A cool breeze blew through the mountains, sending a scattering of leaves across the forest floor. The sun peered over the tops of the trees, bringing a luxurious warmth to the air, and causing Laura Holt to yawn loudly. She blinked, embarrassed, and smiled at her companion.


"Don't worry about me. I'm just pleased that you find my company so exciting." Despite the words there was a smile in his eyes, and she laughed.

"That's what I like about this case. It's not exciting. In fact it's anything but."

"Yeah." The agreement came sleepily, and Laura smirked.

"Feeling wide awake, Murph?"

"Absolutely." They shared a smile. "Where's you-know-who?"

"I have no idea. Off exploring the great outdoors so far as I know. Trekking through uncharted territory, battling wild animals, all that sort of thing."

"Oh right. So long as he's keeping quiet." Murphy leaned back, relaxing with his hands behind his head, staring up at the muted green light filtering through the leaves. An athletic man of average height, Murphy was on the borderline of thirty, with the sort of boyish face and good-natured grin that could have made him a winner in the dating game, had he the inclination to make time for it. It wasn't for nothing that he had come to be co-owner of one of the most prestigious detective agencies in downtown Los Angeles. Along with Laura Holt he had formed the Remington Steele Detective Agency, creating the legendary figure of Remington Steele in the process. Steele was the perfect boss; rich, famous and non-existent; and under his silent guidance the agency had gone from strength to strength. Only recently had things become awkward, when a con-man had become caught up in one of their cases whilst trying to steal a famous collection of jewels. Somehow - and Murphy most definitely did not want to think about exactly how it had happened - the con-man had become Remington Steele, had decided that he liked the name, the company - and Laura Holt in particular - and had stayed. The non-existent, quiet boss, who had never trodden on anybody's toes or got in anybody's way, had become a living, breathing, chaos-creating nightmare, who seemed to truly believe that life was a re-enactment of a nineteen forties movie. The new Remington Steele, who had so far chosen not to enlighten his new friends as to his real identity, was a man of undeniable skill in certain areas, woeful incompetence in others, and a knack for knowing exactly how to drive Murphy Michaels up the wall. He did it with such fluent ease that Murphy suspected he practised. Steele might have been fiercely intelligent, a natural at con-artistry and a true blessing as a team-mate in a move buffs quiz, but as far as Murphy was concerned, as an associate in a detective agency he was a pain in the neck. As Remington Steele he was nothing short of a liability. Laura Holt, however - the real heart of the agency, and the real brains behind the fictional Remington Steele - seemed to like having him around. The attraction between them was obvious, although neither one of them seemed inclined to act upon it; for now at any rate.

"Three days watching for a poacher who never showed up." Laura's voice startled Murphy back to reality, and he turned to look at her. She was smiling, although her eyes were closed, and the effect was one of gentle somnambulance; a dreamy, detached look of utter bliss. Murphy felt himself smiling too. His relationship with Laura was really only that of a brother and sister, but all the same he was not going to object to a view like this one. Her long brown hair spread out across the arms supporting her head, and her loose clothes showed some things and suggested at others. He could never be sure with Laura just exactly whether her wardrobe was intentionally perfect, or merely accidentally so.

"You know those two guys who died in the car crash the night we arrived?" Turning back to stare at the leaves above him, Murphy let his eyes drift shut. "Are you maybe thinking what I'm thinking about that?"

Laura gave a low, surprisingly wicked laugh. "Like maybe those were our poachers?" She nodded, to nobody since no one was watching. "How long do you suppose we can stay up here keeping watch until our client starts to suspect something?"

"What's the honest answer?"

"I don't want to think about it." This time they both opened their eyes, and grinned at each other in enjoyment of the shared joke. Sometimes it was tough being the honest sort. Another hour or two, they told themselves; another couple of hours lying here, soaking up the sun, relaxing in the never-ending, absorbing silence which surrounded them. A bird called to its mate; or perhaps just because it felt like singing. The stream nearby chattered away to the rocks around it. All was bliss.

Five hundred yards away, Remington Steele was in trouble. It was nothing new to him; he had been in trouble many more times than he cared to remember; but this time was somewhat different. He stared down the barrel of what looked suspiciously like a Mauser big game rifle, and smiled broadly.

"Nice weapon. Very... big."

"Big enough." The large and menacing muzzle came closer to his chest. "Who are you?"

Steele's smile changed to one of businesslike efficiency. He straightened the hem of his khaki shirt, bought not two days ago especially for his little sojourn into the wilderness. "Remington Steele, Private Investigator. At your service." He held out his hand, but the man with the gun merely made an unpleasant face.

"What the hell's a private investigator doing up here? This is private land."

"Oh quite, quite. Owned by Mr Charles Richardson I believe. Charming gentleman. He hired my agency to investigate a series of poaching incidents up here over the last couple of months. His losses have been quite major as I understand it." His smile came back out for an encore. "Call him."

"I would." The gun was rammed against his chest, and Steele's smile fell away in response. For a second his eyes glittered with something very like rage. "Except that Mr Richardson was murdered, not two hours ago, but a man answering your description." The weapon knocked against Steele chest again. "Now, you were saying?"

"I said that I'm Remington Steele, and I can assure you that I'm telling the truth." Well, as much as I ever do. "There are two people merely a few yards away who can vouch for my every word."

"Really." Clearly the man with the rifle did not believe him. Steele's body language had altered perceptibly over the course of the exchange, and his laid back image of a playboy out for a stroll had gone. He knew it only too well, and he could see that his accuser had also noticed. The man wasn't going to trust Steele for a moment.

"Really." He met the other's eyes, holding his stare, his own eyes burning with righteous indignation and ill-suppressed anger. He hated it when people pointed guns at him. It was so... so very unrefined. Crude even. It was also extremely dangerous. "And may I ask how I'm expected to prove my story, if you persist in denying me the chance to confirm it?"

"You'll get the chance. We'll handle this in town." The man made a gesture with the rifle. "Get moving."

"Where to?"

"To talk to the special investigator the Sheriff brought in. He'll decide whether or not you're really Remington Steele."

"Oh." Steele's shoulders slumped. The mention of a Sheriff was actually quite exciting. A real, live Sheriff, like in the movies. Somehow, however, the idea of being taken to see him at gunpoint seemed to be destroying the sense of adventure.

They moved quickly down the hillside, to where the forest gave way to a rough road. A jeep was parked there, waiting for them, a second armed man sitting in the back. He glanced up at their approach.

"You got him then?"

"I got him." Steele was encouraged at gunpoint to climb into the passenger seat, whilst his original captor jumped behind the wheel.

"Good morning," Steele offered the stranger, somewhat lamely. "Are you here for the big game too?"

"Big game?" The man clearly did not understand. Steele nodded at the huge rifles that both men had been carrying.

"If you go after rabbits with that thing there'll be nothing left but the little white tails."

"We weren't after rabbits." The man settled the barrel of the long, immaculately kept rifle onto Steele's shoulder, smiling unpleasantly all the while. "We were after you."

"But you don't know who I am."

"You answer the description we were given. That's enough for me."


They drove on in relative silence, bumping along the rough track and swerving often to avoid the deer that continually strayed across the road ahead. Steele stared glumly through the windscreen, dirtied and cracked from the frequent showers of stones thrown up by the tyres. He could jump out of course, since they weren't going especially fast; but he didn't fancy a rough landing in the thorn bushes growing beside the road. Besides, his guards were carrying the sort of weaponry favoured by people who went after rogue elephants in the African bush. He was under no illusions about the likelihood of surviving if he took a bullet from one of them. If they didn't kill him they could easily blow off an arm or a leg. Instead he turned his mind to considering the more immediate problem; who might have killed his client. On reflection it would be easy enough to prove his innocence; Laura and Murphy could vouch for his whereabouts and his identity - more or less - and he had nothing to fear in that department. All the same, there had been a murder, and that in itself was cause for concern. He had met Charles Richardson only once, finding him an extremely likeable man. He had been about sixty, with a mane of white hair, a thick white beard, and a pair of astonishingly bright blue eyes in a weather-beaten, strikingly pale-skinned face. A New Zealander originally, he had arrived in America after the Second World War, bought a few acres of forestland, and twenty years later had found himself, almost by accident, as the owner of a huge stretch of the most beautiful parkland in northern California. He had had it designated a reserve, banned all hunting, and had settled down to a merry, almost hermitic lifestyle as a photographer of the local wildlife. He had offered Steele a cup of tree bark tea at their introduction, along with a quite delightful selection of petit-fours made from various flowers from his own garden. They had talked for nearly an hour about the relative benefits of acorns as opposed to nettles as an ingredient of tea; a subject that Steele had never known himself to have the slightest interest in before. It was an unpleasant thought that somebody could have killed Richardson, and destroyed all that eccentric and utterly charming knowledge.

They drew to a halt outside a small, whitewashed hut with blinds pulled across the windows and a pair of guard dogs lounging on the veranda. Steele made his way between them with great care. Neither of them seemed to pay him the slightest bit of attention, which only served to heighten his opinion that they were trying to lull him into a false sense of security. He was almost sure that the one on the right was sizing him up as a potential main course.

"Inside." The first of the men, the one who had captured him originally, opened the door of the hut and gestured inside. Steele stepped in. It was well lit inside, although none of the light escaped through the blinds to the world beyond. The hut itself was well furnished, although simplistic, with a scattering of home-made wooden furniture arranged about the place, and a woven rug lying on the floor. Steele could see no sign of anybody who looked like a Sheriff.

"Hello?" He walked further into the room, ignoring the two men behind him who had remained just outside the door. Their message was clear; should he attempt to leave they would stop him. He had no intention of leaving however. He wanted to find out just who he had been brought to see. If Richardson had indeed been murdered, he wanted to help find the killers. "Hello?"

"Hello." The voice came from just around the corner, where a man-shaped shadow waited almost out of sight of the main door. "They didn't hurt you did they?"

"No." Steele recognised the voice, and something more than mere instinct told him that this was no Sheriff. "Who are you?"

"I didn't think you'd come if you knew who I was. I told them you were the main suspect for the Richardson killing, so they'd bring you in. Told them I was a special investigator." Steele advanced slowly, for the light was not good where this new character was standing. He peered ahead.

"I can't say as I appreciated that very much. Now I know your voice, so would you mind telling me who exactly you are?" The man stepped forward in answer, and Steele frowned. He could see his host more clearly now; a tall man of around forty, with a sprinkling of grey in his hair and the sort of build that suggested speed rather than strength. Steele knew better; he had once watched this very man bring down three MPs in a bar room brawl whilst seeming barely to exert himself.

"Hello Steele." He had a warm smile on his face, and he put a slight, inquiring emphasis on the name. Steele found himself smiling too.


"Uh uh." George shook his head. "It's O'Connor now. Philip O'Connor. The heat got a little too powerful for poor old George."

"I don't doubt it." Steele frowned. "What made you think I wouldn't come to meet you?"

"The last time."

"That was five years ago."

"Yeah, but you always did have a long memory." They shared a brief laugh. Steele shook his head.

"I don't blame you for what you did back then. I did try to do the same thing to you." He sighed. "What happened to the dear old Marquis and his painting in the end?"

"I lost them. Somebody beat me to the draw." O'Connor gave a theatrical sigh. "You didn't spend too long languishing in that jail cell, I take it?"

"Only until the following afternoon. I persuaded them that I was the son of the British Ambassador, and they let me go. Chap in the cell next door looked a mite put out though."

"Oh? Who was he?"

"The son of the British Ambassador." They laughed again. O'Connor seemed to sober up rather quickly, and Steele's eyes narrowed. He was beginning to grow rather suspicious as to his friend's motives for having him brought to this place. O'Connor saw the shadows pass across the face of the younger man, and began to look decidedly subdued.


"If it's a scam, old friend, it'll have to be good to tempt me. Really good."

"It's not a scam. I'm in trouble." O'Connor seemed suddenly anxious to look at almost anything other than his companion. "You know the guys who picked you up said that Richardson's murderer matched your description?" He saw the expression on Steele's face and smiled rather awkwardly. "Yeah, well he didn't. He matched mine."

"You didn't kill..."

"Of course I didn't!" The older man looked about, as though anxious to start pacing to relieve some of his tension, then finally he gave up and threw himself into the nearest chair. "He's not cold yet, and he's already causing me trouble."

"I think you'd better explain."

"Yeah. Maybe I better had." He sighed, staring at a point on the floor some paces distant. "I was working on him. He has a lot of money he never uses; no relatives or anything. I mean the guy's a millionaire, and he lives - lived - in some rundown old house, with next to no outlay. He doesn't even need to buy food, for goodness sakes. He just eats what he grows in his garden."

"So you decided to help him with his finances?" Steele went to the nearest window, peering out between the blinds. He didn't see O'Connor's bleak, sorrowful nod.

"He caught me out. The old guy was a good deal more canny than I gave him credit for. I was going to see him, to try and persuade him not to go to the police. I don't think he was really going to go anyway, but I wanted to make sure. I kinda wanted to apologise too. I mean, I liked the guy, you know? But when I got there I heard gunshots." He took a deep, shaky breath. "Well you know me. Never be within ten miles of a loaded gun... except this time I was worried, about the old man."

"So you went to the house?" prompted Steele, his voice gentle. Clearly his old friend was on edge.

"Yeah. I looked in through the window. I saw the Sheriff... standing over Richardson. He had shot him, but the old guy wasn't dead yet. He was still moving. He looked..." He hesitated, not sure of the word. "He looked angry. Not scared. Maybe sad. Then the Sheriff shot him again. Killed him."

"The Sheriff? You're sure it was the Sheriff?" Steele crossed back over the room to stand beside O'Connor's chair. "It couldn't have been anybody else?"

"Know your local lawman, Steele. You know that. Hell, you told me that rule yourself the first time we met." He rubbed his face with his hands, as though tired. "He saw me of course. With my luck it's not surprising. Next thing I know I'm being run to ground by six deputies. I knew you were up here though. Saw you and your friends arrive." He smiled. "I couldn't believe it when I read the papers, saw that you were this Steele guy everybody's been raving over. I mean, the great reclusive private eye. You. So I figured maybe you could help me."

"I'm not exactly the man that my press makes me out to be, George." Steele smiled. "Sorry. Philip." He began to pace. "I suppose we should start by getting you out of here though. Where did you find Pinky and Perky out there?"

"Couple of hunters I ran into when I was trying to find cover. They turned out to be the slow type. Bought my story about being a special investigator without even asking any questions. They didn't even seem to care that Richardson hasn't been dead long enough for an investigator to get out here."

"Well let's hope they don't tell the Sheriff too much when he finds them." Steele glanced around the room, making a rough note of the place. There was only the one door, and the windows were too small to allow easy exit. He could probably make it through, but he doubted that O'Connor would be able to follow him. "We'd better get out of here. This is a dead-end."

"There wasn't anywhere else to hide." O'Connor sounded doleful. Steele shook his head.

"There's always an alternative to somewhere you can't get out of. Hiding under a bush is better than a place like this."

"Maybe." With an effort that suggested his growing mental exhaustion, O'Connor dragged himself to his feet. "I never was the expert in these matters. Remember that time in Monte Carlo?"

"You mean when you led me right into a no-through alley with three Neanderthal bruisers on our tails?" Steele allowed himself a small smile. "I made you memorise the first street map we could find after that."

"Yeah, and when I woke up in the morning you were gone anyway. I wasn't impressed."

"I met a fellow on the roulette table who turned out to be looking for a geologist to accompany his mining expedition. I felt like tagging along." Steele led the way to the door, looking carefully both ways before leaving. "Come on."

"You went on a mining expedition as a geologist?" O'Connor laughed. "You wouldn't know a lump of coal from a piece of iron pyrites. How come you never told me about this before?"

"Because I knew you'd laugh." Steele gave a small shrug, his attention only half on his friend. His chauffeur and fellow passenger from earlier seemed to have disappeared, along with the pair of hunting dogs, and that bothered him. "We did quite well until we got to the point where I actually had to know something. I had to make a pretty sharp getaway after that, but they had been paying very well up until then. I made a lot of money out of that little trip."

"Glad to hear it." O'Connor was glancing around, nervous, trying to focus on his companion's words to avoid panicking. He had always been nervous; Steele could remember during their last scam together, when the sight of their mark's bodyguards had sent him into a panic. Steele had calmed him then; shown him a way by which they could avoid the security, and do their job just as easily as if the guards had never been there. O'Connor had been his calming influence, the man who had stayed his more reckless hand at times. In return, Steele had helped to lessen the other man's fears, to let him see how recklessness could sometimes be the best way - the only way - especially when you lived the way they did. Steele wasn't sure what to say now; what to tell the man to ease his fears. The police could be behind any one of these trees; hiding in any one of these bushes. Laura and Murphy were miles away, a whole jeep ride back through the forest. Quite clearly Steele could not take O'Connor by the road, but that left only the thick forest where he had no idea of direction. All the same, they could hardly stay here.

"This way." He spoke the words with true conviction, setting off in the way that instinct told him was right. He trusted his instincts. They had been through a lot together; but even that could not disguise the fact that he was out of his depth. He was Remington Steele, not Grizzly Adams. He didn't know his way through the forest, and he didn't know how to begin. He didn't even know the basics about finding the way through all this greenery. He had heard of something unpleasant called poison ivy - but what exactly did it look like? He had a feeling that he would soon find out if he put his hand in some. For a second he remembered throwing stones at a bunch of neatly uniformed boys scouts when he was small - eight? nine? - yelling at them because of their neckties and their matching boots, and their silly hats. He was willing to bet that any one of them would have known how to avoid getting lost in a forest, even if a Californian wildlife reserve hadn't exactly been in their youthful training. Having said that, they were probably all desperately unfit by now, living in semis in the suburbs somewhere, with children and dogs and estate cars that needed replacing. He wondered if they remembered the dark-haired little boy with the fierce blue eyes, and how he had thrown stones.

"Steele? Steele?" O'Connor was pointing at something up ahead, trying to duck down behind a clump of bushes. Steele couldn't see anything. He crouched down beside his friend, wondering if he would eventually reach Laura if he aimed approximately uphill. They had been up a hill, but they had gone over one or two - he thought - whilst in the jeep. It was all so different by road. Everything looked so different.

"What is it?" he hissed, trying to see up ahead. O'Connor gripped his sleeve, pulling him down.

"Those two guys - the ones I got to bring you here? They're over there."

"I can't see anything." Steele strained his eyes to see through the trees. He was just beginning to think that his old friend might have imagined it, when he saw something - three somethings at a guess - all standing together just up ahead. "Got them. They're talking to somebody."

"It's the Sheriff. It's bound to be." O'Connor lowered his head. "Steele, they'll never believe me. And what if the whole of the local police force is in on it? Who's going to believe my word against that?"

"Will you stop being so damn defeatist?" Steele rubbed his eyes, hurting from the strain of separating camouflage-clad men from the green of the trees. "Maybe if I speak to them."

"That won't do any good." O'Connor sat down, leaning against the nearest tree trunk. "We're pinned down, aren't we."

"Not necessarily. There are three of them in front of us. That doesn't mean anything. They might not even know who you are."

"If they don't know yet they soon will." O'Connor wiped the sweat from his forehead, forcing a smile. "I'm sorry. I'm doing it again, aren't I. It's just--" He broke off. "Steele... you remember that time in Monte Carlo, when those two guys with baseball bats were going to break your legs because they thought you ripped them off?"

"Of course I remember." Steele remembered only too well, largely because, for once in his life, his protestations of innocence had fallen on deaf ears. They had known that he was guilty. He had known it too of course; he just hadn't been willing to accept that they were one step ahead of him.

"When I got to you... scared them off... I asked you to quit. You said you never would because you knew that you were better than they were. Well I could never think that way. I did quit. I got out of the game, and I've been straight for so long it hurts. This was the first time... and look how it's gone. I should never have tried to sting that old man."

"Shut up, Phil." Steele knew that the older man was afraid, but he didn't want to hear it. Phillip O'Connor was no coward, but every so often that over-cautious character of his could cause trouble. It made him see failure where there didn't have to be any such thing. "Look, I have friends in these woods, remember? All we have to do is reach them. How hard can it be to trek through some woods? I've handled worse than a crooked Sheriff and a handful of deputies in my time, and I know we can come through with this one. Laura will listen to you, and she'll believe you. She has friends on the force - and higher up too. Important people are always ready to listen to the Remington Steele Detective Agency."

"You make it sound so easy." O'Connor still sounded doleful, almost like a different man to the one Steele had known before. The detective who had never really detected anything flashed him a broad, confident grin.

"That's because it is. Come on." They moved around the bush, taking a long route around to avoid the three men in the distance. Neither spoke, their senses alert for the slightest sound. Steele wished that he was wearing something a little more substantial than a simple cotton shirt. They might have said in the shop that it was 'Perfect for all wilderness adventures', but he was beginning to think that they had seen him coming. He heard it tear as it snagged in a branch, and he had to tug his sleeve free.

"Steele?" O'Connor sounded quiet; almost unnaturally so. Something in his voice, some barely discernible inflection, brought his companion to an abrupt halt. His muscles strained, tense, alert.

"What?" he asked, although he was beginning to suspect that he knew the answer. A low laugh answered him, and as if to confirm the cold hand of suspicion, a booted foot crashed through the bushes off to his right. He spun around. Three men stood before him, where there definitely had not been three men before. All were armed. They wore the glittering silver badges of deputies, their weapons possessing that uniform look of the officially issued. One of them, the closest to Steele, was the source of the laugh. He was a tall man with a brown moustache, an unlit cigarette drooping from the corner of his mouth. By reflex Steele pulled out his gold cigarette lighter - he didn't actually smoke, but it helped him to play the James Bond rôle where necessary - and flicked it on. The small orange flame blazed in the green forest light as he held it out. The man lashed out, his hand connecting hard with Steele's wrist. The lighter spun away into the undergrowth, the flame mercifully going out before it hit the ground. Anger rushed through Steele's eyes, but he allowed himself only the merest of frowns.

"Trying to give up?"

"Shut up." Hands seized him, threw him up against the nearest tree trunk. He felt the same set of hands check him for weapons, come up empty-handed, and then move on - presumably to check O'Connor. He turned back to face their captors, frowning slightly at each one. None of them looked like policemen; at least not like he imagined Sheriffs and deputies - even Californian Sheriffs and deputies - would look like.

"Why are we under arrest?" he asked, keeping his voice even and polite. He was a tourist, if necessary - a man who had wandered off the beaten track. It was a rôle he was used to playing, especially since arriving in America. His accent could open all kinds of doors, as he had discovered to his undying delight.

"Who said anything about being under arrest?" The harsh tone told Steele all that he wanted. If these men were official deputies they were certainly not playing by official rules. He straightened his collar.

"Very well then. In that case my friend and I will be moving along now. Good day." He took a step away from the tree, but a hand collided with his chest, slamming him back against the unyielding wood. He frowned at the hand with distaste. "Pardon me?"

"Turn around." It was the man with the moustache who spoke, his dead cigarette bobbing up and down with each word. Steele did not move, but the strong hand on his arm brooked no argument. He was spun about, his forehead knocking painfully against the rough bark. He caught sight of O'Connor, and was startled to see the lost look on his friend's face - the expression of utter woe. He frowned, but had no time to ponder the issue now. Hands were forcing his arms behind his back, and he recognised the cold touch of metal on his wrists. He struggled.

"Hold still." The voice was gruff, but he had no intention of obeying. They couldn't handcuff him - they hadn't even arrested him, and at any rate he hadn't actually done anything wrong. He tried to fight back, but all of a sudden the cuffs were on, and he was helpless. He was spun back again to face his captors. This time the rage burned unchecked in his eyes - flashes of blue fury that sparked and shone.

"You can't do this."

"Well we're doing it." They began to drag him away through the trees, taking no notice of his struggles. He was nothing to them; a minor inconvenience easily surmounted. O'Connor, he could not help noticing, was not fighting at all. He walked along quietly, subdued - beaten. Steele tried to turn to look at him, tried to look into his eyes and spark some sense of hope - some sense of anything - but the hands on his arms, on his shoulders, were unyielding. A heavy blow between his shoulder blades made him stumble, bringing tears to his eyes. O'Connor did not so much as make a sound. At one time he would have shouted - have tried to come to his friend's aid. He might even have tried to draw their attackers' blows. Now he just walked along in silence, his head hanging. Steele stumbled on, waiting for his head to clear, waiting for the pain to subside. Laura was out there somewhere, he told himself. She would come, and she would get him out of this. She had to - they were tied together now. But despite that conviction he began to feel very, very lost. Something was not quite right here. He found himself hoping that Laura was not looking for him, that she would get into her car with Murphy and start driving away; because somewhere, in all this beautiful forestland, amidst the great, bright dream of Charles Richardson, something was very wrong. For the first time in a long, long while, Remington Steele - the man who had become Remington Steele - was starting to feel scared.


"Okay, where the hell is he?" They were standing on the edge of the river, where Remington Steele had most definitely been no more than half an hour previously. They had both seen him standing there, in his immaculate, city-bought wilderness gear, contemplating the view. Murphy wondered if he had fallen, and been swept away by the river to some black and bottomless lake. Maybe that was being too harsh - or too hopeful - but either way he could see no signs of it being the truth. There were no marks on the riverbanks to show where somebody might have fallen in, no mudstreaks or broken grasses.

"Maybe he went for a walk." Laura looked about. She could just about see a set of footprints through the undergrowth, as though their illustrious companion had decided to take a stroll into the thickest part of the forest. Somehow that didn't surprise her. He was probably looking for bears or wolves, or maybe just hoping that he would run into some Indians dressed in full war regalia. She smiled to herself. She really must stop thinking of him as stupid. Bizarre he might very well be, but stupid he wasn't at all. He was certainly infuriating, though; there was no denying that.

"We'll have to find him." Murphy leant on the nearest tree, his expression showing his deep lack of enthusiasm. "We can't leave him wandering around out here. Think of the poor bears that might try to eat him." Despite her very real affection for Steele, Laura couldn't help smiling.

"You first then, Murph." She waited for him to lead the way into the thick trees, wondering how far ahead their associate could possibly have got in barely half an hour. He was probably just on the other side of the trees, where she would find him, try to be angry with him, and then find her anger being expertly defused by a simple smile, and a look of mock contrition from those annoying blue eyes. As they reached the next barrier of trees however, they had to accept the fact that he was not there. There was no sign of him.

"Look at this." The ground was soft where they were standing, and footprints were clearly visible in it; two sets of footprints. One had come from the same direction as them, and to judge by their positioning and depth, the person who had made them had stood for some time admiring the view. It was quite attractive, Laura noticed belatedly. The second set of footprints had approached the first from a different angle, then both sets had headed off together.

"Steele." Murphy indicated the first set of prints with a pen taken from his shirt pocket. Quite suddenly he was the investigator again, knowledgeable and certain. "This is the set we followed here, and they're definitely his boots. New."

"And the second set came from over there." Laura pointed, wondering. "Richardson?"

"No, not big enough." She could see that herself, but had wanted to hear it from him. Who else could Steele have spoken to? Who else would he have gone off with into the forest? Had he gone willingly? There was no sign of a struggle, and she knew that her 'boss' was more than capable of holding his own against at least one assailant; but had the man been armed? And if so, why? It was infuriating, which was just like Steele. Nothing could ever be straightforward or ordinary when you allied yourself with a con-man who was a self-confessed trouble magnet.

"I suppose we should follow." Murphy straightened up with a sigh. "Shouldn't we?"

"We should." She took the lead, following the twin sets of footprints, coming eventually to a road. It was little more than a dirt track, stony and uneven, but it marked the end of both sets of footprints. Tyre tracks took over instead, pointing the way into the distance. She groaned.

"Why would he go off in a car?"

"Jeep," Murphy corrected good-naturedly. "And maybe he didn't have a choice?"

"But who'd want to kidnap Steele?" She sighed. Any number of people, especially given the rich and exulted reputation she had given him. He would probably fetch a pretty good ransom; at least, that was what kidnappers would be likely to think.

"Maybe it was the poachers." Murphy stared into the distance. The road started to slope downhill. "Maybe we should just count our blessings and leave him to them."

"Murph..." There was mock exasperation in her voice. "You don't really mean that."

"I don't?" He shrugged. "You're right, I don't. I wouldn't wish that on the poachers." Her serious eyes made him relent, and he smiled. "Don't worry, we'll find him. He probably met a tourist or two, and went home with them for a pot of tea. You know what he's like."

"Only too well." They started off down the road, hampered by the rough ground, and the stones that seemed desperate to share the insides of their shoes. The sun was hot, and Laura felt her frustration growing with every step. She could feel herself beginning to wish that Steele really had been kidnapped. Otherwise she was going to-- She cut off the thought before it could grow too violent.

"Take a look at that." They had been walking for nearly an hour, and were taking a break at the side of the road. Murphy was shading his eyes with his hand, pointing into the distance.

"What?" She frowned, looking ahead. Dust clouds were forming in the road, and she smiled. "A car."

"Probably a jeep." They shared a glance. "Him?"

"I hope so." She smiled grimly. "That way I can announce the unfortunate demise of poor Mr Steele in the morning editions."

"Can I hold him down?"

"If you like." They stepped forward. The jeep was growing closer, and they could see that it bore a badge on the front; a star-shaped badge, much like those used by various branches of the law enforcement agency. The vehicle slowed to a halt as it drew level with them, and the man in the passenger seat squinted at them both, his eyes just visible behind his sunglasses.

"You the private eyes?" he asked, chewing on something that smelt suspiciously of tobacco. Laura nodded.

"I'm Laura Holt, and this is my associate Murphy Michaels. Are you the Sheriff?"

"Deputy Phelps, ma'am." He smiled at her. "Got a message from the Sheriff though."

"And the message is?" He didn't seem inclined to tell her on his own, so she prompted him slightly. He frowned, as though unaware what she was talking about, then smiled again.

"Charles Richardson. He was murdered a few hours or so back. Sheriff thought you ought to know."

"Mr Richardson was murdered?" Murphy frowned, glancing across at Laura. He could tell what she was thinking. "Listen, one of our associates--"

"Mr Steele." The deputy nodded knowingly. "Remington Steele, right? He's gone back to HQ with some of our officers. Official identification of the body, liaison with some official types we've got coming up from the south." He grinned apologetically around a wad of tobacco. "Bit cut off up here, you know? Steele's being real helpful though."

"I'll bet he is." Laura wanted to groan. Just how the hell did he expect to be able to pull of his deception in the face of a professional team of official investigators from the city? "Can I speak with him?"

"I'm afraid that's impossible, ma'am." The man shrugged. "Long way away. Not expected back until tomorrow at the latest." He shrugged. "The message from the Sheriff was for you folks to head home. We'll send back Mr Steele when we've finished with him." For some reason Laura caught a sinister undertone to that last sentence. She frowned.

"Well where is he exactly?"

"Don't rightly know, ma'am." He touched the peak of his cap. "So long."

"But--" The engine was already revving up, and without warning the jeep spun about, sending a spray of dust and small stones into the air. The two detectives coughed, brushing the road dust from their clothes as they stared after the rapidly departing vehicle. Murphy bashed the last of it from his previously immaculate, but now somewhat awry, red hair and gave Laura an uncharacteristically serious sidelong glance.

"I don't like this, Laura," he commented unhappily, staring after the fast diminishing jeep. "I don't like this at all."


The Sheriff was not impressed.

He had been looking for a scapegoat, and had been fairly sure that he had found one. He had sent his men after him, and, to be fair, they had found him. They had brought him here, and here he now stood, suitably cowed. He was a tall man, just the wrong side of forty; black, with greying hair and a build that suggested a hard life, with the last few years spent in safety and security. An athletic build that was just now beginning to go soft. His dark eyes showed no fear, but they did show anguish, and the Sheriff was pleased by that at least. This was a man who wanted to be left alone. Whoever he was, he knew what was going on - had an idea if nothing else - and he absolutely did not want to be a part of it. That was good. It showed promise. The Sheriff had no intention of letting him go, but maybe he could keep suggesting it - hinting that it might be a possibility in the future. He had known that sort of thing to work, in the past.

The second man was a different story. He had given his name as Remington Steele, Private Investigator, and his identification had confirmed that fact. Certainly Richardson had hired a firm of private detectives during his last days. The Sheriff had seen the paperwork, or some of it at least, when he had been going through the old man's hut after killing him, and after sending his men out after the stranger he had seen looking through the window. Odd to think that it had all happened so recently. Four hours was it now? Maybe five. Richardson wasn't yet cold, and already things were changing - except that there was this man here, who wasn't supposed to be a part of the plan. He said that he was a private eye, and the Sheriff wasn't sure whether to believe him. There was a ring of truth to his story, and also a ring of untruth. Lies walked hand in hand with this man. His eyes suggested deception, and also suggested honesty. The Sheriff was tempted to have him taken out and shot, except... maybe he could be useful. Maybe he was worth keeping alive. He certainly didn't look dangerous.

He was about average height, more or less, slight of build, with thick black hair and intelligent blue eyes. He was just short of thirty, probably, with pale skin that hinted at a life of easy living, and a body and a stance that hinted at anything but. He was handsome too, smooth in appearance, which was enough on its own to put the Sheriff on edge, without the slightly peculiar accent carrying its inflections, its suggestions of far off places. Then there was the fancy tailoring, which showed through the outfit that was clearly meant to be an outdoorsy ensemble. The backwoods courtesy of Gentleman's Quarterly, thought the Sheriff with a wry smile. Maybe this guy wouldn't be all that hard to handle after all.

"Why are we here?" It was Steele who spoke, his cold voice cutting through the silence which had fallen following his cursory introductions. "You realise that the evidence against my friend here is somewhat thin on the ground. Even if you can make your ridiculous charges stick, you'll have to make a lot more people believe them before you can get away with this." He hesitated, as though afraid he might have gone too far, then seemed to give a mental shrug. "We're not alone you know. There are other people in these woods, who will come after us."

"Indeed." The Sheriff - he had not told them his name yet, and didn't see any reason why he should - settled on the edge of his desk and smiled pleasantly up at the younger man, amused by the righteous indignation and the sparks of reckless fury that he saw dancing in those bright blue eyes. He smoothed out the material of his uniform trousers, enjoying the pregnant silence, enjoying the way it allowed him to demonstrate the power that he had - the control over both of his prisoners. The older of the two - O'Connor - still hadn't spoken. Maybe he had already given up. "But you see..." He gave a small shrug. "Well, the long and the short of it is that I really, honestly, don't give a damn. Your friends can come after you if they want. They won't find you." He smiled, showing nicotine stained teeth that made Steele want to recommend a good dentist. "I've got a body, and I've got two self-confessed murderers. Case closed."

"Self-confessed?" The anger in Steele's eyes was dissipating, being replaced by confusion and the hint, maybe, of something else. "You mean...?"

"Precisely." The Sheriff jumped to his feet. "I don't need to set up a trial. Not even a show trial. I can have you charged, processed and sentenced before it gets dark. By this time tomorrow you're going to be starting the rest of your life - locked up safe and tight behind a set of steel bars. And I can get on with the rest of my life."

"Taking over ownership of the Richardson estates?" It was only a question, but it carried a hint of certainty with it. The Sheriff frowned. He didn't like it when people second-guessed him. It made him nervous. For a second, once again he considered killing Steele, but once again he decided against it. There was time yet. If necessary he could have an accident at the prison. That was hardly a problem. He brought a mask of stony-faced indifference over his eyes, and nodded at his chief deputy.

"Take them away."

"You can't do this." For a second the fear was clear in Steele's eyes, but he masked it with admirable self control. The Sheriff wondered if he had underestimated him. Youth and smooth looks were no reason to assume uselessness, after all. Again he shrugged aside his concerns. It wouldn't matter much either way, before very much longer. He nodded at the guards, and they started to drag the two men away. O'Connor didn't resist, although Steele put up enough of a fight for the pair of them. The Sheriff ignored them both. He was thinking about Steele's supposed friends, and whether or not he would have to deal with them too.


"What are we doing here?" Murphy was tired, which was hardly surprising. They had had a long, hard walk, and now it seemed as though there was nothing more to do but walk again. Laura had decided that the last thing she was prepared to do was to return home, and with that in mind had set off after the jeep. Unsurprisingly they had neither found it nor caught up with it, and were now standing in front of a clearly deserted hut.

"The tyre tracks led here," she said in answer. "The tracks of the jeep Steele was in."

"Well he ain't here now." He frowned, staring about at the hut. "What do you reckon? The special investigators brought him here?"

"There aren't any special investigators Murph. They said Richardson had only been dead a few hours. That's not soon enough to get much rolling, especially in a backwoods place like this. You'd be lucky to get the Sheriff out of bed that soon."

He nodded. "I know."

"Then why the dumb question?"

"I don't know." He sighed. "It was easy before, Laura. The ground was still soft in the forest; there were footprints. The road was easy too, 'cause of the tyre tracks. Here there's nothing. We don't even know if Steele really came here. Those footprints could have belonged to anybody."

"But they didn't." She turned in a circle, looking about. "He drove here, with at least one other guy. He knew about the murder by then."

"A murder that the local authorities are being really cagey about." Murphy held her gaze for a moment, seeming to search for something in her eyes. "We're assuming that he's not with any special investigators, aren't we. That he didn't go off somewhere."

"Oh I think he went somewhere alright, Murphy. I just want to know where." She sighed. "Okay, let's think this through. Say you're Steele."

"Is that supposed to be an insult?" He smiled. "Yeah, I know. Okay, I'm Steele. Now what?"

"You're brought here, for whatever reason, and you think you're in danger."

"Sounds right. Who is it, a debtor or somebody who knew me three years ago when I was called Arnold Snodgrass?"


"I'll behave." They shared a smile, each glad of the other's presence - perhaps more so than either of them was aware. "Okay, I guess I figure I should get out of here. There's only one exit from the hut, and it's not exactly Fort Knox. I suppose that I'd head for the trees."

"But the jeep might still be parked outside the house, so..."

"So I'd aim for the trees over in that direction." He pointed. "That way anybody near the jeep wouldn't be likely to see me."

"Precisely." They headed towards the trees, and had gone no more than thirty feet before they saw the first signs of footprints. Murphy grinned.

"Did I ever tell you I love it when you're right?"

"No, but I love it when I'm right too." She sighed. "Okay, I... Hold on. There are a lot of prints here."

"Four or five sets that I can see." Murphy crouched down. "Dog prints too. Two sets."

"Can you tell which breed?"

He glanced up, seeing her smiling teasingly. "No, but if I look really hard I might be able to tell you which flavour special chunky dog food they had this morning."

She wagged a finger at him. "Sarcasm doesn't become you, you know."

"So my mother always told me." He straightened up. "Okay, so Steele went into the trees, and a bunch of men and dogs followed him. Does this say 'Steele's helping the Special Investigations Unit' to you?"

"No. It says 'The local police force is trying to hide something'." She sighed. "Question is, what?"

"Who really killed Charles Richardson?"

"I'd be willing to bet that's got something to do with it." She led the way into the trees. The tracks did not seem to go terribly far, then were lost altogether in the undergrowth. Laura crouched down to get a better look, but the tangle of low bushes and gnarled tree roots did not seem inclined to tell her anything. "He must have walked into something."

"How? He was just a few feet away from us." Murphy also crouched down. "Do you remember the old days? Nice cases, rich clients? Spare time in the evenings."

"Look me in the eye and tell me you don't prefer living this way." He looked her dead in the eye; and then grinned, looking away.

"No comment. I-- Hello."

"Found something?" He was moving away from her, looking at something lying on the ground a shirt distance away. As she reached him he picked it up, holding it aloft; a gold cigarette lighter, sparklingly bright and clearly rarely used.

"Steele's?" Murphy asked, although clearly he already knew the answer. She nodded.


"A trip to see the Sheriff then?"

"I think so." She took the lighter, clicking it on. The flame blazed for a moment, warming her face with its gentle heat. Oh Steele... her mind whispered as she stared at the tiny, flickering fire. What have you gone and done this time?


"Would you mind telling me just what that was all about back there?" The anger clear in his voice, Remington Steele tried to ensure that his negative emotions were not directed at his old friend; not just yet. "We might have been able to get away."

"I'm sorry Steele." The voice was almost lifeless. "I just can't help thinking. I shouldn't even be here. I should have listened to Beth, should have stayed home."

"So you keep saying." Steele sighed, exasperated. They were in a small, cramped cage area within a large, heavy-duty prison van, and his patience was as much in short supply as his comfort. "This is crazy, Phil. They can't do this. We haven't had a trial, we haven't even spoken to a lawyer. They can't ship us off to some prison."

"They can." O'Connor sighed, staring into the middle distance. "How far back was the last town you saw before you came to this place, Steele? How long did you drive for, to get up here? We're in the middle of nowhere; a tiny, scattered settlement in the middle of some big hills no one cares about. All the Sheriff needs is somebody to blame the murder on, and then he can go through with whatever plan this is all a part of." He turned his head, staring through the toughened plastic windows to the blur of scenery going past. He vaguely remembered Steele telling him, a long time ago, about an adventure he had had in some improbably far away place, when he and his mentor Daniel Chalmers had been arrested, and been forced to make their escape by leaping through the windows of just such a vehicle as this. For a moment he considered suggesting it, then quelled the thought. Quite apart from the fact that they were chained to their seats, he didn't want to take any unnecessary risks. He had to make it through this alive.

"He's probably got some false documentation." Steele was almost talking to himself now. "Did you see his reaction when I accused him of trying to take over Richardson's land? He needed the old fellow dead so that he could take ownership himself. Question is, why?"

"Something to do with mineral rights. While I was working on Richardson before, I saw some letters. There are a lot of valuable things in the land he has. Anybody who owns that land is sitting on a metaphorical gold mine; certainly enough to turn a dodgy Sheriff like Masterson into a mass-murderer if necessary. We'd be dead ourselves by now, if he hadn't had to hand a fully-formed murder case over to Richardson's attorney, so that he can take over ownership." He gave his friend the smallest and saddest of smiles. "And to think that the poor old man thought poaching was his greatest problem. He hired you to look after his salmon, while all of this was going on in his own backyard."

"If that's the case, then I very much doubt we're going somewhere as civilised as a State Penitentiary." Steele groaned, leaning against the roughly jolting wall of the van. "Why didn't I stay with Laura and Murphy?"

"Your friends?" O'Connor looked concerned. "I hope they're okay. Masterson needs to keep us alive, so that he can bring us forward if necessary. He doesn't need your friends. They could mean trouble for him."

"You think he'd kill them?" Steele turned back to look out of the window, trying to imagine where his two associates could be. He had lost all sense of bearing; all notion of where that sun-drenched forest clearing he had left them in was. Hours had passed since then anyway. They wouldn't still be there. He hoped that they were alright.

"I don't think he'll kill them if he can avoid it. The three of you vanishing might cause rather more attention that he'd like." O'Connor turned about, trying to look at his friend properly, without the heavy seats getting in the way. "But he will kill them if he thinks they're a threat to him. Accidents can happen in a place like this you know. All kinds of accidents."

"I know." Steele closed his eyes for a moment, thinking about Laura. Yet again he seemed to have inadvertently put her at risk. This time it wasn't just her business or her reputation that was on the line, either. It was her life. Still, if they were indeed not going to any official prison, maybe, just maybe, the chances of escape would be greater. He hoped so. He thought about the prisons he had escaped from in the past; from the ancient, crumbling, cliff-side castle belonging to the Count of Jorgen, an old and not particularly missed enemy, to the beautifully painted paper house that a Japanese rival had once left him in, guarded by three trained leopards with diamond studded collars. He could get out of this, given time. He only hoped that Laura could wait that long.


"Laura Holt." Sheriff Samuel J Masterson leaned back in his chair, eyeing the beautiful brown-haired woman standing before him. So this was who Steele got to work with. Maybe it was worth being a private eye.

"Sheriff Masterson." She smiled and nodded, although he could tell that there was no warmth behind the greeting. "I'm here about my colleague, Remington Steele."

"A very obliging man." Masterson sat up straight, making a show of examining some papers spread out across his desk. "Soon as I told him about old man Richardson he was volunteering to go help out. Quite liked the old guy I gather."

"They did hit it off rather well." Despite herself, Laura couldn't help smiling at the memory; at Murphy, smiling in horror at the suggestion that he drink tea made from the bark of trees; at Steele, taking it all in his stride as always, proving as usual to be an expert on the subject. Richardson had been impressed, even though she had got the impression that he had seen straight through the act, and realised that Steele was faking it all, making everything up as he went along. "Sheriff, I wonder if I might be able to get in touch with Mr Steele? We are running a number of our own cases right now, and it is rather important that he give us his input on a couple of matters. Really quite urgent matters."

"As urgent as a murder investigation?" Masterson shook his head. "I'm sorry Miss Holt, but Mr Steele is up country at the moment, and I don't have any way of reaching him just now. I'm sure he'll call in when he's good and ready; when the forensics report is ready perhaps. Now if you'll excuse me..."

"Up country?" Murphy, who until now had remained silent, glanced up at this juncture. "You're deputy told us that he was down south."

"My deputies don't know everything Mr Michaels." Something behind Masterson's eyes glittered, and the smile he put on was clearly forced. "I'm sorry. I liked old man Richardson, and I hate to think that right now his murderer is out there somewhere, maybe getting away as we speak. I plan to catch him, so you really will have to excuse me."

"Do you have any idea what Mr Steele was doing out by an abandoned hut earlier on?" Laura's words clearly startled the Sheriff, and he blinked at her.

"I beg your pardon?"

"We followed a trail that he left for us. Rather a clear one." It was only a half lie, she told herself. "We found this at the end of it." She held out the lighter. The Sheriff stared at it, frowning.

"You sure that's his?"

"Perfectly sure." She turned it over in her hands. "It's been engraved." She didn't add that the initials it was engraved with, somewhat inexplicably, were KJ. She had questioned Steele on that matter once before, at about the same time that she had asked him why he didn't just use the lighter she had had made for Steele before she had even met him; the one with his 'real' name on it. It would help to prevent awkward questions, after all. He had merely smiled that enigmatic smile he was so fond of, and told her some story about a rich oil man from Texas named Kenneth Johanson, which hadn't really answered her question at all.

"Well maybe he took a walk. Maybe the special investigators wanted to take a look around the forest." He shrugged. "How the hell should I know? Listen Miss Holt, I really have a lot of work to do. I suggest you go home, both of you. Do what work you can do without Mr Steele's assistance, and wait for him to get back."

"Is he coming back, Sheriff?" Murphy's tone as he asked the question was quite cold. Masterson blinked at him.

"That's not a question you should be asking me, Mr Michaels. Is it."

"I don't know." Taking Laura's arm, Murphy led the way from the room, not releasing his friend until they were back out in the cool evening air. She frowned at him.

"I thought we were going to play it cool?"

"I know. I'm sorry." He shivered noticeably. "I really didn't like that guy. And he really didn't like us. He definitely didn't want us in there, asking all those questions."

"You think he killed Richardson?" It was a question that did not really need answering, but he answered it anyway.

"If he didn't, he certainly knows who did." He sighed. "Maybe we should go home. There's not a whole lot we can do here on our own."

"There's not a whole lot we can do at home either." She kicked at a loose stone on the ground, listening to the loud pinging noise it made as it struck the side of the Sheriff's official jeep. "He is the Sheriff. The local lawman. We have to find real evidence against him before anybody's going to take us seriously."

"Yeah." He took her hand. "Come on."

"Where are we going?"

"Back to that abandoned hut we found. We have to sleep somewhere tonight, and I figure by the time we get back there it'll be about time to turn in."

"Another long walk. Great."

"You'd rather we spent the night here?"

She laughed at that; a short laugh low on humour. "I have a feeling the Sheriff would like that. We could spend the night in one of his cells - and maybe every night after that for the next eighty years."

"I have a feeling you're right." They moved off together, heading back into the forest. Behind them, hidden by the wall of the Sheriff's office, was a tall man with a brown moustache. He chewed on the end of his unlit cigarette, then turned about and headed for the office door. It looked as though he and the Sheriff needed to have a little talk.


Remington Steele awoke feeling considerably less than his usual, cheery and immaculate self. Perhaps it was something to do with the blue denim suit that he was currently wearing, or maybe it was the two hundred pound bare knuckle prize-fighter who had spent the night on the bunk below him. Maybe it was just the prospect of a breakfast as unappetising as the meal that they had been served the previous night. It was worse than the stuff he'd been given at the juvenile home he had lived in, briefly, as a teenager; and that was really saying something.

"Morning." He nodded politely at his room mate, received a less than comforting response, and decided that discretion was most definitely the better part of valour. With that in mind, he climbed back up onto his bunk and sat there, trying not to move around too much.

"What you in for?" After several minutes of silence, his room mate startled him with the direct question. He frowned.

"Would you believe me if I told you I wasn't sure?" A low, almost bitter laugh was his answer.

"I think I probably would." A large head appeared. "Sheriff Masterson runs this place, same as he owns the town outside it. Nobody argues with him." Steele sighed. This was turning into something from the movies. People like Masterson weren't supposed to exist in the eighties, and certainly not in a state as supposedly civilised as California.

"Are you in here for something specific?" he inquired, trying to keep his tone friendly. The other man laughed.

"Drunkenness. I smashed a bottle over the head of the deputy who tried to arrest me, and I got three years. I was supposed to serve it at the State Pen, but when I was in the cells at the Sheriff's office I saw Deputy Lewis shoot some young guy for making him look a fool during a poker game. Next thing I know I'm in here instead of the state place." He frowned. "That was nearly five years ago now. Still, I'm luckier than some. Other guys didn't do nothing at all; one day they were minding their own business, the next they were in here. Mostly they're out-of-towners, like you. Some folk are locals."

"He keeps you all here?" Steele jumped to the ground, going to the bars to check that the coast was clear. "Why don't you try to do something about it?"

"You like trying your luck against forty men with machine guns? This isn't some small operation; this is Sheriff Masterson's place. Nobody gets out of here, unless they can give him something. He coulda killed us, but he didn't. He coulda killed every one of us. Most of us are the kind who wouldn't be missed. But he keeps us alive, and I'd like to stay that way. Tow the line, and maybe we'll all get out of this. That's the way it works in here."

"Why? Why does he keep you all alive if it would be that easy to kill you?"

His companion laughed. "Good question. He needs us, that's the simple answer. See, he's got us building a road; a way up this big mountain that nobody else ever goes near. They say it's got something to do with what's in the mountain. Gold maybe, or something else. Whatever it is it's got to be pretty damn valuable for him to go to all this trouble; to have so many people working for him, guarding us, keeping this whole operation going."

"Mineral rights." Steele nodded. "The mountain must have belonged to Charles Richardson."

"Charles Richardson?"

"Yes." He frowned, staring mutely though the bars for several moments. "A nice old man that I was rather fond of. Masterson murdered him to try to gain ownership of some land."

"Oh." The big man shrugged, then moved towards the door, slapping Steele on the back with enough force to knock him painfully against the bars. "You wouldn't be thinking of doing something about all this would you?" There was a friendly note to his voice, but there sounded as though there was something else there as well. "You and me can get along real well if we put our minds to it, but it's best not to rock the boat. Otherwise things have a habit of not being quite so friendly anymore. Catch my drift?" He didn't wait for an answer. "Say, what's your name anyhow? We didn't get the chance for a proper introduction last night." He held out a ham-sized hand. "Wes Cutter. They call me Thumper, though I don't rightly know where that name came from."

"Remington Steele." Steele shook the proffered hand, and Cutter laughed.

"Man, that's a name. Remington? Where'd's a name like that come from anyway?"

"All over." He turned away, the introductions finished with, and gazed back out through the bars. The guards would be coming soon, he knew, and then presumably they would be off to build this road. With a bit of luck that would be the perfect chance for an escape. Cutter seemed to guess his thoughts, for a large, meaty hand gripped his arm, turning him around none too gently.

"You wouldn't be thinking about escaping, would you son? Maybe trying to do something about this old man you were talking about? 'Cause like I said; we don't like it round here, when folk try to rock the boat."

"I have no intention of rocking any boats, I can assure you."

His answer was a low laugh, which suggested that Cutter didn't believe him one little bit. A large and very threatening fist waved itself in front of his face.

"We all want to get out of here, son. We all want to get back to living our proper lives. If getting there means obeying every little order Masterson gives us, we'll obey. If it means being polite, and towing the line, and not treading on any feet, then that's just what we'll do." The fist closed around Steele's shirt front, pulling him closer to the pock-marked face above him. "I've got my orders, son, and those orders are to see that you don't go doing anything unfriendly. I aim to stick to you like glue, and if I see the slightest hint that you're not being one hundred percent the perfect inmate, I'll..." He let the words trail off, lowering Steele back onto the floor and patting him on the shoulder encouragingly. "Well let's just say that I won't be happy. Understand?"

"I understand." Their eyes met. There was nothing between them now but understanding; the understanding that one of them was going to do everything in his power to escape, and that the other would do anything - anything at all - to prevent him. Suddenly it seemed much colder in the room, and when the guard arrived to take them away, Steele was glad. He needed a change of scenery, no matter how depressing; but wherever he looked, it still seemed that people were watching him. It was as if some message had been passed around; that here was a man looking to disturb the status quo; that here was a man who wanted to escape; to rock the bloody boat that they were all so worried about. Couldn't they see how stupid it all was? How Masterson was manipulating each and every one of them? There didn't seem to be a way of getting through to them, which was frustrating enough; even worse was Cutter, his pock-marked face fixed intently on Steele; his bright, suspicious eyes hardly wavering for a minute from their target. Steele tried to ignore him. He needed to think, to plan his escape; and yet he couldn't shake the feeling that Cutter knew exactly what was going on his mind; knew exactly what plans he was making. The big man was almost obsessive in his attentions. This was going to take some very careful planning; a lot of time and effort. But the one thing that Steele was sure of was that he didn't have a whole lot of time. The longer that he thought about it, the more certain he became that Laura was in danger. He had to get out; and quickly.


All morning they worked in the hot sun, digging through the undergrowth or dragging heavy loads of gravel to make the surface of the road itself. Steele caught only a brief glimpse of Phil O'Connor; the bigger man had been put to work clearing away the felled tree trunks, and they were not working together. Steele, unsurprisingly, was working with Cutter, digging hard in the burning heat. The other workers kept close to them, hemming them in. Clearly Cutter was not the only one with instructions to watch him.

The road edged its way onwards up the hill, just as painfully slowly as, presumably, it had been doing for at least the last five years. There was a long way still to go, and a vast distance which had already been covered. Steele wondered what was going to happen when it was finished. What use would Masterson have for all these men, once this hurdle had been finished? Maybe he would use them to mine out whatever it was that the hill contained. A cheap workforce, anxious to do his bidding; the perfect set up, particularly since the long processes involved in sorting through Richardson's estate was likely to prevent any official mining from going ahead for several years. But then, if he didn't start thinking soon, he would still be here when the road was finished. He would find out first hand, then, what Masterson's next step was going to be.

"Two of you. Get over here!" A guard had materialised from out of nowhere, his gun held deceptively casually in his hands. "Steele, Cutter. Move it." The pair moved towards him, Steele's muscles tingling. Maybe it was the possibility of an escape attempt, or maybe it was just a reaction to the hard work so suddenly halted. He clenched and unclenched his fists a few times, trying to focus his mind. He had to be able to think.

"Over there." Nodding towards the piles of gravel brought in for the road-building, the guard pointed with his gun to where one of the small carts had lost a wheel. A man was struggling with it, trying to balance the heavy load on his own. Cutter hurried to his assistance, easily taking the brunt of the weight on his powerful arms.

"Grab that wheel!" he hissed to Steele. Steele bent to pick up the small metal disk, turning it over in his hands. "Give it here!"

"Hold still." Steele crouched down beside the two struggling men, examining the axle. It was damaged, the end splintered where the wheel had broken loose.

"What are doing down there!" The man who had been with the cart originally sounded exhausted. Steele ignored him. "Come on! You're just supposed to stick the damn wheel on, not give it an overhaul."

"It won't go on." Scuffling around to make it sound as though he was actually doing something, Steele glanced about. They were near the trees here. Surely it couldn't be this easy? All the same, he had known less professional arrangements than this; guards who had been more careless, cover that had been even more thick and inviting. He forced down the determined smile and banged the wheel urgently against the axle. "It won't stay. I can't seem to - look out!" With an almighty shove he pushed the cart, toppling it from its precarious rest. Cutter threw his weight against it, steadying it, and in the process trapping the other man between the cart and the ground. The man yelped, not so much though pain as through indignation. Cutter struggled. If he let go of the cart, the man beneath it would die. He roared. Steele did not wait to see what came next, but with a nimble leap over the nearest bushes he dashed into the forest.

Inside all was green and cool. He did not wait for his eyes to adjust to the sudden relative darkness, but ran onwards instead, veering to the left and the right to avoid the trees and the thickest of the brambles. He heard shouts behind him, heard the crashes of pursuers, and increased his speed still further. It was odd to think of it now, but he hadn't realised before just how tired he was. He hadn't slept much the previous night, for obvious reasons, and the morning's work had been backbreaking. His feet tripped and slid on the rough ground.

"Damn." He was sure that the pursuit was gaining. He changed direction and tactics at once, aiming now for the thicker undergrowth, forcing his way through. The trail he left would be clearer here, but he was fast and he was not terribly big. The men chasing him could not say that by any means, and he was sure that he had the territorial advantage. Flashes of memory came to him as he ran; Madagascar, 1976. He had been running from a gang of land pirates who had somehow got it into their heads that he had gained possession - stolen, to be honest - the golden statue of an ancient local goddess which they themselves had just stolen from an archaeological expedition. He had protested his innocence - easy, since he had already sold it back to the expedition in question - argued, shouted, and then run. He couldn't remember how that one had ended; except that he had got away. The undergrowth had been even more thick than this forest, the pursuit more vocal, the end more certain had he been re-captured.

He changed direction again, this time aiming for the now clearly audible rush of water. Maybe this was the same river he had stood by the previous day, when he had grown bored with Laura and Murphy's shop-talk and had wandered off on his own. It didn't much matter, since he couldn't very well follow it - that would be far too obvious. Instead he hurled himself through the chest-high water, stumbling up the bank on the other side, redoubling his speed as soon as he was on safe, dry land. Then he was back in the forest again, the trees closing in around him, the ground uneven and rough underfoot. He tripped but did not fall, racing onwards, ignoring the distant shouts and the brambles and the persistent, grabbing tree branches. He had to get away.

He burst out of the forest unexpectedly, almost falling without its closeness about him. He stumbled free of the last of the overhanging greenery, looking about wildly. There was no cover here. Sure he could run faster now; but no cover meant danger. He took a couple of steps forward, uncertain which direction to take. The ground sloped downwards and he slid, almost losing his footing, then regained it only to come slipping and stumbling to a sudden, nerve-shattering halt.

He stood on the brink of a precipice, staring down at a great, sheer drop that seemed to go on forever. Far, far below him, he thought that he could see people moving around. Men in suits, wearing hardhats and carrying clipboards; or so his mind told him. He could not see the details; could not see anything more than the fact that they were moving about. He watched them for a second, stunned, his mind racing as fast as his pulse. Where to go now? He could not go down, clearly - or forwards, equally clearly. Backwards was just as impossible an idea. He looked to the left and to the right, and chose the latter. He had taken barely three steps before he began to realise his mistake. The sloping ground was dry and crumbling, the grass loose here, and the rocks unsteady. They fell in a shower beneath his feet, making him stumble, making him slide closer to that great, steep drop into nowhere.

"Steele!" The voice above him made him jump, intruding on his intense concentration enough to be a mighty shock. He slid nearer to the chasm, his eyes wild but his mind calm. "Don't move!" He looked up into the eyes of a pair of deputies, guns drawn, levelled straight at him. Behind them loomed Cutter, and to the left and the right were others; two men with machine guns, two men in uniforms just like his own. Why didn't they do something? There were three prisoners there, with nobody watching them; all too interested in what he was doing to worry about anything else. Why didn't they attack their guards now? Why didn't they do something? Anything? But they didn't. They just stood there, all three of them, in their prison-issue blue denims, their enmity turned not against their oppressors but against him. And what was he? Just one lone thief stroke con-man about to get his head kicked in for trying to do something to help his friends.

"Put your hands in the air." The order came not from the deputies, not from the guards, but from one of the other prisoners. Their eyes met, each as cold as those of the other. Steele wondered what would happen if he raised his hands. Given his current precarious balance he would probably slide straight over the edge of the cliff. Now that would put a spanner in the works. He was almost smiling when he did lift his hands above his head, and the expression hardly changed as he struggled back up the slope to join the others. They looked terrible. Exhausted. One of the deputies had lost his badge, torn off with a large helping of shirt. It might have been satisfying, had it not all been so bloody depressing. They threw him up against the nearest of the trees, just as the others had the day before, when he had been arrested with Phil O'Connor. They cuffed his hands behind his back again too, dragging him back to square one in the physical sense, as well as through everything else. He felt his spirits sink.

"You were warned," Cutter told him softly, before he grabbed the younger man by the scruff of the neck and pushed him forward, violently, into the trees. It took all of Steele's concentration just to keep his feet, just to avoid being brained by the tree branches that he could no longer deflect with his hands. There was room for one thought through it all though; one sudden realisation. The people that he had seen were very likely surveyors, sorting out Masterson's strange claim over the land of Charles Richardson; seeing no reason why he should not follow through on his plans. And all the time, so close to where they stood, was the truth of the Sheriff's deception. If only they had looked up they would have been able to see him; he might have been able to signal to them. It didn't matter. It was all just pointless speculation now. They hadn't even looked at him. So close to where they stood... and they hadn't even known that he was there.


The County Library, as it was so grandly called, was a small, ramshackle building - just like every other building within twenty miles or more. Laura sat at its one decent table, three books representing the entire local history section spread out before her. She turned their pages one after the other, mechanically, without interest. If there was anything in the books which might hint at why Masterson was so interested in Charles Richardson and his land, she had not found it so far. Murphy, sitting next to her with a pile of old newspapers, yawned loudly and then apologised. Her only answer was a yawn of her own.

"This isn't getting us anywhere." Murphy rubbed at his jaw, wishing that he had been able to find a decent store in town. He needed a shave, and he had hardly come equipped for a long stay. So far his pleasant morning in the woods had stretched into three and a half days, and showed no sign of ending yet. It showed no sign of producing Steele either, which was a mixed blessing. Laura thought that he was in trouble, in between wondering whether he had found some rich local widow to con out of her life savings. Murphy just thought he had done a runner. Gone off to Paris to steal priceless works of art, or to London for a crack at the Crown Jewels. Alternatively he had just got mixed up with Sheriff Masterson. The more that he read through the papers, the more Murphy came to dislike the local lawman. People vanished in this town, and they didn't seem to come back.

"Hey, here's something." Laura pushed one of her books towards him. "The Gold Rush came here, for a while at least. One of the mountains nearby had quite a large seam in it." Murphy peered over the top of his current enthralling read: The Glenn's Gully Gazette, dated 25th November, 1980. Amongst the more exciting stories, such as Jim Harper makes county onion-growing finals third year running! and Hot recipe tips from Sizzling Sue at Dana's Delicious Diner! were at least three missing persons ads, plus the story of a young man killed in a shootout with one of the Sheriff's deputies. Something about the story sounded very fishy to Murphy.

"What's such big news about the Gold Rush?" he asked, looking the indicated page over with a somewhat jaundiced eye. There was a photograph of four men, all with improbably large whiskers, and armed with pickaxes and shovels. They looked thoroughly miserable, which was something that Murphy could easily sympathise with. He read the caption: Bill Glenn with three eldest sons facing another winter at work.

"Maybe there's still something to be had up there. More gold, or something else." Laura sighed, shutting the book with a sudden slam. "I just wish we knew something. Nobody seems to have seen Mr Richardson's body, and nobody seems to know anything about the case."

"Old Man Richardson, you say?" The truly ancient custodian of the library's decidedly non-vast collection appeared as if by magic at her right shoulder. She was a small woman, with heavily wrinkled skin and watery grey-green eyes. She wore glasses with stupendously thick lenses on a chain around her neck, but never actually seemed to put them over her eyes; which might have been why she spoke to Laura whilst gazing steadily at Murphy. "Terrible affair."

"The Sheriff must be working overtime to find out who did it," Murphy commented, feeling that he should say something since the woman was staring at him so intently. She frowned at him, either confused by his words or by the fact that what had been a young woman earlier appeared to have transmuted into a man.

"The Sheriff's already got the men who did it. They confessed the same day." She shook her head. "Terrible it was, and him so old."

"They've got the men?" Laura was amazed. She had heard no such thing. The old woman was nodding hard enough to risk serious whiplash.

"Two of them there were." She peered hard at Laura. "One was about your age. The other was older. Young fellow was white and the older man was black, but that's all I know." She frowned again, and her eyebrows knitted together, almost obliterating all trace of her eyes. "Except that they're in prison now."

"You don't happen to know their names?" Working on a sudden suspicion, Murphy shared a glance with Laura. His associate shook her head, but Murphy was sure that he was right. The little old woman shrugged.

"One of them lives nearby. O'Connor he's called. He's married to Beth Talbot as was." She was silent for a long moment. "Young fellow had some weird name; city fellow I shouldn't wonder. It's a crime, it really is."

"Being a city fellow?" She glared at him.

"I mean about Mr Richardson. He used to come in here regular as clockwork, more or less. Had a weakness for the Romantics, and we've got a few first editions donated by an old lady who used to live round here." She shook her head as though trying to rid it of some dreadful infection. "Terrible."

"These two men." Her own suspicions now growing to match Murphy's, Laura stood up, closing all of the books she had been reading. "They're in the State Prison now, right? I mean, murder being what it is..."

"The State Pen?" The little old woman, whose name-badge on her faded, floral print frock read Millicent Mae-Gordon, gave a little laugh. "Heck no. They'll be in Sheriff Masterson's own place. He doesn't send anybody to the real prison 'less he has to. Most of 'em go up to his little place in the hills. He runs a tight house, and there's not many people near here who's about to ask any questions about it, neither."

"I see." Laura pushed her chair back against the table with rather more noise than she had planned, then gestured to the door. Murphy followed.

"Beth O'Connor?" he asked her. She nodded.

"Beth O'Connor. And when we've handled that I want to get in touch with Bernice. She can put the word out for us about what's going on around here. I'm beginning to think that this is something we shouldn't be dealing with on our own."

"Gee, you think?" Murphy sighed, shaking his head. "This was such a nice little case. I liked this case, I really did. Now look at us."

"Think of it as a challenge, Murph." She gave her own sigh, longing for a decent shower and a chance to change into clothes that felt at least half fresh. The way things were going now it could be some time before she got the change to indulge herself there. "Where do you suppose we find this woman?"

"Outside of town. She said they lived nearby, not here." They headed towards their car, woefully out of place amongst the town's battered collection of rusted jeeps. "Knowing our luck she'll turn out to be the Sheriff's mistress."

"Knowing our luck she killed Richardson." Laura climbed behind the wheel. "Are you hungry?"

"Yep." He winced. "But if that means a trip to Dana's Delicious Diner, count me out. I'm not sure how many more fried tomatoes I can take. I think she cooks them overnight."

"Maybe you're right." With a sigh Laura started up the engine and drove away from the library. Behind them another car engine started up, and the Sheriff's moustached deputy, chewing yet another dead cigarette, began to follow them down the road. He looked even more grim than usual, and as he drove he reached for the radio hanging beneath the dash. After all that he had just heard, it was long past time that he report in.


Prison was boring. In fact, in all honesty, Steele felt inclined to classify it as one of the places he would be least likely to recommend to his friends; except that most of his friends had already tried it out for themselves, at one time or another. Apart from the endless monotony of getting up and going to bed at exactly the same time each day, and apart from the equally endless monotony of tasteless grey food served on boring grey metal plates, the whole fact of being in prison itself was boring. Maybe it was the décor, maybe it was the sea of unfriendly faces. Maybe it was building the bloody road every day. He was bored with being shouted at by the guards, bored with running the gauntlet amongst his fellow prisoners all day, bored with the daggers Cutter glared at him with all the time. Prison, he had always believed, was supposed to be dangerous; exciting even. It was a place where bad things happened, and where Mr Big bribed the wardens to gain control of C-Block. It was a place where stooges left packets of cocaine in the washrooms, and gangs with unpleasant tattoos played with home-made switchblades. It wasn't supposed to be a place so boring that volunteering for latrine duty began to sound like a nice way to spend the day.

"Enjoying yourself?" Deputy McCray, a particularly grey and boring member of a particularly grey and boring staff fell into step beside Steele as the prisoners walked back from the road on the fourth day. It didn't feel like the fourth day, Steele thought to himself with a rush of honest self-pity. It felt like the fortieth at least. Even the steady jangle of the chains on his ankles sounded boring. They had been annoying at first, rattling at his every step, getting in the way when he tried to walk; and climbing up onto his bunk the first night he'd worn them had proved to be nearly fatal. Now he was just bored with them. They didn't even jangle in tune. One of the links made a distinctly flat sound as it knocked against an equally tuneless bedfellow, and it was beginning to grate on Steele's nerves. Why did one little escape attempt mean that he had to be driven insane by rattling chains as a punishment? It would have been enough to drive him to drink, had alcohol been available, and had he been at all inclined to drink it.

"Of course I'm enjoying myself." Throwing aside his self-pity, Steele smiled at the guard in great good cheer. "Nice weather, a pleasant stroll through a pretty wood. Sweet birdsong ringing in my ears... It's just not like this in the city, you know. All those buildings, all those cars. So very uncivilised, don't you think?"

"The name Laura Holt mean anything to you?" Changing the subject with the sort of expression that suggested great glee, McCray spat a stream of tobacco juice at a nearby plant. Steele's smile did not waver for an instant.

"The name doesn't ring a bell, no. Should it?"

"Well if you don't know her, you won't care will you?" McCray laughed, largely to himself. "The boss says she's getting too close; her and her friend. So we've got to shut them up." He chewed noisily for several minutes. "Word is you know them, and I was just wondering if there was some message you wanted me to give them, before I carve 'em up into little pieces." He laughed around a mouthful of tobacco juice, a river of it trickling down his chin. "You'll probably be eating 'em both in the stew for the rest of this week."

"Charming, I'm sure." He sighed. Desperate times called for desperate measures. Laura really had better appreciate this. He came to an abrupt halt.

"Hey!" McCray grabbed his arm. "Keep moving, Steele."

"You know something?" Taking a step forward, Steele twisted his arm out of the other man's grip, jabbing a hard finger into his chest. "I feel sorry for you."

"I said, keep moving Steele." Others had stopped now, prisoners and guards all looking back towards the immobile pair at the back of the line. "You're asking for trouble."

"You want to know why I feel sorry for you?" McCray didn't seem prepared to venture an opinion, so Steele carried on without waiting. "You're stupid, McCray. It's an unpleasant thing to say, I know - and I genuinely feel sorry for having to say it. It's the truth though, isn't it." He clapped the other man on the shoulders. "My greatest and most sincere sympathies. But don't worry; no matter how stupid you are, there's always someone more so." He frowned. "Although in your case that quite possibly isn't true."

The first blow caught him on the jaw, spinning him around by almost one hundred and eighty degrees. He hit the ground hard, his vision blurring, and he struggled to make it back up. The chains at his ankles slowed proceedings rather, and McCray was on him before he could move aside. A heavy, powerful foot slammed into his ribs, raising itself for another blow. He caught it just in time, lifting and twisting to send McCray toppling to the ground. He landed badly, and Steele was on him in an instant. A two-handed punch to the jaw brought stars to his opponent's eyes, but he was stronger than Steele had given him credit for. He drew his legs up, wrestling against the detective for the upper hand, reaching for a handful of dust from the ground. Steele saw it coming, managed to dodge aside. He missed the most of the potentially fatal dirt, but his movement cost him the wrestling match. McCray took advantage of his momentary distraction to hurl him sideways, moving to his feet with admirable speed. This time Steele made it up too, advancing as fast as the chains on his ankles would allow. He caught the deputy's next punch, stopping the blow and swinging it, making his opponent stagger.

"Hold it!" Ford and Walker, two more of the guards, had seen enough. They moved up, guns levelled, gesturing for Steele to back away. He did so, leaving McCray spitting blood and tobacco juice. The deputy coughed harshly, having swallowed much of his tobacco, and glared at Steele.

"I'm going to tear you apart for that." His voice was a whisper; a cold and angry hiss. Steele smiled at him, although in reality he felt in far from a smiling mood.

"You wouldn't dare," he goaded, his heart cold with something very like fear. It would be all too easy to take this too far. All too easy to go beyond the point of no return.

"Wouldn't I?" McCray was moving closer. Steele watched him come.

"You're a coward," he said softly, his emotionless eyes locked into the other man's stare. "You haven't got the guts to try anything." McCray laughed.

"Are you really that desperate to die?" he asked. Steele's only answer was a slow, insulting grin. He was still grinning some time later, when Ford and Walker finally managed to pull their colleague away. They dragged the barely conscious prisoner to his feet, standing him up to the accompaniment of roughly equal jeers and cheers from the rest of the inmates. He raised one, shaky fist into the air, as if in triumph; and McCray punched him hard. Steele collapsed unconscious to the ground.

"You're not going to last the week, Steele," McCray muttered softly as he polished his victorious fist on his shirt and walked away. Ford and Walker threw his oblivious victim into the nearest cart. He looked a mess, and neither man was under any illusions as they started back off down the hill. They had seen it all before. By the looks of things, Remington Steele wouldn't even make it through the night.


Beth O'Connor sat at her kitchen table listening to the baby cry. It probably wanted feeding, but just now she wasn't sure that she felt up to it. It was all so hard to take in. One moment Phil was going out to meet with Charles Richardson, and the next she was hearing that he had confessed to the old man's murder. It was a ridiculous situation. Sheriff Masterson was behind it, she was sure of that. She didn't know how or why, but she knew that he had set her husband up. She wondered if Masterson himself had wanted Richardson dead. It wouldn't be much of a surprise if he did. Richardson was known all over Glenn's Gully for hating the Sheriff. He disliked the way that the younger man ran everything, controlled everything, and did what he wanted with the town and the locals. He hated the way that the locals had come to accept it, and to support their Sheriff in all that he did. They were happy to be run by a corrupt, dangerous man, if it meant that things ran smoothly.

Phil had questioned it, when he had first moved in. Beth had grown up in the area, and she had seen the situation unfold before her. She had seen the curtains closing around the town, shutting it off from the world outside. She had seen the people folding in on themselves, turning against outsiders; turning against her when she had married one. They had begun to support their Sheriff more and more, closing ranks where necessary, helping to conceal the disappearances and the unexplained deaths. Beth had wanted to do something about all of that at first, but she had soon been persuaded against it. She had wanted to move out, but she hadn't wanted to leave Charles Richardson. She realised now, now that she knew he was dead, that she had been worried for his life for sometime. She was worried about her own life instead now. What would happen, with Richardson dead and Phil in prison? She had no other allies here. No one at all except her son, and he was not yet four months old.

The sound of a knock at the door startled her, and she glanced up. She could see through the window to the front door, and she did not recognise either of her visitors. They were a good-looking pair, the woman a brunette, the man a redhead; both dressed in what was clearly expensive clothing, yet looking decidedly bedraggled. She sighed, standing up and heading towards the door. She might as well let them in. If trouble was coming, she would rather face it than try to hide.

"Beth O'Connor?" the woman asked her immediately. She nodded. "My name is Laura Holt and this is my associate Murphy Michaels. We're private detectives from LA."

"You the ones Charles hired?" She was still frowning at them, still suspicious. They nodded.

"Can we come in?"

"Depends on what you want."

"What we want is simple." Laura took a deep breath as though it were really anything but. "We think that there's something fishy going on around here. People vanishing, things happening that shouldn't be. Deaths for instance, including the death of Charles Richardson. Our colleague was arrested for his murder along with your husband. There was no investigation, no trial, no outside authorities were contacted; and yet our friend is at some private prison right now, after apparently confessing to a murder that we know he didn't commit. I suspect that your husband is just as innocent."

"You're damn right he is." She stared from one to the other of them, nodding. "You really think that you can take on Sheriff Masterson? With half the town or more backing his every step?"

"We'd certainly like to think so." Murphy had folded his arms, leaning against the door with a look of great confidence on his face. Beth didn't know why, but she trusted him implicitly. She smiled.

"I've been collecting what evidence I can - about a lot of things that have happened recently. I haven't known what to do with it, or where to go. I didn't even know who I could show it to. Around here everybody seems to be on the Sheriff's payroll."

"Don't worry about it. We'll do everything. All you'll have to do is produce that evidence when the time comes." Laura's smile was almost as reassuring, almost as relaxing as Murphy's, and Beth found herself happy to do exactly as these complete strangers said. She nodded.

"Just tell me what to do and when to do it."

"Great." Laura headed towards the nearest chair and sat down. "Er, not wanting to seem too presumptuous, but do you have anything to eat?"

"I'll put some soup on." Beth was laughing now, although again she didn't know quite why. It felt as though a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders. "I can get you both a change of clothes too, if you'd like." Her smiling eyes turned to Murphy. "Maybe a shave?"

"I love you." He grinned at her, and she found herself grinning back. "Don't worry Mrs O'Connor. Everything's going to be just fine. You wait and see."

"I'll take that as a promise." She turned to go towards the kitchen. "You're sure the Sheriff doesn't know that you're onto him?"

"Not as far as we know." Laura stifled a yawn, glancing towards Murphy. "As a matter of fact everything seems to be going just fine."

"And at least our Mr Steele is out of the way," Murphy muttered, taking care to keep his voice down. Laura flashed him a mock glare. She found herself agreeing with him though. Steele might be in prison, but at least in there he was safe; and for once she could actually be sure that he wasn't up to something.


They threw him into solitary and left him there, certain that he was too weak to try anything, and that it was not worth posting a guard. It was what Steele had been hoping for, although now that he found himself shut in his small cell he was not sure if it was going to be as easy as he had hoped. He had spent the night in solitary after his escape attempt, and had found that the small punishment cell was considerably less secure than the main block. There were ordinarily two guards for just the one cell, in an vague attempt to make up for that; but now he was alone, in the darkness, and with no guard for several hundred yards. He moved stiffly, entirely convinced of his own stupidity after his display with McCray, and tried to avoid banging his head on the low ceiling as he moved. That was all that he needed, to compound the injuries he had already sustained. Feigning exhaustion as they had thrown him into the cell had not been at all difficult.

"You need your head examining, Steele," he muttered to himself as he set to work on the loose hinges of the battered old door. It was made from a two inch thick chunk of wood with a small wire window, but exposure to the elements had left it weak and rickety. The hinges came out easily under the persuasion of the small knife he had stolen from Walker when the guard had been dragging him to the cell. The last one came away easily, and he took the weight of the door, lowering it against the wall. Cold night air blew into his face, ruffling his already untidy hair and reminding him that his prison uniform was definitely not designed for warmth - particularly since he had torn the sleeves off to wrap around the chains on his ankles and deaden their desperately irritating jangle. He glanced about. A guard stood some distance away, his face lit slightly by the glowing tip of his cigarette. Steele headed in the opposite direction. There were two guards this way, but he knew from watching them over the last three nights that they paced some distance apart. He was almost certain that there was a gap some eighteen inches wide that stretched between their marches; a long, thin corridor to freedom that neither man could see. It was a risk, but a calculated one. If his theory was proved wrong, a ruse like this one would never work again. Next time they would leave him as badly injured as they had thought they had left him this time. On the other hand, if it did work, he wouldn't have to care.

The guards paced about with jerky, agitated rhythm. Neither of them wanted to be in the courtyard, and Steele could hardly blame them. He watched them move towards each other, stop, turn around, march away again, never speaking to each other, never bothering to nod or to smile at each other. Maybe they had tried that the first few nights. Presumably by now there was nothing left to say.

He timed his move by the guard's own, predictable rhythm. He broke into a low jog just as they turned to walk away from each other, their heads turned towards the outer walls and the row of trees beyond. He ran low, almost wanting to close his eyes, to pretend that they weren't there, and that he was already far beyond the barriers of the prison. Counting under his breath he knew that the guards were turning around now. He knew that they were heading back towards each other; towards him. What if they heard something? What if one of them moved his head just a fraction of an inch? Both men were armed. They probably wouldn't bother trying to take him alive. He was tempted to increase his speed, but he forced the instinct down. He had to stay at a steady pace, moving swiftly and silently, making no sudden movements that might attract attention.

He reached the walls with his pulse pounding in his ears, not through exhaustion but through tension. He leaned against the barrier of wood, unable to stop the thoughts from springing up in his mind. It would be so easy to take the prison. The prisoners could do it with the least effort, the least danger. He hated them for their determination not to cross Masterson. They owed him no favours after all. And yet, after all that he and his men had done to them, they remained determined to stay within these walls, refusing to rock their stupid little boat. He clenched his hands into fists, forcing the thoughts down. No time for that now. He had to count, to time his next move, to work out what the guards were doing. He closed his eyes. He could hear their footsteps echoing in his mind. They were inaudible in the soft, dry earth, but he knew their rhythm so well that he knew exactly when each foot hit the ground. He knew exactly where they were. He opened his eyes. The guards turned. He spun around, gathered his strength and sprang at the wall.

His hands gripped the top and he pulled with all of his strength, struggling up the featureless, unhelpful wood. He was counting under his breath all the time. The guards were still facing away. Another twelve seconds and they would turn. They would probably see him. He struggled on, his tired arm muscles rebelling against the extra strain they had been under the last few days. Much longer and he was going to have to drop back down; to try again when the guards once more met and turned about. He pulled one last time, and dragged himself up. There was no time for finesse, and he rolled over the top of the fence, falling down the other side to land with a bone-jarring thud on the hard ground. He managed a breathless smile. So far so good. Now his only problem - and, admittedly, it was quite a large one - was that he didn't have a clue where Laura and Murphy were. He had to get to them, to warn them and to help them, but the forest was a large place, and he had no idea where to start to look. They might not even be in the forest. He shrugged mentally, then picked himself up and started off into the trees at a steady jog. He would think of something. That was the way it worked for him - usually.


He ran all night, heading in the direction he had chosen as a approximation of the one he needed to get back to the Sheriff's office. He missed it, in the event, by a good mile, but as he broke out of the trees and met the road he saw a lone police jeep parked by a large bush.could see the back of somebody's head - some deputy, no doubt, answering the call of nature, and he smiled to himself. This could be his ticket right into the lion's den; or it could be his ticket to Laura. He climbed into the back of the jeep, covered himself up with the heavy, cheap rug he found there, and then lay very, very still. He heard the sound of off-key whistling as the deputy returned, felt the jeep wobble as the other man clambered in, then heard the low growling sound of the engine starting up. They jerked forward, Steele doing his best to lie still as the old machine took the ruts and bumps too fast, jerking about as though determined to lose the last, tired vestiges of its suspension. The journey seemed to last forever, bouncing and rattling, roaring and coughing, careening around bends that Steele was glad he could not see. They came to a halt at last, and he heard voices. He held his breath.

"You're late, Lewis." Masterson's voice sounded as unpleasant as always.

"Sorry boss." Steele's chauffeur did not sound particularly contrite. "Where are they?"

"Down there." The Sheriff was clearly pointing, although Steele had no way of telling in which direction. They're with O'Connor's wife. I want all three of them before noon, or somebody around here is going to be answering for it. If they get in touch with their secretary back in LA it's all our necks on the line."

"Beth O'Connor doesn't have a telephone, boss." Lewis sounded sullen, as though he disliked being browbeaten by the Sheriff. He gave no further argument however, and his footsteps sounded away. After a second another set of steps followed him. Slowly, very, very cautiously, Steele pushed back the rug. He looked about. Nobody was in sight, which didn't necessarily mean anything, and he kept his senses on full alert as he climbed out of the jeep and hurried off the road. Back in the trees the world seemed artificially small and safe, but the illusion did not fool him. He had to be even more careful here, where an unseen somebody could be hiding behind any bush. At any time now somebody back at the prison was likely to discover his escape, and report to the Sheriff about it. For all he knew somebody already had. Maybe even now Masterson was looking out for him, expecting him to be here. He edged forward very carefully, until finally he came to the end of the trees.

He was looking down a slope; a gentle, treeless contour leading to a small cottage that looked almost absurdly picturesque. A stream ran past it, helping to feed the flowers that grew about a small area of neatly grown grass. Other flowers climbed the walls of the cottage, reaching up to touch the blue painted wood of the roof. So this was O'Connor's secret. A wife, and a little country retreat. No wonder he had looked so lost; so angry with himself for having been caught up in the Sheriff's plan. Steele got the distinct feeling that his old friend's wife knew nothing about her husband's former career. Another reason why O'Connor had been so miserable about his capture, no doubt. He heard voices nearby and ducked into the undergrowth.

"This is the Sheriff!" Grossly magnified by a large megaphone, Masterson's voice made Steele jump. He imagined the people in the cottage looking at each other in dismay, wondering what to do next. Laura and Murphy rarely carried guns, and he was sure that they had not brought them along this time. All they had been expecting, after all, was a few hours in a pleasant forest clearing, watching out for a salmon thief who had very likely died in a car crash several days previously. "You are surrounded! Come out of the house with your hands above your heads!"

"No sign of movement round the back," a disjointed voice reported from Masterson's staticky radio. The Sheriff did not both sending a reply. Instead he shouted again, his voice sharp and hard.

"If you do not come out of the house we will open fire!"

"What do you want, Sheriff?" A woman's voice, unknown to Steele, drifted faintly up from the dell. "We haven't done anything."

"You're harbouring two suspected felons. I have reason to believe they may have been involved in the Richardson murder." Masterson did not bother to keep the clear dislike from his voice. "Come up here or I'll open fire. We have tear gas, and I hate to think what that'd do to your baby, Mrs O'Connor." There was a silence. Steele could almost hear the woman's disbelief at this threat. He rolled out from beneath his bushy cover, edging towards the stringy, dejected trees which grew at the apex of the slope towards the cottage. He could see Mrs O'Connor; a tall, dark-haired woman probably about the same age as Phil. Laura and Murphy were not visible, but he knew that they were down there. They had to be.

"You're running out of time, Mrs O'Connor." Masterson sounded as though this was just what he wanted. "Hand those two felons over now."

"We're not coming up." Even at that distance, Mrs O'Connor sounded scathing. The challenge was clear in her voice. "You've got no reason to want to arrest us. We haven't done anything, any more than Philip has."

"You want a bet?" Masterson spoke these last words under his breath, the megaphone lowered. He glanced towards Lewis and the other deputies present. "Get down there and finish them off. I don't want any one of them walking away from this."

"Sure boss." Looking as though these were just the orders he had been waiting for, Lewis headed towards the jeep, eyes set on the heavy shotgun lying on the passenger seat. Steele looked towards it, watched the deputy's advance, closed his eyes and cursed his lack of options; then jumped forward. He reached the gun at the same time as Lewis, snatching at it just a second before the other man could register his presence. He swung it, heard a startled shout, and saw Lewis fall, blood dribbling down the side of his head. He seemed to be breathing healthily enough though, and Steele did not feel inclined to worry about him.

"Steele!" Masterson was coming towards him, reaching for his own gun, and Steele straightened up. He could fire, or threaten to do so, but there were three other deputies behind the Sheriff, just now beginning to realise what was going on. He saw them turn, almost as though he were watching them in slow motion, his mind working almost too quickly for him to keep up with it. He lowered the gun, blasted off a shot at Masterson's feet, sending him leaping for cover. One of the deputies drew his own gun, drawing a bead on this sudden and unexpected enemy. Steele dived aside. The last thing that he saw before going over the edge of the hill was four lawmen, guns in hand, dashing towards him. He heard the gunfire, but it rattled harmlessly above him. He started to run.

Whether he had forgotten the chains on his legs, or whether he had merely overlooked their limitations, Steele would have been hard put, later, to decide. He tripped almost straightaway, flying head over heels down the slope, the ground rushing past him in a dizzying whirl of green and brown that was somewhere between desperately confusing, painful, and strangely entertaining. It reminded him vaguely of an ill-advised overdose he had once taken of the home-made flu medication knocked up by a friend with some worrying hobbies. He heard a yell, but whether it came from above or below him he had no idea - and had even less idea which way exactly was up or down. He felt his momentum begin to subside, struggled to right himself, and gave up. He crashed to a halt on his back almost directly outside the door of the cottage and blinked uncertainly up at the sky. Laura Holt stared down at him, her eyes widened slightly in surprise.

"Hi," he greeted her weakly, too winded to even try to get up. Somewhere above and behind him came the familiar sound of the launch of a gas grenade. He recognised the smell of the tear gas just as Laura hauled him to his feet and pulled him indoors. "I came to warn you. Masterson's coming."

"Thanks." Murphy, his expression less than delighted, was looking out of the window. "Now does anybody have any ideas about what we should do next?"


They crouched in the front room, the windows shut and a large, king-size duvet shoved as far up the chimney as it would go. Beth O'Connor huddled beneath the main window, her baby held tightly in her arms. It was asleep, oblivious to the goings-on around it. Murphy envied it. So far he had managed to last close to thirty years without being either overcome with tear gas or murdered by crooked lawmen, and he was hoping to continue with much the same sort of luck for a while longer - particularly where the latter item was concerned. It was becoming unbearably hot in the room though, with no ventilation and no fresh air. He didn't want to think about how soon suffocation would become a threat.

"How are you feeling?" Laura was sitting beside Steele, who crouched before the window opposite Masterson's vantage point, gazing steadily up the hill towards their currently unseen tormentor. It had been a shock to see her associate making his very much unscheduled appearance, particularly wearing a pair of muffled leg-irons and a battered prison uniform. Even in that less than chic garb, however, he had still contrived, somehow, to look so very... Steele. His hair, whilst not as immaculate as normal, still seemed to be neat; he had managed to shave; even his prison-issue blue denims seemed to have all their creases in the right places. Quite how he had endeavoured to remove the sleeves she could not imagine; but it looked as though the task had been completed by a dressmaker. Even the streaks of dirt looked vaguely artistic.

"I'm fine thankyou Laura." He sounded chirpy; as though he had spent the morning in the office and had just popped out for a stroll. "How are you?"

"Concerned." She peered over the windowsill, trying not to look too nervous. "What do you think?"

"I think that it would be a good idea to be gone before the Sheriff decides to drop by." He was frowning. "There are more of them round the back, though. Not quite certain about the escape route yet."

"Escape route?" Beth glanced up, seemingly distracted. "There isn't one. There's a cellar, but it doesn't lead anywhere."

"Oh, there's something." He was glancing around, his vigil at the window forgotten. "It's just a question of finding it."

"There isn't anything, Mr Steele." She had welcomed him into her home without a single question, and had so far not batted an eyelid at his clothes or his clear fugitive status. This steady serenity had impressed her latest guest a great deal, and he smiled at her.

"Believe me, Mrs O'Connor, there is a way. I just have to work out where it is." He frowned. "This place is new, right? Phil made it, didn't he."

"You know my husband?" She frowned at him. "Yes. Yes, he did build it. How did you know?"

"Because he always told me that he wanted to build his own little house in the woods one day. He wanted a place with a blue roof, just like a house we once saw in Germany." He frowned, sitting down on the floor with his head resting against the wall. It was hard to think in this stuffy little room with all the noise going on outside. "Phil's always been the cautious type. He's backed himself into some awkward places in the past, but he'd never build one. If he built this place, it's got a back door."

"You seem to know a lot about my husband." It was not a question; more a direct challenge. Steele met her gaze and held it, then shrugged.

"We hung out. Played a little roulette. Dug the art scene." Murphy winced, putting two and two together and clearly reaching something much more than four. Steele flashed him a grin, then got to his feet.

"Germany," he said softly, beginning to pace as though forgetting the target he might be presenting to the people outside. "It was Bavaria. We were in a hunting lodge, and Interpol were right outside. Local fellow; charming man - had a quite wonderful selection of red wines dating back to the thirties - he showed us a back way out." He closed his eyes, turned his back on the main window and marched straight towards the fireplace. "Secret door, you see, built into the wall. It had been put there in 1826 by a rather eccentric titled chap who liked to sneak out every so often." He leant his hands against the wall, running them over the smooth plaster. "Ingenious mechanism operated the door. So simple a child might have designed it, but it worked like a dream." His hands had reached the edge of the curve towards the chimney, and he gripped the brickwork with confident hands. "Phil was very impressed, but then he had always wanted to try his hand at being an architect." He gave one of the bricks a hard, sharp tug and a section of the fireplace slid away. "Looks like he turned out to be pretty good at it, too."

"But that's--" Beth stared, agape. "I didn't know. I - I never imagined..."

"He was hoping that you never would." Steele stepped into the newly revealed tunnel, then immediately reappeared. "Looks alright. Murphy, would you mind leading the way?"

"Hardly." The redheaded detective hurried over, vanishing into the darkened depths of the tunnel. His voice echoed back to them. "Bit lacking in head room, but the going feels pretty smooth. Send somebody else down."

"Mrs O'Connor?" Laura stood aside to let the woman pass, then glanced back at Steele. "Come on."

"Right behind you Laura." He waited for her to step into the tunnel and then followed, feeling around in the dark for the mechanism to shut the door. It swung closed almost before he realised that he had hit the right point, and they were all plunged into darkness. They stumbled on together, trying to be quiet.

"Where do you suppose it leads?" Laura asked, speaking in a stage whisper that carried easily in the cramped and musty tunnel. Steele shrugged in the darkness, the movement clearly audible.

"Not far. He wouldn't have been able to build something that big; not without proper equipment." They tramped on for a short distance, trying to avoid banging into each other, before the tunnel began to slope down slightly, turning into steps.

"Quiet now." Whispering the words from his position at the head of the column, Murphy brought the others to a halt. He crept on a few paces to the end of the tunnel, moving as slowly as he could. Despite Steele's words, he hadn't been expecting the tunnel to be as short as this, and he couldn't quite believe that they were out of danger just yet. He peered out.

The end of the tunnel was hidden by the fronds of a particularly large and green-looking bush. He had to force his way past it, certain that he was leaving a large amount of skin behind on its prickly boughs, but once out in the open the coast looked clear. He turned in a circle, trying to get his bearings, and threw himself abruptly to the ground. A deputy stood no more than a stone's throw away, mercifully with his back to the detective. He appeared to be smoking a cigarette, humming to himself around it. His rifle lay on the ground near his feet.

"What's going on?" Beth asked, peering out between the leaves of the bush. Murphy waved her into silence, then edged forward. The deputy's humming grew louder as he advanced, as the man clearly came to a favourite bit in the tune. Murphy bent down, reaching for the gun. His hands closed around it and he stood up again, his eyes fixed the whole time on the back of the other man's head.

"You there Klein?" The voice came through over the radio clipped to the deputy's belt, accompanied by such a violent burst of static that Murphy nearly jumped out of his skin. The deputy glanced down at the radio, and in the process caught sight of something in the corner of his eye. He whirled about; and moved straight into the path of his own, advancing rifle. It struck him beneath the jaw, dropping him like a stone. Murphy checked his pulse, then went back to the bush.

"Nice work," Steele commented idly as, some time later, he glanced down at the unconscious man. "I wonder how long it'll be before he's missed."

"Let's worry about that later." Busy securing the unfortunate deputy's hands and feet with a couple of pairs of thoughtfully supplied official-issue handcuffs, Murphy gagged him with some of the remnants of Steele's shirt sleeves, no longer needed to deaden the rattle of the chains on his ankles. The chains, for their part, seemed delighted to be free to make noise again, and Murphy glowered at the irritatingly flat tone of the unwelcome music. This, he felt sure, was a sound that he could rapidly come to detest.

"Where do we make for?" Laura asked, as soon as they were ready to move on once again. Murphy gave a look which suggested that the answer was obvious.

"Home," he told her, with real vehemence. "To help. To reinforcements. To a bed with clean sheets and a bathroom with running water." He nodded at Beth. "No offence, Beth. I think you have a lovely house. It's just that I suddenly have this overpowering need to be surrounded by large grey buildings and expanses of concrete."

"Hear hear," Laura told him with a yawn. Steele raised his eyebrows.

"Oh come on, Laura. Where's your sense of adventure?"

She glared at him. "It's jumped ship. Look, I'm tired okay? And don't think that I've forgotten just who got us into all of this. If you hadn't wandered off, we'd have spent the last four days at home."

"And Phil O'Connor would have been another of the victims of Sheriff Masterson." Steele gave her a small, sad smile. "Sorry Laura. I can't walk out on him."

"You want us to break him out of prison?" Murphy sounded as though he was on the point of mutiny, but Steele shook his head.

"No. But I'm not leaving here as long as he's in there. All that we have to do is make Masterson confess, and we're home free."

"That's all?" Murphy didn't sound convinced, and from the expressions on the faces of both Laura and Beth, Steele could see that his sceptical colleague wasn't alone. "And just how do we perform this minor task?"

"Easily." Steele raised an eyebrow, looking questioning. "Did any of you ever hear of the Trojan Detective?"


"This is not going to work."

"Yes it is. It's worked before." They were pressed together in the back of Deputy Klein's purloined police jeep, lacking in space and forced to sit virtually on top of each other. Beth O'Connor was in the front with her baby, and Murphy had gone to check that the coast was clear ahead. To all intents and purposes the two of them were alone. Laura felt decidedly cramped, but didn't really feel much like complaining. Steele didn't seem to be objecting any either.

"Don't be crazy. It's never worked before." She manoeuvred about so that she could look at him properly. He was smiling, as always, in that irritatingly confident manner he had. "Name one occasion when a plan as utterly insane as this--"

"Warner Brothers, 1956." His smile grew more broad. "Not a bad film."

"The Trojan Detective?!"

"No. Helen of Troy, actually, but the principle's the same." He frowned. "Italian co-production, I think."

"It's not the same and you know it. The wooden horse might have been a sound idea, but this is hardly the same thing." She tapped him on the chest. "For starters the entire Greek army isn't going to leap out of you whilst you're in Masterson's office."

"A point for which I am actually quite grateful." He smiled, looking vaguely distant. "That was a good film too, you know."

Laura sighed. Yet again she had failed to keep up. "What was?"

"The Wooden Horse. Wessex, 1950. Stirring British film, starring Anthony Steel and Peter Finch. Amongst others, naturally."

"You have a film title for every occasion, don't you."

He shrugged, sliding free of the jeep. At some point during the journey he had contrived to remove the leg irons, using nothing more than a piece of stout wire he had found on the floor. She wasn't altogether sure quite when he had accomplished the task, and it was a sharp reminder of the lifestyle the man was so used to living. She wished that he would talk to her about it properly, but he still seemed loath to trust her entirely.

"A man that I once knew used to quote Shakespeare in almost every sentence," he told her as he offered her a hand to step out of the jeep. "People used to congratulate him on his literacy. What's the difference?"

"Fair point, I guess." She sighed. "But all that doesn't make this plan any less insane."

"Insane gets the job done, Laura. This is a move he won't be expecting, and we can use that to our advantage." He clapped her lightly on the shoulders. "Now wait here and look after Beth. Try to keep the baby quiet if you can."

"Okay." She watched him depart, slipping quietly off into the trees as though he had been on the run in the forest his whole life. Murphy reappeared almost as soon as Steele vanished, and he joined Laura.

"Best get the jeep out of sight."

"Yeah..." She sighed. "Tell me this isn't insane, Murph."

"It's not insane." He put a hand on her shoulder. "Laura, he cut his milk teeth doing stuff like this. Don't worry until you hear the gunshots."

"You think the recording equipment will work?"

"It's police issue isn't it?" He smiled. "Come on. Help me to hide the jeep, okay? Stop worrying about the Artful Dodger."

"I suppose." She turned to the jeep, already trying to work out the best way to camouflage it. Murphy was right, and there was nothing that she could do to help Steele anyway. All the same, she couldn't help worrying about him; and she found herself almost enjoying it. As a matter of fact, she realised with no small amount of surprise, she could get very used to worrying about Remington Steele. It felt like something that she could be doing for a very long time.


Sheriff Samuel J Masterson had been living in Glenn's Gully for twenty-seven years. He had arrived as an enterprising deputy, aged thirty, looking to make a mark in his chosen profession, and had realised fairly early on that there were many more marks to be made when he worked against the law, rather than for it. It had been only a small step then to become Sheriff, and after that to gain control of the town, then the people, then the whole area. Many of them supported him. They thought he was good for the town. He kept crime down, and he knew how to deal with petty crooks. Theft wasn't a problem in Glenn's Gully; at least, not theft on a level that bothered the townsfolk. Those that worried about how far the Sheriff was prepared to go, or who asked questions about the disappearances and the unexplained deaths, soon found themselves persuaded against causing further trouble. Most got the message fairly quickly, and on the whole problems were rare. Until now.

"Haven't you heard anything?" Giving up, Masterson slammed the receiver back into the cradle, leaving a shivering young deputy, only very recently hired, wondering whether he still had a job to go back to. Masterson glared at the receiver, glared at the telephone it was attached to, then threw the whole unit across the room. It crashed into the door, breaking into several different pieces and sending shards of cracked plastic skidding across the floor. The Sheriff slammed his fist into the tabletop, eyes hard, jaw clenched tight enough to seriously threaten the cigar clamped between his teeth.

"Bad day? Not my fault I hope?" The voice was polite, smooth and well-educated; English very likely, but with more than a hint of Irish. Masterson looked up. Remington Steele, dressed in a casual black suit that looked oddly familiar, was leaning against the doorframe, an amused smile pressed across his gently mocking features. A deputy stood behind him, gun in hand.

"I'm sorry sir," he stammered uncertainly. "He just walked in. I told him you didn't want to be disturbed."

"It's alright Haynes." Masterson leaned back in his chair, looking Steele up and down. Coolly appraising blue eyes stared back at him, unblinking, unconcerned. He smiled an ugly smile. "Come on in, Mr Steele. Sit down, make yourself at home."

"No thanks. I don't plan to stay long." He sauntered further into the room, looking about with that same, steady expression of relaxed grace. Masterson's smile twisted into an unpleasant caricature of itself.

"I plan for you to stay a very long time." A short, cold laugh. "Or a very, very short time indeed, if you get my drift."

"Naturally." The smile was that of a salesman; bright, broad and full of easy humour. "I came to talk to you. I'd like to get the chance to do that before we resort to the petty insults."

Masterson's expression darkened, if it was at all possible for it to do so. "Go ahead."

"Thanks." Heading back towards the door, Steele shut it in Deputy Haynes' face, then strolled back to the desk. "We have an interesting situation here, Sheriff."

"Do we." Masterson didn't look or sound particularly interested. "You're a self-confessed murderer, Steele. I can have you back at that prison before the clock strikes the next half hour; or I could have you lying dead on the floor. Nobody would question me if I claimed self defence."

"Oh I don't doubt it." Yet another broad, carefree smile. "The fact is though, that you have a problem. You need to be sure of certain things - such as the silence of Beth O'Connor for instance, to say nothing of my two colleagues. "You also have to be sure that the story of your... less savoury dealings doesn't get to the wrong ears. Am I right?"

"What's your point Steele?"

"A deal." This time the smile was a shrewd one, the eyes behind it glittering with a light that suggested this was all familiar territory to Remington Steele. "You have the mining rights to Charles Richardson's land, and we all know that there's some very valuable stuff in those hills. Gold for starters, although that's really just a minor part. Right?"

"Maybe." Masterson's eyes narrowed. "What makes you think I'd be prepared to make a deal with a murderer?"

"Simple." Steele sat down in the chair opposite the Sheriff's desk, his expression now very like that of a hawk, about to sweep down onto its prey. "There's no way you'll ever find Mrs O'Connor and the others, Sheriff. No way on this earth. I'm very careful about these things. I am, however, prepared to guarantee you their silence, if you'll agree to one or two things in return."

"Such as a cut in the mining?" There was a silence. "I don't have to make any deals with you."

"No, no. Of course you don't." The slightly mocking smile again. It was beginning to grate on Masterson's nerves. "You can try to make me tell you where the others are, but torture is a terribly tiresome thing, and I doubt you'd be able to think up anything that hasn't been tried before. Or you can try to double-cross me, although, er," he smiled and leaned forward slightly on his chair, "that's another one that's been tried before. I am very, very careful." Yet another bright and breezy smile. "All that you have to do is drop the murder charges that I currently have hanging over my head, and then cut me in for, shall we say... twenty-five percent? I'm not a greedy man, Sheriff, but I do have certain overheads."

"You think you're really clever, don't you Steele."

"Clever?" Steele laughed to himself, apparently basking in his own glory. "Well... you know how it is. I've been around." He stood up, smoothing the creases out of his suit. Masterson recognised it now; it was the one that he kept in the back room, in case he needed a change of clothes at short notice. Now that he looked a little closer, he could see that it was slightly too big, but somehow Steele had contrived to make it look almost tailored. He let out a long, pent-up sigh.

"How am I supposed to get the charges dropped?"

"Your problem, not mine." A beat. "It shouldn't be too difficult. After all, we both know I didn't kill Richardson."

"True." There was another silence, longer this time. "I can hardly tell them who did though."

"Well no, that's a good point." Steele's eyes narrowed. "If you need another accomplice for O'Connor there's always his wife. Or my colleague Mr Michaels. I'd be happy to get him out of the way, and a spell in prison wouldn't do him any harm."

"You'd be willing to set him up?" Masterson sounded unconvinced, but Steele shrugged.

"Your job, not mine. You did a pretty good job setting O'Connor and myself up earlier. You can do just as good a job on Murphy." He straightened his jacket - my jacket, Masterson mentally corrected himself - and paced a few times. Finally he stopped, turned, looked at the Sheriff with an expression of mild curiosity. "Just why did you kill Richardson?"

"What makes you think I did?"

"O'Connor said he saw you. And Phil O'Connor always tells the truth." He smiled. "It's a particular failing of his."

There was a silence. Masterson narrowed his eyes again, clearly thinking hard. Finally he shrugged.

"He had realised what I was up to," he commented lightly, as though it were no big thing. "He found out about the road I was building, and he guessed what it was for. He was going to stop me, and I couldn't allow that, so I killed him. I didn't especially want to, but as it turned out it was for the best. Now everything's so legal I might not even need my little band of prisoners any longer. They were the perfect back door, but with Richardson out of the way, and my forged version of his will in the solicitor's hands, I can do it all by the front door. All legal, all perfect."

"And the real will?"

"I never found it. It's in his papers somewhere, but I'll deal with it soon enough. For all I know he didn't bother writing one."

"You think?" Steele shrugged. "Well, again that's your problem. I'm sure that you know what you're doing." He turned towards the door. "For now though, I think that's our business dealt with. I'll be in touch."

"Backing out a little fast, aren't you Steele?" Masterson stood, going round to the front of the desk. "We haven't shaken on it. We didn't even have a drink. If you're going to do business in this town, you've got to do it the way we like to see it done." He reached for the decanter of whisky sitting on a nearby filing cabinet. "Ice?"

"No thanks." Ice ruined whisky. They often said that in films, and Humphrey Bogart was always drinking it straight. He accepted the glass, glancing down at the liquid. It smelt strong, and it had never been one of his favourite drinks to begin with.

"To a profitable partnership." Masterson raised his glass in a salute and Steele copied him, drinking the whisky down fast. It burned his throat, startling his lungs into rapid action, and he had to fight to prevent a fit of coughing. Masterson sensed his discomfort and laughed.


"No." Forcing his voice to sound as normal as was possible given the circumstances, Steele shook his head. "I've got to drive."

"Well just one then, for the road." Masterson filled Steele's glass up again, holding it out for him. Steele did not take it. "Come on."

"Thankyou, no." There was a trace of irritation in Steele's voice. Masterson smiled, moved fractionally closer. The glass moved in his hand, and toppled forward. An arc of sun-shot whisky sprayed forward, splashing down the side of the suit. Static crackled and a delicate wisp of smoke described an odd shape in the air as it drifted from one of the pockets.

"Well well well." Masterson's eyes met with Steele's. "You seem to have something in your pocket."

"My pager." Steele had not missed a beat. "You appear to have inconvenienced it."

"As you appear to have inconvenienced me." A predatory smile. "I'm sorry Steele. I was actually beginning to enjoy our conversation. I genuinely hoped that we might be able to do business." He shook his head. "I'm disappointed in you. It's not often that I meet someone so young who's so experienced. It almost seems a shame to kill you."

"I do so hate to disappoint." Steele took a step backwards. "So I suppose I'll have to drink and run."

"Not so fast, Steele." There was a gun in the Sheriff's hand, although Steele did not remember having seen him draw it. "I'm sorry, but you won't be picking up that twenty-five percent."

"You'll never find the others."

"I think you underestimate the ability of my men." The smile on Masterson's face was as cold as an iceberg - and considerably less welcoming. Steele stared at the gun. Shrugged.

"Bye." He moved aside with blinding speed, dodging one way, then the other. The Sheriff raised his gun to cover the manoeuvres and fired. He saw the first shot go wild and fired again, three times in quick succession. The first struck Steele in the chest, the second in the stomach and the third, as his body began to fall, caught him in the side. He crashed back into the filing cabinet, arms flung wide by the force of the bullets striking home. His head caught the cabinet a powerful blow and he collapsed in a heap to the floor. Masterson grinned.

"Don't move." The voice was soft, but it carried enough force to make the Sheriff freeze. He glanced over his shoulder, catching a glimpse of short red hair and a determined face.

"You're too late, Michaels. He's dead, and you'll be surrounded before you can make it back out of here."

"You think?" He sounded just that bit too confident for Masterson's comfort. "I don't think your men will be interfering just yet, so why don't you sit down and keep out of the way."

"Steele?" Laura was at the door, staring down at the slumped figure with a stricken expression on her face. "Oh no..."

"He's dead. Forget about him. I can make a deal with you." There was a note in Masterson's voice that might just have been panic, but Laura ignored him. She crouched beside Steele.

"Steele? Steele!"

"There's no need to shout, Laura." He opened one very groggy eye and frowned up at her. "Hello."

"You - you're--" She jumped to her feet. "You rat!"

"I told you not to worry about me." Slowly and with infinite care, he stood up, unbuttoning his shirt to show her the bullet-proof vest beneath. "I found it in the back room with the suit. Didn't think anybody would mind if I borrowed it for an hour or two." He grinned at Masterson. "Much obliged, actually. I only put it on because the suit was too big without it. And look what a bonus it turned out to be."

"I'll do a deal with you Steele. You can have that twenty-five percent you wanted. Fifty percent even." The Sheriff was beginning to look decidedly grey. Steele smiled at him, in between trying to disguise the bullet holes in his new suit and checking for damage to his head. It still hurt where he had hit it on the filing cabinet on his way down. His chest hurt too. The vest was a help, but it didn't stop him feeling as though he'd been hit with a jackhammer.

"Thanks old chap." He clapped the Sheriff on the shoulder, grinning all the while. "But I think I'll give it a miss."


"I like commendations." Remington Steele, as usual beside himself with glee, leaned back in Masterson's leather chair and put his hands behind his head. "It's good for the staff, don't you think?"

"Oh the staff always appreciates it when their great and illustrious leader gains further recognition, Mr Steele." Laura sat down on the corner of the desk, arms folded. "Although they might appreciate it even more if he'd stop causing all the trouble in the first place. Our case load has more than doubled in the last month."

"Nonsense Laura." He sat up straight, standing up and taking her hand. "You need trouble, it's what keeps you going. Just think how boring your life was before I walked into it."

"Cannoned into it might be a better analogy." She sighed. "Come on, Murphy's waiting. It'll be so nice to get home."

"Actually I'm staying here for a few days." He smiled at her. "Give you a chance to see just how much you really did prefer your life without me."

"Oh yeah? Well don't hurry back." She gave his hand a squeeze, almost without realising that she was doing it. "And just why are you staying?"

"Phil O'Connor wanted my help." Steele glanced up as the door opened, nodding at the new arrivals before turning his attention back to Laura. "With Masterson out of the way the lawyers found Richardson's real will, and his wishes now have to be seen to be done. He wanted the whole area turned into a game reserve, with absolutely no mining. That leaves rather a lot of Masterson's old business partners a tad upset."

"And Steele's going to help me with them." Phil O'Connor, one of the three people who had just entered, strolled forward to clap his old friend on the shoulder. "He used to work as a consultant geologist for a mining expedition, and I could do with his expert opinion."

"Something like that." Steele was smiling, and the shared look between the two men was not lost on Laura.

"I could do with his help too," Beth put in, giving both men a pointed look. "I want to know about this secret passage, and what the pair of you were doing needing one in Bavaria."

"I'd like to know that too," Murphy added. Laura laughed.

"Hard luck, Murph. We're due back in LA for a meeting with a client. And you." She jabbed Steele in the chest with a finger. "Two days, no more."

"Are you missing me already?" He was smirking again, in that quite insufferable fashion. She glowered.

"I need you to be at a meeting on Wednesday with that man from the museum in New York."

He pouted. "All work and no play, Laura..."

"I know what happens when you start playing." She finally let go of his hand and headed towards the door. "Come on, Murph."

"Right with you, I suppose."

"I think I'll be off as well. They're going to be here for the rest of the day talking business." Beth looked anxious to be away from the office, and Laura couldn't blame her. Business talk was not a favourite of hers, and it was a surprise that Steele himself was so willing to be caught up in it. She nodded.

"Need a lift?"

"No thanks. I've got the car out front." The three of them went as one to the door, pausing momentarily on the way. Phil O'Connor was waving to his baby, and Steele was watching with an expression of almost studied carelessness. It was a scene of great innocence and harmlessness, and Laura's suspicions were immediately aroused.

"Two days," she said meaningfully, as she stepped out of the door and followed Murphy to the car. "Two days isn't enough, is it? I mean, to do anything really major they'd need longer wouldn't they?"

"What are they going to do?" Watching Beth settle her baby into her own car and then drive away, Murphy opened Laura's door for her, before climbing into the car himself. "They have to follow the wishes of the will."

"True." She leaned back into her seat, glad that they were finally going home. "Although if you ask me they looked pretty relieved when Beth said she was going."

"Maybe they want to talk over old times. I kind of get the feeling she's not going to hear the whole truth about all that."

"You could be right." They shared a brief, knowing smile as Murphy started up the engine. Just as they pulled away a black sedan drew up behind them, slowing to a halt to allow three expensively dressed businessmen to step out. One was carrying a briefcase.

"Lawyers?" Laura asked. Murphy shrugged.

"Must be." He grinned. "We have to stop being so suspicious."

"I guess you're right." She forced herself to relax as they drove away, but she couldn't resist looking in the rear view mirror as they went. She saw the door of the Sheriff's office open and both O'Connor and Steele step out. Maybe it was just a trick of the light, but she could have sworn that she saw a metal, star-shaped badge pinned to O'Connor's chest as he stepped forward to begin shaking hands. She dismissed the thought. Why would O'Connor be wearing a Sheriff's badge?

"Sheriff Masterson?" Back at the office the lead businessman glanced questioningly at O'Connor, his gaze settling on the badge. O'Connor grinned.

"That's right Mr Foster. And may I say that it's a pleasure to be doing business with you sir. Let me introduce my financial and legal advisor, Mr Jamieson." He indicated Steele, who stepped forward to shake Foster's hand.

"Is everything set up?" Foster asked. O'Connor nodded.

"Everything is ready for you sir. As you're aware, the situation has changed, and these immediate hills are no longer available for mining. However we believe that we've found a viable alternative."

"Such as?" They began to walk towards the Sheriff's office, towards the paperwork that they had spent most of the night creating.

"Oil." Steele kept his voice smooth and even.

"Oil? Where?" One of Foster's associates sounded disbelieving. Steele raised an eyebrow, favouring him with a small, polite smile.

"In town," he said happily, still pleased with himself for having come up with the idea in the first place. "Right in the middle of the main street. The results of the primary and secondary surveys are very impressive." They were even more impressive as a work of fiction, but that, of course, would forever have to remain a secret.

"In town? Won't the locals oppose us?" Foster sounded as though he didn't want any trouble. Steele shrugged.

"Actually most of them aren't in much of a position to argue. It seems that ninety percent of them are going to be spending a while out of town. Five years in most cases."

"I see. So we have five years to get what we can." Foster shrugged. "I have to say that it seems a fairly sound investment; if a somewhat unusual one."

"Oh it is." O'Connor was still grinning, and out of the corner of his eye he could see that Steele was smiling too. It looked as though their fish was hooked; and best of all, for once in their lives there was no need to hurry, no need to take risks dashing to a quick conclusion. They had five years to decide where to take it from here. It was a reassuring thought that, despite the clothes, the stance and the reputation that went with his new name, Remington Steele was still very much the man that he had always been. O'Connor almost envied Laura Holt. She probably didn't know it yet, but she was at the start of something great.