoped not.
He glanced around as though he owned the place. What happened to the battle ax that used to sit here?
If youre referring to Mrs. Krebs, shes been promoted.
Head dragon? He asked, seating himself on the edge of her desk. When she stared at him, green eyes cold and unfriendly, he smiled, Im here to see Laura? She in yet?
Mrs. Steele is not currently here.
Mrs. Steele, huh? Still playing that game, are we? Theyve got you dragons trained well. When Miss Trout refused to respond, he continued, When do you expect her in today?
It is my understanding that she and Mr. Steele are expected in shortly. But I would have to verify that with Mrs. Krebs.
Then why dont you pop in and ask the old battle ax? Ill wait here.
Reluctantly Agnes got up. She was not at all willing to leave the front office unguarded with this this person taking up residence, but she complied. Her secretarial training would not let her do anything less. She walked stiffly across the room and knocked on the far right door.
Mrs. Krebs? Its Miss Trout. May I come in?
Sure. Come on in.
Agnes entered and closed the door firmly behind her. Mildred, theres a man in the office.
Mildred continued typing on her computer. That happens a lot, Miss Trout. Youll get used to it. We have quite a few male clients. I think were expecting a Mr. Landon at 10 oclock.
Its not 10 oclock. Agnes pointed out. And Im quite certain that this man is not Mr. Landon or any other client. Hes has the distinct look of a troublemaker. Ive seen his type many times in Mr. Hutchinsons office. She leaned forward, lowering her voice. Theyre usually the other man.
That got Mildreds attention. Does he look like Tarzan? Dark curly hair, dimple in the chin?
My first thought was Gorgeous George, but, yes, Tarzan would be an equally apt description. Agnes agreed. Youve described him exactly.
Mildred stood up, every bone, every nerve in her body on the defensive. Roselli. I thought wed gotten rid of that creep in Ireland.
Agnes smiled inwardly, glad to see her instincts were still in fine working order. He asked for Mrs. Steele.
He would, the bum.
If you dont mind me asking, Mrs. Krebs, who is he?
Mildred sighed, sinking back into her chair. Mrs. Steele picked him up in a jungle a few months ago, and hes been a first class pain in the neck ever since. Said he was an archeologist but turned out to be an immigration agent mixed up with a bunch of spies. Lord, I cant tell you the trouble we had with him in Ireland. If Id been Mr. Steele, I would have let the Soviets have him. But not Mr. Steele. Oh, no, hes too good natured for his own good. Has a weakness for creeps in trouble because hes been in so much trouble himself. She glanced at Agnes. Never his own fault, mind you. He just seems to attract it. Sort of like Pig Pen. Hes as clean a whistle one minute and by no fault of his own he steps right into a murder or a jewel theft or something equally bizarre. Still you cant help but love the guy. Youll understand when you meet him.
Im sure I will.
Personally I dont know what Mrs. Steele ever saw in that Roselli creep. He doesnt hold a candle to our Mr. Steele. Mildred paused, a philosophical look coming across her face. Theyre like crackers, Miss Trout. Roselli is cheez whiz while Mr. Steele is caviar. Got my drift?
Perfectly. Roselli needs to be eliminated.
Mildred smiled. I knew you were my kind of person the minute you walked into the office, Miss Trout. Youre going to fit in here just fine.
So what should I do with him? Agnes asked.
I wouldnt normally recommend this. Mildred told her. My instincts tell me to keep him as far away from Mrs. Steele as possible, but well never get rid of him until she tells him in no uncertain terms to get lost. She took him out of the jungle, let her put him back in. Maybe when she realizes its not as easy as she thinks, shell be a little more discreet about the strays she brings home. Put him in her office.
At once, Mrs. Krebs.
Its wonderful to be home again. Laura remarked as she joined Remington on the sidewalk in front of their office building. Just smell that air.
Remington tapped the top of the limo, signaling to Fred that he could leave, and then took his wife by the elbow. Mmm, fresh smog. Delicious.
Youre rather cranky this morning. Laura observed as they entered the elevator.
Its comes from sleeping in that postage stamp size bed of yours. I never did understand what you saw in that loft. You get a hernia just opening and shutting the front door.
Its got character.
Its got that all right. Remington agreed dryly. But you do realize that were going to have to make a decision on where to live soon. We cant keep playing musical apartments.
Weve only been back for two days. Laura told him, stepping out the elevator and heading for their office. Weve plenty of time to make a decision.
Remington decided to let the issue drop. Laura obviously had her mind on other things. Getting back to murder and mayhem, no doubt. There was a certain bounce in her step, a certain eagerness about her expression that suggested the bloodhound was anticipating a new trail to follow. Ah, well, he thought, opening the door and letting her pass before him, he shouldnt begrudge her a murder or two. After all, shed just spent two months in Ireland and two weeks in Malta. Plenty of rest and relaxation.
Morning, morning He stopped in the middle of his tradition greeting. There was a dragon sitting in Mildreds chair. Uh, excuse me, I do apologize, but do we know you?
Im Miss Agnes Trout. Agnes replied, her voice very firm and proper. Im your new secretary, Mr. Steele.
So were back to animals again. Remington noted, shoving his hands into his pants pockets. First wolves, now fish. What ever happened to good solid names like Smith or Jones?
Laura ignored him and put out a hand. Welcome to the agency, Miss Trout. Im sure youll make a wonderful addition. Mildreds told you all about us, I assume?
Yes, shes told me what I need to know.
Any appointments for this morning?
Agnes checked her schedule book. Mr. Landon at 10 oclock, Mrs. Feldman at 1 oclock, and a Mr. Crabbe at 3 oclock. Weve had numerous calls, Mrs. Steele, but Mrs. Krebs thought you wouldnt want to be overbooked on your first day back.
Good. It sounds like youve got everything well under control. Laura said, turning toward her office. Well be in our offices if anything comes up.
Remington followed Laura. Who gave Mildred permission to hire a new secretary?
You did, Mr. Steele.
I did no such thing. He retorted. If I had, I would have told her to get someone a little more decorative. When I enter an office, I like to see a
Laura stopped, faced him, brows raised inquiringly. A what, Mr. Steele?
He grinned, straightening a tie that wasnt crooked. An efficient, well organized secretary.
Good answer, Mr. Steele. Youre getting this husband thing down very quickly. She put a hand on the door knob of her office.
Uh, Mrs. Steele, Agnes interrupted, getting up and hurrying around her desk, I think I ought to warn you
But it was too late. Laura had thrown open the door and ran right into the waiting arms of Tony Roselli. He was able to pick her up and swing her around a few times before her shocked brain registered what had just happened.
Put me down! She ordered, pushing with her hands and kicking with her feet.
Will you be requiring any help, Laura? Remington asked from the doorway.
Had she seen what Agnes saw, she might have answered differently, but at the moment, she was too busy trying to extract herself from a pair of beefy arms. Had she ever really found those tree trunks attractive? She had obviously been suffering from jungle fever at the time. My God, the man was part boa constrictor.
No! She snapped. I can handle this.
Splendid. He said as though she had just told him that shed be picking up a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread before coming home. Ill just pop in and see Mildred. Call if you need anything. Miss Trout, he kissed his fingers and sent it winging in her direction, wonderful job, simply wonderful. Let me know if we need to call for the Jaws of Life for Mrs. Steele, wont you?
He disappeared into Mildreds office, closing the door far too quietly behind him, Agnes thought, returning to her desk. In the short time that shed known him, Agnes got the distinct impression that the angrier Mr. Steele was, the quieter hed become. Sort of like a leopard waiting to strike, all lowered lids and twitching tail. She shook her head. Aggie, she told herself, youve been watching too many National Geographic documentaries.
Meanwhile Laura had managed to extract herself with a well placed kick to the shin. She quickly put distance between them, angrily smoothing the wrinkles out of her clothing and pushing back her hair, which had fallen into her eyes. Tony, like the creep Mildred had named him, seated himself in her chair, propped his feet on her desk and smiled at her.
What are you doing here? Laura demanded.
I told you, Laura. He said simply. Im not giving up on you.
Well, youve got it. She told him. Im a married woman.
He leaned back, putting his hands behind his head. Laura, this is me, Tony. I know all about that fishing boat marriage, and we both know its not legal. And I told you in Ireland that as long as youre not married, Ive got a shot.
Thats where youre wrong. Laura stated. Im married. We were legally married in Ireland.
Sure you are. He agreed. Just like you were married in LA. I know how you and Steele operate, masters of deception, both of you. Well, Im not believing it, babe. Youve got to come up with something better than that. Youre a detective. Produce the hard evidence, sweetheart.
Do you want to see the marriage certificate?
She picked up the purse shed dropped upon arrival to her office, opened it, dug around and then muttered, Damn, I must have took it out when I took out our passports.
He grinned at her. Uh-huh. Nice try.
Laura glared at him. I swear to you Im married.
Dont worry your pretty head about it. What does a marriage certificate prove anyway? He asked. Even if you did produce one, how do I know its not forged like the first one?
Ill give you a whole damn dossier. Laura snapped. Witness statements, pictures, notarized documents. Just get out of my office.
If you insist. He got up, made as though to walk past her and then suddenly grabbed her, bringing his mouth down hard on hers.
Laura resisted the urge to struggle. It was better to let him see how little he affected her. Had his kisses ever really thrilled her, she wondered. She supposed there had been some animal attraction, sort of like what shed felt towards Butch Beamis, but she had recovered quickly then as now. If there ever had been a spark between her and Tony, it had been thoroughly doused by spending weeks in Remingtons arms. Really, there wasnt even a comparison. It was like her VW Rabbit compared to the Auburn or Dom Perignon to Ripple or or cheez whiz to caviar.
Finally he pulled back, a self-confident smile on his ruggedly attractive face. That smile was what finally did it. It was like fingernails on a chalkboard, screeching across her feminist soul. It was the smile of a man who felt he had conquered the little lady. She raised a hand and did what woman had been doing for centuries. She whopped the living daylights out of him.
You do that again, Mr. Roselli, and I wont stop there. She threatened. Im capable of getting a lot more physical.
He put a hand to his cheek, studying her for a moment as though trying to discern the meaning of her words. He seemed uncertain, but then he smiled, a slow, wolfish grin. Im counting on it, Mrs. Steele. Ill be seeing you around.
Laura would have slammed the door shut behind him, but she didnt want to alert Remington or Mildred to her aggravation. They must not suspect that she didnt have everything completely under control. She could handle this. She didnt need anyones help. Shed gotten rid of unwanted men before. Tony would be no exception.
But, geesh, the man was persistent. His ego obviously couldnt take no for an answer. Well, it was going to have to. She was married and in love with her husband. How foolish shed been to tell Tony that if theyd met two years ago he might have had a chance. It was simply not true. She would have never left Remington. One couldnt leave the other half of oneself. Shed known that even back then when there hadnt been any declarations of love or commitments or marriage certificates.
She sighed, sinking down in her chair. She wished theyd never left Malta. Not even the thought of a case could console her. What a mess!
What was George of the Jungle doing in my wifes office, Mildred? Remington demanded, letting himself into the office that had once belonged to Murphy Michaels. Now it was occupied by a much better sort of person, an ally, an ace up the sleeve, so to speak.
Making a nuisance of himself? Mildred asked innocently.
Do you know what I saw just now? Remington continued, hands in pockets, rocking back and forth in his heels.
I saw my wife being spun around like a top in the arms of Jungle Jim. And Miss Trout saw it. He paused in his diatribe. By the way, Mildred, where did you get her? She looks as though shed spent all her life in a courtroom.
In a way she has. She worked 20 years in a divorce attorneys office. But she lost her job when the boss skipped off to Rio with a clients ex-wife and two millions dollars, embezzled from said client.
Heart-rending story. Remington commented before continuing with his own woes. When I left Mrs. Steele, he looked as though he was demonstrating how a boa constrictor kills a goat. And she was the goat. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell, 20th Century Fox, 1953.
Then what are you doing in here? Mildred asked. Go throw the bum out.
Thats just it, Mildred. He said with a snort. I cant.
But, boss, you have to. Mildred protested. Youve got to give him the heave-ho.
Remington sighed and rubbed his neck wearily. You know our Miss Holt, Mildred. If I interfere, shell work herself in lather of outraged femininity and accuse me of acting like a jealous husband. Which I am, of course, but I cant let her know that. No, Ive got to let her handle it. Ive got to show her that I trust her.
And do you?
Of course. Laura has always done the right thing. I believe shell try to discourage him. The question is whether or not shell succeed.
Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me.
Which is why Im giving you your first assignment. Remington said in a tone of grave importance. I want you to keep an eye on him, stick to him like gum on the bottom of a shoe, where he goes, you go. But its a secret mission, Mildred. Mrs. Steele must never suspect.
You got it, boss.
Thats the third dress youve put on tonight. Remington commented from the sofa in Lauras living room. Were not going to the Queens Coronation, Laura. Just a family dinner in Suburbia.
But its Frances. Laura called from the bedroom as she checked her hair one last time. Maybe she ought to wear it down. No, up was more formal, more business-like.
Weve dined with Frances several times before.
But we werent married at the time.
I really dont see the difference. Remington said somewhat absently.
He turned another page in the magazine hed been perusing while waiting for his wife. That looked interesting, he thought, bringing the magazine closer for a better look. Large, manicured lawn with nice shrubberies, five bedrooms, three baths, stone exterior. Yes, stone was more durable, statelier in appearance, more like the castle. Hed gotten used to living in a castle, and one could never have enough bedrooms in their line of work. He was tired of sleeping on the sofa while a client or suspect occupied his bed. One Bing Perret instantly came to mind.
Of course, it makes a difference. Laura was insisting. She and mother werent invited to the wedding. I told you thered be trouble if we were married in Ireland rather than LA.
Yes, quite a bit of trouble. Remington agreed, turning another page. Mm, this one had a three car garage and pool. We were plagued with professors, dead bodies and a homicidal priest. You were quite right, Laura. Frances and your mother would have been the lesser of the two evils.
Frances and mother are not evils. They just complicate matters. Laura told him, joining him in the living room. She had chosen a bold dark red dress that flattered the tan shes picked up in Malta. What are you looking at?
Remington glanced at the cover. Its called Real Estate Weekly.
I didnt know you were interested in real estate.
Im not in a general sense. He said, getting to his feet and tossing the magazine on the coffee table. But someone has to find us a proper domicile.
Whats wrong with the loft?
I believe weve been over that before.
We could purchase a king size bed. She glanced around. And with some alterations the kitchen could be turned into something a gourmet could be happy with, and the door, well, maybe it could be mechanized.
Laura, Remington drawled, taking her by the shoulders and dropping a kiss on her forehead, I understand that youre attached to this place, but dont you think its time for us to get a more appropriate home? How many times have we had to lodge clients or suspects, not to mention your sister and brother-in-law? We cant continue giving up our bed to every Tim, Dick and Harry that has a killer on their trail. Weve joined the married world, Laura, and we need something that reflects that. Also how does it look for Remington Steele and his wife, successful, international detectives, to live in a loft? A penthouse, maybe, but Im feeling a little more settled these days.
The Lord of the Manor syndrome, Mr. Steele? Laura asked with a lift of an eyebrow.
Castles tend to do that to a man.
Laura sighed, moving away to pick up her purse. I suppose youre right. But well have to put it off for a few weeks. Weve got a backlog of clients, and even with Mildred, itll be busy. She glanced at her watch, a delicate circlet of gold and diamonds that Remington had bought for her while on Malta. Darn, were going to be late. Come along, Mr. Steele, duty calls.
She still hasnt accepted it yet, Remington mused as they drove to the appointed dinner. In her mind it was back to the life they had before the fishing trawler except now they shared a bed and theyd managed to get the love word out. She was still clinging to her old lifestyle, which made him feel more like a live-in boyfriend than a husband. Eventually theyd have to deal with it, but right now, he decided he wouldnt push her. It was new to her.
He smiled in the darkness, a wry twist of the lips. Funny how he wasnt having nearly as much trouble as she was adjusting to their new life. Perhaps hes been contemplating it longer. He couldnt point to a time when hed thought Im going to marry her, but somewhere along the way, probably very near the beginning, he had made an unspoken commitment. It was always been them, not Remington and Laura, in his mind. Theyd always been one, not two.
Maybe it was because in his inner heart he had always longed for a family while Laura had spent a great deal of time avoiding hers. Youre becoming positively philosophical, old boy, he told himself as he turned the Auburn into the Pipers paved driveway. Next youll be lying on the couch psychoanalyzing yourself.
Donald greeted them with his usual enthusiasm while Frances was more subdued. There was a disapproving air about her that portended a choppy night ahead. The children, like their father, welcomed them warmly.
Laurie Beth instantly demanded, Can we call you Uncle Remy now?
Remington winced inwardly. So he was an uncle now, eh? It was an odd feeling but not an unpleasant one. He supposed he would eventually be a father too. Sooner than expected probably since they hadnt exactly been taking precautions. Strange how the idea didnt frighten him. Was that actually the slightest curl of anticipation deep inside of him? That must be what domesticity did to a chap. It made one more accepting of things like nieces, nephews, sons and daughters.
Perhaps Uncle Remington or just plain Remington would be better. Laura was saying.
Ok. Laurie Beth said happily.
Dinner was a jovial event thanks to Donald, Remington and the children. Frances and Laura spent a great deal of time casting furtive glances at one another, and it wasnt until the children had been sent to their rooms to complete homework that Frances finally came to the point.
Donald had just finished passing around wine glasses when she said, in a somewhat wounded tone, I must say, Laura, mother and I were rather surprised to hear that you had married.
We all knew it had to happen one day. Laura said brightly, taking a large gulp of wine.
We were under the impression that you were married to your career. Frances remarked, watching the contents of her glass as though she expected the wine to jump out and do a tap dance.
Well, in a way I am. Laura answered. I married Remington Steele.
Donald laughed. Clever answer, Laura, very clever.
Frances ignored him. You could have at least invited us to the wedding. I am, after all, your only sister, and mother, well, mother is mother. Its a good thing shes on a cruise to Alaska right now or youd be hearing about her palpitations and how you robbed her of seeing her youngest daughter married. Itd be quite a scene, I can tell you.
It was a rather sudden decision. Laura hedged. There just wasnt time.
U.S. citizens wanting to be married in a foreign country dont get marriage licenses overnight. Theres a waiting period. Even I know that. Frances pointed out. We would have had plenty of time to fly over. Or, she let the word hang in the air like a hand grenade waiting to go off, you could have waited and had the wedding here.
Remington had heard enough. He jumped to his wifes defense. After all, it was his fault.
Im afraid that was my fault, Frances. He said, flashing his most charming smile. I was so eager to make Laura my wife that I persuaded her in the most desperate fashion to elope. She wanted to wait so you and your mother could be present, and I had the most strenuous time convincing her otherwise, but in the end she had mercy on me and married me.
Although Frances was made of fairly stern stuff, after all she prevailed against the pleading of three children every day, she proved susceptible to Remingtons legendary charm. She offered a tentative smile. How romantic. She glanced at Laura. I can understand why you gave in, Laura. Mr. Steele, or perhaps I should say Remington now that hes my brother-in-law, can be rather persuasive, cant he?
Oh, hes a real charmer when he puts his mind to it. Laura said into her wine glass.
There was a silence and then Frances suddenly said, her voice excited, Ive just had the most wonderful idea. Why dont we have another wedding here. Its not uncommon for people to renew their vows, is it, Donald?
I had a client that did it just the other week. Donald agreed amicably. Came in for a crown and got re-married the next day.
Oh, God, Remington thought, not another wedding! Not that he had any objections to marrying Laura again, but a man had his limits.
Laura must have had the same thought for she quickly said, Im afraid well just so busy right now, Frances. Clients do stack up when youve been away for a couple months.
Try not to wait too long, Laura. Frances bit out. Mother isnt getting any younger.
Finally Laura had reached her limit. To tell you the truth, she said bluntly, weve been married a total of four times, and well not too eager to do it again for at least a year or two. So mother will just have to try to hold on for a while longer.
Four times? Frances exclaimed, nearly spilling her wine. And you didnt invite mother or me to any of them?
The first one was a bit irregular. We were on a fishing trawler and I know how mother feels about fish. Laura retorted acidly.
Donald laughed. Thats fabulous! Simply fabulous! Leave it to Remington Steele to get married on a fishing trawler. The rest of us do it the traditional way. But not you. My God, I envy you, Steele.
Remington offered weak smile but remained silent. Laura was on a roll, and he knew better than to interrupt her. He had no desire to incur her wrath. No, hed just wait patiently and pick up the pieces afterwards. Thats how their partnership worked. She ruffled the waves, and he soothed them.
Then in Ireland our second wedding was interrupted by a dead professor who stole jewel as a hobby. Laura continued relentlessly. The third wedding was performed by the priest who murdered the professor.
Fascinating. Donald breathed. And the fourth?
The fourth was the charm. We were married by a real priest with a real marriage certificate and have spent the last two weeks on a real honeymoon in Malta. Im already putting a dossier together for somebody else. Would you like copy as well?
There was another silence. This one longer than the first as Donald and Frances digested their orthodox path down the aisle. Donald had a smile on his face as though contemplating how fun it would have been to do such a thing himself while Frances frowned into her wine. She was obviously wondering what kind of life her sister led, and how she was going to explain this to mother. Laura, having delivered her zingers, drained her glass and reached for the wine bottle on the nearby table.
At this point Remington decided it was time to step into his role as peacemaker.
I tell you what, He said, wrestling the bottle from Laura and putting it back on the table, as a consolation prize, so to speak, why dont we all plan a trip to the castle this summer when the tykes are out of school?
That got Frances attention as well as Lauras who stared at him as though hed gone mad.
Castle? Frances echoed. You didnt mention anything about a castle.
While in England, we found out that Remington had inherited a castle. Thats how we ended up in Ireland. Laura explained.
She reached for the bottle again but Remington was too fast for her.
Have some more wine, Donald. He said cheerfully, passing the bottle well out of Lauras grasp.
A castle. Frances murmured, obviously intrigued by the thought. That does sound rather nice, doesnt it, Donald?
Mother would like that. Frances added as any offenses she might have imagined earlier vanished in a wave of enthusiasm. Shes always wanted to go to Ireland. She claims we have a relative over there, a Grace Keegan or Gleason or something like that. I cant imagine how shed know such a thing, but mother does tend to poke and pry into things. Probably heard it from one of those friends of hers thats into dead ancestors. She glanced at her husband, eyes bright. Well, what do you think, Donald? Could we?
I dont see why not.
Splendid. Remington declared. We were intending to hop over and check on the progress anyway.
Were converting the right wing into a hotel. The left wing will remain a private residence for her Ladyship and me.
Frances eyes widened and she looked at Laura with new respect. Youre a Ladyship, Laura?
Lady Claridge to be exact. Remington provided helpfully.
That does sound grand. Just wait until mother hears. She got up, suddenly all bubbly and smiley. Come into the kitchen, wont you, Laura? I have some cleaning up to do, but I want to hear all about Ireland.
Remington waited until Laura was in the kitchen, held captive to Frances endless questions before he turned to Donald.
I say, Donald, I was wondering if you could help me with a little project.
Donald glanced over at him. Why, sure, Id be glad to. What have you got in mind, Steele? Nothing to do with dead bodies or anything?
No, its not pertaining to work. He said and watched as Donalds face fell. He had obviously been hoping for a little excitement. To tell you the truth, Im looking for a house.
Any particular house?
A house for Laura and me.
Ah, Donald said, leaning back in his chair, youre giving up the bachelor pads. Good idea. Cant raise a family in that loft of hers. Its all right for a romantic getaway but youd have to stuff the kids into dresser drawers. He thought for a moment and then an idea, which he obviously believed to be brilliant, struck him, Ive got just the thing. Theres a beautiful house, simply beautiful, up for sale just a few roads over, in the same subdivision and everything. Wed be practically neighbors.
Without much effort Remington could see Lauras reaction to that. Living that close to her sister would result in murder. He just didnt know if it would be his or Frances. He thought it better not to find out.
Delightful thought, living so close to the family and all, but upon reflection, I think a little distance between the sisters would more peaceful for all involved. You know the old saying about distance making the heart grow fonder, eh?
Donald considered for a moment and then nodded, Yes, I see what you mean. They do seem like Brillo pads rubbing each other the wrong way at times. He returned to contemplation mode and then said, What you need is a real estate agent. Ive got the perfect one for you. Hes a client of mine. Bill Connelly. Ill just ring him up and have him give you a call. You and Laura can meet with him and tell him what you want and hell find it for you. Hes a great guy. Youll love him. Got the best set of teeth Ive seen in ages. Not one cavity.
That sounds just the thing. Remington replied. But Id dont really want to bother Laura with all the details right now. Shes so busy with that back log of clients. I thought Id just look around a bit myself. Get the lay of the land, so to speak.
Donald looked at him. Have you ever bought a house before?
No, but I doubt its too difficult. Im a bit of an expert when it comes to buying things. Just ask Laura.
Donald waved his comment aside. Those real estate people will eat you for lunch. Theyll see that Auburn and those fancy clothes and theyll try to sell you something you dont need at the highest price possible. Theyre all a bunch con artists. I tell you what. Ill go with you.
Remingtons first reaction was to politely decline. He was far from being a babe in the woods when it came to con artists, even those of the real estate ilk. Still, he mused, Donald was a married man, had been for some time, and perhaps he could offer some insights on what would please a wife and children.
You understand that youre not to let on to Frances or Laura.
Want it to be a surprise, huh? Donald said. Sure, no problem. Hey, Im a dentist. Patient confidentiality is part of the business.
Yes, well, its settled then. Remington replied, wondering why the hairs on the back of his neck were standing on end again. Surely house shopping with a brother-in-law couldnt attract any trouble. It was a common, everyday activity that thousands of people engaged in every day.
He drained his wine glass and ignored the hairs.
All in all it wasnt as bad as you thought it would be. Remington noted.
No, Laura admitted, it wasnt.
They were parked on a grassy bluff overlooking the city. Laura sighed, snuggling deeper into her coat as she gazed at the lights below. The dinner had been difficult at times, but she had come to expect such things. It was how life was with Frances. She loved her sister, but she didnt want to spend copious amounts of time with her either. Why did she always feel like a school girl whenever Frances was around? The younger sister that always had to be proving herself? Well, at least she was married now. Thered be no more pointed comments about getting along in age or being married to ones career. She supposed the wheres the grandkid question would simply replace it.
She allowed herself to smile for a moment when she remembered how impressed Frances had been with her title as Lady Claridge. There had actually been some respect in her sisters eyes. And she had Remington to thank for it. Rather ironic that a man who had been fatherless a few months ago, a street urchin and pickpocket as a child and a thief as a man would be the catalyst in which she had finally impressed her sister.
Whats so funny? Remington asked.
She glanced over at him. What do you mean?
You laughed just now.
I was just thinking about Frances reaction to me being a ladyship.
Feels good to have one up on her, eh?
Perhaps. A little. She paused and then said, I have you to thank for it.
Remington shrugged. I didnt do much. I just happened to have a father who stole a watch from an earl who had misplaced his own son and decide to adopt me in his place. Sounds a bit convoluted, doesnt it?
Sounds like a fairy tale.
Remington reached out and pulled Laura to him, wrapping his arms around her. All fairy tales have happy endings, dont they?
She tipped her head back to look up at him. All the ones I read did.
Remington pulled back slightly, studying her with a critical eye. Did you read fairy tales, Laura? You dont seem the Cinderella or Snow White type.
Im not. She admitted. But I did read one or two between the Nancy Drews.
Ah, a closet romantic. I should have known.
They sat in silence for a long while, listening the breeze in the trees, snuggling together in the front seat of the Auburn. Presently, Remingtons fingers began carefully removing hair pins, one at a time, until Lauras hair lay upon her shoulders in dark waves. He combed his fingers through it, enjoying the feel of the strands clinging to his skin.
I like it down rather than up. He murmured, his mouth against her ear.
Most men do. Laura replied, her voice sounding a little breathless even to her ears. Prefer hair down instead of up, I mean.
There hasnt been a car along since we parked. Remington noted, dropping slow kisses along her temple, cheek and jaw line. His hand moved from her knee to thigh, pushing up the skirt of the red dress. Tell me, Laura, do you think the prior occupants of this car made love in the front seat or the back? Its a question thats plagued me for some time.
Logically speaking, I would have to say the back. She bit her lip as his hand moved further up. More more room.
I have a different theory. He said, brushing his lips against hers.
Yes. He agreed, his hands suddenly turning her, pulling her across his lap so that she was straddling him, the red skirt a bright pool around them. I believe they did it in the front seat. Would you care to test my theory, Mrs. Steele? In the interest of science, of course.
I thought youd never ask.
Imagine that. Remingtons voice murmured a few long minutes later.
What? Laura asked absently, her mind of other, more enjoyable things like investigating a particularly sensitive spot behind his ear. She loved it when he got that little catch in his voice. It was always be accomplishment when one could render Remington speechless.
Were kissing and there are no gunshots.
Will miracles never cease?
Where is he? Laura demanded, pacing back and forth in the front office. We have an appointment with the Chocolate King in a half hour!
Mildred shrugged. I dont know, hon. Hes your husband.
Laura sent her a look that would have wilted the average person. Mildred, however, was used to such displays. It was a common occurrence at Remington Steele Investigations. Miss Holt ranting and raving over something the boss did, and the boss conveniently MIA. Looked like married life wasnt going to be much different. But that was just the way they were, Mildred mused. After all the trouble the boss had gotten them into over the years and Miss Holt had still married him four times then this little tantrum would blow over like all the rest.
He left two hours ago for lunch, Laura was saying, and hes still not back. He knows this is an important client. This case could be worth thousands. Mr. Bovary will want to know Remington Steele is looking after his case personally.
Well, he always has taken long lunches. Mildred pointed out.
Laura turned to Agnes who had been typing steadily throughout her exchange with Mildred. The secretary was obviously attempting to ignore the scene in front of her desk. She was after all very discreet. Did he take the limo, Agnes?
I believe so, Mrs. Steele.
Ring up Fred and see where they are.
Agnes did as directed and in a few minutes had an answer. Fred says he dropped Mr. Steele at his apartment at which time Mr. Steele told him hed no longer be needed. That was at 12:15.
He must have taken the Auburn. Laura muttered. Remind me to have a phone put in all of our cars next week.
Ill make a note of it, Mrs. Steele.
Laura resumed pacing. Where is he?
Right here, babe.
Three heads turned. Tony Roselli stood just inside the door, grinning as though he thought his answer particularly clever. Agnes sniffed, Mildred groaned and Laura thought very seriously about getting the agency gun and shooting him on the spot. He was the last person she wanted to see. After two weeks of not hearing a word from him, she had thought that her previous response had gotten the message across that he was not welcome. It appeared that his ego was bigger than she had ever imagined.
I thought I told you to get out of my office, Mr. Roselli.
I didnt really think you actually meant it. He drawled, taking a seat on Agnes desk. Besides, this is an official visit.
What do you mean official? Laura asked icily. Are you here as an immigration agent or a double agent?
He wagged a finger at her. Ah, ah, Laura, I wasnt the double agent. We sent him to the British government, remember?
Im in no mood to play games with you. Laura told him flatly. Tell us why youre here and then get out.
Im here because I want to hire the great Remington
Steele to handle a case.
Another document drop?
No, a little matter of stolen property.
Im afraid my husband and I are much too busy right now. Back log of clients, you know. However, if youre really in need of assistance, Mildred would be more than happy to help you. Wouldnt you, Mildred?
Happy wasnt quite the word to describe Mildreds reaction, but she was willing to sacrifice herself for her kids. My office is in here, Roselli. She said in the voice she reserved for tax dodgers and uncooperative government workers.
Roselli seemed torn. This was obviously not what hed been expecting, but he had been telling the truth, amazing as it might seem. He did need their services. They had helped him with a delicate matter before, Steele had been more than fair considering hed blackmailed him and tried to put the moves on his wife, but the battle ax? It was obvious she didnt like him, would have been more than willing to let the Soviets have him. Still he needed help, and even working with the battle ax would give him the opportunity to see if Laura and Steele really were married as they claimed.
He got up. Well, Krebs, it looks like its me and you.
I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Mildred muttered, herding him into her office and closing the door.
If Mr. Steele comes in, let me know immediately. Laura told Agnes before shutting herself in her own office.
Agnes sighed, shaking her head. Nothing like this ever happened in Mr. Hutchinsons office. As she rolled a piece of paper into the typewriter, she wondered if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
Remington eased the Auburn up in front of a stately looking house with neatly manicured lawn and wide flagstone walk that led to a front entrance flanked by Doric columns and urns overflowing with petunias and ivy. He eyed it with some satisfaction. Those roses clinging to the side were particularly attractive. Just the sort of place a successful businessman ought to reside.
Connelly said he left the key with the neighbor. Donald said as they got out of the car.
Which one? Remington asked.
Donald surveyed their choices, a brick Colonial or a stone ranch with hints of Frank Lloyd Wright in its long horizontal lines and natural setting among a grove of oak trees. If he hadnt known it was a house, thanks to its bright red door, he might have thought it a rock in the middle of a forest. Not being a fan of modern art or architecture, he instinctively leaned toward the traditional.
Lets try the Colonial. He suggested. Theres a car in the driveway.
Remington absently noted the car as they passed. Black Cadillac, new model, slight dent in the left fender, noticeable due to the angle of the sun, license plate number KRM-9847. It came naturally to him these days, observing his surroundings without any conscious effort. He filed it away in his head and followed Donald onto the wide, white-washed porch.
He rang the bell. No answer. He rang again. Still no answer. He glanced at Donald who shrugged. He stepped to one side and gave a quick look into a window. Shadowy forms could be seen, a chair, tables, a fireplace mantel. He was about to turn away and suggest trying the other house when a movement inside caught his eye. There was someone inside, and for some unknown reason, a sudden determination to get them to answer the door ceased him. He rang the bell again.
Theres no one home. Donald said, turning to leave. Lets try the Frank Lloyd Wright.
Wait. Remington told him. Someones coming.
Slowly the door opened, and a woman peered out. Remingtons mind quickly took inventory, noting her age, hair color and the general sense of nervousness that hung about her like a cloud of perfume. Those hairs at the back of his neck came alive. Something strange was going on here.
She didnt smile. She simply asked, Yes?
Donald smiled amicably. Were here to the view the house next door. The real estate agent said that a neighbor would have the key.
I dont know anything about a key. She said briefly.
She made to shut the door, but Remington quickly shoved an expensive shoe between the door and the jamb. Would it be possible for us to use your phone? To call the agent?
She glanced to the side, to the area behind the door, and then back. Uh, no, Im afraid not. Its its out of order. Im sorry. Perhaps if you try the other neighbor.
Remington removed his foot, and she quickly shut the door.
Odd. He murmured as he and Donald left the porch and headed toward the stone house. Im not sure I want neighbors like that.
Oh, dont mind that. Donald told him cheerfully. Every neighborhood has a crack pot or two. We have an old man that poisons cats. Well, he amended, everybody says he does, but Ive never seen it myself. Just because cats dont dig in his flower beds dont mean he poisons them, does it?
Sounds like circumstantial evidence to me. Remington agreed, ringing the door bell of the other house.
Thats what I told Mindy, but no, she swears up and down that old Mr. Parsons is a cat killer. Donald shook his head. Kids get the darnest things in their heads. Reads too many Nancy Drews. Shes going to end up just like her Aunt Laura. Thats what Frances says.
Speaking as Lauras husband, I dont see where that would be such a tragedy.
Oh, me neither. Donald said hastily. Lauras a wonderful sister-in-law, just wonderful, really helped me out with the dental conference thing a few years back. But Frances doesnt have a very high opinion of murder, you know. Sends her into hysterics. She insisted I put a lock on the garbage can after that dead fellow showed up in it. A lock! How many people have locks on their garbage? Its quite an embarrassment, I can tell you.
Remington was saved from any more comments on poisoned cats, hysterical wives and locked garbage by the opening of the door. A woman with a long gray hair ponytail and a flowered smock looked at them inquiringly. She had a large smudge of blue paint across one cheek.
Can I help you? She asked, blinking at them from behind large, red-framed glasses.
Were here to view the house next door. The agent said a neighbor would have the key.
Oh, yes. The woman said with a bright smile. You must be Mr. Steele, the detective. Bill said youd be stopping by. I do hope you like the place. Itd be so inspirational to have a famous detective next door. She paused to take a breath and then said, Im Gloria Wainwright. You might have heard of me?
Remington crossed his arms, placed two fingers against his cheek in an attitude of deep thought and murmured, The name does sound familiar, but at the moment it eludes me. So many cases on my mind, you know.
Im a painter. She told him happily. I painted the mural at the county library, Books in the Balance. Currently, Im working on Midnight Sensations. Perhaps youd like to see it
Id be delighted, Ms. Wainwright, but Im afraid Im on a tight schedule today. He glanced at his watch. We have the Chocolate King coming at 2 oclock, and Mrs. Steele will be quite put out if Im late. So if youd be kind enough to retrieve the key, my friend and I will have a quick nip around the house and be on our way. Cant keep the Chocolate King waiting, can we? Terribly warm today. His bonbons might melt.
Laura found it extremely difficult to keep her mind on what Charles Bovary, the Chocolate King as the media had named him when he had produced his first, mouth-watering bonbon thirty years ago, was saying. She was glad that Mildred had managed to dispatch Tony in a total of twenty minutes, allowing her to sit in on the meeting. Hopefully Mildred was catching whatever information she was missing since her mind stubbornly refused to stop wondering where her husband had disappeared to. She had learned over the years that whenever he was MIA is usually meant trouble.
So you see, Mrs. Steele, Im extremely worried.
Worried about what, Mr. Bovary? Laura asked.
Bovary stared at her, his dark brows pulling down over a prominent nose. Worried about my daughter, Angela, of course. Shes been missing for five days now, and the police are no help whatsoever. They keep telling me she went off on her own accord since I havent received any demands for ransom. So far weve been able to keep it out of the media, but the way these media types dig around in the peoples business I expect itll be all over the newspapers soon.
Another MIA, Laura thought absently, there must be an epidemic.
You said the last time you saw her was last Saturday? Mildred asked, jumping into the conversation. Mrs. Steele was acting very strangely.
Yes, thats right, last Saturday. She attended a dinner party at the home of Etienne Trudeau. Hes a business associate of mine, owns the Le Chat Rouge chain of restaurants. We were chefs together at Henris in Paris before coming to the States. We collaborated briefly but my heart wasnt into the restaurant business. I left and started a bakery, focusing on candies although we did do some cakes and pastries. But it wasnt until I created my Framboise Amour Bonbon that business skyrocketed. Now we have over twenty-five varieties of bonbons and sell them in nearly every country in the world, Europe and US being our biggest market, of course. Last year weve expanded our market into the Soviet Union. That was quite an accomplishment, I can tell you.
Where was he, Laura wondered once again, had he been in a car accident? Should she have Agnes call the hospitals?
What do you think happened to her? Mildred asked.
I dont know. Bovary admitted. But I do know she wouldnt just up and leave as the police suggested. I will be the first to admit that she can be flighty, irresponsible at times, impulsive but I know she would not leave without telling me. We became very close after her mother died. Shes our only daughter. Something must be preventing her from contacting me. She would never do this to her cher papa.
Shes your soul heir?
Except for gifts to a couple nephews and charities, she will inherit everything, my entire chocolate empire.
And you would like us to find her?
Do you have a photo of her?
Mildred was sole questioner now. Laura sat behind Mr. Steeles desk, silent and frowning, her eyes looking at Mr. Bovary but not really seeing him.
Bovary opened his briefcase and took out a photo, which he slid across the desk. Laura glanced at it, noting the dark hair, the delicate features, a mole just above the right corner of her mouth. She looked to be around twenty-five. Very French looking although she must have been born and raised in the United States. Probably attended a French finishing school, Laura thought, shoving the picture over to Mildred who took it and placed it in a manila folder.
Does she have any particular friends? A boyfriend? Laura finally roused herself to ask.
Shes fairly close to a young woman named Francesca Russo. She met her at some dinner or social event about a year ago. I believe Francesca is a designer of something, clothes, I expect. I never could abide the girl. Too many darlings for me. As for boyfriends, He thought for a moment, and then said, I believe shes been dating a fellow named Jared Marshall. Hes a stockbroker with a firm that handles my investments. They met at another one of those seemingly endless dinner parties.
Do you approve of their relationship? Mildred asked, seeing Mrs. Steele drifting again.
Bovary shrugged. I havent really thought about it. Hes just another one of her young men. She goes through so many its hard to form an opinion of them. This one seems solid enough. At least hes not a musician like the last one. Played the cello, I believe, or perhaps it was the tenor saxophone. Im just glad he wasnt one of those punk rockers. Lord, if she ever brought one of those home, I dont know what Id do. Disinherit her, I expect.
Laura rose. I think weve got enough information to start on, Mr. Bovary. Well let you know if we have any other questions or if we discover her whereabouts. They walked Mr. Bovary to the door of the office. I apologize that Mr. Steele couldnt have been here himself to meet you, Mr. Bovary, but he had this unexpected emergency come up.
I understand, Mrs. Steele. Bovary said affably as they entered the outer office where Agnes sat typing diligently. Perhaps the two of you will attend an event well be hosting at the Renaissance Hotel. Were unveiling a new product. Ill have my secretary send around an invitation.
Yes, that would be wonderful. Well look forward to it.
Having seen Bovary out, Laura headed back to her office without a word of instruction to either Agnes or Mildred. The two older woman exchanged glances.
The boss is in for it when he finally shows up. Mildred predicted. Ive never seen Mrs. Steele so so distracted.
Twenty three minutes after Bovarys department, Remington opened the agency door and slipped into the office. He flashed Agnes a nervous smile, unconsciously straightening his tie and cuffs.
Well, Miss Trout, is it safe?
For us, yes. For you, no.
Hurricane warnings posted, eh? He crept toward his office. Halfway there, Mildred appeared at her door.
Boy, youre in for it. She told him, lowering her voice to conspiratorial whisper.
That bad, eh?
Youd better have a good excuse or youll be sleeping at your place for a month. Ive seen her mad, and Ive seen her livid, but Ive never seen her like this.
Remington was about to ask for an explanation when Lauras door suddenly opened. Agnes, she called out, could you call around to the hospitals she stopped as she saw Remington. He smiled. She frowned, turned on her heel and slammed the door behind her.
He glanced at Mildred and Miss Trout neither of who showed any sympathy for his plight and then inched over to Lauras door. He knocked. Laura?
Go away. Im busy.
Laura, he tried again, I do have a perfectly good explanation for missing our meeting with the Chocolate King.
I dont want to hear it.
He glanced at Mildred who made a go in motion.
Bracing himself for something to come flying at his head, he opened the door and peered around the corner. Laura, I am terribly sorry.
You always are. She retorted, not looking up from the papers spread across her desk.
He slipped inside the office, closing the door behind him. I can explain.
She suddenly came alive, jumping to her feet. Papers went flying but she ignored them. Three hours! How can you explain three hours for lunch? What did you do? Fly to San Francisco for egg rolls in Chinatown?
I know it looks bad, Laura, Remington said, but I ran into an old friend of ours, George Mulch. You remember him, dont you? The last time we met him he was trying to franchise the Remington Steele Agency without our knowledge? That was quite an adventure, eh? Remember? I was dead? When Laura just continued to stare at him, he hurried on, Well, he insisted on telling me his latest money making scheme. Something to do with stuffed animals with birth dates. I simply couldnt get away from him, Laura. You know what a talker the man is. Remington paused for breath. And when I did there was a smash up on the freeway and I got stuck in traffic. You know what LA traffic is like on a normal day. I had to sit for hours, well, maybe an hour, in the Auburn with the top down. Im sure I have the devil of a sun burn.
You look perfectly all right to me. Laura commented. No redness at all.
Oh, really, He echoed, hmm, must be my Irish heritage. We tan rather burn.
And which restaurant was it? Where you ran into Mulch?
Uh, Michaels. A thought suddenly struck him. I ran into Donald while I was there. Small world, eh? He was having lunch with an associate of his. Give him a call. Hell tell you.
There was a silence as Laura thought over his story. It sounded reasonable enough. Exactly something hed get himself into. Three hours though! Even Mulch couldnt talk that long, could he? But, she reminded herself, they were married now, and she ought to trust him. She did trust him.
But, darn it, she had worried about him, worried enough to be inattentive to a client, and that was unlike her. She had never lost focus before. That was the kind of thing he did, not her. She was the clear-headed one, the one that never allowed emotion to cloud her thinking or interfere with a case. What was wrong with her? With an amazing show of will, she pushed those crazy thoughts aside and focused on the matter at hand.
You didnt buy into any of Mulchs schemes, did you?
Certainly not. He said somewhat indignantly. The mans a cut rate con man.
You should know.
Laura. Remington protested, obviously hurt by her flip remark.
With that one word, her anger melted, and she sank into her chair, placing her elbows on the desk and her head in her hands. Oh, Mr. Steele, what am I going to do with you?
He recognized an opening and took it. He inched further into the room. When no stapler or desk lamp went flying, he decided to risk physical contact. He swung her chair around, took hold of her shoulders and pulled her upwards into his arms. For a moment she resisted, but then with a sigh, she melted against him, sliding her arms around his neck. Their lips met, and Laura immediately felt a fire consume her. She kissed him passionately, putting all her pent-up emotion of the last three hours into that one caress. Remington, elated by Lauras enthusiasm, wasted no time in deepening the kiss.
He pulled back slightly, long enough to ask breathlessly, Do we have any more appointments for the day?
I dont think so. She gasped back, dropping kisses along his jaw. Agnes would know.
Holding Laura against him, he groped across the desk for the intercom button. Miss Trout?
Yes, Mr. Steele?
Do we have any more clients scheduled for today? He could barely keep his voice professional. Laura was doing outrageous things to his ear.
There was a pause as the secretary checked her schedule book. No more clients for today, Mr. Steele.
Very good, Miss Trout.
He bent and swept Laura into his arms. Seeing as how our schedule is free, Mrs. Steele, I dont see why we ought to stay here any longer. A walk in the park, dinner at Michaels and then a quiet night at home before a fire sounds much more enjoyable.
Without waiting for her reply, he opened the door and carried her into the outer office. Miss Trout looked up, her expression one of comical surprise. Her mouth opened and closed much like the name of the fish she bore.
If anyone calls, take a message. Remington instructed as they swept by.
Miss Trout continued to gaze after them. All she could think of was Dorothys admonition to Toto: Were not in Kansas anymore. The Remington Steele Agency was a far cry from Mr. Hutchinsons!
Dont worry, Agnes. Mildred said, having appeared at her desk. Youll get used to it. Thats what I love about this place. You never know what to expect from those two.
But, Mrs. Krebs, is that really proper behavior for a place of business? What will our neighbors think?
Mildred laughed. Ah, honey, we dont care about them. Besides, bet you ten to one they all wish they had the guts to do it themselves. Now do me a favor and see what you can find on a Dmitri Baranski.
This house seems a little far from the city. Remington noted.
Yeah, but Bill says its got a terrific view of the ocean. Donald said, guiding the station wagon up a steep hill.
Theyd been making a gradual ascent through a series of curves for the last fifteen minutes, the Pacific Ocean on one side, green and brown hills on the other. Finally the house came into view, sitting on the highest hill, overlooking the ocean, its white stone gleaming in the sunlight. Donald turned into the long, paved driveway and pulled up behind a Jag. Obviously the real estate business paid well, Remington thought as they left the station wagon.
The house reminded Remington of the castle. Very large, very rambling, spectacular view of the ocean. But unlike the castle it seemed cold and impersonal to him. Despite Ms. Gloria Wainwright, he preferred the stone house theyd viewed just over a week ago.
The thought of Ms. Wainwright had him checking his watch. Plenty of time. Hed told Laura hed be home at six, and he intended to be on time. Thanks to the Wainwright woman and her inability to locate a key, hed had a devil of a time explaining why hed missed the Chocolate King.
A man with a round face and a smile as spectacular as the view greeted them. Donald, he cried, coming up and giving Donald a hearty slap on the back, glad to see you. I take it this is Steele? He held out a hand, which Remington reluctantly took and was rewarded with a vigorous pumping of his arm.
Beautiful place, isnt it? Connelly asked, turning toward the house. And just look at that view! Come on inside and Ill show you around.
They were guided through living room, dining room, gourmet kitchen, study, master bedroom and various other rooms on the lower floor before being herded upstairs where they were shown six bedrooms and three baths while Bill kept up a continuous flow of words and information. It was with some relief that Remington and Donald re-entered the station wagon to head back to LA.
So what did you think of it? Donald asked as he started the descent.
Grand, very grand. Remington said. But I dont think Laura would like it. Too far away from the office. She got a rather strong attachment to it.
Oh, youd get used to the drive. Donald stepped on the brakes as they approached the first curve. They whipped around it with no noticeable reduction of speed. When the next curve approached and they careened around that one as well, Remington shot Donald a glance.
Were going a little fast, dont you think?
Yep. Were going fast.
Another curve was approaching.
Dont you think you ought to apply the brakes?
Im applying. Donald said, his voice tight, his leg pumping at the brake. Theyre just not responding.
They skidded around the curve, side-swiping the guard rail.
Try the emergency brake. Remington suggested.
Donald hauled on the lever but the car barely responded. A sharp curve was approaching, a guard rail the only thing between them and a steep embankment.
Were going to have to jump. Remington stated grimly.
Jump? Donald cried. Are you crazy, Steele? Well be killed!
Its either that or go over the cliff.
When you put it that way, Ill jump.
They opened the doors and jumped just as the car shot through the guard rail and went tumbling down the rocky embankment.
Remington lay for a moment as pain throbbed through his body then he struggled to his feet, rubbing his shoulder where his jacket sleeve had been torn. He could feel blood tickling down his temple onto his cheek. He scanned the area for Donald. Finally a tuff of dark hair emerged from below what was left of the guard rail. He jogged over. Donald was clinging to whatever he could get a hold of, a bush, rocks, dirt.
Remington reached down and hauled him to solid ground. He wobbled unsteadily but quickly regained his equilibrium. He too had numerous cuts and bruises. Together they stood by the rail and stared at the car below.
Frances is going to kill me when she sees that car. Donald muttered.
The car nearly beat her to it. Remington replied dryly. Come on. Lets walk back to the house. Connellys will still be there, locking up. Well call the police and get a lift back into the city.
I just dont understand it. Donald was saying as they started walking. I just had that car in for its annual checkup a couple days ago.
He had said six, but now it was nine, and there was no sign of him. Laura went and looked out the loft window for about the thousandth time. He had left the office at three saying he had a dental appointment and then an appointment with his tailor. She calculated the time. An hour at the dentist and two hours at the tailor seemed reasonable. That should have put his arrival at six like hed said. But he was three hours late.
She had felt that curl of unease an hour ago but had resolutely pulled out Mildreds notes of the Bovary case, forcing her mind to concentrate, but now she had formed her plan of action for the following day and had nothing to do but pace back and forth between the window and the sofa.
A knock came at the door, and her heart leapt until she remembered that Remington now lived there. He had a key. He wouldnt have knocked. She considered ignoring the intrusion but decided to answer in case it had to do with why her husband was MIA again. She lifted the lever and rolled the door open. Tony Roselli stood in the hallway.
Hiya, babe. He said with a grin.
What are you doing here?
I just stopped by to see the newlyweds in all their wedded bliss. He cast a glance around the loft. Steele in?
At the moment, hes out.
That single word sent white hot anger through her. She had no desire to spend any time with this man, no desire to allow him into her home, but it was time to sit down like adults and get this mess cleared up. And since Remington was conveniently absent, now seemed like as good a time as any. She stepped aside, inviting him in without a word.
He swaggered in, glancing around the loft with interest.
Would you like something to drink? She asked, moving toward the kitchen.
A beer would be fine. He plopped himself down on the couch, spreading out as though he owned it.
Im afraid I dont have any. Would wine be ok?
Nah. Cant stand the stuff.
Laura poured herself a glass and took a seat in one of the armchairs grouped around the couch.
I dont see much evidence that Steeles living here. He cast another glance around. Actually, cant imagine him wanting to live in a place like this. Not posh enough.
Feel free to check the bathroom. Youll find his shaving gear and cologne. In the closet youll find enough suits, shirts and shoes to fill a mens boutique. And if thats not enough for you, pull back the comforter and smell the sheets. His cologne tends to cling to them.
Tony shrugged, unperturbed. That only means youre sleeping together. Doesnt prove youre married.
Obstinate bugger, Laura thought, unconsciously using one of Remingtons terms. She got up, retrieved her briefcase and pulled a file out, which she handed to Tony. Youll find a copy of the marriage certificate, signed affidavits from witnesses as well as pictures and a background check on the priest that performed the wedding. Were married, Tony. Accepting it would make things a whole lot easier on all of us.
So youre married. He said, glancing through the file. That doesnt mean youll stay that way.
Whats that supposed to mean?
Accidents happen, especially in your line of work.
Is that a threat? She demanded.
Just an observation.
Look, Tony, let me be blunt. Laura said, her voice as hard as steel. There is nothing between us. If there was a spark as you called it, it was an animal attraction that died for me as soon as I spent one night in Remingtons arms. They only thing we shared was a desire to use each other to get to Mr. Steele, and if you were honest, youd admit it. I was wrong to tell you that if wed met two years ago, things might have been different. It wouldnt have been. Nothing would have separated me from Remington. Nothing. She said the word slowly and with emphasis in order to let it sink into his thick skull. I love my husband, irrevocably, and I will let nothing come between us. If you have any shred of decency and taking in the fact that we saved your neck in Ireland on numerous occasions, I ask you to accept it.
There was a silence, a hard impenetrable silence as Tony digested Lauras words. She could tell he didnt want to accept it, didnt want to admit defeat. Men like him never did. They couldnt help but think if they tried a little harder, pushed a little more forcefully then theyd get what they wanted. The thing was he didnt want her because of who she was; he wanted her because she belonged to someone else and that proposed a challenge.
I want you, Laura.
Wanting isnt enough. Its lust, plain and simple, and before you deny it, Ill remind you that if it were love, youd let me go because youd want me to be happy.
There was another silence and then Tony stood up. Ill let myself out. But just for the record, Laura, he called out as he was rolling the door shut, Ill be around. Should anything change.
Remington climbed out of the taxi, paid the driver and started wearily toward the stairs to the loft. He felt as though hed been run through a vegetable grater, and by the looks of his clothing, someone might well conclude that he had been. He had considered going to his own apartment to avoid Lauras inevitable questions but had been drawn to her loft by an uncontrollable urge to be with the woman he loved. Sentimental bosh, hed told himself. Nonetheless, here he was, getting ready to enter the hornets nest, and it didnt really matter as long as he could hold her.
He stopped, glancing around. Mildred was sitting in a small silver car across the street, her head hanging out the window. She was gesturing wildly to him. He walked over to her.
Yes, Mildred? He asked, his tone making it clear that he wished her elsewhere.
Boss, I dont think you want to go in there.
She pointed to the jeep sitting a little up the street. That creeps in there.
Going on fifteen minutes.
Turning on his heel, he resumed his trek to the loft. He was in no mood to sulk about downstairs while his wife entertained the Italian Stallion. Besides, they couldnt have gotten far in fifteen minutes. A quickie perhaps but then hed have a motive for killing the man. A sympathetic jury and he might get out in ten years. He entered the building and nearly ran into Roselli going out. They stopped and stared at each other, Tonys gaze hot with anger, Remingtons cold with purpose.
Youd better treat her right or Ill find you and cut your heart out. Tony seethed.
Spoken like an archeologist. Must be the Aztec influence. Remington noted blithely before his voice dropped to a deadly stillness, You touch my wife again, and Ill be the one cutting out a heart. And I wont be so civilized. Ill rip it out with my bare hands, mate.
Without waiting for a reply, Remington continued into the building.
Laura was sitting in a chair, frowning into a glass of wine, when he rolled open the door. She started and then jumped up at his entrance.
What happened to you? She asked, rushing forward.
Car accident. He said as she helped him to the couch. He picked up the wine shed set on the coffee table and drained it. Do we have any more?
She nodded and scurried off to fetch him another glass. He drained that one too and then leaned back against the cushions as wearisome consumed him. It had taken the last bit of his strength to confront Roselli. He closed his eyes but opened them when he felt a cold cloth against his temple. Laura was kneeling beside him, wiping away the dried blood.
How did it happen?
On the Auburn? She asked incredulously. She knew that Remington cared for that car like it was his own child.
Here is comes, Remington thought. He could hear the hornets gathering.
No, Donalds station wagon.
Donald? Laura exclaimed, sitting back on her heels. What in the world were you doing with Donald?
Please, Laura, he said quietly, can we leave the interrogation until tomorrow? Ive a splitting headache, Im tired as hell and I havent eaten anything since noon.
Laura looked instantly contrite. Of course. Im sorry. Its the detective in me. Sometimes I just cant help myself.
He managed a small smile. I know.
Well, come on, she said, helping him to his feet, go take a shower and Ill make you something to eat. Are sandwiches, ok? You know my cooking skills arent the greatest.
Fifteen minutes later, he emerged from the bathroom, dressed in pajama bottoms and robe, his hair still damp. As he ate Laura debated about telling him of Tonys visit. In the end, she decided honesty was the best policy.
Tony was here. Laura said when Remington had finished eating.
I know. He said simply, getting up to put his dishes in the sink. I met him on his way out.
I think hes accepted our marriage.
Without a word, Remington went to the bed, took off his robe and got under the sheets. Then he lay staring up at the ceiling for a minute or two before saying, Did your mother ever grow mint when you were a child, Laura?
Laura looked up from where she was turning on the dishwasher. What an odd question. Perhaps a doctor ought to look at that head wound. Uh, no, my mother wasnt much of a gardener.
There was this old woman on the island of Corfu, Eleni was her name, she ran a little café, made the best Keftedes on the island, and she would say to me, Dont you ever plant mint in a garden unless you mean to keep it because you can dig it up or pull it out by the roots, but you never get rid of it. He paused and then continued, his voice sounding sleepy. Antonys like mint, Laura. Hes going to keep turning up.
Laura walked over to the bed and looked down at him. Then how do we get rid of him?
Remington turned his face into the pillow, closing his eyes. Either his proclivity for spy games will take care of him for us or hes going to have to run into a woman that makes you look like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.
Laura was about to question him further but his even breathing told her that he was asleep. After giving him a light kiss on his cheek, she turned off the light and returned to the living room, picking up the Bovary file. As she opened it, an insidious thought wove its way snake-like through her mind. Was Remingtons accident really an accident?
Francesca Russo looked exactly as Laura had pictured her. Tall and willowy with jet black hair, pouting lips and an attitude of languid indifference to life and the world in general. She greeted Laura with a darling and invited her to have a seat among a wealth of design sketches and fabric samples.
Youre here about poor Angela, arent you? The woman said before Laura had a chance to ask one question.
As a matter of fact, I am. Laura admitted. I wasnt aware that you knew of her disappearance.
Of course, I know about it. Francesca said, leaning back in her chair and crossing legs clad in black nylon. Ive been trying to reach her for ages, simple ages, darling. I finally called that father of hers and demanded to know where she was. He was very rude, told me I was a corrupting influence, but I finally got him to tell me that shes been missing since the Trudeau party. Imagine my shock, my concern. Angela such a dear friend. She paused, lifting a long leg and gazing at the toe of her black stiletto heel as though it were a crystal ball with all the answers. I design clothes for her. Evening dresses. She has a simply divine figure.
When was the last time you saw her?
At the Trudeau party. She was with that stockbroker, Greg or Gary or something like that. I never can remember the names of bores. Ive told her on numerous occasions that hes a bore, but women are such funny creatures, arent they, darling? The more you talk against a fellow, the more they cant do without them.
So you didnt like Jared Marshall?
Oh, is that his name? Francesca said with a little laugh. Its not that I dont like him, darling. Its just that hes such a bore, and Ive got a thing about bores. They ought to be speared and roasted with an apple in their mouths. She cast a languid glance at Laura. Oh, dont mind me, darling. Ive got a bizarre sense of humor. Comes from being artistic. If we artistic types arent off our rockers, people would say theres something wrong with us.
Did you notice any odd behavior from her that evening?
Francesca cocked her head to one side, sparrow-like. She seemed happy enough, as happy as a Chocolate Heiress can be, of course. But she did seem a bit upset after talking with Arkady Sevnik.
Who is Arkady Sevnik? Laura asked. The introduction of a new name always promised new leads.
Oh, dont you know? I thought Bovary would have mentioned him. Well, never mind, She murmured, waving a dismissive hand. He works for her father. Hes the head of the Soviet division of marketing. Rumor is that hes the one that got Bovary Chocolates into the Soviet Union. Knows people high up in the Kremlin. That sort of thing. I was actually surprised to see him at the Trudeaus. Hes not the type to attend social events for the fun of it. A regular Boris Karloff type. Gives me chills just thinking of him. She gave an exaggerated shudder.
Do you have any idea why theyd be talking?
No, not a clue. Although, she said in a conspiratorial tone as she uncrossed her legs and leaned across the desk, looking at Laura with eyes suddenly bright with interest, there are rumors.
What kind of rumors?
Its said that hes absolutely cuckoo for her, but she wont have anything to do with him. Cant say I blame her. I wouldnt want Frankenstein stalking me either. Id be getting out the stake and rope of garlic if it were me. She paused, tilting her head like a sparrow again, her full lips pursed in a little frown, Or was that for Dracula?
Hes stalking her?
No, Francesca said, drawling out the o, not in the strictness sense of the word. He just hangs about like one of those buzzards, waiting for his opportunity, so to speak.
Laura stood up. Youve been very helpful, Miss Russo. She extracted a business card and handed to her. Should you hear of more rumors, please dont hesitate to contact me.
Francesca held the card in her hand, her long, red fingernails looking like splotches of blood against its white paper. Remington Steele Investigations. So youre that Laura Steele, formerly Holt, I believe. Her eyes looked Laura up and down, a calculating gleam in their dark depths. You know, Ive got a dress that would look fantastic on you, darling.
Im sure your dresses look fantastic on whoever wears them. Laura assured her.
Come along, darling. Francesca murmured, grasping Lauras arm and pulling her toward an alcove with a curtain across it. Id like you to try it on. Itll look divine, I promise you.
Oh, no, I couldnt. Laura protested as she was shoved behind the curtain. I really have to go. I have an appointment to see Mr. Marshall.
I wont take a moment.
Before Laura knew it she was standing in front of a full length mirror swathed in a gorgeous emerald green evening dress. She gazed at herself, admiring the sleek lines and elegant simplicity of the gown. Francesca stood behind her, nodding her dark head, her expression enraptured.
Cest magnifique. She declared. You must take it. It needs a little altering, but Ill have it over to your office this afternoon.
Oh, really, I couldnt, the price
Francesca waved her hands. Ill discount it for you. Business will skyrocket if Laura Steele is seen in one of my creations. Would you consider allowing me to name a line of clothing after you?
Laura smiled. Remington would be green with envy if she had a line of fashion named after her and he did not. It was almost worth contemplating.
Im sorry Im late, Mr. Marshall. Laura apologized as Jared Marshall welcomed her into his office. My first appointment delayed me considerably.
If I can help you locate Angela, Im more than willing to rearrange my time to accommodate you.
Laura studied the man across from her. He looked thirty-one or thirty-two yet from the size of his office and the quality of his mahogany furniture, he must be a prized member of the Harrington Investment team. He had the clean cut look of a corporate executive, which no doubt instilled confidence in those executives who investment money with him.
I understand you were the last to see Angela. She began.
Yes, he agreed, nodding his blonde head, I dropped her off at her apartment a little after 1 oclock. These dinners tend to run late.
Did you see her to her door?
Normally I would. We often shared a nightcap, but that night, she said she had a headache and wanted to go straight to bed. So I sat in the car and watched until she entered her building. Then I drove off.
Other than saying she had a headache, was she acting strangely in any way?
Once again he shook his head. No. She was a little upset after speaking with Sevnik, but the man rubs everyone the wrong way. Very grim sort. I dont know whether its because hes Russian or because he looks like Boris Karloff but everybody keeps their distance. Bovary loves him though. Credits him for getting them into the Soviet Union.
But his daughter doesnt like Sevnik.
I wouldnt say she doesnt like him. He just makes her nervous. Once you see him, youll know why.
Laura decided to shift gears. Shes heard enough about Sevnik from Francesca. And your relationship with Angela? Was it serious?
Jared laughed. Hardly. I wasnt her type. Her words, not mine.
Would you have like it to be serious?
The laughing ceased and he looked at her with steady blue eyes behind designer frames. If youre asking whether or not I was in love with her, then no, Mrs. Steele, I was not. I enjoyed her company, but that was it. A man in my profession doesnt lose his heart to a society girl. The woman I fall in love with will be able to advance my career, not simply decorate my sleeve.
Laura didnt like his value system but she admired his honesty. Do you know of any reason why someone would want to kidnap Miss Bovary or harm her in any way.
There was a silence as Marshall weighed her question in his head then he said quietly as though he was afraid of being overheard. I can think of at least one. In a couple days, Bovary will be unveiling new product. Theres a lot of speculation going on as to what it is. Theyve been very hush-hush about it, only saying itll revolutionize the candy market, a new formula perhaps. All I know is their stock is skyrocketing and their competitors is floundering. I would think that Hart & Hart Candy would be very interested in getting their hands on this new product. Perhaps enough to kidnap a Chocolate Heiress and offer her in exchange for it. He paused as though wondering if he ought to continue and then said, Dont regard this as an accusation, Mrs. Steele, but its my understanding that Sevnik worked for Hart & Hart prior to working for Bovary.
Lauras head was swimming with questions and theories as she left Harrington Investments. Obviously their next step was to check out Arkady Sevnik, affectionately known as Boris Karloff to his fan club and the Hart & Hart Candy Company. She wondered if Remington had made it into the office yet. No doubt Boris would be right up his aisle. She reached for the phone shed had installed in her car and nearly swerved into oncoming traffic when it rang beneath her hand.
Thank God I got you. It was Mildreds voice on the phone line.
What is it, Mildred?
There was a pause, too long of a pause Laura thought, her stomach starting to churn alarmingly. Im not sure how to tell you this, honey, but the boss has been taken to the hospital.
Why? What happened?
All I know is that some jogger found him slumped over the wheel of the Auburn not far from the loft. Hes been shot.
Laura felt as though someone had just shot her in the heart. She gripped the phone tightly, swallowed hard and asked, Hes hes not
No, Mildred hurriedly assured her. Hes alive, very much so. But hes in surgery right now.
Im on my way to the hospital.
Right. Ill meet you there.
Paying no attention to oncoming traffic or laws regarding illegal U-turns, Laura whipped the Rabbit around and headed full throttle for the hospital. Mildred was already there, waiting for her, when she came bursting like a tidal wave through the swinging glass doors.
Where is he? She demanded.
I told you, honey, hes in surgery. Laura started for the nurses station, but Mildred grabbed her arm and tugged her down the hallway. Were supposed to wait in here until the doctor comes. The nurses dont know anything. Ive already tried. Weve got to wait for the doctor.
For Laura it seemed like hours before a doctor in green scrubs entered the room. Everything in her said to go to the nurses station and demand something, anything, but under Mildreds watchful eye, shed managed to control her impulses. However, shed been forced to work off her pent-up frustration and worry by pacing back and forth, back and forth like a caged lioness.
Mrs. Steele? He asked.
Laura was immediately at his side. Yes?
Im Dr. Langdon. Your husband has just left surgery and has been taken to recovery. Hell be there for a couple hours until the anesthesia wears off a bit.
What exactly happened, Doctor?
He had a bullet in his right shoulder. Nothing too serious, but hes lost some blood, which has made him weak, and hell be in a sling for a while. He was darn lucky though. A few more inches to the left and it could have been a lot more serious. As it is I suspect hell be able to go home tomorrow or the next day.
Do the police have any idea how it happened?
Dr. Langdon shrugged. They dont tell me anything, Mrs. Steele. But Im sure youll be hearing from them soon.
With a nod and a smile, he was gone, but Laura barely noticed. Her mind was going back to yesterday, to the car accident, to Tonys veiled threat, and anger surged within her as everything seemed to click into place. At that moment, she literally saw red. How dare he, she raged, clenching her hands into fists. How dare he harm man she loved! She turned on her heel and marched out of the waiting room, Mildred running to keep up.
Mrs. Steele! Mildred cried. Where are you going?
Laura slid into the Rabbit, slamming the door. To tear out the heart of a creep.
Im going with you. Mildred said, sliding into the passengers seat just as Laura floored the accelerator.
Call Agnes and find out where that lousy slime ball lives. Laura ordered, hands gripping the steering wheel, eyes straight ahead as she weaved in and out of traffic.
No need. I have the address.
As soon as the Rabbit came to a screeching halt in front of Rosellis apartment, Laura was out of the car and charging up the steps. She hammered on his door, using both hands and feet.
I know youre in there, Roselli! Open up!
Honey, Mildred said mildly, seeing curtains twitch as people began noticing the crazy woman beating on their neighbors door, perhaps youre jumping to conclusions. Im the first one to admit hes a creep, but do you really think hed resort to to murder?
I wouldnt put anything past him. Laura spat out, continuing to hammer. Besides, he as good as threatened Remingtons life last night.
She had just pulled her pick set from her purse, intending to enter by illegal means if necessary when the door opened. Tony stood on the threshold staring at her. Laura! He exclaimed. What are you doing here?
Where do you expect me to be when youve tried to murder my husband? She demanded.
Tony stuck his head out the door and glanced from side to side. Old Mrs. Cranstons curtain was twitching and Miss Yardley was openly staring from her kitchen window. He reached out his hands and pulled both Laura and Mildred inside, shutting the door firmly behind them.
What are you trying to do? Make my neighbors think Im an ax murderer or something.
They ought to know what kind of man theyre living beside. A man with no scruples, a man with no decency, a man that will stoop to murder to get his way, to satisfy his ego. Laura looked him up and down, a look of complete disdain on her face. You disgust me.
I dont know what youre talking about. I didnt try to kill Steele.
Then why was he almost killed in a car accident yesterday and today hes been shot? You made a threat last night, Roselli. I heard you loud and clear. You said accidents happen, especially in your line of work. If that isnt a threat, I dont know what is.
Tony started to look desperate. I swear to you, Laura, I didnt lay a hand on Steele.
Tell that to the jury. Laura retorted. Ill find the evidence, and when I do Ill make sure you get locked away for a good long while, maybe life. Nobody tries to kill my husband and gets away with it, you creep.
I didnt do it! Tony insisted. I dont know anything about an accident, and I certainly dont know anything about a shooting. This is all Greek to me.
Hes telling the truth. Mildred suddenly interjected as Laura opened her mouth to deliver another accusation.
I said hes telling the truth. Believe me, hun, Id love to see the bum behind bars, I really would, but Ive been following him for days now and he hasnt been anywhere near Mr. Steele, except yesterday when they had a brief exchange outside your loft.
Laura stared at Mildred, flabbergasted. If hes not trying to kill him, then who is?
Ill clobber him. Laura declared as she and Mildred retraced their drive back to the hospital. I knew he was up to something. I knew it. Ran into Mulch, my foot. He did it to me again. He looked at me with those baby blues and smiled that oh so contrite smile and I fell for it, hook, line and sinker. That...that con artist!
Now, hon, dont jump to conclusions. Mildred interjected. Theres probably a perfectly good explanation.
Laura ignored her. And last night! I knew something strange was going on. What was he doing in Donalds station wagon? I should have rolled him out of bed this morning and demanded an answer, but no, oh no, I was the good little wife. I let him sleep because I felt sorry for that dirty, rotten scoundrel. When I get my hands on him
Her diatribe was interrupted by the phone ringing. Mildred answered it. She listened silently and then hung up.
Well? Laura demanded.
That was Agnes.
She says your sister called. Agnes says that she couldnt understand much of it because Frances was hysterical, but from what she can gather Donalds been rushed to the hospital. He was found shot outside his office. It sounds like he wasnt as lucky as the boss. His condition is much more serious.
Laura was swarmed by Frances the minute she walked through the hospital doors. Without a word, Mildred went to check on Donalds condition as Laura attempted to calm her sister. She led her over to a plastic bench and forced her to sit down.
Frances, calm down. Just calm down.
Laura, Frances wept, hes going to die. I just know it. He looked so pale when they brought him in, and there was so many wires and tubes and thingamajigs. What will I do? What will I tell the children? Oh, my God, I was so angry with him when he told me hed totaled the wagon last night. I wouldnt speak to him this morning, and now I might never be able to speak to him again.
Frances dissolved into a fresh bout of tears. Laura tried her best to comfort her, but when someone refuses to be comforted, what could one do? So she put her arm around her and just let her cry. She suddenly felt guilty for being so angry with Remington a few moments ago. After all, this could have so easily been her instead of Frances.
Who did this, Laura? Frances suddenly asked, her tears having subsided slightly. Why would someone want to kill him? And it has to be someone doing this. You dont have a car accident one day and get shot the next.
Laura sighed. I dont know, Frannie, but I promise you Ill find out. As soon as Remington comes out of the anesthesia and can string two words together in an intelligible manner, Ill get some answers.
Remington? Frances echoed. Whats Remington got to do with this?
Donald didnt mention who he was with yesterday when he totaled the car?
From what I can gather Remington and Donald were together yesterday when the car accident occurred. And now both of them have been shot. I wouldnt call that a coincidence. Obviously theyve stumbled onto something that someone thinks is worth killing them for. She got up. Im going to go check on Remington now. Mildred will sit with you until I return, ok?
Frances nodded, and Laura made her way to the room where Remington had been taken. He looked pale and his upper right body was swathed in bandages, but his eyes fluttered open as Laura approached his bed.
Sugarpuss. He murmured, his voice barely audible. Youre definitely a Sugarpuss. Theres a general sweetness about your face. Ball of Fire he faltered as his mind refused to cooperate.
Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Samuel Goldwyn Company, 1941. Laura finished for him.
Sorry I didnt make it into the office. Didnt miss any Chocolate Kings, did I?
No, but Ive got a Boris Karloff for you when you get out of here.
Splendid. Cant wait.
She leaned over and pressed a kiss to his forehead. His eyes were closing again. Go to sleep, Professor. Youll need your strength for tomorrow. Thats when the twenty questions start.
Laura! Remington exclaimed cheerfully as Laura and Mildred entered his hospital room the next morning. Dressed in pajama bottoms with a robe slung around his shoulders, he looked quite comfortable and well cared for if the pillows propping him up were any indication. Probably provided by some accommodating nurse, Laura thought sourly.
Come to get me out of this place? He asked eagerly.
Not quite yet. She answered, tossing her purse on a nearby chair. There are a few details that have to be attended to first.
Details? He echoed, glancing from Laura to Mildred.
Laura turned to face him, crossing her arms akimbo. Ok, Mr. Steele, spill it.
Spill it? He asked. Spill what?
Dont give me that innocent, little boy blue look. She said flatly. You and Donald have been up to something, and I intend to find out what it is before you leave this hospital room.
Now, Laura, Remington said with a cajoling grin. Theres no need to act like Ive been plotting a jewel heist behind your back. Ive given that up, remember? Besides, Donald would never agree to it. Your brother-in-law is too noble, too honest for such things.
Im sure its perfectly innocent. Laura assured him, giving Mildred a quick glance, but whatever youve been up to has convinced someone that you and Donald need to be eliminated.
Eliminated? Remington echoed once again.
Let me put it to you this way, Mr. Steele, Laura said bluntly, two days ago the car you and Donald were riding in decides to plunge over a cliff and then yesterday both you and he were shot within an hour of each other. Now you may be used to broken legs, concussions and gunshot wounds, but Mildred and I have just spent the entire night calming Frances down.
Donald was shot?
Laura sighed. Youre beginning to sound like a parrot, Mr. Steele. Yes, Donald was shot. He was shot in the chest to be exact and the bullet barely missed his heart. He was in surgery for several hours yesterday and this morning remains in ICU. His condition is still listed as critical, which sent Frances into fresh hysterics, but the doctors say hes stabilized and should be moved out of ICU in a couple days. Now, I put the question to you again, why is someone trying to kill you?
Remington gazed at her, his expression completely blank. I have no idea.
Remington Laura said warningly.
I swear I dont know. He repeated.
Ok. Laura said, beginning to pace up and down the side of the bed. Then tell me what youve been doing for the past few weeks.
Weve been viewing houses.
Viewing houses! Laura exclaimed. I think thats the craziest excuse youve given me yet.
Its true! Remington insisted. I wanted to look for a house and Donald happened to have a client thats a real estate agent. I intended to undertake this mission on my own, but Donald insisted on going along. He seemed to think Id be fleeced by the real estate agent.
Thats rich. Laura said with a snort. The king of con artists being fleeced by a small time real estate agent. Thats like sending the Cookie Monster up against Godzilla.
I might remind you, Laura, that your brother-in-law is unfamiliar with my particular set of skills. Remington retorted, his voice somewhat testy. And if you hadnt insisted on clinging to that loft, which by the way represents your inability to give up your single lifestyle, like a miser to his money purse, none of this would have happened.
Youre blaming me for this? Laura demanded, instantly enraged.
If the shoe fits.
Mildred hastily jumped in. Look, kids, the blame game wont get us anywhere. We need to find out whos trying to kill the boss and Mr. Piper. After that, you can argue until the cows come home. She pulled out a notepad and pen. So how about giving me a list of the properties youve viewed?
Ten minutes later and twenty properties later, Mildred was still writing. Youve been busy, boss.
You dont select a house like you would a tomato, Mildred. He retorted. If youre making a marinara sauce any tomato will do, you can compensate with more wine or spices, but if youre making a life, it has to be just right.
Guilt started gnawing at Laura and as a result her response sounded irritable and snappish, Itll take us forever to find the connection between these properties and the attempted murder. Cant you tell us anything else?
Remington shook his head. They were just routine viewings. We went in, looked around and left.
Well, Laura said, picking up her purse, wed better get back to the office and get busy running information on these houses.
Wait a minute! Remington called out as she started for the door. You said after I provided the details, Id get out of here.
She turned back, smiling sweetly. Did I say that? Well, I must have been lying because the doctor said he wants to keep you for another day. She tossed the TV remote at him. I hear theres a marathon of Bogart movies of channel 10. Enjoy, Mr. Steele.
He glanced at Mildred. Surely he could count on Mildred.
Sorry, boss, doctors orders. She reached into the large bag she was carrying and pulled out a pile of magazines and newspapers. But I brought you some reading material.
Remingtons eyes fell to the pile of papers in his lap. He stared for a moment and then said, I know her.
Who? Mildred asked.
This woman on the front page. He picked up the paper in question. Ive seen her somewhere. His dark brows pulled together. Very recently.
Laura stopped her forward motion and backed up, joining Mildred beside the bed. She glanced over Mildreds shoulder at the newspaper Remington had handed her.
Thats Angela Bovary, the Chocolate Heiress. Shes been missing for several weeks. And youve seen her? When?
Remington thought for a moment. He was still feeling the affects of yesterdays anesthesia and todays painkillers, but the word midnight sensations kept running through his mind. Rather like a song that you hate but cant get out of your mind. Red-rimmed glasses, blue paint, trouble finding a key. His head came up and he snapped his fingers. Of course! It was the first house we visited. Actually I liked it best of all of them, but next door there were two houses, the Colonial and the Frank Lloyd Wright. Connelly had left the key with a neighbor but hadnt told Donald which one so we tried the Colonial first. Donald doesnt like modern architecture apparently, and neither did I when I saw who owned it. Dreadful woman.
Try not to digress, Mr. Steele.
We went over to the Colonial and I rang several times. Finally the door was opened. By this woman.
What was the address?
He put a hand to his forehead. Uh uh had something to do with Henry Higgins or was it Eliza Doolittle?
Sure the boss wasnt conk on the head rather than shot. Mildred said in an aside to Laura.
Tottenham Court Road. Remington suddenly burst out, his expression one of great discovery. Thats where Eliza Doolittle sold flowers in Pygmalion, and I remember thinking to myself what a delight it would be to live on a road that was straight out of a movie.
Do you remember anything else about the house?
There was a black Cadillac in the driveway, license plate KRM something, slight dent in the left fender.
Laura turned to Mildred. Get Agnes to find out who owns the house, and see if you can find out anything about the plate.
Im on it. Mildred said, hurrying out of the hospital room.
Laura lingered beside the bed. That was good detective work, Mr. Steele. Your powers of observation have improved considerably. Her eyes dropped to her hands that were plunking absently at the blanket covering the bed. I suppose that a lot of this could have been avoided if I had acted a little more enthusiastic about finding a home for us.
A hand reached out and grasped hers. She looked up. Remington was smiling at her, the lop-sided smile he reserved for their more tender moments.
And I shouldnt have gone out looking on my own. Youve told me often enough over the years that were a team.
When we get this case solved, I promise that well seriously go looking for a house, ok? The loft is no place to raise a family.
Laura, youre not trying to tell me in a round about way that youre
She smiled. No, not yet. She leaned forward and gave him a lingering kiss. Now get some rest. Ill be around to get you tomorrow morning.
Laura pulled the Rabbit up in front of the stone house with the flagstone walk and Doric columns.
Its rather pretty, isnt it? She commented.
Looks great to me. Mildred said. Those roses growing along the side add a lot of country charm. Reminds me of the ivy at Ashford Castle.
A nice big yard. She glanced at the Frank Lloyd Wright next door. Im not too crazy about that though.
Every neighborhood has a crack pot. Mildred observed as they got out and started toward the brick Colonial.
Today there was no car in the driveway. They rang the bell. Once, twice, three times and then Laura pulled out her pick set. She started to insert the pick into the lock and then stopped as a thought struck her. She stepped aside and motioned to Mildred. Youre an investigator now. You do the honors.
Mildred eagerly took the set. She wasnt as skilled as Remington, but who of them were, Laura thought, as she watched Mildred work. Still she did a good job, having the lock open within a couple minutes. They slipped inside, closing the door quietly behind them.
Agnes said this house is owned by a corporation?
Yep. The KRM Corporation. Mildred confirmed. I havent been able to find much information on them yet. They seem to be involved in finance or investments. Very shadowy. I suspect theyre either part of the mob or the government. Nobody else covers their tracks so well.
Do you mean the US government?
Mildred shrugged. Any government.
Why would a government entity want a house in a residential area? Laura wondered out loud.
Whatever they wanted it for, it doesnt look like theyve used it for a while. Mildred noted as she ran a finger along a table. It came back thick with dust.
But someone has been here. Laura said, crouching down and looking at the floor. It was hardwood and sunlight streaming through a window clearly showed footprints. Looks like two sets of larger prints, and one set of a smaller one, most likely a female.
They found the kitchen in the back part of the house.
Laura opened the refrigerator. A jar of caviar and a six pack of imported beer minus three bottles sat on the middle shelf. She picked up the jar and one of the bottles, checking bottling and expiration dates. Purchased recently.
I wonder if theyve been here since Mr. Steele and Mr. Piper stopped by. Mildred said, picking up a trash can lid and then replacing it as it proved empty.
Its hard to tell. Laura replied. The only way to find out is to question the crack pot next door, I guess.
They let themselves out and headed for the Frank Lloyd Wright. The door was answered on the second ring. Gloria Wainwright looked out inquiringly.
Good morning. Laura said pleasantly. My name is Laura Steele.
Mrs. Steele! Gloria breathed. How wonderful for you to stop by. Im Gloria Wainwright. Perhaps your husband mentioned me? I had so hoped that Mr. Steele would give you a good report of the Henderson house. I would so like to have famous detectives for neighbors. Please, come in. She reached out and pulled Laura inside. Mildred just managed to jump inside before the door was closed.
I suppose youd like the key too? Gloria asked, producing a key from the pocket of her smock. I keep it on me these days. It was such an embarrassment to keep Mr. Steele waiting while I looked for it. But he was so understanding. So polite. Now hes what I call a real gentleman.
Yes, thats our Mr. Steele. Laura agreed.
So different from that Mr. Henderson.
You mean the previous owner?
She nodded vigorously. So rude. He never wanted to come see my paintings. He was into sewage, but of course, he called it water treatment. HA. You can call a pig Sus domestica but its still a pig.
And what about the people in the brick Colonial? Laura asked.
A disapproving frown replaced Glorias sunny smile. Them. She rolled her eyes. Ive lived here for ten years and I cant begin to tell you anything about those people. Most of the time the house is empty and then there will be a rash of comings and goings, all a bunch of big black cars. Its bizarre, simply bizarre so I made my mind up a long time ago to ignore them. Nothing good can come from people like that.
It was probably just as well that this woman did ignore the goings on next door, Laura thought. Otherwise, she might have met the same fate as Remington and Donald.
Did you happen to notice any activity over there recently?
Gloria thought for a moment. There was someone there for a few days a few weeks ago. I could see a light on in the back of the house. Of course, I wouldnt have been able to see it, but theres a hiking trail along the back edge of the properties and I take walks now and then. Helps with the circulation.
How about recently? Like in the last few days?
No, its been shut up as tight as a drum. She paused as though a thought had suddenly struck her, To tell you the truth, they all left the evening after your husband had stopped by to view the Henderson place.
Two men and a woman. I couldnt see much of the mens faces. They kept them down, tucked into their coats, and they wore hats, fedoras like the gangsters in the movies. The one guy only showed up once, drove a blue car, and came on the day they all took off. Shortly after he left, the other man and the woman got into the big black car and took off. Havent seen them since.
Were you able to see the woman?
No, she was bundled up in scarves and a fur coat.
Youre information has been very helpful, Ms. Wainwright. Laura said.
Another thought suddenly struck Gloria. Her eyes began bright and she asked eagerly, almost hopefully. Hey, are you working on a case?
Uh, yes, as a matter of a fact, we are.
Wonderful! She exclaimed. I feel the muses working already. I see a canvas in black and silver with the name Steele Intrigue. Oh, I do hope you buy the house next door. Itll be so inspirational.
Well, well consider it, Ms. Wainwright. Laura assured her, backing toward the door. But right now we must be going. Got a case to crack, you know.
She and Mildred hurried down the walkway while Gloria called out But what about the key?!
That aint a crackpot. Mildred muttered as Laura eased the Rabbit into traffic. Thats a certified loony bin.
Laura was in her office, papers and files strewn across her desk, when she heard a footstep. Hadnt she locked the doors when shed come in two hours ago? She would have gone for the agency gun but as usual she didnt know where it was. So she waited, her body tense and ready for action.
Laura? Frances voice called out. Are you in here?
Laura quickly got up and went to the door. Frances, what are you doing here? I thought youd be at the hospital or with the kids. Its late.
I was on my way home from the hospital and decided to stop by. I knew you were here because I could see the light from below. Shouldnt you be home?
Laura gave a rueful smile. Not much reason to when Remingtons in the hospital. She paused and then said quietly, The loft never seemed lonely until now.
I know. Frances said, sitting down on one of the couches. Thats how I feel when Donalds not there. Oh, sure, theres the kids and the noise they create, but eventually they go to bed and then its just me and the house. At least you get Remington back tomorrow.
Laura came over and sat down beside her. How is Donald?
Hes still in ICU, but the doctors say theyll move him to his own room tomorrow if he continues to improve. She smiled and then her eyes dropped to her lap where her fingers were nervously playing with the latch of her purse. He opened his eyes today, and I think he smiled at me although its hard to tell around all those tubes and things.
And the kids? How are they taking it?
They were frightened at first, but now that hes improving, theyre getting back to normal. Funny how children bounce back so quickly. You tell them dads doing well, and theyre happy. I told them Id bring them to visit once hes in his own room. There was a pause in which she continued playing with the latch and then her head lifted and she asked bluntly, Laura, have you had any luck finding the people that did this?
Some. Laura admitted. But we havent fit all the pieces together yet. We know they saw Angela Bovary, the Chocolate Heiress thats been missing for several weeks now. She was at a house next door to the one they were viewing.
Donald was helping Remington look for a house for us.
Because I wouldnt. At Frances puzzled look, she said, somewhat defensively, Its a long story, and I havent got time to tell it. Lets just say that Remington was acting married and I wasnt. He wanted to move forward, and I wanted to keep things the way theyd always been with a few alterations, of course. When Frances just stared at her, she added helpfully, Such as sharing a bed.
Laura wondered if Frances was ever going to say anything, and she deliberately kept her face averted so her sister couldnt see her embarrassment. The woman could talk a mile a minute when you wanted her to be quiet, but when you desperately want an affirmative word from her, she was as silent as a clam.
You know, Laura, Frances finally said, contrary to popular belief, married life doesnt come naturally to everyone. When youre used to thinking of yourself as one, its difficult to start thinking of yourself as two. But it will come. She gave Lauras hand an encouraging squeeze. And from what Ive seen from Remington, I think hes more than willing to help you with the adjustment. He loves you. I saw that the first time I met him. I used to tell Donald, what the heck are they waiting for? Its as obvious as the nose on their faces that theyre in love with each other. Now tell me about this Chocolate Heiress and what she has to do with our husbands.
Laura smiled, silently transmitting to her sister her thanks. Well, this Chocolate Heiress has been missing for some time, and oddly enough, her father has hired me to find her. Im to attend an event hosted by Bovary Chocolates in a couple days. Im hoping to use the opportunity to dig a little deeper. I think this secret product their unveiling is part of it.
I want to go with you.
Go with me? Laura echoed. Why?
I want to help find the people that did this to Donald.
Frances, Laura said, this could get dangerous. Theyve already tried to kill Remington and Donald. They wont spare us just because were women.
I know, but I still want to help. Laura, she said, her expression deadly serious, they tried to kill Donald. Shouldnt I be allowed to help find my husbands would-be murderers? Or are you the only one allowed to risk her life for her husband?
Laura stared at her. It was dangerous. She knew it was dangerous, but how could she deny her sister this request? She knew how shed feel if she was told to stay home while someone else tracked down the person or persons that had harmed Remington. It would be unbearable. Activity, any activity, was better than sitting still.
Ok. Laura said, getting up. You can attend the event with me.
Frances beamed. Great. Now what do I do?
Go out and buy yourself an evening gown. Ill pick you up at 8 oclock.
You really ought to have stayed home. Laura told Remington as they entered the Renaissance Hotel. Youre in no condition to be wining and dining clients.
Nonsense, Laura. Remington said, surveying the crowded ballroom. Were a team, remember? How could I let you face this chocolate caper by yourself. Besides, youll need moral support to resist the temptation.
He grabbed a bonbon off a passing tray. This temptation, my dear. He popped it into his mouth. Mm, delicious. Orange truffle, I think.
I have Frances with me.
All the more reason for someone with a clear thinking head on his shoulders. God only knows what the two of you would get into surrounded by thousands upon thousands of chocolate bonbons. Roll around in them, no doubt. Have a go at the chocolate wrestling pit, maybe?
We all have our weakness, Mr. Steele. Yours is jewels. Mine happens to be chocolate. At least I dont fantasize about making love in two million dollars worth of it.
What a delightful thought, Mrs. Steele. Shall I see Bovary about ordering us a few barrels? When he was rewarded with a brown-eyed glare, he decided to try soothing her feathers a bit, By the way, did I mention how beautiful you look in that dress, my love? Green is definitely your color.
I should. Laura stated. It cost a pretty penny. Discounted, my foot.
Its an original creation, Laura. You cant expect discount store prices.
Laura snorted. Two thousand dollars for a piece of green fabric is bit steep even for an original. I knew Francesca couldnt be trusted the minute I saw her. Bovary is right. All those darlings are annoying. I felt like I was trapped a Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoon. All that was missing was Boris. Oh, wait a minute, I spoke too soon. Boris just entered stage right.
She nodded in the direction of a tall, sinister looking fellow with dark hair and dark brows who had just emerged from the crowd of people milling about the ballroom, sipping champagne and sampling bonbons.
Good God, youre right. Remington breathed. He plays Karloff to perfection. Even better than Raymond Massey in Arsenic & Old Lace, Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, Warner Bros., 1944. I must have a word with the chap.
Laura grabbed his uninjured arm. Better not. He might be the one trying to kill you.
Come now, Laura, Remington drawled, he cant very well pull out a gun and shot me in the middle of the ballroom, can he?
No, hes the poison dart type. Quieter, less messy.
Remington raised an eyebrow. Yes, I can see your point.
You go introduce yourself to Bovary. Ill take care of Boris.
Once Remington was on his way, Laura located Arkady Sevnik, which was not difficult to do. She just watched for the wave of people. They parted like the Red Sea whenever he passed. She cornered him near a hordourves table where he was heaping caviar on a cracker.
I believe youre Arkady Sevnik. She murmured, capturing a passing glass of champagne and handing it to him. Im Laura Steele. Ive been meaning to speak with you, Mr. Sevnik.
Ive been expecting you. He said in a deep, oddly melodious voice. You want to know about Angela.
As a matter of fact, yes. Laura admitted. Ive been told by at least two people that you and she were in conversation at the Simpson party the evening she disappeared. And they tell me that she was upset afterwards.
She is easily upset. She is that type of woman.
You know her well then?
Sevnik smiled and his sinister face became almost attractive. I think a man knows his wife fairly well, dont you, Mrs. Steele. After all, you are married. You know how intimately a married couple can know each other.
Laura nearly choked on her champagne. She had not been expecting that. Never in a millions years. Your wife?
Yes, my wife. He confirmed. Is it such a difficult thing to believe?
She groped for words. Nobody ever mentioned it.
Thats because nobody knows. He told her pleasantly. That was what we were discussing that evening. I wanted to make it known. She did not.
Why? Laura asked. I mean why did she want to keep it a secret?
He shrugged. Who can understand women? Even you cannot understand your own sex sufficiently to answer this question you ask me. Perhaps she was afraid of what people would say. Im not unaware of what most of these people think of me. I am a horror picture film star, yes?
If she felt that way, then why did she marry you in the first place?
Paris in the spring makes people do all kinds of strange things. He remarked. Despite my appearance, Mrs. Steele, I can be compelling when need be.
Yes, Laura thought, he probably could. Even talking with him a short while had completely changed her opinion of him. She was actually beginning to like him. He had a sinister sort of charm that captivated. It was looking into the eyes of a cobra. He hypnotized you.
Do you have any idea why your wife is missing?
I have my theories.
Would you care to share them with me?
He looked at her, his dark eyes hooded. No, Mrs. Steele, I would not. They are dangerous theories, and I would not wish Mr. Steele to lose his wife like I lost mine. I will take care of Angela. You need not concern yourself. He paused and then his eyes went to someone behind her. May I introduce my assistant to you? Laura Steele, this is David Taylor.
Unlike his boss, David Taylor had a fresh-faced, boy next door look that immediately put a person at ease. He looked as though he was fresh out of business school, but Laura suspected he was much older than he appeared. He smiled pleasantly and took her hand between his.
Good evening, Mrs. Steele. A pleasure to meet you. I believe I met your husband a few minutes ago. He was speaking with Mr. Bovary. I was sorry to see that he had just sustained an injury, tennis elbow, I think he said.
Uh, yes, Mr. Steele loves his tennis.
I was wondering, Mrs. Steele, if youd do the honor of dancing with me.
Laura suddenly realized that as some point an orchestra had started playing and couples were already gathering in the middle of the ballroom. She really had no desire to dance but decided it would be rude to refuse. Besides, it would provide her with an opportunity to question the assistant.
Id be delighted, Mr. Taylor.
What did you think of Mr. Sevnik? David asked her as he took her in his arms.
I actually found him rather pleasant.
David chuckled. Youre one of the few, Im afraid. He scares most people.
Does he scare you, Mr. Taylor?
Would I be working for him if he did?
You wouldnt be the first employee that suffered a boss for a paycheck.
He looked at her, and Laura suddenly realized how cold his eyes were. Although he smiled, his eyes were blue glaciers, deep and bottomless. She nearly shivered.
Arkady and I understand each other very well, Mrs. Steele. Weve been together for many years. When he left Hart & Hart for Bovary, I came with him.
So what Jared Marshall had told her was true. Im surprised that Bovary would give him so much power considering hed worked for the competition.
He shrugged. Its quite common in the business world. You go with the best offer. Bovary had the best offer, provided the best opportunities. Companies understand that sort of thing.
She was about to question him further, but suddenly Remington was beside them.
If you dont mind, old chap, Id like to dance with my wife.
David smiled, releasing Laura. Of course. He turned and faded into the crowd.
Whos the kid? Remington asked, pulling Laura to him.
It was a little awkward to dance with his arm in a sling, but they managed. She draped her arms around his neck while he held her waist with his good arm.
Hes older than he looks.
Ok, whos the old man?
David Taylor. Sevniks assistant.
Remington pulled her closer until his mouth was against her ear. Bovarys received a ransom demand. He got it right before coming here.
What do they want?
They want to exchange the heiress for the secret formula.
The note didnt say. Bovary will inform us when they contact him again. In light of this latest development, hes decided to delay the unveiling.
Then theres no reason to stay here any longer. Laura declared. You go find Frances, and Ill have them pull the Auburn around.
She started to move off, but Remingtons grip held firm.
Shouldnt that be reversed? Remington asked. Shes your sister.
Yes, but shes probably gorging herself on bonbons, and you know how weak I am when it comes to such things. Just think how embarrassed youd be to see us rolling around among the truffles. She patted his chest. Ill meet you outside.
Laura was standing outside the hotel, smiling to herself as she remembered Remingtons expression of rueful resignation when a large black car pulled up in front of her. The door opened, hands reached out and she found herself being dragged inside. It was dark inside and she could see nothing. All she could feel were hands grabbing at her dress. She struggled, kicking and screaming, but she couldnt prevent the sound of tearing cloth.
Rape, she wondered as the green dress was stripped off her. She redoubled her efforts, finding a wrist and sinking her teeth into it. There was a muffled curse, and then the door was opened and she found herself being tossed onto the sidewalk in nothing but a cream-colored teddy.
Come back here, you jerk! She screamed, scrambling to her feet.
Laura! Frances gasped. What happened to your dress?
That lousy creep ripped it off of me.
Remington took the fur coat from Francess shoulders and settled it on Lauras.
Quick! Laura shouted. After that car!
She ran for the Auburn, which had arrived at some point and was waiting patiently, motor purring. Remington slid into the passengers seat. Laura and Frances went for the drivers seat.
Frances, get in the back! Laura ordered.
Laura, you know the backseat makes me sick!
Frances, you know nothing about car chases!
Ive seen plenty of them on TV!
I hate to interrupt this delightful display of sisterly affection, Remington interrupted, his voice tight, but the longer you argue, the colder the trail becomes. Hes already leaving the parking lot.
Lauras head turned to confirm Remingtons statement. Frances, taking advantage of her inattention, slipped into the front seat, slamming the door shut behind her. Laura had no choice but to dive into the back as her sister hit the accelerator.
Step on it, Frances! Laura exclaimed. Theyre getting away!
But the speed limits only 45 mph.
Thats illegal! Frances protested. I could be stopped by a police officer!
Were detectives! Laura told her. They expect that kind of stuff from us! Now, floor it or I swear, Frances, Ill
Laura didnt get to finish her threat because she was flung backwards by Frances hitting the accelerator. The Auburn leapt forward, passing slower traffic until the black car was once again in sight. Remington, gritting his teeth and holding on for dear life with his good hand, said a silent prayer for the Auburn. It appeared the Holt sisters shared a driving style as well as a weakness for chocolate.
A red light appeared ahead. The black car ran it, sending cars swerving and running into each other. Frances started to brake.
Go through it! Laura shouted.
Now that really is illegal! Frances shouted back. Besides, there are cars everywhere!
Do you want to help with this investigation or not? Laura demanded.
Frances mouth firm into a straight line and she whizzed through the light, weaving through the melee of vehicles. The Auburn clipped a blue sedan, much to Remingtons horror, but kept going. The black car appeared out of the darkness once again. Just when they were pulling even, the Auburn suddenly slowed as Frances jammed on the brakes.
What are you doing?! Laura demanded, enraged. We almost had them!
Its a school zone.
Laura had reached her limit. She lunged forward, grabbing the steering wheel. The sisters wrestled, the Auburn zigzagging crazily from side to side, until finally it ploughed into a fire hydrant. A geyser of water shot into the air.
They sat in silence, water splattering around them, puddling on floorboards and drenching them. In the distance, they could hear the sound of sirens.
It was a school zone. Frances finally ventured.
Only during school hours, Frances. Laura bit out. Only during school hours.
I could strangle her. Laura fumed as she and Remington entered his apartment. Of all the stupid, bird-brained, motherly things to do! Stopping in a school zone when the kids arent even in school!
Forget it, Laura. Remington advised her.
Forget it! She exclaimed. We lost the car and I lost a two thousand dollar dress!
Let me have that. He said, taking the coat from her shoulders. You smell like a wet beaver. He tossed the coat across a dining room chair. Remind me to give Donald the address of a decent furrier.
He looked at his wife, standing in the middle of his living room in nothing but a wet teddy, her hair hanging around her face in soggy strands. Even looking like a drowned rat he found her incredibly attractive. Of course, he thought, glancing down at his ruined tux, he didnt look much better himself. Hed been soaked by the same geyser.
Go have a shower. He told her, coming over and giving her a quick kiss. Youre starting to shiver.
She must have realized the wisdom of his suggestion for she departed without another word, re-emerging twenty minutes later smelling of soap and dressed in his pajama top, which to his way of thinking was even more arousing than the teddy. He handed her a mug of hot tea.
Why in the world would someone want my dress? She wondered out loud. When he didnt answer, she continued. It must have something to do with Francesca. She practically forced it on me. She knows more than shes told me, and shes involved in this some way. It looks like well be paying darling a visit tomorrow.
She glanced over at Remington, and suddenly realized that he was still in his wet tux. Putting down her mug, she went over to him and began to detach his sling. Off came his jacket and shirt. She frowned when she saw his bandages.
These are soaked. I told you that you should have stayed home.
I wasnt expecting your sister to hit a fire hydrant.
I could just strangle her. Laura said for about the tenth time that night. Come on, lets go into the bedroom, and Ill change these for you.
An hour later they were in bed, Remington re-bandaged and lying on his uninjured side, Laura on her back beside him, staring up at the darkened ceiling.
Well, she said, crossing her arms behind her head, at least well know the thief when we see him.
Hows that? Remington asked, his voice sleepy.
I bit him on the wrist. He wont be able to hide that very well.
Francesca was sitting behind her desk, legs crossed, one foot swinging negligently when they entered her office the next morning. It was almost as though shed been waiting for them, and her first sentence confirmed it.
I thought youd be back, darling. She cast an admiring glance at Remington. And you brought a scrumptious man with you this time. She leaned forward, placing her elbows on the desk and propping her chin on interlaced fingers. I tell you what, darling, you can keep the two thousand for the dress. Ill take him instead.
Laura ignored her. You set me up with that dress, didnt you?
Francesca feigned an innocent look. Whatever do you mean, darling?
I mean that you knew very well that someone would try to steal that dress from me, and thats why you were so insistent that I take it.
I wanted you to have it because it looked beautiful on you. She glanced at Remington. Didnt it, Mr. Steele?
Remington grinned. Very beautiful. Youre an excellent designer, Miss Russo.
She smiled, a slow Cheshire cat smile. Yes, I am, arent I?
Laura jumped up. This is ridiculous. She put her hands on the desk and leaned forward menacingly. Im not interested in playing games with you, Miss Russo. I want to know why you gave me that dress and why someone wanted it.
Francesca did not flinch at Lauras close proximity. Instead she stared at her with narrowed black eyes. I like you, Laura, darling. I really do. I like your husband even better, but I dont think youre the kind of woman that shares. So, she fell back in her chair, since I like you, Ill tell you what you want to know. Her face suddenly hardened, becoming deadly serious. It was the only way to flush Dmitri out.
Who is Dmitri? Laura demanded.
Dont your employees tell you anything? Francesca asked, lifting a black eyebrow. Your Mrs. Krebs has been digging around in the mans past for the last four weeks. I believe youll find that Mr. Roselli put her up to it.
I knew Antony had to be involved in this somewhere. Remington muttered.
You are acquainted with Mr. Roselli?
More than we wish, I assure you. Remington answered.
Francesca laughed. I cant wait to meet him. If he causes such angst in the great Remington Steele, he must be something. Handsome, yes?
If you like Neanderthals.
I like anything that catches my fancy. I am not picky, darling. Just as long as he doesnt bore me. I hate bores.
Can we get back to the subject at hand? Laura interrupted, frustrated with their exchange. Who cares what Roselli was like? What she wanted to know was what did he have to do with Dmitri and the dress and what did all of this have to do with the Chocolate Heiress?! She felt like stamping her foot. Who is Dmitri and why do you and Tony want him?
I cant answer for your Mr. Roselli, but I want him because hes a Soviet spy. Ive been after him for the past year.
So youre with the government.
Yes, you could say that. Francesca agreed, swinging her foot again. We developed a sting operation for him. Ive been feeding him information through Angela Bovary. Oh, she didnt know anything about it. I cultivated a friendship with her as a means of feeding the information. I would design evening dresses for her, sewing microfilm into the seam of the dress. Dmitri would merely have to retrieve it and send it on to the Kremlin. Brilliant, yes?
And how did he get it to the Kremlin?
In Bovary chocolate, of course.
Remington looked at her, fingers resting against his cheek, his eyes narrowed as though he were trying to determine whether or not to believe her. There was something about this woman that reminded him of Felicia and all the other female thieves hed run into over the years. It was as though she were leading them where she wanted them to go. What did she really want?
Are you trying to tell us that Arkady Sevnik is Dmitri?
Well, thats the difficult part, darling. Francesca said, a pout returning to her face. Im not really sure who Dmitri is. Spies, no matter what country, have a convenient way of covering up their identities. I just know him by the name Dmitri Baranski. However, if you check the employee files of Bovary, youll find no Dmitri in their employ.
So hes using an alias. Laura concluded.
Francesca shrugged. Perhaps. The only thing I know for sure if that he has access to both Angela and the chocolate shipments. Logically that would point to Sevnik.
And you knew she was married to him.
Dreadful, isnt it? Francesca gave a delicate shudder.
So you planted the microfilm in my wifes dress expecting Dmitri to get his hands on it, and send it out in the next shipment. You couldnt use Angela since shes missing so Laura was the next best thing.
Brains as well as looks. Francesca said with a sultry smile, her eyes once again running over Remington in a way that annoyed Laura incessantly. I congratulate you, darling. Where did you find him? In a jungle?
No, that was Roselli. Remington provided helpfully.
And was he swinging from a vine?
Sounds delightful. When do I meet him?
The Matchmaker, Shirley Booth, Anthony Perkins, Paramount, 1958. Remington murmured with a smile. Whenever you say, Miss Russo, I am at your service. Antony will be yours. Would you like him bagged or just tied up on your doorstep?
Francesca clapped her hands. Oh, I do like you, Mr. Steele.
So what do you want from us? Laura interrupted, placing herself between her husband and the womans appreciative gaze. This silliness had gone on too long. Im assuming there is something you want.
I want Dmitri.
We want Angela.
You find Dmitri and youll find Angela.
You seem pretty confident of that.
Laura studied her for a moment and then said, It would appear that Mr. Roselli wants Dmitri as well. If we find him, what happens then?
Francesca smiled, that slow Cheshire smile. Well just have to fight it out, wont we, darling?
The offices of Bovary Chocolates were dark and deserted. Remington and Laura crept along the corridor of the upper floor of the building. They counted the doors and then slipped inside the sixth to the last. A desk, apparently belonging to the secretary sat near the entrance, its surface neat and orderly, and then on either side where two offices. Laura went to the right and Remington to the left.
In here. Laura called out in a whisper. The name plate of Arkady Sevnik sat on a large black and steel desk.
She immediately went for the computer sitting behind his desk while Remington went for the file cabinets.
What exactly are we looking for, Laura? He asked, rifling through files.
Anything pertaining to shipments to the Soviet Union. Their departure dates, where theyre going, how theyre crated, serial numbers. She said, her face glowing a ghostly green in the light of the computer screen. Bingo. She breathed, pushing the print key. The printer beside the computer starting spitting out data. She tore off the print-out, scanning the information. Theres a shipment going out the day after tomorrow.
Remington pulled on the lowest drawer of the file cabinet. It was locked. He pulled out his pick. It was difficult to work with only one hand, but he got it open. Terrible time, mate, he scolded himself as he rifled through the contents. At the bottom of the drawer was a folder labeled Dmitri. He pulled it out.
At that moment there was a sound from the corridor outside. Laura hastily switched off the computer and Remington quietly closed the drawer, stuffing the folder in his jacket. Both dived under the desk. Searing pain screamed through Remington as Laura fell against his injured arm. An involuntary exclamation forced itself from his throat.
Mmmmphf Remingtons cry of pain was quickly muffled by Lauras mouth on his.
They waited, mouth to mouth, as the sound came again, a footstep, the jingling of key, the clattering of brooms and mops.
The cleaning woman. Laura whispered.
Lets hope she forgot her Pledge. Remington whispered back.
Luck seemed to be with them for the cart clattered onward, leaving the office in silence once again.
Come on. Laura said, scrambling out from under the desk. Weve got what we came for.
Ok. Heres the plan. Laura said to the group gathered at Remington Steele Investigations the following day. Remington and I will go into the warehouse and located the Soviet shipment. Tony, you and Francesca will operate the forklift and load the shipment into the panel truck. Mildred, youll drive the truck.
What about me? Frances asked.
You have your house ready for us to go through boxes of bonbons.
Frances frowned. Thats not very exciting.
A dent in the Auburn the shape of a fire hydrant is all the excitement you need for one case. Laura retorted. Any other questions?
She glanced at each member of the group. Remington lounged in his chair, feet on desk, leafing through the file hed liberated the night before, his brows drawn in concentration, completely oblivious to those around him. Frances was sulking and Mildred was studiously going through her notes. Tony glared across the room at Francesca who sat unperturbed, swinging her black pump. So much for the Matchmaker working his magic, Laura thought.
Yeah, I got a question. Tony said, his tone belligerent. Whats she doing here?
Francesca is a client.
Oh, yeah, whats she hired you for?
Ever heard of client confidentiality, Antony? Remington asked from his chair, his eyes never leaving the file.
Yeah, I have. Tony retorted. What happened to mine?
I must say Im disappointed with you, Mr. Steele. Francesca said, sending Remington a pouting glance. You led me to believe this man was Indiana Jones in real flesh, and here he is, a scared little mouse.
Hey, sweetheart, I aint no mouse.
Ok, rat. Francesca amended with a shrug of her shoulders. Whats the difference? Theyre both rodents, darling.
I must say Ive had similar thoughts myself. Remington commented. Youre an astute woman, Miss Russo.
Francesca, darling. Ignoring the glares she received from both Laura and Tony, she continued, There is no need for confidentiality, Mr. Jones
Its Roselli, sweetheart, Roselli.
I want Dmitri and you want Dmitri. That is why we are here.
Tony ignored Francesca and directed his complaint to Laura. Yeah, well, I dont think we can trust her.
Does it really matter as long as you get what you want? Laura asked.
Yeah, it matters. He looked at Francesca. Can you operate a forklift?
Of course, it comes with the training.
Secret agent training, darling.
See! Tony exclaimed. How can you trust her when she says things like that?
I find it fascinating that someone of your less than trustworthy background can be so concerned about someone elses. Remington noted dryly. Isnt that like the pot calling the kettle black?
You stay out of this, Steele.
Gladly. Remington said, closing the file and tossing it on the desk. Laura, please, carry on. This meeting is getting more enlightening by the moment.
This meeting is over. Laura declared, standing up abruptly. We have our assignments, and I dont want to hear any more arguments. We meet outside Bovarys warehouse tonight at 11:55 PM.
At exactly 12 oclock midnight Remington and Laura slipped into the Bovary warehouse. Crates, wrapped in plastic and ready for shipment sat in orderly rows, filling the building from one end to the other. A door at the far end divided the warehouse from the facility where the actual candy was made. They could hear the hum of machinery as the chocolate was continually churned and mixed. In the morning the place would be full of employees using that very chocolate to make Bovary bonbons. But tonight the facility was empty, which suited their purposes perfectly.
The information from the computer said the Soviet shipments are labeled with red stencils and start with USR. Laura swung her flashlight up and down the crates. These are labeled with FRA. Must be for France.
I would try the far right corner of the building. Remington suggested.
It was in the file.
They hurried along the rows, feeling very much like mice in a maze, until they reached the far right corner. As Remington had predicted the crates bore red stencils beginning with the letters USR.
What else was in that file? Laura asked.
Im surprised at you, Laura. Remington said reproachfully. A world class detective and you havent done your homework?
I was a little busy keeping the lovers from killing each other.
Ah, yes, Remington sighed, cocking his head to one side, I have a feeling about those two. I really do.
Laura rolled her eyes. Me too. I have a feeling theyll kill each other before this case is closed.
Come now, Laura, what is love without a little friction, eh?
Thats not friction. Thats downright ignition.
Remington smiled a positively gleeful smile. I predict the mint will soon be consumed by the wildfire, riding it from our garden for good.
But Laura wasnt listening. She was busy studying the crates, swinging her light back and forth. Theres something odd about these crates. Somethings out of place. She thought for a moment, chewing on her bottom lip. It reminds me of that game Frances and I used to fight over in the childrens magazine wed get every month. The object was to compare the two pictures and find the thing that was different.
Remington surveyed the crates. That crate is labeled in black.
Laura turned on him, slightly miffed. Was that in the file too?
No. Im just using those much improved powers of observation.
I knew I should have never complimented you. She muttered, switching off her light. That must be the shipment were looking for. Lets go alert the lovebirds that theyre on.
Are you always this nervous, darling? Francesca asked as she sat in the forklifts seat, swinging a black-booted foot. She was dressed completely in black leather, which Tony found rather disconcerting. It molded and highlighted every curve of her sleek body. There ought to be a law against such things.
Im not nervous.
Its hot in here.
Its a candy factory, darling. She pointed out. It has to be kept cold so the chocolate wont melt.
He turned to face her. You know, I hate chicks that think they know it all.
I dont think I know it all. I do know it all.
Oh, yeah, what do you know, Ms. Secret Agent?
I know you want Laura Steele, and you cant have her.
So what? He demanded, not bothering to deny it. We dont always get what we want.
I do. She said simply. There was a long pause as though letting her statement sink in, and then she asked, So what are going to do about it, darling?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing, ok?
She told you to take a flying leap, yes? Francesca slid off the forklift and slunk towards him. There was no other way to describe her walk. She looked like a jungle cat prowling her forest. Of course, I cant blame her. Mr. Steele, he is James Bond. You are just Indiana Jones. But dont take it too hard, darling. She draped a long, sinuous arm around his neck. Theres always more fish in the sea, yes?
Yeah, he agreed. Barracudas, sharks, morays.
She laughed. Such distrust. There are many beautiful things in the sea as well, Mr. Jones. She walked around him, trailing her arm along his shoulders. Sea anemones, butterfly fish. He felt her breath against his ear. Mermaids.
Are you sure you know how to drive one of those things? He demanded, motioning toward the forklift. Anything to distract her. She was making him nervous as hell.
Whats there to know? She had made a complete circle around him and was now facing him once again. Her dark eyes looked at him. No, they absorbed him. Its like whistling, darling. You just put your lips together and blow. To Have and Have Not, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Warner Bros., 1944.
Oh, God, you sound like him.
It worked with Laura. What about you, darling?
Tony felt himself weakening. He knew this dame was no good. She was Catwoman, Mata Hari, and Scarlett OHara all roll up in an incredibly potent package. But, God help him, he was fascinated. Like the victim just before the cobra strikes, he reminded himself. Hes been attracted to Lauras spunk and feistiness, but in the back of his mind, he always felt he could handle her, tame her. But this woman could such a thing even be attempted let alone accomplished?
He was saved from answering that question by a light shining in his face.
Sorry to interrupt, mate, Steele said cheerfully, but youre on.
They worked quickly and efficiently. Francesca had obviously been telling the truth concerning her skill with mechanical equipment. The crate was lifted and carried to the truck with ease. She had returned the lift to its former place, and Tony was closing the trucks doors when a sound, much like a gunshot, was heard from within the warehouse.
You go on to my sisters. Laura told them. Mr. Steele and I will investigate and then follow. Weve got the Rabbit around the corner.
Francesca and Tony climbed into the front seat and Mildred gunned the engine. The panel truck chugged across the parking lot and the disappeared from sight. Remington and Laura returned to the warehouse, moving stealthily through the rows of crates, careful not to expose themselves in case the person who had fired the gun was still on the premises.
The door to the factory is open. Laura whispered.
They slipped through it and immediately another gunshot fired, pinging above their heads. They dived for cover behind the chocolate vats.
Up there! Laura said, motioning to the catwalk between the vats.
Yes. Remington agreed. Someones up there all right. Unfortunately, they have a gun, and we dont. A common occurrence with us, Im afraid.
Maybe if I distract them, you can take them by surprise.
With one arm? Remington asked incredulously. I appreciate your confidence in me, Laura, but I dont particularly like the odds.
At that moment the shooter must have come to the same conclusion for he turned, running lightly, almost soundlessly along the catwalk. Shortly afterwards, they saw a dark form jump to the floor and disappear within the maze of machinery used in candy making.
They waited, making sure he was gone before scaling the ladder that led to the catwalk.
What was he shooting at? Laura wondered aloud, scanning the floor below.
That maybe? Remington suggested, looking over the railing into a large vat of chocolate.
Laura joined him. A body floated face down in the chocolate.
Well, there goes that batch of candy. Laura muttered.
The question is how are we going to get him out? Remington observed. I cant go in after him with this arm.
I guess itll have to be me. Laura took off her shoes and jacket.
This must be quite a fantasy for you. Remington commented as Laura lowered herself into the vat. Swimming in chocolate.
Its not as wonderful as it might appear. She told him as thick, gooey chocolate closed around her legs and arms. It feels like quicksand.
But what better way to go, eh? Drowned in chocolate?
Ignoring his attempt at humor, she grasped the body and shoved upwards until Remington could grab a handful of the mans jacket and haul him onto the catwalk. She followed the body out, dripping with chocolate.
Together they rolled the body over. The face of Dave Taylor stared up at them.
Its going to take forever to go through all this chocolate. Mildred said. And we dont even know where or how the microfilm is hidden. Is it in the box or in the chocolate itself?
They all eyed the boxes morosely. Even Francesca looked less than enthused about the task before them. It was two in the morning and they had a living room full of chocolate and a dead man lying on the desk in Donalds study.
Well, Laura said, getting up. Lets approach this logically. There must be some code in order for the Soviets to find the microfilm. Dmitri couldnt expect them to go through each and every box.
You dont know the Soviets, darling. Francesca murmured, once again swinging her foot. They are very thorough.
Nevertheless, there must be a code. Just like on the crate. She turned to Remington. What about that file? Did it have any information regarding a code?
He shook his head. It was mainly a dossier on Dmitri. There were hand-written notes from Sevnik, noting oddities, that sort of thing. There was a great deal of information about Dmitri himself that Sevnik must have compiled. I dont know how he did it, but I suppose he must have connections in Moscow. He certainly got further than Mildred or Agnes. There was no picture but it had dental records, height, weight, hair color, etc. He must have suspected something.
Do you remember any specifics on Dmitri?
Remington thought for a moment, rubbing his eyes. He was feeling very tired and his shoulder had been aching for hours. Average height, about 6 foot, I think, 160 pounds, blonde, blue eyes, gold crown on first molar, bottom right side.
Sounds like the stiff next door. Mildred said.
Ok, were back to the crate then. Laura said, starting to pace. We know there was a code on the outside of the crate. What about the boxes inside? Are there any codes on the boxes?
They spent several minutes sorting through the boxes, turning them sideways and upside down, looking for any lettering.
Got one. Tony called out. Looks like a bunch of gibberish to me, but its something.
Laura looked at the box. On the bottom left corner was printed the following letters: EHOOTIORBEFEN, ITWWHDWOLLTCD, GRDNRRFMUESOB.
Tearing each box apart is looking better and better. Mildred commented as she looked over Lauras shoulder.
Suddenly a noise from the hallway drew their attention. Daniel Piper was standing in his pajamas, staring at them.
Daniel! Frances cried, hurrying over to him. What are you doing up? Youre supposed to be in bed. Its nearly three in the morning.
I heard voices. He peered around his mother into the living room. Whats going on?
Nothing you need to concern yourself about. Frances told him. Go to bed.
But Daniel dodged his mother and joined everyone looking over Lauras shoulder. Everyone except Remington. He had decided napping was a better use of his time then deciphering secret code.
Thats a real neat code youve got there, Aunt Laura.
Laura looked at him. You know this is a code?
Sure. Were been studying codes in Math class.
Do you think you can figure it out?
Maybe. He said and then added. If I had some milk and cookies.
Daniel Piper, Frances scolded, you know your father would be furious if I gave you cookies at this of night. Theyre bad for your teeth.
Give him the cookies. Laura said. Or be prepared to go through every one of these boxes of delicious, mouth-watering chocolate bonbons.
In a few minutes, Daniel was seated at the kitchen table, milk and cookies at his elbow, pencil and paper in his hand. An hour later he re-emerged. He shook Laura who had fallen asleep on the couch, her head on Remingtons lap.
Here you go, Aunt Laura. He said, handing the paper to her. I dont know what it means, but I figured out the pattern.
Laura sat up, taking the paper. He had made a block with the three grouping of letters on top of each other. Then going from the top left letter downwards he had written down each letter, which spelled out: eight row down third row blue left second b.
Daniel, Laura said with a smile, this is brilliant. I think we have a Math genius on our hands.
After sending Daniel to bed, she lost no time in attacking the box. She removed all the boxes of chocolate until she got down to the depth of eight rows. There were four rows of boxes going across and three rows going up and down. She searched the interior of the box and found a small blue dot, indicating which end was left. Counting three rows over, she then selected the second box, which also happened to be the middle box.
She removed the lid. Framboise Amour bonbons stared up at her. The smell of milk chocolate and raspberry filled her senses. Would one bonbon hurt? After all, they had to make sure the microfilm wasnt inside the bonbons. She picked one up, raising it to her mouth.
Laura Remingtons voice drawled. She glanced up, mouth still open, waiting for the delicious treat. He was looking at her through lowered lids. Didnt you have enough chocolate for one night?
I thought you were asleep.
Where youre concerned, Im forever vigilant.
She made a face and hurriedly replaced the bonbon. Then she dumped all the candy into the larger box. She began inspecting the bottom of the bonbon box. Nothing. Turning to the lid, she noticed that the paper which displayed the name and picture of the candy was not glued tight. She carefully pried it apart. Out came the microfilm.
I found it! She cried triumphantly.
Everyone woke with a start. Tony, whod had both Mildred and Francesca leaning against him, hurriedly disengaged himself, coming over to take the film from Laura.
So the case is solved. He said, holding the film up to the light.
No. Laura said, getting to her feet. We still dont have Angela, and we havent confirmed who the dead guy is.
Is this night never going to end, darling? Francesca groaned as they followed Laura into the study.
Laura picked up the mans wrist. Bite marks. Hes the one that stole my dress.
But does that prove hes Dmitri? Tony asked.
He fits the description. Mildred pointed out.
No, he doesnt. Frances declared. He doesnt have the gold crown. I came in and looked after Remington mentioned it.
Are you sure?
Laura, I took a course to be a dental hygienist. I certainly ought to know if a person has a crown or not. She opened Taylors mouth. See. No gold crowns.
Could he have had it replaced with porcelain?
Possibly. Frances admitted. But this man has all his natural teeth. You can replace a crown, but you cant replace an entire tooth.
So if David Taylor isnt Dmitri then he must have been an accomplice. He would have had access to the shipments and Angela through his relationship with Sevnik.
So, Remington said from the doorway, the elusive question remains. Who is Dmitri?
Mr. Steele, Mrs. Steele. Im so glad you could come so quickly.
Charles Bovary rose from behind his desk as Laura and Remington entered his office. He looked tense and nervous as any father would if their daughter was being held for ransom. He motioned them toward the chairs in front of his desk and quickly took his own. He fumbled in a drawer and then pushed a bit of paper toward them.
Ive heard from the kidnappers. He said, his voice low and urgent. They want to exchange Angela for the secret formula tonight at the chocolate factory.
Laura scanned the note. When did you get this?
It was here on my desk when I came in this morning.
And your secretary didnt notice it?
Marilyn doesnt arrive until nine oclock. Im always here between seven and seven thirty. He paused, his manner one of extreme agitation. What I dont understand is why the note says to send Arkady Sevnik with the formula. It makes no sense. What does Sevnik have to do with any of this?
Laura and Remington exchanged glances, and then Laura said as gently as she could, In the course of our investigation, it has come to our attention that your daughter is married to Mr. Sevnik.
What? Bovary exclaimed. Are you mad, Mrs. Steele? Who told you such a thing? Its a damnable lie.
I was told by Sevnik himself.
And, Remington added, taking a paper out of his breast pocket and pushing it across the desk, weve found a marriage certificate to verify it. They were married in Paris approximately a year ago.
Bovary snatched up the document, scanning it. Its a forgery. It must be. Angela wouldnt keep something like this from me.
Im afraid she has Mr. Bovary. Laura replied. Shes kept it from everyone except apparently the kidnapper. Why else would he request Sevnik to make the exchange?
Why indeed? Bovary muttered. Boris Karloff for a son-in-law. Oh, Angela, Angela, how could you do this to your le pere pauvre?
He abruptly got up and went to a wet bar that graced one side of the room. He splashed a bit of brandy into a tumbler and drained it in one gulp.
I know youve had quite a shock, Mr. Bovary. Laura continued. But we need to know if you intend to make the exchange.
Yes, of course. My daughter means everything to me. I dont care what happens to that damn formula. Its not worth my daughters life.
It is our intention that you will have to give up neither. Laura told him as she and Remington rose from their chairs and headed for the door. Shall we tell Mr. Sevnik of the ransom demands?
Yes. Yes. Bovary said, waving his tumbler at them. He ought to be in his office by now.
Sevnik stared at them from across his huge black desk. So my nemesis has requested a showdown. A shootout at high noon as you Americans would call it. He shrugged, leaning back in his chair. What can I say? Of course, I will comply. It is my wife hes holding.
By your response are we to assume that you know the identity of the kidnapper? Laura asked.
Of course. Its Dmitri.
You know who Dmitri is? Remington pressed.
Sevnik shook his head. I do not know his true identity or rather the identity he has currently assumed. I know him only by his agent name, and the information Ive been able to gather from old friends and contacts.
Youve done an admirable job. Remington told him, taking the file hed borrow from inside his jacket and placing in on the desk. Youve been able to collect much more information than our agency has.
Sevnik smiled, silently acknowledging the compliment as well as the return of his property When one is a former KGB agent, one knows where to go looking. Even still I have not been able to uncover his current alias. That leads me to believe that hes gone rogue. Even the Soviet government does not know where he is. That will be of great concern to them.
Remington nodded. The thought had been in his head for some time. Someone would be looking for Dmitri, someone from his own government. He shot a quick glance at Laura. Had it occurred to her also or was she mostly focused on finding Angela and solving the case? Her expression revealed nothing but interest in Sevniks story. If what he had suspected for some time were true, there would be no danger to Laura and that was all he cared about.
You said former agent. Laura said.
I defected to the United States some time ago. Over ten years. Sevnik replied, answering her unspoken question. But I still have my contacts. Things do not change very quickly in the Soviet Union. Old friends are still willing to assist if able to do so in a discreet manner.
Something must have led you to begin checking into Dmitris whereabouts.
He nodded. A few months ago I started noticing irregularities in shipments, oddly marked crates and boxes. The same thing had occurred when I worked at Hart & Hart. I began to suspect my assistant, David Taylor. He had been with me at both places, and as my right hand man, he had much authority over any shipments going out. But I couldnt quite believe it. An accomplice, yes, but a mastermind, no. Call it the KBG instinct. So I put in a few calls and learned that an agent called Dmitri had been sent out to silence me. As you can see, I have not been silenced. I think even then he had plans of his own.
So you believe hes been keeping an eye on you and using your business success for his own purposes. Laura said.
Yes, that is what I suspect, and how he is ready for the showdown. Hes gotten what he can from me, and now its time for the final payout. My wife for Bovarys secret formula. He can get a great of money for that formula if he has the right buyer.
But why you, specifically? Laura asked, frowning. He could get the formula from Bovary just as easily.
Pride. Sevnik said simply. He wants me to see how hes bested me. And thats when an agent becomes foolish. Hes not merely doing his job. Hes making a statement. A smile that did not reached his black eyes touched Sevniks mouth. It is the downfall of men and angels, Mrs. Steele. It was pride after all that brought down Lucifer, and it is pride, which will bring down Dmitri Baranski.
The Rabbits phone rang as Remington and Laura were leaving Bovarys. It was Mildred.
I thought youd want to know. We finally got something on that house.
Which house? Laura asked.
The brick Colonial.
What have you got?
The corporations ownership was a rats nest of convoluted names, Agnes actually had to go down to the courthouse and root around, but weve finally followed the trail to one Jared Marshall
Jared Marshall. Laura breathed. Of course, he looks like David Taylor. Theyre similar in appearance. Fits the description in the file. Thanks, Mildred. Tell Agnes good work.
You think Marshall is the elusive Dmitri? Remington asked as Laura hung up the phone.
Id bet my stockings on it. Laura said.
Deal. Ive always had a particular fascination for your stockings, Laura.
Arkady Sevnik entered the candy factory carrying a steel briefcase. His footsteps rang hollowly on the cement floor.
I dont know about this plan of yours, Laura. Remington whispered as they hid within the maze of chocolate vats. It seems were taking a very large risk. There are a lot of unknowns. Like will he be carrying your average every day gun or will he be carrying a Marakov PM.
If that man can get through us, Tony and Francesca not to mention an ex-KGB agent like Sevnik than hes Houdini.
Hes done a pretty good job so far.
Shhhh! Somethings happening.
Sevnik had stopped, his eyes scanning the shadows as though he sense something. Suddenly a light snapped on, trained on something above them. They followed the light. Angela Bovary, hands and arms tied securely, a gag in her mouth, hung from a cable above the largest of the chocolate vats.
Stop right there, Sevnik. A voice said from the darkness. As you can see, I have delivered on my part of the bargain. Your wife is safe and sound. At least for the moment. Now put down the briefcase and slide it forward. Nice and easy. If you try anything heroic, I have the remote that will release the cable holding your wife. Im afraid someone can drown just as easy in a vat of chocolate as they can the ocean.
Sevnik slowly placed the briefcase on the floor and gave it a push across the floor. It went a good three to four yards before skidding to a stop. A figure emerged from the shadows. He had a gun trained on Sevnik. He picked up the briefcase.
Come on out, Mr. and Mrs. Steele or I put a bullet in Mr. Sevnik, and I assure you I hit my target every time unlike the unfortunate Mr. Taylor.
Remington and Laura reluctantly left their hiding place and joined Sevnik.
Jared Marshall smiled. You didnt think Id be foolish enough to forget about the great Remington Steele, did you? When they didnt answer, he continued. Now we all have what we want. You have Angela, and I have the formula. A very cordial arrangement, no? Everyone gets something they want. He paused, his eyes on Sevnik. Except for the Soviet government. They sent me to kill you. But I found you more useful alive than dead.
Do you want my thanks? Sevnik asked.
A little appreciation would be nice but not necessary. Jared told him. I wasnt thinking of you when I disobeyed orders. I found I liked this life in America. It was very profitable. And with a little help from fools like Taylor I could keep the Soviets content with bogus microfilm going out in your shipments, my friend. The real stuff I sold to the highest bidder. Then Taylor told me about Bovarys secret formula and I saw how the stocks jumped when word was released. It occurred to me that I could make a double killing, no pun intended. If I invested heavily in Hart & Hart and then sold them the formula for a large sum of money, Id make a tidy little profit. Enough to retire to some sunny little island in the South Pacific.
And after Taylor had served his purpose you killed him. Laura concluded.
Jared shrugged. He got impatient, demanding his share of the money that I had never intended to pay him.
You dont imagine youre going to get away with this, do you? Laura asked.
Oh, Im fairly certain of it, Mrs. Steele.
You cant shoot all three of us at once. She pointed out.
I wont have to. He gestured towards Angela. I have an insurance policy. He sat down the briefcase and produced a slim black box. I push this button and she goes in. Two of you will be needed to fish her out. The third I can handle quite easily with this. He waved the gun. Now I really must be going. My flight leaves within the hour.
With a smile he pushed the button. There was a loud thunk as the cable was detached and Angela Bovary plummeted into the vat.
Angela! Sevnik cried, running for the ladder leading to the catwalk. Remington and Laura followed.
They arrived at the vat just as Angela bobbed upwards and then sank. Without a word, Laura kicked off her shoes and jumped in. Unlike the previous vat, this one was much deeper and the chocolate closed over her head. She could not see so she flailed about trying to locate Angela by touch alone. Just when she thought she couldnt hold her breath any longer, her foot ran into something solid. Reaching down, she hauled it and herself to the surface. Remington and Sevnik reached for them, but before they could haul the women out, a drama below them caught their attention.
Tony was standing in Marshalls escape path, a gun trained straight at the mans heart.
This is the end of the line, Dmitri. He gritted.
Marshall who had momentarily lowered his gun to work the remote stood as still as a statue, his eyes on the man before him. Then as quick as a cobra he swung the arm with the briefcase, hitting Tony squarely in the side and sending him and his gun sprawling on the floor. Marshall whipped out his gun, pointing it at Tonys head.
As silent as a whisper a cable dropped from the ceiling and a slim, black-clad figure slid down, dropping silently to the floor behind Marshall. Francesca pulled out a shiny silver gun.
Turn around, Dmitri.
Dmitri stood still for a moment and then he whirled. But before he could get off one shot, Francesca pulled the trigger. The force of the shot, flung him background. He landed beside Tony, shot through the heart.
Tony looked up at the woman standing over him.
What did you do that for? He demanded. He was more useful alive.
Francesca smiled, a slow, catlike smile. House cleaning, darling.
House cleaning? Tony echoed.
He was one of ours. He had to be taken out.
One of yours?
Havent you guessed yet, darling? Francesca asked with a laugh. Im a Soviet agent. Agent 109 to be exact, but you can call me Francesca, darling. She smile broadened. It wasnt Dmitri you were after. It was me. I was the one who stole your film, Mr. Jones.
Tony stared at her, speechless.
Well, I must be going now, darling. She told him, but before I do, I want to give you something to remember me by. Reaching down, she wrapped her fingers in his shirt and pulled him upwards. Until we meet again, Mr. Jones. And she kissed him.
It was a long, fierce, curl your toes, knock your shoes off kiss that even had the four people on the catwalk staring in wonder. Then she released him and he fell back onto the floor.
She grinned. Do svidaniya, darling!
And then she was gone in a flash of black leather, repelling back up into the air and disappearing into the rafters.
Well, Laura, Remington said with a grin as he pulled her from the chocolate, I think youve just become Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm as far as Antonys concerned.
Just as long as I can be Pussy Galore for you, darling. Laura murmured, pulling him down for a long, fierce, curl your toes, knock your socks off chocolaty kiss.
Remington and Laura walked up the flagstone walk, stepped onto the porch between the Doric columns and urns of petunias and ivy. Lauras hand went to the door knob, but Remington stopped her.
I believe its customary to carry the bride over the threshold, Mrs. Steele.
But all means, Mr. Steele, lets be customary.
Remington swung Laura into his arms and together they crossed the threshold and entered the house at 7700 Totenham Court Road. Closing the front door with his foot, Remington continued up the stairway until they reached the master bedroom. Then he allowed Laura to slide down his body until her feet touched the floor.
Welcome home, Mrs. Steele.
Laura smiled, her eyes wondering around the bedroom, taking in the fireplace, the gleaming hardwood floors, the high, cathedral ceiling. Then her eyes fell to the bed.
Is that a bed or the Queen Mary?
Im not sure, but I think we ought to christen it just in case.
His hands were already busy removing jacket, blouse and skirt.
You seem in a hurry, Mr. Steele. Laura commented as he picked her up and placed her on the bed, following her down as he struggled out of his own clothing.
Its the first day without that bloody sling. He murmured, dropping kisses along her neck, shoulders and breasts. I can finally hold you with both arms and I fully intend to take advantage of my newfound liberty.
Then by all means, lets celebrate. Laura breathed, opening her mouth for his kiss and her body for his caresses.
I must say Bovary was generous with his thanks. Remington commented lazily a couple hours later as they lay tangled together in the sheets. A life supply of Bovary bonbons. How will you control yourself, Laura?
Laura made a face. I think Ive had all the chocolate Ill ever want. Being doused in the stuff twice tends to dampen a persons enthusiasm.
There was a silence, and then Remington murmured, What I found interesting was that no one seemed to realize it was Francesca that Antony was looking for all along.
Laura pushed herself up on one arm so she could get a better look into Remingtons face. Are you trying to tell me you knew she was a Soviet agent the entire time?
Remington squinted up at the ceiling. Lets just say I had an inkling. After all it was Francesca who put the film into the dresses, not Dmitri. He pursed his lips. So I asked myself where did she get the film. She would have had to steal it unless she was the US agent she wanted us to believe her to be.
And you didnt believe her?
Lets just say Im run into that kind of woman before. When a woman tries to lead you down a path, it usually means there a trap waiting at the end.
And you suspected all this and you didnt say anything?
I like to keep clear of government affairs, Laura. My motto is let governments work it out amongst themselves. Of course, he said, glancing over at her, a devilish gleam in his blue eyes, Im not opposed to allowing them help me out from time to time. Tony has a new interest in life and we no longer have mint in our garden. Seems like a good exchange to me.
You are a conniving, treacherous, she rose above him menacingly, splendidly clever scoundrel, and I love you. She finished, throwing herself into his waiting arms.
A few minutes later, Remington voice came again, serious this time. Will you like it here, Laura? The house, I mean. I wanted it to be just right.
I know. She said, looking up down at him. How handsome he looked with his dark hair mussed and just the slight touch of vulnerability in his eyes. Its a beautiful house. I thought so the minute I saw it. The only drawback is Frank Lloyd Wright next door.
A beautiful grin lit up his face. Its my understanding that every neighborhood has its crackpots, Mrs. Steele. I suspect well get used to it.
Yes, she said, lowering her head to his, I suspect we will.
CONTINUED IN 'STEELE COOKING'