"Laura!" Bernice Fox, secretary, assistant and general organiser of the essentially unorganisable, looked unusually harassed for a Monday morning, and Laura Holt really did not want to know why. It was a stupid question, anyway; as if there could be anything else which could get Bernice this ruffled. She flashed her old friend a polite but hurried smile and tried to run on past.

"Morning Bernice, in a hurry, got a lot of work to do. Bye!" It didn't work. Before she was halfway across the floor of the outer office Bernice was ahead of her, standing firmly before the doors of Laura's office, arms folded in stoic, predictable determination.

"Oh no you don't. Not that easily you don't." The secretary had a hunted look in her eyes; the look that suggested she had been doing ten rounds with a particularly tenacious snake. "Listen Laura, I can understand, maybe sympathise a little--"

"Good." Laura tried to duck past her, but Bernice was having none of it.

"I can understand 'For the good of the business.' I can understand 'He's a necessary evil.' I can even understand 'I like having him around.' I mean, I know I'd like to have him around, if I was in your shoes." She glared suddenly, eyes bright. "You do like having him around?"

"Er... Murphy?" Laura was hazarding a guess, although she already knew who the subject of their little conversation was. Who else could it be? Who else was there who had managed to turn the neat, well-oiled, competently run business into a madhouse, all in the space of a few weeks? Bernice narrowed her eyes, warning against such jokes in future.

"You know full well who I mean. Him." The vehemence of that one tiny syllable was unmistakable. "Laura, it's not even nine o'clock yet..."

"What's he done?" Her own suspicions aroused, Laura felt a burst of irrational anger run through her. Suddenly she was no longer the boss trying to avoid too many problems first thing on a Monday morning. It suddenly struck her that she could very well be a boss hanging onto a sinking lifeboat. That was probably being a little overcautious, but somehow it was all too easy to think that way these days. "What's he wrecked?" Her eyes widened. "Who's he spoken too? Oh Bernice, please tell me he hasn't spoken to Mr Haroldson, or I'll..." Her voice trailed off. "I will. I'll kill him. If he's gone anywhere near Mr Haroldson, I'll--"

"Relax, he hasn't seen Mr Haroldson. He's not due until Wednesday, and he hasn't rung here all week."

"Then what is it?"

"Are you really sure you want to know?" All of a sudden her incensed look had gone, and Bernice had turned back into a concerned friend wishing to avoid a scene - and very possibly bloodshed.


"Er... well..." The secretary shrugged, looking fatalistic. "He's in his office."

"That can't be all."

"No. It's sort of a question of who he's in his office with."

"Who." Her expression thunderous, Laura glanced towards the doors which led to the inner offices; towards the flawlessly perfect inner sanctum of Remington Steele, private investigator extraordinaire, playboy, millionaire... and very soon to be battered corpse. Bernice flashed her a smile, all false cheer.

"Louis Hunnicutt?" She voiced it like a question, as though somehow, viewed from some angles, it could be less than a catastrophe of world-shattering proportions. Laura went white.

"He's in there now - with Louis Hunnicutt? The Louis Hunnicutt who offered us a contract on all - all of his Los Angeles based firms?" She groaned. "That was going to make our name as a firm of consultants, as well as practitioners. I was going to enjoy that." She leaned against her office door. "Where's Murphy?"

"He's not in yet. He was in Santa Monica over the weekend, following up on that divorce case, and he didn't get back until late. I told him he should take the morning off." Bernice winced. "That was at about eight o'clock, just before you-know-who walked in, all ready to get down to business." She leaned conspiratorially close. "I swear, if you don't get it through his head that he doesn't actually work here, I'll take him up to the roof to show him the view, and I'll--"

"Not before I do you won't." With a deep sigh, Laura adjusted her jacket and forced a smile onto her face. "But right now this is getting us nowhere. I have to go and salvage something out of all this."

"Good luck." Already heading back to the sanctuary of her desk, Bernice offered her the least envious of looks, accompanied by a wave one might give to an astronaut about to set off into the unknown. Laura checked her smile in the glass of a nearby picture, straightened her jacket one more time, and stepped towards the doors of Steele's office. It was ominously quiet inside.

"Miss Holt!" All business, Steele leaned back in his leather chair as she entered, holding up a hand to wave a greeting. "How are you? Lovely morning, isn't it. Have you met Louis?"

"Louis?" She came to an abrupt stop. "Er... Mr Steele, do you think perhaps I could have a word? In my office?"

"No need to go in there on my account, miss." Rising to his feet with a grandiose gesture, the tall, well-built man on the other side of Steele's desk buttoned up the jacket of his expensive suit. "I was just leaving."

"Leaving?" Oh hell... what had Steele said to him? "Er... but we haven't had a chance to go through all the details yet. You said on the phone on Friday that--"

"All dealt with. I said I wanted to deal direct with Mr Steele, and that's just what I've done." The big man clapped Steele on the shoulder. "Although if I'd known who else I coulda been dealing with, I'd have jumped straight to the deputy."

Laura forced a smile. She didn't want to be too hopeful, but it did actually look as though something constructive had happened during her absence. She only hoped it was something that she would approve of.

"I suppose you'll be wanting to go through all the details with me then, Mr Steele." She tried to sound meaningful, as though it were an order rather than a suggestion, but he merely shrugged.

"I don't think so Miss Holt. Louis and I have got everything sorted out. Haven't we Lou."

"We sure have." Hunnicutt clapped on the shoulder again. "Be seeing you out on the golf course again real soon, Steele. We'll have to take a wander up to the Sunset Club, get you registered."

"Absolutely, absolutely." Steele smiled one of his broad, self-contented smiles and opened the office door. "Do drop in again, won't you. And give my love to Katy and the kids. Goodbye!" He closed the door, turning to Laura with an expression of puzzlement on his face. "Who was that?"

"You don't know?"

"I have no idea. Still, he seemed to know me. Didn't want to disappoint him; lovely chap." He sighed. "I feel like an early lunch. Are you hungry?"

"It's five past nine in the morning, Mister Steele. I've only just arrived for work."

"Oh. Oversleep did you?" He shrugged. "Never mind, I'll see you this afternoon. Must dash; meetings, errands, you know. No rest for the wicked. Bye." He reached for the door handle but she beat him to it, slamming the door shut even as he opened it. He frowned.

"You know Laura, I sense unrest. Tension, displeasure. You really should try to relax more."

"You. Sit down." She pointed at the chair behind the desk, and he sat.

"Is there something wrong?"

"Wrong? Wrong?" Where to begin? How exactly could she get this through his determinedly thick skull? "That man, to whom you were just talking, that - that rich, respected and extremely well connected businessman - represents five months hard grind. Five months hard sell. Five months trying to convince the world's most conservative, most inflexible entrepreneur that he might like to deal with a different company, for the first time in twenty-five years. Murphy and I have been working our boots off to try and get him to throw in with us, and now you - you - you, you--"

"I was only doing my job, Laura." He looked innocent and somehow hurt; as though his integrity was being questioned; as though his position as the man upon whom this entire firm was built was under threat. She glared at him, even more so than before.

"You don't have a job. Not here. If you have any position here at all, any duties to perform, it's to keep out of my way." She sighed, folding her arms and fixing him with a particularly piercing stare. "Now, you were saying?"

"I was going out to lunch." He sighed, fixing her with one of his most whimsical looks, as though he were deeply wounded and upset. "I would like to take you with me. To apologise perhaps, for whatever it is I've done..."

"Whatever it is you've done?!" She felt as though she had been turned into an echo, mindlessly repeating his words. "Whatever it is... Louis Hunnicutt is the biggest deal I have ever dealt with in my entire career as a private investigator. He is the kind of client other investigators and security firms dream about; the sort of man who comes along once in a lifetime and never makes his offer twice. You could have blown everything."

"Laura, really. As if I would do such a thing." He offered her another of his self-satisfied smiles. "It's really not terribly difficult to play this part, you know. Of course, it might help if you'd let me in on one or two little details. What cases we're working on, which clients I'm supposed to know, which--"

"We are not working on anything, and you aren't supposed to know anyone." She opened the office door. "Lunch. Now. Go."

"Thankyou." He jumped to his feet. "Do I take it from your tone of voice that you won't be accompanying me?"

"Out." He flashed her another of his endearing little smiles, and skipped towards the door.

"Want me to bring you a doggy-bag?"

"Go!" He was gone in an instant, heading out of the office with a jaunty stride and a cheery wave. Laura let the door swing shut as soon as he was gone, catching his parting shot as he headed out.

"Goodbye Miss Wolf."

"For the last time, it's--" Clearly he had gone before Bernice had the time to finish her rejoinder. Laura heard a bang as the secretary manhandled the crockery, then she sat back in Steele's chair. The door opened a few seconds later, and Bernice appeared with a pair of coffee cups. She handed one to Laura.

"Thanks." Without opening her eyes, Laura took a long drink. The coffee was hot enough to risk scalding her mouth, but she needed it. Bernice was scowling, she could tell, even though her eyes were still shut and the other woman was not making a sound.

"Any damage done?" the secretary asked, almost as though she didn't want to know.

"None." Laura took another sip of coffee, then sat up straight and opened her eyes. "Actually they seemed to get on rather well."

"Wonders never cease." Bernice smiled. "To give him credit, he's not stupid; and I guess he is the right person to have guessing his way through all this. I mean, if you're going to have someone pretending to be Remington Steele, it might as well be an international con-man and born liar."

Laura nodded. "Although," she had to add, "if it wasn't for him, we wouldn't need anybody pretending to be Mr Steele in the first place. If it wasn't for him, our Mr Steele would still be just that; ours. A nice, well-mannered, well-turned out man who stayed in the background and never got in our way." She drank the last of her coffee and stood up. "What have we got on for today? Is there anybody I'm supposed to be seeing?"

"One appointment, for half past ten." Bernice opened the door connecting Steele's office to Laura's own, so that Laura could wend her weary way back to more familiar territory. "The Hunter case."

"Oh yeah. New one." Laura nodded. "I'd better get some paperwork done then, I guess. Keep the coffee coming."

"Sure." Bernice smiled, heading off once more to the outer office, and her own desk. Out there was something of an escape from the maelstrom of confusion which had been created by their enigmatic Mr Steele, and she was enjoying her time there more and more these days. The only times when she needed to deal with him directly were when he came in and when he went back out again, and that, mercifully, was down to a minimum. In all honesty, if she could only get him trained to call her by her real name, instead of his constant - and almost certainly intentional - usage of Wolf, she would probably start to enjoy having him around. Laura and Murphy might have enjoyed an invisible, fictional superior, but to her view a living, breathing, real life guy was better than none at all - especially when he looked like the new Steele did. She was almost willing to forgive him for his infuriating habit of confusing clients with suspects and suspects with innocent passers-by. Almost.

Left alone, Laura sat at her desk, flipping idly through the file on top of the heap before her. She didn't know which file it was, and she didn't care. She skimmed through the words and the photographs without seeing a thing, her mind fixed elsewhere. A smile caught at the corner of her mouth, and she absently reached out to take a sip from her now empty coffee cup. She didn't even notice when no liquid came out, any more than she noticed that the file she was attempting to read was upside down, or that the page she stared at the most intently, and for the longest time, was completely blank. She was thinking of other things, and other cases; and, most accurately of all, other people. One other person. The person who, right now, was heading downtown in Remington Steele's shiny black limousine. Weird how, after all those days, and all those disasters, she didn't know who he really was. And her smile grew bigger as she reached once more for her empty cup.


Remington Steele, who until five weeks previously had never even heard his own name, let alone considered a career as a private investigator, leaned back in his chair at his favourite restaurant and contemplated the solid brass nameplate before him. It was a nice touch, thought up by the maitre'd as a little soft soap, no doubt; but nonetheless appreciated. It was a sign that he counted; that he was somebody who mattered; and even though he was also a somebody who did not exist, in any record office, police file or other official capacity, he was pleased with his new status. He had grown fond of the good life. It agreed with him.

"Mr Steele?" The ingratiatingly polite voice of a waiter disturbed his pleasant contemplation, and Steele blinked, glancing up. There were times when he nearly didn't respond to that name. He would have to be careful. Making slips was all very well when it was your own life on the line, but when the careers and reputations of several others also depended on you, you had to be that bit more attentive. He smiled.

"Yes, Henri. What can I do for you?"

"There's a gentleman here to see you sir. He wonders if he might be permitted to join you at your table?"

"He does?" Steele sat up straight, looking around the restaurant. He could see nobody that he recognised, which was a mixed blessing. People who were likely to recognise him were generally those that he least wanted to be recognised by; but on the other hand, if he knew them, he at least knew what to expect. Usually. He shrugged.

"Show him over, Henri."

"Certainly, sir." The waiter disappeared, and Steele straightened his already immaculate tie, wondering what it was this time. Another client who knew all about him, whom Steele himself had never heard of? Some extremely important person that he was, under no circumstances, allowed to talk to? It wasn't his fault, whatever Laura and Murphy - especially Murphy - liked to think. If these people approached him, he could hardly run in the opposite direction. What kind of impression would that be to create?

"Mr Steele?" A fairly short man, fifty-ish at a guess Steele thought, with wire-rimmed glasses and a polka-dotted cravat, was standing before the table. He was smiling in that slightly cautious, inquiring way that suggested he was testing new ground. Good. With a bit of luck this was somebody that he didn't have to pretend he already knew all about. He rose to his feet, extending a hand for the stranger to shake.

"Steele, yes. At your service, Mr...?"

"Parys. Claude Parys." The man frowned at him. "You are Remington Steele? Private investigator?"

"That's me." He offered the man one of his biggest and most charming grins. "What can I do for you?"

"I've got a case that needs investigating." The man lowered his voice, leaning towards Steele, and Steele, always happy to oblige, leaned closer in response. "A rather delicate matter."

"No problem, Mr Parys." Steele was beginning to feel rather confident. Delicate matters he could handle. Even Laura couldn't complain that he was lacking in discretion. "Please continue."

"Thankyou." Parys looked over both shoulders, as though checking for unseen observers, and Steele, caught up in the moment, followed suit. They leaned even closer together, like lovers trying to shut out the world. "You see, it's about my mother. I think she's having an affair."

"An affair?" Steele frowned. Claude Parys himself, unless he had led a particularly hard life, was at least fifty years old. What did that make his mother? "Are you sure?"

"Yes." Parys lowered his head. "I'm terribly afraid that my father will find out, and - and well, he is the jealous sort. I just don't know what he'd do to her."

"Quite, quite." Steele drew back slightly, once more checking in all directions for possible eavesdroppers. "When did you first start to suspect something?"

"About a month ago." Dropping his voice to an even lower volume, Parys poured himself a hefty measure of wine from the bottle on the table, then knocked it all back in one go. Steele raised his eyebrows. Suddenly his day was beginning to look up. "She started coming home later than usual; giving excuses that I knew were false. I was worried about her at first, naturally."

"Naturally." With a lightening of his heart, Steele refilled both their glasses. "And then what happened?"

"Well..." Parys drained his glass once again. "I saw her, with a man, one day when I was out walking Jemma."


"My poodle. She likes roses, you see, so I take her to the park near to where I live."

"Ah." Steele nodded. "Intelligent creatures, poodles."

"Certainly, certainly." Parys nodded hard, reaching once more for the wine. Steele signalled to the waiter to bring over another bottle. "Anyway, we were just walking around the rhododendron bush - something's killing it, you know, infection of some kind. Very sad."

"Very sad," Steele agreed, watching his newest client draining yet another glass of wine. He didn't even seem to appear tipsy. "And then what happened?"

"Well just as we turned the corner, I saw my mother with this man - a strange man. They were walking along the path together, talking; then he kissed her on the cheek and left." He took a deep sigh, clearly troubled. "I don't know what to do. I told Jemma about it, but she thought I was overreacting."

"You told... your poodle?" Steele was beginning to flounder, but Parys shook his head.

"No, not my poodle. My wife. I named the dog after her."

"Oh." Relieved, Steele waved him on. "Did you confront your mother?"

"I asked her about the park, and she said she had gone for a walk there, alone. She's lying, Mr Steele."

"Hmm. Yes." The king of private investigators, who as yet had not solved a single case, nodded slowly. "Um... I don't want you to think that I'm prying, Mr Parys, but, er... how old is your mother exactly?"

"Seventy-five." Parys frowned. "No, no hang on. It was her birthday last weekend. She's seventy-six."

"Hmm. Hmm, yes." Steele was still nodding rather vaguely. "Um... In all honesty, do you really think that she's... capable... of... well..." He gestured with one hand. "Of breaking her marriage vows, shall we say?"

"It's not the marriage vows that I'm worried about, Mr Steele. It's what my father will say if he finds out. He's not the kind to take something like this lying down."

"And how old is your father?"

"Eighty-one." Parys frowned. "Or... No. He's eighty-one. But I don't want you to think that he's at all infirm, Mr Steele. On the contrary."

"Of course, of course." Steele watched Parys pour yet another glass of wine, and whistled to himself. If Parys Senior was anything like his son, no way was he at all infirm. He was probably perfectly preserved; in alcohol. "Alright, Mr Parys. On behalf of my agency I'm willing to accept your case. There are one or two details to work out first of course..."

"Oh naturally." Parys reached into his pocket and withdrew a dark brown leather wallet, with a set of monogrammed initials on the front. He withdrew five crisp, new notes and handed them to Steele. Each one was a thousand dollar bill. "I can give you this now, plus shall we say... ten thousand extra per day? Plus expenses of course."

"Of course." Steele could feel a smile coming on, and tried not to look too delighted. All of a sudden his fingers were itching to try a little picking of pockets again - merely to make sure he that he could still do it, naturally. Just how much money did this guy carry around with him? He watched as the wallet came back out, and Parys deposited several hundred dollar notes on the table to cover the bill. The maitre'd raised one eyebrow, clearly registering this new customer's face for future reference. It always paid to remember the better customers.

"Can I give you a lift anywhere, Steele?" Parys asked as they headed for the door. Steele was tempted to accept. He was sure that, given a short drive with this man, he could come up with an adequate cover story to convince him that he had just found a long lost son. Instead he shook his head.

"No thanks. Got the old limo round the back."

"Jolly good." Parys pulled a card from inside his breast pocket, handing it over. "There you are. Don't hesitate to call. Just be careful who you speak to."

"Absolutely." Steele shook the older man's proffered hand, then stood back to watch him as he left. The maitre'd was hovering nearby, and Steele stepped towards him.

"Have you ever seen that man before?" he asked. The maitre'd shook his head.

"No sir. He is a good customer though."

"He certainly is." Breaking into a jaunty whistle, Steele headed off towards the limousine. Fred, as usual, did not look especially happy to see him; but then Fred never looked especially happy to see anyone.

"Back to the office, Mr Steele?" he asked, his professional tone not quite covering the fact that he really didn't care where they went. Steele nodded.

"I think so, Fred." He leaned back into the plush interior of the limousine, fanning the five, crisp thousand dollar bills out in one hand. It had its ups and downs of course, but of all his identities this was one that he felt he could get used to. For the first time in his life, it really looked as though he was on to something good.


"So, Mr Hunter." Relaxing back into her chair, having at last found the correct file, Laura smiled at her guest and offered him a refill for his coffee cup. The man shook his head. He looked nervous, she thought - or possibly distraught. At any rate she was willing to bet that his pulse rate was way up. "You want us to find your brother, is that right?"

"My brother, yes." Hunter was silent for a moment, toying with the fraying end of his tie. He was dressed entirely in grey, like a sombre businessman ready for an important deal; and yet he did not look, to her, much like a man who worked behind a desk. He looked more like... well; more like she had always envisioned Remington Steele to look like, actually; tall and distinguished, hair greying at the temples, shoulders broad and skin tanned to suggest a life spent often out of doors. "I'll be honest with, Miss Holt; my brother isn't exactly the model of a law abiding citizen, and I think that there's something going on. Something that I need professionals to deal with." He stared at his hands for several long moments, then glanced up. "Is it possible for me to talk to Mr Steele?"

"Mr Steele?" She blinked. "Er, well actually Mr Steele is away at the moment, on business. He doesn't involve himself very often with the day to day running of the agency. He's more of a... a consultant, for those of us on the frontline."

"Oh." Hunter nodded, still looking nervous. "Oh well, if that's the way it is." He leaned forward, suddenly animated. "My brother means a lot to me, Miss Holt. Like I said, he's not exactly a model citizen, but he is still my brother. I had him on the rehabilitation programme, and he was making real progress; then suddenly one night he vanished; dropped out of sight completely. The police aren't interested, so I had to come to you."

"It's alright, Mr Hunter. One way or the other, we'll find your brother." She had taken to her new client. He was straightforward and earnest, and evidently his concern ran deep. She didn't like to think that she might be helping him to find a body, or a relapsed addict. "If you can give me a list of his favourite places; bars, friends, things like that..."

"Sure. I wrote a list." Hunter fumbled slightly as he searched through his pockets, and she felt her heart warm to him. Finally he pulled out a slightly crumpled piece of paper torn from a lined, A4 pad. He handed it over, and she scanned through the hand-written addresses. Hunter had a neat, bold hand, with a few, confident loops. "Will that be of any use, do you think? I mean, I checked them out myself before I came here, but I guess I could have missed him."

"If he's at any of these places, we'll find him." She smiled, standing up. "You'd best get home, Mr Hunter. You never know; he might have called."

"Thankyou." He offered her a grateful, tired smile. "I have a pager though. I've had it since he went missing the first time, three years ago. I would have known if he'd called." He pulled his wallet out of the inside pocket of his suit jacket, flipping through it to extract a small, dog-eared photograph in black and white. It showed a man, young and healthy, with a broad grin and bright eyes. "Here. I almost forgot."

"This is your brother?" Laura eyed the picture. The man who stared back at her was good-looking and in the full bloom of health. There was something strong about him, something vital which showed through the two-dimensional depiction. She found that she was smiling back at him.

"Yes, that's Michael." Hunter shrugged. "It's an old picture; three years old. It was taken before he first started... well, you know. Before he got hooked."

"I understand." She followed him to the door, feeling for him even more now. "You've left this in the right hands, Mr Hunter. Don't worry any more."

"Thankyou." He opened the door, stepping into the outer office, glancing up as the main door swung open. The figure of Remington Steele was clearly visible before him, hand raised in cheery greeting to Bernice Fox. It seemed to Laura that for the most fleeting of moments something flashed in Steele's eyes. He spun about, making a grab for the newspaper on Bernice's desk almost as though desperate to hide his face, then vanished without further ado into his office.

"Er... Mr Steele?" Left standing alone, Bernice stared after him, a puzzled expression on her face. She looked towards Laura, then glanced back towards the main door as Murphy Michaels strolled in. He looked from her to Laura, then back again. Finally he looked towards the closed door of Steele's office.

"What did he do this time?"

"Er, nothing Murphy. Nothing." Laura strolled out to greet him, indicating Hunter. "This is Mr Hunter, our latest client. Mr Hunter, Murphy Michaels, my associate."

"I'm pleased to meet you, Mr Michaels." Hunter shook the proffered hand mechanically, his eyes still straying towards the door of Remington Steele's office in a way that gave Murphy the distinct impression that he had missed something. He frowned.

"Is there something going on?"

"Hmm?" As one, Laura, Bernice and Hunter turned to look at him.

"You all look like something weird just happened. Should I go out and come back in again?"

"Hmm?" Laura frowned at him, blinking for several seconds without speaking further. Finally she shook her head. "No. No Murph, everything's fine. I just... I think our Mr Steele had a... a particularly busy lunch. That's all."

"Lunch?" Murphy glanced at his watch. It showed five past eleven, and he gave it an experimental shake to be sure that it was working. "Isn't it a little early for lunch?"

"That was Mr Steele?" Hunter frowned, shaking his head and shooting a furtive glance towards the door through which the famous sleuth had just vanished. "That was your boss?"

"Well in a manner of speaking..." It still hurt to have to acknowledge their new 'associate' as her superior, but Laura was finding newer and better ways of avoiding the issue all the time. "Why? Did you want a word?"

"Only with the police." Hunter used his arms to herd them away from Steele's door, as though he was afraid the office might explode. His voice dropped in volume, and they had to lean closer to him to hear what he was saying. "I'm afraid you've all been duped. That man in there isn't Remington Steele. His name is Rory O'Grady, and he's a con-man."


"Rory O'Grady?" His tone of voice one of a familiar brand of wounded innocence, Steele shook his head. "Never heard of the man. Is he a client?"

"Don't try that one on us." Murphy, who quite clearly was loving every minute of the suggestion that somebody might be about to unmask their devious companion, was standing barely at arm's length from the other man, his expression hinting that he was not in the mood for any tricks. "He knew you."

"And it certainly looked to the rest of us as though you knew him." Laura frowned. "I had to use every line I could think of to get him to go home and leave this to us. If we at least knew where you two know each other from..."

"Laura, really. Honestly. You have my word that I--"

"Save it." Murphy shook his head, turning to walk away. "If you ask me, Laura, we should have let Hunter call the police there and then. Maybe then we could get rid of this shyster and get back to some semblance of normality around here."

"Well I like that. And after all I've done for you." Steele sounded incensed. "You go ahead, call the police. Let's see which of us they believe."

"Oh stop it, the pair of you." Laura was pacing up and down, looking nervous. "Okay, let's think this through. Murphy, whatever you may feel about this issue, we can't have the agency torn apart by policemen investigating our Mr Steele. That could cause all kinds of problems. Somebody is going to find out that he doesn't exist."

"Precisely." Steele folded his arms, grinning triumphantly at Murphy. Laura glared at him.

"And you can stop looking so pleased with yourself. I don't know how we're going to deal with this one." She pushed him forcibly into the chair behind his desk, towering over him with a determined look in her eye. "Now. Rory O'Grady. I want to know who he is, and what he was up to when he ran into David Hunter. And I want to know now." Steele glared back at her, a mutinous look in his steady blue eyes. Her own frown deepened. If he thought that he could get around her with that look of hurt pride; with that glimmer of innocence and that hint of promise... Blast the man. He was truly incorrigible.

"Maybe I should answer that question for you, Miss Holt." It was the cool, clear voice of David Hunter; and even before she turned around, she could tell that he wasn't alone. Three uniformed men were with him, and although their uniforms were not those of the police department, they all wore badges, and all three of them were armed. A despondent groan was born from somewhere within her, and she rubbed her forehead. Quite suddenly she could feel a headache coming on.

"Mr Hunter..."

"No, Miss Holt." He advanced quickly, gesturing at his companions. "Just a precaution, in case he decides to try something. The man is quite without conscience, I assure you. He can't be trusted."

"But Mr Hunter..."

"Don't worry. The situation is under control, and none of this will reflect at all badly on your organisation." He held up a pair of handcuffs. "Care to step into these, Mr O'Grady? They look about your size."

"My name isn't O'Grady." Moving slowly and easily, as though he did not have a care in the world, Remington Steele rose to his feet. "It's Hunter, isn't it. Now see here old chap, I--"

"Don't give me that bull, old chap." Hunter took a step forward, and to her concern Laura saw that his men had all drawn their guns. She tried to interject her presence into the confrontation, but Murphy steered her aside. If somebody was going to get hurt, he was determined that it was not to be her. "I know who you are. Did you think I would forget? Two years isn't enough to let me forget you, O'Grady. Not even nearly."

"But I--" Steele took a step forward, but the gun in Hunter's hand was suddenly against his chest, and he froze. "Oh fine. Have it your way. See if I care." He turned to move away but Hunter stepped into his path, throwing the handcuffs to Murphy.

"Here. Put them on him." There was real authority in his voice, and Murphy moved instinctively to do his bidding. He paused, however, before completing the task, his eyes searching out Laura's. She shrugged, at a loss.

"I actually feel surprisingly good about this." Murphy clicked the steel bracelets onto Steele's wrists, although something - professional courtesy perhaps? or maybe just sympathy - made him fix the other man's hands in front of him, rather than behind. He glanced at his associate as he completed the task, surprised by what he saw in Steele's face. He had grown used to the shadowy glimmer in the eyes; the hint of mystery and the suggestion that all was just a game to the enigmatic man with no name. Now there was just emptiness. Steele must have seen him falter, for quite suddenly he gave the American a small, typically careless smile. Murphy backed off.

"You were saying?" Laura asked, her voice measured and even. "About Rory O'Grady."

"Oh yes." Hunter smiled at her. "I'm sorry to be the one to have to tell you this; especially after I've just hired your firm; but your boss here is no private investigator. When I met him he was working a - a 'sting' I believe his kind call them. The details aren't important, but suffice to say that he was attempting to swindle an art collector out of a very great deal of money. That art collector happened to be a good friend of mine." He waved his gun at Steele. "Two hundred thousand dollars. Just what did happen to all that money, hey O'Grady?"

"I have no idea." Steele spoke quietly, evenly, but Hunter merely laughed.

"Of course you don't. Is that how you managed to afford to set up this place? To hire these people?" He shook his head. "Too bad for you that it was me who decided to hire your agency today, Mr Steele. Too bad. Because now you're going to spend the next twenty years behind bars."

"I don't think so." Steele's voice was still even, still quiet and steady. Hunter shook his head.

"Whatever it is, O'Grady, it won't work. I'm taking you straight to police headquarters. I spent twelve years on the force, and they'll listen to me when I take you in there. Hadn't forgotten that had you? Sergeant David Hunter?" He gestured to the three men still standing by the door. "Take him downstairs. I want a quick word with Miss Holt and her associates."

"Sure boss." Without further ado two of the men stepped forward, grabbing Steele by the arms. He struggled at first, but more as a way of showing his displeasure than through any real desire to break free. Laura watched nervously as he was manhandled from the office. This was really not looking good. Much though she would have liked a return to normality about the office, she did not want to see it come about through Steele's arrest and trial. Certainly it would not be good for her or her agency; but perhaps most importantly of all she really did not want to see Remington Steele - or whatever his name was - behind bars. She wondered if his arrest would lead to her finally discovering what he really was called.

"Now." Hunter sat down on the corner of Steele's desk. "My apologies, really. My most heartfelt apologies. I just couldn't stand back and let him do to you what he did to my friend." He smiled a little awkwardly, and in a manner that made Laura's heart warm to him once again, just as it had before. "I hope that I can still count on you to look for my brother?"

"Of course." She managed a smile.

"Then there's no hard feelings?"

"I suppose not." She shook his proffered hand, wondering what the hell to do next. Why could life never be simple? And why was it always Remington Steele who was at the centre of things when all was at its most complicated? Still, it certainly looked as though he was not going to be confusing anything for a while at any rate.

"Er, boss?" The voice came from the door, and they all turned towards it. One of the uniformed men stood before them, a look of great discomfort on his face. Hunter frowned at him.

"What is it Jacobson?"

"It's O'Grady, sir." Jacobson twisted his cap in his hands, looking more and more uncertain of himself by the minute.

"What about him?"

"Well we were just on our way to the elevator, sir, and--"

"And what? Spit it out man. Where is he?"

"Well that's just it sir." Jacobson glanced around at the threesome, as though worried about what was going to happen. "I don't know where he is. He vanished."

"Vanished?" Laura frowned, wondering if she could add magic tricks to Steele's increasingly long list of accomplishments. Jacobson shrugged rather vaguely.

"We were just about to put him on the lift, and he pulled free and ran into the stairwell, sir. I went after him, but when I opened the door he wasn't there anymore. He wasn't on the stairs; not going up or down. He had just... disappeared."

"You fool!" Angry, Hunter went to the telephone, grabbing the receiver and starting to dial. "I'll get him." His tone of voice changed as he got an answer at the other end of the line. "Hello? Frank? This is David Hunter. Yeah, hello. Listen Frank, I've got a hot line for you on a big league con-man operating right on your turf. You want the case, it's yours man. All you have to do is put out an APB on Remington Steele." There was a pause. "Yeah, you heard me right Frank. The detective, yeah." He gave a short, sardonic laugh. "No, I don't either pal, but whoever he is, he sure as hell isn't any private investigator. Last seen heading out of his offices wearing a dark grey suit and a pair of handcuffs." He hung up, turning to look at Laura. "Don't you worry, Miss Holt. The police will soon deal with this, and whoever that trickster is, he'll be in custody before the end of the day." He headed towards the door. "We'll soon find out who he really is, and then you can get shot of him for good."

"Yeah." Laura's voice was quiet, subdued, and she stared after Hunter with a dejected look on her face. "Always supposing I'm not in the cell next door."


Remington Steele had found it easy to escape from his guards. Once at the doors of the lift, their grip on him had loosened; as though they were quite certain that there was nowhere for him to run to. One strong push had sent them tumbling into each other, whilst he took off through the doors leading to the stairwell. There was a loose air vent there, and it was simple work for a man of his skills to slip through the hatchway and pull it tight shut behind him. He lay in the dark, cramped space, listening to the shouts of the three men. They sounded perplexed and he grinned to himself, trying to silence his breathing in case they came near to him. They didn't. He heard their footsteps echo away, then breathed a sigh of relief. He could not rest though; not yet. Even if the hired help didn't find him he was sure that Hunter would. He remembered the detective sergeant only too well. He had been a dogged, determined man, never losing sight of his goal. In other circumstances they might well have been friends, for Hunter was the sort of man that Steele liked a great deal; honest, steady, reliable - and very intelligent. As a foe, however, he was next to lethal.

In the darkness, Steele made his way along the air vent, coming at last to the place where the thin, square passage split off into two. He took the right hand passage, sliding awkwardly down the short stretch which ran vertically between floors. He could remember many such escapes in the past, but there were none that he could recall where his hands had been cuffed. At least he could be grateful that Murphy had taken pity on him for once, and linked his hands in front.

He scrambled on down the passageway, sweat beading up on his forehead, running into his eyes. It was hot work struggling through the thin ducts, wriggling around corners and down shafts. He knew that by now Hunter was sure to have realised how he had made his escape; but whether the man would try to follow him, or to head him off, was a question that Steele himself couldn't answer. He pressed on, increasing his speed. There were so many possible exits from the building that there was no way the ex-cop could have them all covered. Or so he hoped.

Coming at last to the hatchway leading to the great outdoors, Steele kicked his way out. Time for stealth later, he told himself, sliding out onto the grass running beside the building. He glanced around. There was no one in sight, which was an infinite relief. He smiled, straightening his decidedly ruffled jacket, and headed off along the pavement. Now if he could just make it somewhere away from prying eyes, where no one would question the fact that his hands were cuffed, he might have a chance.

"Mr Steele?" He froze, not recognising the voice. It had an edge of authority to it, which was cause for concern in itself.


"Turn around please sir."

He did so, moving slowly, smoothly, his eyes alert for the slightest thing that might be of use to him. A policeman, uniformed and with gun in hand, stood looking at him. He didn't look like the type to mess with, Steele thought ruefully. Steadfast, confident policemen were not favourites of his, particularly in moments like this. He put on one of his best smiles.

"What can I do for you officer?"

"You can put your hands up, Mr Steele. You're coming with me."

"I am?" He sighed. "Why?"

"Orders. It seems that there's a warrant being issued for your arrest." The gun jerked in indication of the direction Steele should walk in, and he turned slightly. Three police cars were drawing up outside the building, and Hunter was just emerging from the front doors to speak to the plainclothes man in the lead vehicle. Laura was there too, and Murphy. "Come on, Steele. Don't make this any harder than it has to be."

"Oh it's not hard." He stared towards the distant figures, seeing Hunter turn to look at him. Their eyes met. Laura was looking worried; even afraid; and Steele smiled sadly. If there was anybody in the world that he would have wanted to keep out of something like this, it was Laura. She didn't deserve the backlash from his stupid mistakes. He sighed.



"In later years, I'm sure that we'll laugh about this."

"About what?"

In the blink of an eye, Steele had covered the distance between them, and before the policeman could get a clear line on him, the fugitive 'detective' swung his cuffed wrists up, straight into the officer's face. The uniformed man fell like a log, stunned as much by the suddenness of the blow as by the force of it. His gun also fell, and Steele caught it in mid air, turning to run in the same instant.

"Steele! Freeze!" He heard the shouts behind him; even heard one or two gunshots; then he was around the corner and running for his life. A pair of teenagers stood at the side of the road, and they glanced up as he ran towards them, their eyes bright with excitement. A real, runaway prisoner; the stuff of movies. He managed a breathless grin, hoping that there was more to them than just the look of teen rebels.

"I need to borrow one of your bikes," he gasped, gesturing at the two motorbikes parked at the kerb. The boys gaped at him. "Please?"

"Sure man." Without further ado one of the pair handed him a set of keys. Steele grinned at him.


"Hey, no problem man." The pair stood aside, watching as the fugitive gunned the bike's engine and roared away. Almost immediately a stream of policemen came around the corner, slowing to a halt when they realised that their quarry was not in sight.

"Where did he go?" Hunter ran to the boys, the only possible witnesses. "A man, young, dark-haired. Suit, handcuffs."

"That way." The second teenager pointed on down the pavement. "I think he went into the building a few doors down. The one with the spin doors."

"Thankyou." Hunter took off, his posse behind him, until only Laura and Murphy were left with the teenagers. Murphy pulled out his wallet and offered the pair a twenty dollar bill.

"Where did he really go?" he asked. The teenagers looked at the money, and then at each other. Clearly they were torn between greed and a strange form of duty. Laura looked from them to the one lone bike parked at the kerb, and smiled.

"Never mind. Come on Murph."

"Where we headed?" He followed her as she took off along the road, heading in the opposite direction to Hunter and the others.

"Didn't you notice the bike?"

"You think they should have had one each?" He smiled at her. "You know, you should think about becoming a private detective."

"Yeah, I know." She slowed to a halt suddenly, taking him by surprise. "Why are we doing this, Murphy?"

"To see you-know-who behind bars?" There was a hopeful look on his face, and she had to smile at it.

"If we wanted that we'd be helping the police, not working on our own."

"Yeah, I know." He shrugged. "I guess this is for the firm then. Or maybe for you."

"I don't care what happens to Mr Steele," she lied, although she well knew that she would not fool Murphy. She had known him for too long. "Come on. Let's get to a car. We have to find that other bike."

"I wonder where he's headed?"

"I have no idea." They headed off in pursuit of their runaway colleague, on the look out in case the police should return before they were gone. Far off ahead of them, a lone rider on a motorbike slowed to a halt at a traffic junction and looked up and down the long and lonely road. He didn't have a clue where he was heading either.


Steele left the bike at an empty park, then settled down on a sheltered bench to remove the handcuffs. It was awkward manoeuvring his knife to fit into the locks; but no more awkward than it had been guiding the bike with the cuffs on. They fell open eventually, and he massaged his wrists, glad to have a full range of movement once again. He fixed the handcuffs to the bike as a makeshift security chain, then headed off out of the park. Even though it was empty, he felt exposed there. There were too few places in which to hide.

"What to do and where to go?" He wasn't given much to talking to himself, but in his current situation, with nobody else to talk to, he was happy for the chance at conversation. It would be time for the city's almost communal lunch hour soon, and the parks and the streets would be packed again. That could very well be a mixed blessing. He sunk his hands into his pockets, after loosening his tie and collar, and tried to appear as casual and as unnoticeable as possible. Fortunately nobody in the city seemed terribly interested in anyone save themselves, and nobody that he passed on the street gave him much attention.

"Got any change?" A wino sitting in the doorway of a long unused shop blinked up at him through bleary eyes as he passed, and Steele paused. He had always had a soft spot for those down on their luck, having lived among them himself as a very young man. Besides; it was good to keep them on your side, he thought philosophically. If nothing else they were allies, and could always be called upon to assist at the most unlikely of times. He hunted through his pockets, coming up with a handful of change. Nothing major, but it was the price of a meal at least. He handed it over, then frowned. There was something else in his pocket too; five bills, all new. He grinned.

"I say, old fellow. Would you be interested in making some real money?"

"Huh?" The wino rubbed his leaky eyes, frowning at him. "What did you say?"

"Money, dear chap, money." Steele held up one of the thousand dollar bills. "Are you interested?"

The wino grinned at him, baring teeth that looked as though they had once been well cared for. Steele took that as a yes.

"I want you to deliver a message." He frowned, taking in the wino's whole appearance. He was wearing the most unhygienic of overcoats, and a stained shirt that looked as though it might be about to develop a life of its own. "And you'd better find yourself something a little more appealing to wear, whilst you're at it."

"Sure, son." The wino laughed in clear excitement. "What do I gotta do? Kill someone?"

"Hardly." The distaste showed in Steele's voice. "You're to go to this address." He scribbled on a piece of paper and handed it across. "Speak to a Miss Laura Holt, and tell her that Steele is safe and well and would appreciate a little assistance on the police front. Have you got that?"

"I got it." The wino made a grab for the bill, but Steele kept it out of his reach.

"Tell her Steele says to go on as normal, and that it's all under control." He frowned. "Well, more or less. Tell her not to try and get in touch because that won't be possible for a day or two. Is that clear?"

"That's clear as daylight, son." The wino made another grab for the bill, and this time Steele let him take it. He stood back to watch as the dishevelled character shuffled off down the road, then he allowed himself a small smile and took off himself. Suddenly he had a clear sense of purpose. Parys. He hadn't had a chance to tell Laura about his meeting at the restaurant, and there was therefore no reason for anybody to look for him at his new client's house. He could even try to solve the case while he was in hiding; after all, how difficult could it be to watch an old woman's illicit comings and goings? He began to whistle, and quickened his step. If only it could be as simple to deal with David Hunter.


"Mr Steele!" Claude Parys looked delighted to see him, throwing open the door with a flourish, grinning all over his round, innocent face as he welcomed the detective in. Steele smiled back at him.


"I'm so glad you came." Suddenly changing his tone, Parys leaned close, lowering his voice to a dramatic whisper. "There's things afoot."

"There certainly are." He looked around. "I need to ask for your assistance, Mr Parys, before we go any further with this little enterprise."

"My assistance?" The moon-faced little man looked delighted. "What is it? A stakeout? An inside job?"

"Well not exactly, old chap, not exactly." Closing the front door behind them, to seal them into the entrance hall, Steele put on his best Hollywood Intrigue expression. "You see, I'm here under cover."

"You are?" Parys was clearly delighted. "In what way?"

"Well, it appears that there's somebody after me." Smiling modestly he gave a small shrug. "It's nothing you understand. It goes with the territory."

"Somebody's trying to kill you?" His client's eyes were opened wide with a strange sort of excitement. "Who?"

"I'm not too sure about that. That's why I'm here, now. Mr Parys, together you and I are going to save your mother; and at the same time, perhaps unmask a deadly killer."

"You have my complete and assured assistance, Steele." Parys grasped his hand, shaking it heartily. "The house is yours for as long as you need it. And you'll need an alias of course." He was practically champing at the bit. "What'll it be?"

"Um, well, just call me Ballentine. Larry Ballentine." A thought occurred to him. "Um... one minor detail, Mr Parys."

"Yes Steele? I mean Ballentine."

Steele hesitated. This one needed the delicate touch, he thought. "Well..."

"Is there something else I need to know about the case?"

"Not the case exactly." He smiled nervously. "You see, as part of the killer's plot to get to me, he's paid off a member of the Los Angeles Police Department, and--"

"No!" Parys looked incensed. Steele nodded.

"Yes. And they've contrived to make it appear as though I might not be quite who I say I am."

"No!" He looked even more incensed than ever, which was quite an achievement. Steele nodded again.

"Oh yes. They are trying to make it appear as though I - I - am a common criminal. A con-man. An impostor." He drew himself up to his full height, setting his eyes ablaze with righteous indignation. "It's a damnable travesty of justice, sir, but I find myself on the run. Unable to go home, or back to my office." He shook his head, trying to look upset and betrayed. "I feel as though my whole life - my whole career - may be under threat. This great, great cause to which I have dedicated my life, ruined, perhaps forever, by one vindictive man and a crooked cop." He sighed, shaking his head in woe. "It's a terrible situation to be in, Claude. I don't know which way to turn."

"Don't worry." Parys clapped him on the back, suddenly galvanised into action. "You're safe here, Steele. I mean Ballentine. I won't let so much as a single police officer over the threshold, and my family shan't know a thing about it. We don't own a television set, so you don't have to worry about being on the news."

"You're such a comfort, Claude." Steele smiled at him, giving him just the right amount of admiration through the worry and fatigue. "And in return I promise you the best that Remington Steele - er, whoever he may be of course - has to offer. Free of charge, naturally." Well, you couldn't have everything when you were on the run.

"Ballentine, you're a gentleman. A fine, upstanding gentleman; and it will be my pleasure to have you here for a while." Parys grinned at him, much like a small boy grinning at some cherished hero. "And I know that Larry Ballentine will be as much of a help to me as Remington Steele - who I've never met, naturally." They shook hands. "Now come along with me, Larry. I'll find you a room and then introduce you to my mother. You've got to stick to her like glue."

"As though we were handcuffed together, old man." Steele trailed along behind his host as he was led up a flight of broad, sweeping stairs looking like something from an old country mansion. "She's safe with me."

"I know she is." The look of utter certainty and faith which Parys gave him almost made Steele cringe with guilt. Almost, but not quite. He smiled back, his confidence restored, and almost felt like whistling again. Now all that he needed was a plane ticket to Australia; or the sudden and inexplicable disappearance of David Hunter. Either one would suffice. Maybe in the meantime he could come up with a suitable cover story that might convince the police that he really was on the level. It would have to be good, but then lying was his business.

"Here you are, Ballentine." They had arrived at a door, which Parys opened, gesturing inside. "You rest up, and I'll fetch us something to drink."

"Thanks." Steele went into the room and had a look around. It was old fashioned in design, with a large hardwood dresser and matching wardrobe, and a bed with a heavy curtain around it. There was a large window too, leading to a sloping roof, and overlooking a large garden filled with bushes. A good escape route, if need be. Sitting down on the bed, Steele took off his jacket and tugged off his tie. Time to go to work.


"This place is full of hoods." Pulling his donkey jacket closer about his shoulders, and trying to pull his boyish face into an expression approaching something tough and well lived-in, Murphy glowered at Laura. She smiled sweetly at him. She was dressed in a cheap outfit that he could not imagine her ever having bought; a dangerously short skirt made out of what appeared to be red PVC, a black blouse that looked as though it might be leather - or, more likely, a cheap leather substitute - and high heels that bordered on lethal. Her hair was on top of her head, and she wore a bright slash of lipstick that clashed with her heavy dusting of eye shadow. He had blinked stupidly at her when he had first gone to pick her up that evening, trying to decide if he was horrified or intrigued.

"Of course this place is full of hoods. Hoods, addicts and small-time jerks with no hope." She shivered, for it was not all that warm in the bar, and she was not terribly well dressed for cold weather. "We're looking for an addict, remember? Or a former addict at any rate."

"Yeah." Murphy ran his eyes over the crowds of huddled, bleak looking individuals in the corners, all hoping to latch onto somebody who might be willing to sell them something. There was a haunted look about all of them; the look of desperation that came from being lost to a lost cause. He grimaced to see the frighteningly young age of some of them, and he shuddered to think of what half of them were doing to pay for their addictions. One kid in particular, slumped against the side of the out-of-order jukebox, looked no more than fifteen. His eyes, beneath the mist of his semi-stupor and the black smudges of too little sleep and too many nightmares, blinked about at the room in unspoken terror. His mouth jabbered soundlessly, and his shoulders jerked in occasional nervous twitches. "I hope he's not here."

"Me too." Laura was also scanning the room, looking for somebody that she had no wish to find. "Hunter has been something of a pain the you-know-where, but I like him. I'd hate to think of him going through all that again. Imagine finding your brother mixed up in all of this."

"Especially your kid brother, with a low mental age, who's been reliant on you since he was a baby." Murphy glanced up as the door opened, but the new arrivals were nobody that he knew, and he turned back to Laura once again. "You want to try somewhere else?"

"We'll give it a few more minutes." She gripped the dirty glass before her, which held an untouched measure of cheap whisky. She had ordered it on entering the joint, in an effort to appear as though she was at home there. Not being the world's biggest alcohol fan, she had left it before her all the time, not wanting to risk taking a sip. She liked her tooth enamel where it was.

"Are you okay, Laura?" Murphy was leaning closer to her over the table, reaching out for her hand. She let him take it, remembering the part that they were supposed to be playing, and flashed him a broad, flirtatious smile. He grinned back, his eyes showing his usual good humour. "You know, you make quite a good hooker."

"I love it when you flatter me." She sighed. "I'm sorry, Murph. I am okay, really. I guess I'm just worried about a certain person."

"Yeah." He tried not to look too disapproving. "He can take care of himself, Laura. I mean, he did okay before he hooked up with us. Remember that pile of false passports, the fake documentation, the long history of con jobs over half the world? He's no fool."

"I know." She shrugged. "That guy who brought us the message said that we shouldn't try to get in touch, but I can't help thinking that--"

"Don't think it." He gave her hand a squeeze, glad for the first time in ages that their relationship was so close, and yet so very platonic. It was a brother's comforting that she needed tonight, and brother was a rôle that he could so easily fill. "He'll be okay, Laura. He's a very resourceful guy; and much though I hate to admit it, he's got a lot of skills that I would kill for."

"I guess." She smiled back at him, this time genuinely instead of just in character. "Come on. Let's go back towards our side of town. I'll buy you a pizza."

"Is that what you and Mr Steele eat?" He was teasing her, but she blushed slightly anyway; then shrugged.

"We don't eat together all that often. Every time we try, something comes up. Usually a well placed knock at the door, or a ringing telephone that has to be answered. Anyway, I don't know that he's really a pizza guy."

"For all we know, he could be an Italian master pizza chef." Murphy grinned back at her. "I mean, he says he's British or whatever, but that accent..."

"Murph." She flashed him a mock glare, rising to her feet. "Come on."

"Excuse me." Just as she stood, the young teenager leaning against the juke box came over to them. He was glancing nervously about, his thin shoulders shivering in the night air coming through the open windows. "I heard you were looking for Mike."

"Michael Hunter?" His voice showing suspicion, Murphy frowned at the boy. "Who are you?"

"Jamie." The boy was jiggling about, as though anxious to suddenly make a dash for freedom. "I can help you - for a price."

"You know him?" Laura tried to keep up her hooker façade, but her more familiar rôle as private detective was pushing her disguise onto the back burner. "How?"

"Mike's cool. He's not like the other addicts. He's not into the bad scene, and he doesn't hurt anyone. He's..." The boy waved a hand at his head, as though indicating some mental condition. "Well, you know."

"Have you seen him recently?" Murphy asked, ready to reach for his wallet just as soon as they were out of the bar. He wondered if there was someway that he could make sure the kid would use the money just for food, or for a thicker jacket; but the chances of that were about nil, and he well knew it. Jamie jigged about a bit more, nodding jerkily.

"He wasn't around in ages, then he came back about a fortnight ago. He was different, like he wasn't on the stuff anymore. We didn't talk, though. He was with some other guys." He shrugged. "Come on. You want to know where he is or not?"

"Lead on." Murphy stood aside to let the boy lead them out. It was less cold once they were in the open air, where the draught was no longer being forced through tiny windows at neck level, and he was glad to be out where he could breathe freely once again. The thick smoke which curled through the air in the bar was just that of ordinary cigarettes, but that did not make it any less revolting than the alternative. He felt as though he should try to get his lungs vacuumed.

"Over here." Jamie seemed even more nervous now, gesturing for them to follow him down the short alleyway leading towards the docks. Murphy paused.

"Laura, I don't think we should go down there."

"I don't know that we've got a choice." She advanced slowly, resisting his attempts to push her behind him. It was darker in the alley than it had been outside the bar, and the sounds of the conversations going on behind the thin walls were muted and oddly distant. They heard an argument start up, and the crash of a beer bottle against wood. Somebody shouted angrily, and the noise subsided once again.

"Over here." Jamie was gesturing at the back of the bar, pointing into inky black shadows. "Come on."

"I really do not like this." Murphy took a step forward, torn by indecision. He liked his sixth sense. It had always been good to him; and right now it was screaming for him to run away. He could see that Laura was stung by the same sense of anxiety. A movement in the shadows made both of them freeze.

"Get down!" They both shouted it as one, each yelling to warn the other as they both dove for cover. Gunshots rang about above them, echoing in the cramped alleyway. The sounds of conversation in the bar did not so much as falter, and Murphy groaned silently. So much for any chance of help from that quarter. Not for the first time, he wished that it was agency policy to carry a gun.

"Murph?" Laura sounded questioning, concerned, and he reached out to touch her hand, to let her know that he was okay. She glanced back over her shoulder and smiled at him. "Any ideas?"

"None." He shrugged. "You're the ideas man."

"I love the way you pass those bucks."

"Good, isn't it." He straightened up to peer over the top of their heavy, trashcan cover, and immediately ducked back down. Another volley of bullets rang past him, and he winced. "I don't think they like us very much."

"One thing's for sure." She moved closer to him, pointing to something that he could not see. "They don't want us to find Michael Hunter."

"I wonder who they are." He followed her as she gestured once again, crawling after her into a small, cramped space behind the trash cans. Old cigarettes, banana skins and rotten apple cores squelched under his feet, and he tried not to show any vocal distaste. He had hidden in some pretty revolting places since taking up his current career, but this really was one of the worst. He could tell that Laura was grinning at him, even though he could no longer see her face.

"What now?" he asked her. He thought that he felt her shrug. "Oh great."

"Ssh." She led him on, squeezing past mildew and grime soaked trashcans. Something long and wet and slimy trailed across his face, and he had to force himself not to gag. They crawled on in silence, and he could not help wondering where they were going. Footsteps sounded close by, and he realised that they were moving past their assailants. He heard two sets of feet, one of which sounded very like Jamie's light, nervous movements.

"Perhaps we got them." A pause, then: "Perhaps they got away."

"Where to?" The second voice sounded well educated, and belonged to someone considerably older than his teenaged companion. "If they moved, we'd have seen them." Clearly he was cross. "Blast it. I wonder who hired them."

"You said Michael had a brother." Jamie's voice had a troubled edge to it, as though he was afraid of the man with him. "Hadn't we better make sure we got them?"

"You go." There was a reason that went with why the boy should go alone, but Murphy did not stick around long enough to hear it. He crawled faster, suddenly worried that they might have left a trail behind them, and emerged into the empty, dark space of the docks several seconds after Laura. She was straightening her clothes, trying not to look at what was stuck to them.

"Murphy!" She pulled him to his feet. "Are you okay?"

"In need of a long hot shower and thirty gallons of disinfectant." He offered her a breathless smile. "Come on, before they decide to come after us."

"With pleasure." They broke into a run, heading off along the docks until the bar was far behind them, then doubled back to return to the car. It was parked some yards away from the front of the joint, and there did not seem to be anyone nearby. Even so they waited, staring into the darkness and listening for the slightest sound. Finally they went cautiously towards the car, tense and ready for action. No one shouted, no one shot at them. All was quiet.

"I never want to come back here again." Murphy slid into the car, looking exhausted, and Laura smiled at him.

"You loved every minute of it." She switched on the ignition, setting the car into reverse to manoeuvre away from the seedy establishment and its sprinkling of unpleasant clientele. "Still want that pizza?"

"Only after the shower and the disinfectant." He leaned back into his seat, staring out of the window as they headed for home. "I wonder who those guys were."

"We'll find out." She turned on the car heater, suddenly feeling cold and distinctly soggy. Outside it was beginning to rain, and she winced, glad that they were no longer hiding in the alleyway. The rain fell thick and fast, and even with the windscreen wipers doing their best, she found it hard to see the road. Murphy stole a look at her, seeing the concern that she did not voice.

"He'll be okay," he said softly, watching the worry in her eyes. "No way is he out in this."

"You don't know that."

"He's not like other people, Laura. It's not as if he's never been out on the streets before, with people after him."

"I guess." She turned on the radio, hoping for some news, but there was nothing save the usual, and she heard no mention of Remington Steele. Switching back off, she settled into the new warmth of her car, watching the spray on the road and hoping that none of the wet, dark figures that she saw along the pavement were her errant 'employer'. At the first junction they came to, she headed the car towards her home. Maybe there was a message. Maybe he had decided to come to her. Despite her frustration and her continual exasperation towards the man, she hoped that he had got in touch. She wanted to see him again.


Remington Steele took a deep breath of the bright, clear morning air, and peered through his sunglasses at the ageing woman striding ahead of him through the park. Claude Parys' mother, Emily, had proved to be a charming woman, whom he suspected had guessed from the outset just why he was now living amongst them. She was clearly aware that he was following her, but since she didn't seem to mind neither did he. Jemma the poodle didn't seem to mind either, since it meant that she was going for another walk, and Jemma the client's wife also clearly had no objections. She had been less than subtle about fawning all over the unannounced guest, and was now wandering along by his side, talking to him in a soft, flirty voice that made him distinctly nervous.

"I love this shirt, Larry," she told him, trying to nestle closer to it as though attempting to join him within the garment. He nodded.

"It belongs to your husband." He put a slight emphasis on the last word, but she didn't seem to notice.

"Oh. Well it never looked as good on him as it does on you."

"Thankyou." He steered her hands away from his chest and tried to keep his eyes on Emily Parys. She seemed to be watching him, peering less than surreptitiously back to check on his progress. "Didn't you say that you had a meeting this morning?"

"Cancelled." She leaned against him. "Anyway, it's too nice out here to go inside. All that rain last night has made the park look perfect, don't you think?"

"Absolutely, Mrs Parys." With a movement that he had rarely had cause to practice, he slid out of her persistent embrace and handed over Jemma's lead. "Here. Why don't you two lovely ladies go back home? I should hate for you to wilt in the heat. The most beautiful of blooms last bare moments in weather such as this, don't you agree?"

"Oh Mr Ballentine." She fluttered her eyelashes at him. "You know just the right things to say." She handed him back Jemma's lead. "I'm allergic to her though. You'll have to keep her." With that she was gone, and Steele stood alone in the park. He stared down at Jemma, sitting on the grass and gazing up at him. Her stumpy, sculptured tail wagged hopefully, and he sighed. He liked dogs. They liked him. He just didn't like the idea of walking through a park with a small, clipped poodle; especially when he was supposed to be a hardened sleuth on a tough assignment. Humphrey Bogart had never taken a poodle on assignments. When he had been Sam Spade, investigating murder and intrigue of the darkest sort, old Bogart had done it with a beautiful femme fatale on one arm and Peter Lorre on the other - well, more or less. He hadn't been leading Jemma the little white poodle. Still, dog or no dog, Steele was a professional. His client was expecting him to do his duty; and do it he would. He straightened the cuffs of his deep blue silk shirt - another affront to his image of sultry sophistication, this time courtesy of Claude Parys's wardrobe - and hurried after Emily.

In the event it was a hugely enjoyable morning. Steele played his rôle to great effect, sitting on benches and peering at his target from behind a newspaper; hiding behind the thick trunk of an occasional oak tree, or sneaking quick glimpses at her whilst lurking behind the dying rhododendron bush or the spectacularly flowering roses. He felt like a real sleuth; a proper private eye; and even the whispering walkers, and the worried looks he got from many a confused passer-by, could not dampen his enthusiasm. Let them laugh, let them point. Just because he, a fully grown man, was hiding behind a rhododendron bush with a small poodle, peeking out at a little old lady as she watched the ducks on the lake, did not mean that he was any less sane than the rest of them.

When Emily settled down on a bench to watch a pair of small children feeding the ducks, Steele settled down on the grass behind his rhododendron bush to wait for further developments. Perhaps she was about to be contacted by foreign agents; or maybe a sinister man with an Eastern European accent was going to sidle out of the shadows and threaten her with a spiked umbrella? Steele warmed to his theme. Anything could happen in a Californian park on a warm day. He edged closer, the better to protect his client's mother should anything untoward happen. His right hand was yanked sharply, and he spun about. A desperate enemy, poised to attack? A deranged killer, threatened by his presence on a favourite hunting ground? It turned out to be Jemma, tugging on her lead to get closer to the roots of the rhododendron, and he pulled her back to his side. She resisted, scrabbling about in the earth, her little tail wagging madly.

"Jemma." He pulled harder. "Jemma!"

"You have to speak to her gently. Coax her into your arms." Emily Parys had come to stand behind him, and she smiled down at him as he jumped. "Charm her." She frowned, looking distinctly disappointed. "Oh, it's the dog."

"Did you think I was down here with your daughter-in-law?" He stumbled to his feet, dusting himself down. "Oh, and, er, good afternoon. I didn't know that you liked to walk here as well."

"Firstly, my boy, she is my daughter-in-law only under protest, and a nice sordid affair would be a good excuse to get shot of her." Emily smiled, folding her arms and eyeing him in a way that made him feel distinctly chastised. "And secondly you knew damn well where I was. You've been following me for what feels like half the day. Between the two of us we've done enough miles around this little park to qualify us for entry to the next marathon." Her frown became a smile. "I thought we might make this a little more pleasant for both of us, if we were to walk here together."

"I'm supposed to be incognito." He still felt chastised; and also faintly hurt. She had seen through him so easily. Just because he was new to this game didn't mean that he should be easy to spot; he had followed more people than he cared to remember, in a hundred different cities and towns across the world. None of them that he recalled had ever caught on as quickly as this one little old woman. Not that she looked old. She might indeed have been seventy-six, but she looked barely sixty.

"You can stay incognito, Mr Ballentine. I shall pretend that I'm talking to myself if it'll make you feel any better." She took his hand, holding it gently but firmly. "Claude put you up to this, didn't he."

"He asked me to take Jemma for a walk." It sounded feeble and he knew it. She laughed.

"He thinks I'm having an affair, you know. Me; and at my age. He has far too much of an imagination."

"He's worried about you."

"He should be." She sighed. "Families, Mr Ballentine, are a curse. They tie you to them, they lead you around in circles, and they get in your way when you least appreciate it. Do you find that?"

He smiled, not willing to tell her that he had no family. "You don't mean it."

"Oh but I do." She shrugged. "You're not married then? No children?"

"No." Pleasant thoughts of Laura drifted into his mind, but he had to ignore them. Right now he probably had more chance of making it with Murphy.

"You're a lucky man." She sighed, turning her head to gaze back towards the crowds of children feeding ducks. "Oh they're all very well when they're young, and they still need you. Then one day you realise that they want to run your life, and that they think they know what's best for you. That's the time to start thinking about finding somewhere else to live."

Steele smiled politely. She probably had a point, but he didn't imagine that he would ever have the chance to find out for himself. He gave a tug on Jemma's lead, pulling her away from the rhododendron bush that she seemed so desperate to return to.

"Well then if you don't mind me asking, Mrs Parys... just who was the man your son saw you with?"

"Don't beat about the bush, do you." She smiled at him. "Very well. His name was Jefferson, and he's my husband."

"Your husband?" Steele frowned, beginning to get confused again. "But I thought--"

"You thought that my husband was Philip, Claude's father?" She shrugged. "He is." Another shrug, this time with an amused smile attached. "I'm a bigamist, my boy. Does that shock you? I think that I rather hoped it would, but on reflection you're not the type to be easily surprised." She laughed softly. "Actually you quite remind me of Jefferson. He was always the man for me. I never did love Philip."

"Then why--" He broke off. "You married him for his money. It was a con-job."

"Crudely put, Mr Ballentine. Crudely put." Her grip on his arm tightened slightly, as she began to walk him across the park. Jemma trotted at their heels, sending longing glances back towards the rhododendron bush. "But essentially accurate."

"Then why stay married to him for so long?"

"Because when I married him I had no idea about the terms of his will. I don't inherit a penny unless he dies naturally, of old age. He wouldn't grant me a divorce, but to be honest I never really wanted one. He keeps me in a style I enjoy, and I aim to be around long enough to collect on my investment." She scowled. "I never expected him to live this long. Now I find myself wondering if I'll ever have the chance to do anything with my inheritance." She changed direction, leading him across the centre of the park towards the small clump of trees off to one side. Steele knew it well. He had spent the best part of half an hour dodging about amongst the tree trunks, trying to keep Emily in sight without her seeing him.

"Mrs Parys..." It struck him that he should say something, but he did not feel as though she wanted to make conversation. Her piece said, she was lapsing into silence. He could sense her unease. It must have been a hard thing for her to confess to, he thought, which led him to wonder why she had bothered confessing at all. He wondered how to break the news to Claude - and to Philip. The old man might indeed have been eighty-one, but he was a broad-shouldered individual with a jaw like that of Roger Ramjet, and his piercing dark eyes had unnerved Steele from the moment of his introduction.

"Don't bother saying anything, my boy." Her hand was tight on his wrist now, and he could feel the metal edge of a ring digging into his skin. "I really don't have any regrets about what I did, but I would like to show you something. I feel that I should. If you wouldn't mind?"

"Not at all." He smiled at her again, with a growing feeling of distinct unease. He wanted to pull his arm out of her grip, but he didn't like to appear too anxious to be gone. He didn't want to attract any unnecessary attention to himself either; just because the Parys family had no television didn't mean that their neighbours were similarly cut off. Any one of the casual walkers might have seen his face on the last news bulletin, and could already be coming to the conclusion that he was the infamous private eye currently being sought by the police. His patience as a gentleman was being sorely tested, however, and he wasn't sure how much more of this old lady's attention he wanted to cope with.

"This way." She led him through the trees, heading towards the small gardener's hut that he had seen earlier. It was a sturdy building as he recalled, made from stout wood on a stone base, with windows so grimy that it was impossible to see through them. He remembered a new, shiny padlock on the door that would likely have deterred any casual thief's attempts to pick it. Funny how he always absorbed these small details. It was all part and parcel of his long life on the wrong side of the law, and it was something that he imagined he would never shake off. He wondered if he would still be living this life, still spinning lies and cons, when he was Emily's age.

"Where are we going?" he asked her eventually. She smiled at him, in that distant way he had come to recognise. He was beginning to think that it was a cover. She wanted to appear old and helpless, but she had already shown him that the truth was something very different, and that unnerved him still further. Secure now in the cover of the trees he pulled free from her grasp, no longer too worried about keeping up his gentlemanly demeanour.

"Now now Mr Ballentine. And me just wanting to be friendly." She slid her hands into her handbag, smiling all the while. "Oh blast. I know I left my spectacles in here somewhere."

"Mrs Parys, I--"

"Ah! Here." She pulled her hands out of the depths of her surprisingly roomy bag, and waved a small object at her companion. It was only tiny; a Derringer at a guess, he thought, with a small but effective range. "Now, my boy. Let's step inside my office and discuss this properly, shall we?"

"Mrs Parys, I really don't think you're going to fire that thing. Not in a park full of people." He took a step towards her, only to feel a sudden pressure in the small of his back. It was a familiar sensation, and his muscles tensed immediately.

"This one's got a silencer on it, son." The voice was male, deep and soft. Gradually Steele relaxed. "Good boy. Now step towards the hut."

"Mr Jefferson?" He was fairly sure that this must be Emily's first husband - and, presumably, her only legal one. There was no answer, and he obeyed the pressure in his back, turning towards the small building. It stood on the other side of the trees to his right, and as it came within range of his sight he saw that the lock was open, the door ajar. Emily opened it, gesturing to the murky interior of the small place.

"Inside," she told him, her voice no longer that of the sweet old woman he had liked so much at first. He obeyed, at a loss just yet as to what else to do. No sooner was he over the threshold than he heard the step of hobnailed boots on the floorboards behind him. He started to turn, only to receive such an almighty blow to the back of the head that he collapsed without pause onto the floor. Shadows and blazes of light rushed alternately before his eyes.

"What do you think, Jeff?" He heard Emily's voice somewhere above him, but it sounded indistinct and faint. A face swum into vision as he tried to turn his head. He heard a low laugh.

"Well I'll be."

"Jeff?" Emily's voice again, even more faint this time. A man's voice answered it, beginning with a laugh, and ending, bizarrely, in a muted whorl of nonsense that told Steele his state of consciousness was seriously under threat.

"This guy isn't any Larry Ballentine. Or I guess he could be, you never know. I've seen him before, only he was calling himself something different then."

"Really?" The door slammed shut, and Steele's dimming vision registered the change in light. He heard a series of footsteps, followed by what sounded like another door opening. He felt hands grab his wrists, pulling them behind his back, and tried to force his eyes to focus. If this man knew him, surely it followed that he should know the man? His eyes would not obey him though, and the voices around him were no longer making a whole lot of sense. He let out a low groan.

"Henderson? Peterson? No - Carlson, that was it. It was when I took that trip abroad back in... seventy-eight, I think. Maybe seventy-seven." This sentence was remarkably clear, and Steele blinked. What had he been doing in seventy-seven? Or in seventy-eight for that matter? He couldn't even begin to make his memory work. He tried to turn about, to look properly at his captors, and maybe at least try to identify the man; but somebody had tied his hands behind his back, and he could no longer move properly at all. Strong hands took hold of him, and he felt himself being dragged across the floor.

"Just take it easy, kid." He wasn't aware of having struggled, but in truth he wasn't really aware of much just now. He struggled again. The hands ceased pulling, and he felt himself moving through his own momentum. He tried to slow himself down, until he realised that he was falling through empty air. Just as he was starting to think about shouting, he struck the ground with a hard thump. This time he blacked out completely.


"Well now this is mighty interesting." Sprawled on the floor of Laura's office, amidst a veritable sea of documentation and cardboard files, Murphy Michaels peered up at Laura and Bernice over the rim of his third cup of coffee. They both looked back at him expectantly, and he grinned. It was nice to have an audience.

"Our friend Hunter and his brother were adopted."

"Adopted?" Laura shrugged. "Interesting, but not necessarily important. Michael Hunter has the mind of a twelve year-old. Is it likely that he found out, and went off in search of his real parents?"

"It's possible." Bernice perched on the corner of Laura's desk, gazing down at the reams of paper spread across the floor. It looked as though a bomb had gone off in the office, or that Murphy was rapidly drowning in a peculiar sea made of paper. She quite liked the idea of being the one who had to drag him out, and maybe administer a little mouth-to-mouth. "I think I'd want to find out."

"But you're not Michael Hunter." Murphy sighed, draining his cup and rising to his feet to seek out a refill. "Or David Hunter either for that matter. A cop - especially a detective - would have access to all kinds of records. If either of them was going to investigate, surely they could have had the whole story unravelled in days?"

"They wouldn't need to. There's five years between David and Michael. Surely David must remember his parents a little?" Laura leaned back in her chair, resting her feet on her desk. It was her thoughtful position, and she wished that she had a hat handy, so that she could tilt it over her eyes. Laura was not given to acting the part of a detective to the same degree as was Remington Steele, but there were occasions when she liked to relax her standards a little. It was good to wear the old fedora, especially around the office. It went with the coffee stains on the ancient file to her right, and with the overstuffed filing cabinet in the corner. "I remember stuff from when I was five."

"Maybe that's because you want to." Murphy refilled all three of their cups from the coffee jug on top of the filing cabinet. It wasn't as warm as it had been, but it was not yet cool enough to be lukewarm. He considered re-warming it, and then considered whether or not he could really be bothered. He had to conclude that he couldn't. "There's no telling why they were adopted. As a matter of fact these files don't even say if their real parents are the same, or if they were adopted at the same time. We have to consider that maybe David wanted to forget their biological parents. Maybe they were mass murderers or something."

"Unlikely, Murph." Laura raised an eyebrow, smiling at him. He grinned back.

"I'll get onto the adoption services." Looking all businesslike again, Bernice headed for the door. She paused just as she reached for the door handle. "What do I tell Mutt and Jeff out there?"

"Offer them some more coffee. Tell them we haven't heard anything." Murphy stretched back out on the floor amongst his sea of files. "Are they really expecting us to tell them where he is?"

"Do we know?" Bernice looked from one to the other of them. Laura had told both of her associates about the message that the peculiar man had brought her, that first day of Steele's escape. A tall, ageing individual, dressed in the stained and scrumpled clothes of a man who had truly gone to seed; and yet, bizarrely, wearing a full length sheepskin coat that must have cost several hundred dollars. He had told Laura that Steele was okay, that he didn't want to be contacted for a little while, and that he would appreciate a little assistance, where possible, with the police force. Not contacting him she could handle; she had no idea where to begin looking, after all. The police were a different matter altogether though. They were doggedly persistent about their belief in Steele's guilt, and absolutely determined to capture him. To that end two uniformed officers - not exactly the height of subtlety, although Laura was hardly about to point that out to them - had been detailed to stand watch in the offices of the Remington Steele Detective Agency, and to report back to some unknown plainclothed superior whenever anything happened; which it never did, at least not within their hearing.

"We don't know." Laura gave a sad smile that spoke volumes to Bernice Fox. "There hasn't been any further word, and I don't have a clue where he might be. I don't even know if he's still okay."

"He's fine." It had become a regular form of assurance these last few days, although Murphy was no longer sure quite how much he himself believed it. "I keep telling you Laura; he did okay before he met us, he'll do okay now. This isn't Remington Steele we're talking about here. Not your Remington Steele, with his money and his fancy clothes, and his business interests that prevent involvement in cases. This is the all-new improved version. He's probably as much at home on the streets of LA as he would be in some fancy London apartment, drinking burgundy and admiring his latest stolen treasure." His eyes met with those of Bernice, and they shared a moment of gentle encouragement. Neither of them had really noticed how close Laura had become to the strange man who had so unexpectedly invaded all their lives. They had been so busy getting angry with him, so busy pouring out their frustrations, that neither of them had noticed the development of the real depth of feeling now reflected in Laura's face. So Steele wasn't just a con-man; wasn't just a necessary evil tolerated for the good of the company. He was becoming rather more than that, right before their eyes.

"Yeah." Laura stood up, pushing her chair away from the table with a sharp grating noise. "He's fine. I know he's fine. Bernice, get onto the adoption agency, but make the call from Mr Steele's office. I don't want our friends out there to hear you. Murph, do me a favour and go talk to the enemy. I don't want them wondering what we're up to. Take them some coffee, and see if they know more about Steele than they're letting on."

"Right on it." He jumped to his feet with real agility, but she did not miss the signs of exhaustion in his eyes. They had all been working over time the last forty-eight hours or so. Maybe it was concern, maybe it was just a belief that if they could find Michael Hunter, his brother might be grateful enough to call off the hounds. Working with Remington Steele might be a pain in the neck, but they had all come to the conclusion that it was better than working without him. Not that that was something they would ever have confessed to the man himself.

"Thanks Murph." She tipped her head back again, closing her eyes and staring into the darkness that awaited her inside. There were answers in here somewhere, she told herself, and tried to ignore the unpleasant images brought to her by her unbidden imagination. Steele, alone in the gutter, mixing with the street trash and the addicts; Steele, knifed to death in some dark alley; Steele, cold, lonely, hungry. She wanted to shut her eyes to block out the images, but they were already shut, and there was no further recess to climb into. She opened her eyes again, and stared at the files left in a swathe of white and grey across the floor. She stood up, walking into their midst. In these files. The things she was searching for were in these files somewhere. She knelt down in the heart of all the paper confusion and began to read. On the wall, the clock ticked ever on.


He awoke with the distinct feeling that consciousness was not always welcome. It insinuated its way into his very being, forcing his eyes open to experience the full, extremely painful reintroduction of light into his system. It wasn't a great deal of light, for the room he was now in seemed to be illuminated solely by a single, dusty oil lamp hanging from the ceiling; but it was light enough to make him want to be unconscious again. He reminded him, vaguely, of being very, very drunk one night back in... whenever it was. Eighty, probably, but it was just as possible that it was any one of the long list of preceding years. He and another man, a tall Irishman whom Steele had met in Dublin during a St Patrick's Day parade, had decided to drink themselves into oblivion as part of a bet. All that Steele truly remembered of the evening after their determined, steady handshake was the realisation that he had lost the bet. His opponent had possessed a quite mindbogglingly unbelievable constitution, and had still been able to walk a straight line when Steele had been on the verge of irredeemable oblivion. He had found out, much later, that his opponent had paid the barman to supply him with water instead of vodka.

"Ugh..." Quite sure that he had intended to speak properly, and equally sure that he had not succeeded, Steele pushed himself into a sitting position and looked around. He had an indistinct memory of falling a short distance, although it had not seemed terribly short at the time. The lack of windows confirmed one suspicion at least; he was beneath the gardener's hut now, some distance underground. A quick glance up towards the hatch set into the ceiling above his head was further proof of that. He pushed himself to his feet, using the damp stone wall for purchase, and was relieved to find - having neglected earlier to check - that his ankles were not tied. He took a shaky step forward, feeling strength returning all the time, and completed a quick perimeter march. The room was small, and underused to judge by the cobwebs. There was a coil of rope in one corner, an empty wooden crate in another, and the bare, battered remains of a large wine rack along the whole of one wall. The floor beneath his feet was wooden, as was the ceiling above him, and the boards showed no sign of giving way when he gave them an experimental stamp. Not that there was likely to be any way of escaping through the floor. He would have had to have dug himself out, through all the hard, dry earth and the tree roots, armed with nothing save the clothes he was wearing. It would have been a hard enough task with a spade, and a next to impossible one given his current position. He gave up finally, sitting back down on the floor, leaning against the cold stone of the walls. He needed time to think, to evaluate the situation properly. He needed to consider the possibilities, and hopefully to free his wrists. Clearly he could get nowhere with them tied behind his back.

"Mr Ballentine?" The slightly querulous voice of Emily Parys floated down to him, and he glanced up, surprised. He had not heard the hatch opening. He blinked at the square of light, his eyes objecting to its sudden intensity after the dim surroundings of his prison. He pushed himself back to his feet, walking to stand beneath the hatch.

"Mrs Parys." He kept his tone light and easy, polite as always. "How have you been?"

She laughed at that, lowering a ladder down towards him with a surprising strength, and gesturing for him to move back. He complied without argument, anxious to keep the atmosphere as friendly as was at all possible under the circumstances. As she descended the ladder he saw Jefferson, who as yet had no second name to Steele's knowledge, appear at the top. He stayed there, making no attempt to climb down, his gun in clear view all the time.

"Can I do something for you?" Moving aside to allow her more room to move, Steele glanced about at his prison. "I'm sorry it's such a mess. I've been meaning to do some cleaning, but you know how it is. Never seem to find the time these days. Still - pull up a chair, put your feet up. I'll make us a pot of tea."

"You're a strange fellow, Ballentine." Emily sat down on the wooden crate in the corner of the room, her hands on her knees. He could see the small Derringer, partially hidden by her right hand, and took it as a warning not to go too close.

"I should hate to be too bland and passé." He smiled at her, eyes catching all the available light in a vain attempt to charm her. You never knew your luck, after all.

"Those who are bland and passé rarely get themselves tied up in cellars and facing uncertain futures." She crossed her legs. "What do you know, Ballentine? And just who the hell are you? Where did my son find you?"

"So many questions, Mrs P." He shrugged, a painful manoeuvre given the position of his hands, and leaned against the wall. "In point of fact I know very little - about anything. It's a fact many people have pointed out to me over the years. As for old Claude, I met him in a restaurant. He wanted my services, I was happy to oblige. He pays very well and money does talk. We both know that."

"Which brings us to my other question; who are you?" Her eyes were serious now, and he wondered just how much leeway he had. His flippant tone had lightened many a potentially deadly situation in the past, but it had heightened more than a few as well. One could never be sure how somebody was going to react, when they were facing you with a gun and a history of past crimes. "My husband knows you. He said that he recognises you from a few years ago. A trip abroad, to London."

"London? Really?" Steele favoured her with a broad smile. "Lovely place. Such charming local colour. Have you ever been there? Really, you must go. Visit the museums, take tea in Harrods." He saw her eyes glitter, and recognised the warning to tone his performance down a little. "It's possible that I ran into your husband over there. I lived in the city for quite a while."

"He says you were calling yourself Carlson at the time, and were claiming to be an archaeology professor." She leaned forward to peer at him. "Edgar Carlson."

"Ah." He nodded. "An interesting time. I grew rather attached to old Eddie, but I had to leave him behind. Somebody questioned my expertise, and the heat became a little too intense. Shame. I scammed a mighty luxurious suite in a perfectly sumptuous hotel with that little set up."

"Then you really are a con man." She frowned, obviously considering the implications of this. He frowned too.

"That's such a tasteless term." Her eyes flicked towards him and he took the hint, choosing to side with caution. "But a legitimate one I suppose. So given that it appears we're on the same side, is there any chance of being forgiven; of the slate being wiped clean? I won't talk to your husband. Your other husband, that is."

She leaned back, watching him with eyes masked by shadow, then shook her head. "I don't think so."

"Not even a little leeway? You could forget to lock the door, and I'd find my own way home."

"No deal." She stood up, pointing the gun at him once again, giving him the distinct impression that it might all be about to be over. He wondered if he should say something, but under the circumstances there wasn't a whole lot to say. 'Don't shoot' was always a possibility, if a singularly useless one. "Unless..."

"Unless what?" It was his turn to look suspicious, to stare at her from eyes darkened through uncertainty. She smiled at him, suddenly the very image of a charming old lady once again.

"I have a little task for you."

"I'm listening."

"Good." She gestured for him to sit on the wooden chest in her place, keeping her eyes fixed firmly on him all the time. "You seem to have a liking for playing the private detective, Mr Ballentine; or at least for taking on that sort of case. I have a job in that line that I think you might be able to handle."


"My son." Her eyes seemed different now; more clear, more intense; filled with a momentary burst of something that looked very like pain. It was gone too soon to be sure of its existence, but Steele was certain of it nonetheless.

"Claude?" he asked her. She shook her head.

"I don't mean my son with Philip Parys. I mean my son with my real husband, Jefferson. When Philip discovered that I was pregnant by another man, he made me get rid of the children. Jeff adopted them, to make it all legal, even though he was the father anyway. We couldn't let anybody know that of course. I had two sons with my real husband, quite a distance apart. I only ever knew either of them as a stranger; as a friend of their father's. But I always loved them anyway."

"And now one of them is in trouble?" Steele was starting to feel distinctly uncomfortable. The situation was getting more and more complicated by the moment, and he was not at all sure that he liked it. Emily shook her head, very slowly.

"I don't know. Not really. David, the older boy, was always alright. He was a policeman for a long time. A detective, very successful. But Michael... Michael had something wrong with him. Or - or something different about him at any rate. He ran away, he got into trouble. David always looked after him, but recently things have changed. Michael has vanished, and I don't know what to think." She folded her arms. "I want you to find him for me, Mr Ballentine. I want you to bring him home. I don't care anymore, what secrets it might uncover, what it might mean for Jeff and me. I just have to know that Michael is alright."

"And his name's Michael Jefferson?" He shrugged. "Okay. Shouldn't be too difficult."

"Jefferson?" She frowned at him. "That's not his name. Jefferson is my husband's first name, not his second. Their surname is Hunter."

"Oh." He frowned suddenly, looking up with widening eyes. "Oh! Your son is David Hunter, the ex-cop?"

"You know him?" There might have been pride in her eyes at the mention of her elder son's name, but he merely sighed, trying to sink back into the shadows. Great. Talk about working with the enemy.

"I know him. I've run into him once or twice." Something came to him, and he smiled to himself. "And I think I've just worked out why he was talking to Laura."

"Who's Laura?" Emily was frowning at him, but he stood up, ignoring her.

"Never fear, Mrs Parys - or Hunter, or whatever you prefer. Michael is as good as found." He smiled at her, in his best and most charming way. "If you'll untie my hands, that is."

"Huh." She sounded grudging, but she put the Derringer away in a pocket and drew a knife to cut him free. It felt good to be able to move his arms again. "Up the ladder," she ordered him gruffly, and he complied without complaint. Upstairs the light was flooding through the wide open doorway and he basked in its glow, nodding cheerfully towards Jefferson Hunter, who was still pointing his gun straight at him.

"Hello. Lovely day, isn't it." The other man gave no sign of responding to the niceties, so Steele merely shrugged and moved on past him. Just before he reached the door Jefferson called out to him, his voice ringing around the small, confined space of the hut.

"Don't talk to the police. Don't tell anybody about what's going on. If Philip Parys finds out about any of this, you're a dead man."

"Don't worry. I don't plan to tell anybody about your sordid little secrets." He stalked out of the shed, keeping his poise as careless and as unconcerned as possible, then lost himself in the little copse of trees. His brain was working hard. There had to be something here that he could use to his advantage. There had to be something that he could come up with; some brilliant plan that was truly worthy of Sam Spade, or Sherlock Holmes. A shrill barking interrupted his thoughts, and he glanced around. A small, white poodle was running towards him, a lead trailing on the ground behind it. He groaned.

"Jemma, go home." She yipped at him some more, then jumped up, her paws trailing mud down his trousers. Her nose was covered in the stuff too, so clearly she had been digging again; presumably once more under the rhododendron bush. He hoped that nobody had noticed the damage she had been doing, or he was going to get himself saddled with a fine, on top of everything else. "Please Jemma. Go home."

The dog showed no sign of complying with the request, and he groaned, bending down to pick up the lead. His face came within range of her tongue as he did so, and he wiped his cheek as he stood up, making faces at the small dog.

"Must you be quite so friendly?" The dog wriggled excitedly, and he sighed to himself. He could hardly take it home. Not now, after all that had happened. If he headed towards Casa Parys right now, Emily and Jefferson would probably suspect the worst. Resigned to his fate, he scooped the little dog into his arms and headed out of the park. Some days he felt more like Miss Marple than Philip Marlowe.


Murphy bumped the car over a number of ruts in the ground, juddering and shuddering about as the vehicle's suspension objected loudly to its ordeal. He had to hold the steering wheel tightly to avoid having it torn from his grasp.

"My garage bill better be covered by expenses," he muttered. Laura grinned at him.

"It will be. Hunter promised a bonus, too, if we can find Michael quickly. This lead looks pretty promising."

"I sure hope so." Murphy was exhausted, and was no longer making any effort to hide that fact. Laura had been unable to let this case go for a minute, and he knew precisely why she was so dedicated to it. She was still convinced that success on their part might persuade David Hunter to abandon his search for Remington Steele. Inwardly he cursed the name of their fictional superior. He was more trouble when he was absent than he was when he was actually present; and that was saying something.

"Over there!" Laura had spotted something, and Murphy drew the car to a halt, opening his door. He stepped out, sinking up to his ankles in thick, gluey mud.

"Oh great."

"It's not your day, is it Murph." Laura was still smiling at him, and he enjoyed the spectacle enough to allow some of his irritation to fade. He struggled onwards through the mud, aiming for the figure standing nearby, right beside a small boathouse made of crooked and uneven planking. The figure waved to them, hurrying them onwards, and Murphy slithered and skidded in his attempts to comply. Soon they were close enough to greet each other, and the man took a few steps towards them. He was, saw Murphy with no small amount of annoyance, completely clean and dry, with no indication of having struggled through all of the mud.

"Murphy Michaels," he panted, offering a hand to the grey-suited figure. He gestured towards Laura, just coming alongside. She looked tired, and her expensive trousers were spattered with mud, but he saw a hard light in her eyes nonetheless. She was really hoping for something concrete from this meeting, and he hoped fervently that she was not going to be disappointed. "This is my associate, Laura Holt," he added. The stranger smiled at them both. He was about fifty, they guessed, with a round face and equally round glasses. His demeanour suggested a certain, characteristic nervousness, but also the sort of confidence that went with an assured status in life. It matched the effortless style of his vastly expensive suit, which somehow managed to lend his small, round figure some real sense of power. All the same his eyes, which were a bright, intense blue, flickered about as though terribly concerned.

"My name is Claude Parys," he told them, his voice soft and deep. He sunk his hands into the pockets of his jacket, his shoulders broadening out. "I hear that you've been looking for Michael Hunter."

"That's right. Can you help us?" Not wanting to sound too desperate, in case this strange informant was going to demand payment for his services, Laura took a step forward. The curious man drew a hand from out of his pocket, and pointed something at her. So bizarre did it seem under the circumstances, that it was several seconds before she realised that he was holding a gun. Its muzzle was no more than a foot or two from her chest, and when she finally tore her eyes from it, and looked up at the man's face, she saw that it was totally expressionless. His eyes, which had been so intense, were now like glass.

"I don't want Michael Hunter found." His words were soft, the tone indescribably cold. "He's staying where he is, and you're not going to do anything about it." He gestured with his gun. "Into the boathouse. Quickly, both of you."

"Mr Parys." Nervous at the gun's close proximity to Laura's anatomy, Murphy took a step forward. Parys' weapon tracked his movement, clearly ready for any eventuality. The detective froze, uncertain.

"Do as he says, Murph." Her voice showing her own nervousness, Laura began to edge towards the boathouse. Somehow she was sure that Parys was not prepared merely to leave them locked in there; but she didn't want to do anything about it just yet. There was no sense in pushing the issue until it became completely necessary. Even so, she hesitated before she entered the cool, dark interior of the building. She could hear the soft lap of the water at the far end, and hear the thud of a tarred rope end blowing against the wooden wall in the breeze.

"What happens when we're inside?" she asked. The gun pressed into her back.

"I'm sorry. Really I am."

"You're going to kill us, aren't you." It look real effort to keep her voice even. Something about this man terrified her. He was not the usual sort of enemy; not a madman with a gun, or a seven-foot bruiser with fists the size of small Eastern European states. He was a small, polite gentleman, with eyes like ice, and an immaculate cravat that was fixed in place with an expensive, jewelled pin.

"Yes, I am." There was a tone of regret in his voice, as though this fact was something that he had only just realised himself. "I'm really afraid that I shall have to."

"To help hide the fact that you killed Michael Hunter?"

"Michael got in my way."

"You don't look like a drug pusher." In point of fact he didn't look like anything; except perhaps some bumbling character from a forties screwball comedy. That thought made her think momentarily of Steele, but she pushed the images from her mind.

"Drugs?" He sounded horrified. Call me a murderer, certainly, but not a drugs pusher. "No, Miss Holt. My involvement with Michael had nothing to do with drugs. He had found something out, that's all. And a lot of your discoveries, the feelers that you've been putting out, suggested to me that you might be about to find out the same thing.

"We hadn't found out anything." Murphy frowned. "Except that Michael and his brother were adopted. Is that it? Is that was this is all about?"

"Shut up." The gun pressed against him, and he stepped inside the boathouse, Laura behind him. The footsteps of their captor echoed on the wooden floor, although Murphy's own, mud-soaked trainers made next to no sound at all. "Get comfortable, both of you. You won't be leaving."


"Miss Wolf." It took Bernice Fox a whole twenty seconds to realise that Remington Steele had just walked past her, and it took her almost as long again to realise that his clothes were decidedly dusty. Were those cobwebs in his hair? She opened her mouth to speak to him, but he had already vanished into Laura's office. She closed her mouth again. A second later Steele reappeared, and this time she caught sight of a small, white poodle in his arms. She opened her mouth again, gaping at him as he put the dog down on her desk.

"Where's Laura?" For once he was not speaking in sentences of maximum loquacity, and she blinked at him in surprise.

"How did you get past the guards outside the door?"

"They're taking a nap." There was urgency in his tone. "I don't have all day, Miss Wolf. Where's Laura?"

"Gone to meet an informant. Somebody who can help us find Michael Hunter."

"Then that is what you were hired for." He nodded. Suspicions were forming in his mind, led by his powerful sixth sense. "As was I, of course."

"You were hired to find Michael Hunter?" She blinked at him stupidly. "By David?"

"Of course not by David." He swallowed his irritation. "Miss Wolf, listen to me. This is important. Michael Hunter is part of a con-job. A rather large, and potentially somewhat complex, scam set up more than fifty years ago by a young couple who wanted to make their fortunes. Now I must find Laura. Somebody, I think, has caught onto something that they were never meant to discover. I think that was why I was hired originally, and I think it's why Laura may right now be in a very great deal of danger. Now where is she?"

"A boathouse, way off the beaten track, just outside the city." Bernice glanced at her watch. "She's probably almost there by now. Murphy is with her, though. She should be alright."

"Miss Wolf, I share your conviction in Laura's abilities, and I know that Murphy is quite capable; but I think they may have been led into a trap. I think--"

"Steele!" There was delight in the voice; a sense of real pride and accomplishment. "Gotcha!" With a cold feeling in his heart, Steele spun around. David Hunter stood in the doorway, a small unit of armed police officers flanking him, their weapons already drawn. Before Steele had a chance to react, they were upon him. He felt strong hands grip his arms, his shoulders, pinioning him painfully and effectively. He struggled uselessly, aware that he was already being pulled backwards from the room. His eyes sought out those of Bernice. She looked shocked, afraid; maybe even sympathetic. It was a slim shred, but he clung to it. Maybe, just maybe, she didn't hate him as much as she liked to make him think.

"Who was it?" he asked, as he was pulled away from her, and over towards David Hunter. "Just tell me! Were they contacted by a man named Claude Parys?"

"Yes." She nodded at him, confused, worried by the look of fear in his eyes. It spread, washing over her in almost palpable waves. "Are they in danger?"

"Do you trust me?" He was almost at the door now, where David was waiting, idly spinning a pair of handcuffs in his ready fingers. He looked bored by the exchange, unconcerned by its tone and content.

"Absolutely not." She caught sight of his grin, just before he was thrown up against the wall. A low groan escaped him. She saw David Hunter advancing, and she gave a low groan of her own. He had better be right. Damn him, he had better be right. Otherwise she would very likely never see the light of day again. Without further hesitation, she vaulted over the reception desk and dashed to his aid.

She hit Hunter low, losing her footing almost immediately afterwards and falling into a roll. She found her way back to her feet again with surprising fluency and ease. Steele was already free of his captors, a gun in one hand. It was a small Derringer, and she wondered for a moment where he had got such a weapon from. She had never seen him with one like it before. He swept it around, covering the whole group of policemen, his eyes hot and bright. She got a glimpse, perhaps, of what he had been like before, when the mantle of Remington Steele had been a disguise as yet unassumed.

"Don't try anything," he said, the Irish inflection in his voice more prominent than usual. "I've never killed a man before, Sergeant Hunter, but I might be prepared to change all that just now. If I really have to."

"I will get you, Steele." Hunter's voice was heavy with repressed anger. The con-man merely smiled at him.

"I know." He backed out through the door, Bernice at his heels, then gestured for her to pull the main doors closed. Once they were shut he locked them into place with the set of handcuffs Hunter had been planning to use on him. Almost immediately the policemen were struggling against the makeshift lock. They could all see that it would not last for long.

"What now?" Bernice asked him, a trace of desperation in her voice. Steele grabbed her hand, hurrying for the stairs. She made no objection, even though she wondered which sense had told him not to use the lifts. She pounded down the steps alongside him, stumbling on the corners, wishing that she was wearing more suitable shoes. They arrived at the entrance just as the security man there reached for the phone. Bernice knew instinctively who was on the other end, and what he was going to say. The security man was staring at her as he lifted the receiver, his eyes widening as he saw Steele, and as he listened to the first words that came over the internal phone line.

"Run!" Steele shouted, as though they were not already doing so, and Bernice felt her speed increase as he dragged her on. They fled through the door into the street, twisting and turning through the profusion of pedestrians. How was it that the streets could be clear at this time of the day at any other time of the week - and yet, the one day when she needed a clear sidewalk, everything was jam-packed with people. She pushed them aside, barrelling her way through them and ignoring the shouts of protest. They reached a squad car parked at the kerb, and Steele pulled the door open. It was not locked. He grinned at her, climbing behind the wheel, and she followed him mechanically. Sure. Why not? Add theft to the list, what harm could it do. Steele was fiddling about, hot-wiring the engine, and as a stream of policemen erupted from the doors of the building behind them, the car leapt into life. They were off. Already she could see in her mirror that the police were after them. She clamped on her seatbelt, trying not to let her breath catch in her throat. She had always wanted to get a chance to work out in the field, instead of being stuck in the offices; but this was not exactly what she had meant.

"Okay?" Steele asked her. She flashed him a breathless smile.

"Fine." She glanced nervously in the mirror, and saw Steele watching her. He was smiling grimly, his eyes bright and fiercely alive. For a moment she felt almost afraid, worried by the way he seemed to be feeding off the adrenalin. In moments, however, his careless smile was back.

"Don't worry about them. Piece of cake." He was watching a hundred things at once; the traffic lights, the other cars, the pedestrians, their pursuers; and also the speedometer, the clock on the dashboard and the radio flashing just in front of Bernice. "We want them to follow us."

"We do?" She wasn't convinced, but she forced herself to relax nonetheless. She could handle this. She had to handle this. Laura and Murphy were in danger, and she had to help them; before it was too late.


"At least tell us what's been going on." Determined to delay their fate for a while, Laura sat down on a barrel and gazed attentively up at their host. He looked uncertain, his gun fluttering nervously from one to the other of them. He was too far away to make disarming him a possibility, but Laura felt Murphy tense nonetheless. He wanted to make a move, but she laid a hand on his arm, pressuring him slightly to indicate that he should sit too. The last thing that she wanted was for her escape to come through the death of her oldest friend.

"You want to know why I'm doing this?" Parys seemed greatly disturbed, as though the secret was too terrible to tell. "Is that your last request?"

"If it was, would that make you tell us?" She smiled at him, not quite fluttering her eyelashes, but coming quite close to it. He shrugged.

"Can't hurt. You're not likely to tell anyone."

"Precisely." She grinned up at him, hoping that she looked as confident and as reassuring as she wanted to. "Please, Mr Parys. Put our minds at rest. Tell what it is that we stumbled on to."

"Michael." Parys leant against the wall, the words tumbling out of him now that he was resigned to telling someone about it all. "He was adopted, and he wanted to find his real mother. His brother had tried, but he couldn't track anything down. The official channels couldn't find anything, and he didn't care enough to try the unofficial ones. He didn't really want to know who his real parents were. Michael did though; and he succeeded. His mother was my mother; she had had an affair, and my father had made her give up the resulting children for adoption. It all seemed a little weird till I found out that the adoptive father was actually the real one. That was how it had all been so easy to hide." He hesitated, wiping a bead of sweat from his upper lip. "Michael kept coming back. He kept talking to my mother in the park where she walks every day. That's how I found out about him. I thought that she was having an affair, until I got close enough to overhear, and I found out what was really going on. I couldn't let it get out. The scandal would ruin my family."

"So you killed Michael," Murphy prompted. Parys stared at him for a moment, as though having forgotten his presence; then he shrugged.

"Not straight away, no. I talked to him first. He wouldn't take no for an answer; wouldn't let go. He didn't seem to understand the threats I made. I didn't mean to kill him, at first. Once I had started though; well, it was easy after that." He smiled, as though pleased with himself. "He was a big man too, quite a lot younger than me I'd say." His eyes narrowed. "Quite a lot younger. I remember my mother getting pregnant. They said at the time that she had lost the baby."

"You really killed him so that nobody found out about your mother's affair?" Laura sounded aghast, but Parys did not seem to notice. He shook his head.

"Not nearly that simple. My mother was already married when she met my father. She lied to him to get him to marry her, just so that she could get hold of his money. It's all a farce; a big con. She never loved him. I can't imagine what I was to her. You're damn right I didn't want anybody to know. My father would be laughed at, the social standing of the whole family would have been ruined. I wasn't going to take that kind of risk." He looked thunderous, his eyes glittering with the light of a man teetering on the brink. "I wanted to make sure none of it got out. I decided that I had to find my mother's real husband, to silence him the way I'd silenced his son. I was quite pleased with the way it turned out. I hired the great Remington Steele to watch over my mother, and report back to me on who she spoke to. I told him that I thought she was having an affair." He laughed to himself. "It was quite brilliant; except that Steele vanished this morning while he was out following my dear mother. Jemma has gone too. I was actually rather fond of her."

"Jemma?" Murphy inquired, feeling that he was being left behind. Parys glared at him.

"My poodle," he said emphatically, as though this was something everybody should know. "Jemma said she saw them heading towards the gardener's hut, but I couldn't find hide nor hair of them."

"Jemma said that?" Murphy was still floundering. Parys eyed him as though he were a fool.

"My wife."


"Mr Parys?" Laura wondered whether she should risk rising to stretch her legs, since the barrel was hardly the most comfortable of seats, but she eventually decided against it. "You hired Remington Steele? And you knew where he was until this morning?"

"He's been living with me." Parys laughed. "Oh, I know. The police are after him. Still, he seemed like a genuine enough fellow, and who am I to judge? They're saying he's a con-man. Pales into insignificance when you consider that I'm a murderer." He smiled at her, his eyes twinkling much like those of a benevolent uncle. "Soon to be a mass murderer, when you think about it. I shall have to get rid of mother, and her husband if I can find him. And I suppose Steele will have to go too. Shame, actually. I quite like him. He's a real gentleman, and there are few enough of us about these days."

"You? A gentleman?" Unable to keep the edge from his voice, Murphy shook his head. "You're nuts." Parys snapped his head towards the source of this dissension, his gun no more than a few inches from Murphy's head.

"And you're a dead man," he said softly, as slowly, with clinical precision, he drew back the hammer.


The car screeched down the roads, taking corners at such a speed that Bernice was convinced the wheels were losing contact with the road. She clung onto the seatbelt, marvelling at the astounding way that Steele was able to stay ahead of the police cars following them. Every so often a group tried to head them off, or to form an impromptu roadblock, but so far he had avoided them all. It seemed that he could always stay ahead; could always maintain just the right edge of speed to keep out of their clutches. Bernice was terrified, but she smiled firmly throughout. There was no sense in worrying now.

"Alright there, Miss Wolf?" Steele's voice was absurdly calm, despite the roar of the engine and the clamour of distant sirens. "Nearly there now."

For once she made no objection to his mangling of her name, and merely nodded rigidly. "I'm fine. And how can you be sure?"

"Always know your home territory, Miss Wolf." He was smiling broadly, although there was a glint in his eyes that was pure steel. "One never knows when one is going to have to make a run for it."

"Most people don't have to worry about that." She kept her eyes on the road, since he didn't seem inclined to bother, but she knew that he was smiling at her.

"Most people are awfully boring, don't you find?"

Her mind drifted back to the conversation she had had with Laura not long after this man had come into their lives. She had told Laura that their false Mr Steele was the excitement that she felt in no shape to handle within her private life; that she was looking for someone ordinary and bland, whereas Steele was the sort of walking danger trip she thought would be good for Laura herself. That conversation came back to haunt her now. How right she had been. She couldn't live with this twenty-four hours a day. They took another corner, more sharply this time, and she felt her stomach lurch as though agreeing with her sentiment. Ahead of them now was an open stretch of muddy ground, covered in ruts and trenches, a small wooden hut in the distance. Murphy's car was parked opposite the hut, looming up on the road ahead of them.

"Hold on Miss Wolf." Spinning the wheel, Steele guided the car around the parked vehicle, sending them jerking and bouncing over the rough, uneven mud. The wheels sunk and spun, somehow struggling on regardless. The hut came closer, the planks visible in startling detail now. Bernice realised that she could count the cracks in the wall facing them; maybe even count the nails holding them in place. Her mouth fell open yet again.

"You're not..." she breathed, even though she knew straight away that he was.

"Where else can they be, Miss Wolf?"

"Gone. Gone anywhere, in Claude Parys' car."

"Ah yes." He nodded slowly. "In which case we're somewhat inconvenienced. We won't be able to escape again."

"Oh." She steeled herself, watching as the hut grew, filling her vision with its rickety, crooked structure. She wanted to close her eyes, but somehow didn't feel able. With a terrible crashing and rendering of wood, the car cannoned straight through the wall, sending debris showering into the sky. Broken planks hammered on the roof of the car, and the lights on top shattered. So did the windscreen, beginning with a single, zig-zagging crack. It split apart silently, showering Bernice with crystals of safety glass. At the same moment that she realised her hair was full of the stuff, that it was inside her blouse and trying to get inside her shoes, she also realised that she was alone. Steele was already struggling out of the car. She followed, staring about.

Laura and Murphy lay on the ground nearby, blinking up at them in confusion. There was another man present as well; a man with a handgun gripped firmly in one, sweating hand. The hammer was drawn back, and the confusion in his eyes was being rapidly replaced by anger. Bernice realised with a jolt that the hammer had been drawn back for a reason. Right before they had burst in, he had been about to execute either Laura or Murphy. Probably both. Her blood ran cold.

"Bernice," Murphy said, sounding stunned.

"Steele," Laura said, at almost exactly the same moment.

"Steele." The glow in Parys' eyes became almost inhuman. He spun about, his gun aiming straight for the detective; when suddenly he seemed to realise that there were police cars drawing up outside the hut. He gulped, his eyes straying over all of the others in the room. Laura and Murphy were still on the floor, but he did not have a clear bead on either of them thanks to the debris. Bernice was sheltered by the car. Only Steele was a clear target, and he showed no sign of moving away.

"Put the gun down Claude," he said. His voice sounded clear and cold.

"You're under arrest Steele!" a voice shouted from outside the hut. As one Steele and Claude turned towards it. A hard smile burned its way through Parys' eyes, and he turned the gun to point at David Hunter. Malice showed in every inch of his cold face.

"No Claude!" Steele started towards him, wondering even as he did so whether it was Hunter's life or Parys' that he was trying to save. Either way it was a pointless gesture. Before he was anywhere near close enough - before Claude could begin to fire - a volley sounded from outside the walls. Claude stumbled, then fell, his gun falling from his out-flung hand.

"Don't move, Steele." There was ice in the voice, and Steele knew enough not to mess with policemen still in killing mode. He raised his hands above his head.

"No!" Laura was on her feet now, moving towards him, but before she was halfway there he had been engulfed by policemen for the second time that day. They threw him up against the battered squad car that he had crashed, cuffing his hands behind his back. It was Hunter himself who spun him around again, staring into his eyes with ill-suppressed glee.

"I told you I'd get you," he gloated merrily. Steele met the hard eyes.

"I don't remember arguing." He half-turned towards Laura, who had reached them now, having fought her way through the wall of uniformed men.

"Mr Hunter." She wiped the sweat from her forehead with a slightly muddy hand, wondering if she looked as dishevelled as she felt. Certainly Steele was a sight; not at all his usual dapper self. "That man, there." She pointed at the body of Claude Parys. "He murdered Michael. I'm sorry. I'm not entirely sure of all the details..."

"I think I can fill in any holes." Steele hesitated. "Off the record."

"And Michael?" For a man who had been desperate to find his brother, Hunter seemed oddly detached now. Clearly nothing had sunk in yet; Laura almost regretted breaking the news in the way that she had.

"I have no idea. He might be in this river, I suppose..." She turned to stare into its murky depths. Hunter turned towards it, wondering if his brother was somewhere down there, hidden by the reeds. Laura saw the shadows pass before his eyes. What a thing to have to think about; how his brother's lifeless body might have been lowered into the water from this very boathouse. Steele saw the look in the older man's eyes, and sighed. He seemed to be struggling with something; fighting some inner compulsion. Part of him was affected by the grief in the eyes of his nemesis, but part of him clearly did not want to do the man any favours. Finally he sighed again, this time with more resolution.

"I think I know where the body is," he said, his voice soft. He was tired, Laura could tell, for it showed in his voice so much more than in his face. The Irish accent behind his words was strong, as it always was when he was at his most angry or upset - or when he was drooping with exhaustion. She could only imagine what kind of a day he had had.

"Where?" There was almost pathetic longing in Hunter's eyes. Steele met them, held them, struggled with his own conscience. He wanted to make it into a deal; to use his suspicions to buy his release; maybe even a head start. In the end he merely slumped back against the ruined squad car, glad that the crowd of policeman had dispersed.

"In the park," he said quietly, listening to his own exhaustion, his own sense of defeat behind the words. "Buried under a rhododendron bush."


They left most of the police cars behind them, and went together, three cars in convoy, towards the park. It was more or less deserted, and those people who were still there did not seem interested in the arrival of three cars. Hunter went around to the back of the squad car he had been riding in and took something out, then returned to drag Steele from the car. He unlocked the cuffs, and gestured at the spade he had pulled out of the boot.

"Get digging," he said gruffly. Steele considered making a cutting reply, but he could see the lines around the retired detective's eyes, and he merely nodded, heading towards the rhododendron bush. It was a gruesome job, but it was not the first time he had had to do something like it. He saw the scratch marks in the earth where Jemma had tried to dig, wondered briefly what had become of the dog, then bent to his task.

The ground was soft and dry on top, scraping easily away under his spade. He could see where an earlier, similar tool had cut through many of the bush's roots, and he realised why it had been dying. No wonder Parys has seemed so sad about its impending death, given that he had been responsible; although Steele had no doubt that his erstwhile client was more upset about the death of a rhododendron bush than the death of Michael Hunter. Finally, as the last of the day's struggling light faded away, his spade struck something beneath the soil. He knew what it was straight away, and he changed tactics, moving the spade with far more gentle strokes. Soon there was a hand clearly visible, the fingers seeming to reach out, as though searching for the fresh air above. He scraped more earth away, revealing an arm, then a shoulder, and then, finally, a head. He brushed the soil away from the face, then glanced up at the others above him. Laura was the closest, a fact which made him feel much better, although he wasn't entirely sure why. He smiled up at her, the sudden glare from the floodlights of the nearest squad car illuminating his face, and the lines of deep sorrow etched across it.

"Michael Hunter," he said softly, gesturing at the half-uncovered body beneath the bush. "Also known as Michael O'Grady. I had hoped..." He shook his head, turning away.

"You knew him?" Laura asked, watching in growing surprise as David Hunter knelt down to assist Steele. They worked together to free the rest of the body, all signs of the enmity between them now gone. It was some while before Steele answered her question, throwing the spade down on the ground as though no longer caring about any of it. The bush was dying anyway, and filling in the hole seemed pointless.

"I knew him," he confirmed, watching as David brushed the last of the mud away from his brother's body. Laura could see the face of the man in the black and white photograph she had been given. Although his eyes were closed, the face was unmistakably the same. It had the same look of gentility, the same hint of humour. "He was a very clever man. Not conventional genius, but genius none the less. He worked out an almost faultless plan... involving an art collection that he knew rather well." He raised his eyes, meeting David Hunter's glare. "Most people didn't take him seriously, given the circumstances. Low mental age, and all that. But once you got to know him, to see beneath the surface, he was a very remarkable man. I'm not surprised he worked it all out; figured out who his real mother was."

"I'm still not sure I believe that story." Hunter had listened to it all on the drive over, or at least as much of it as Steele could be sure of. He stood up. "Not that it matters now."

"You won't do anything to Emily, will you? I told you all of this off the record."

Hunter made a face. "No, I won't arrest her. I'm not sure that I want to get to know her, but I'm not going to tell anybody about any of this. What's the point? Parys was mad, and he killed Michael. That's all anybody needs to know." His eyes drifted towards the three uniformed policemen who had accompanied them to the park. They knew a little of the truth, of course, but he was willing to bet that they would keep quiet. He might be retired, but he was still a respected figure at the precinct.

"What happens now?" Laura asked. Hunter stared at her. He couldn't quite figure her out; did she know that Steele wasn't the man he claimed to be? She certainly hadn't seemed terribly surprised when it had all come out. He shrugged.

"You folks go home, let us take it from here." He looked back towards Steele. "You too. I - I'll tell them it was all Parys' fault; that he set you up. There'll be trouble, but I'm retired now. They can't touch me." He smiled sardonically. "And Parys certainly can't object."

"I can go?" Steele looked amazed. "Why?"

"Don't push it Steele. I - I just don't see the point anymore that's all." He turned away, his shoulders slumped through exhaustion, and Steele glanced towards Laura. He was free, but she saw no sign of triumph in his eyes. All that she saw was regret.


Laura still felt tired, but after a shower and a change of clothes she felt well enough to make the trip to Remington Steele's luxury apartment. He greeted her at the door, dressed casually, looking as though he had wanted to fall into bed but had not been able to sleep. She smiled up at him.

"How are you?"

"Dreadful." He turned away, heading towards the nearest chair, slumping into its waiting embrace with a sigh. Rather bizarrely there seemed to be a small, white poodle lying curled up on the floor just next to his left foot. "I'm sorry Laura. I really am. It seems that I'm forever causing you trouble."

"Trouble?" She sat down on the nearest chair. "It was no trouble. To be honest I was rather looking forward to your arrest. I thought there might be a chance of finding out your real name, and where it is that you actually come from."

"My name is Remington Steele, and I'm an ex-CIA agent." He held her eyes with his own, and she could see that the smile on his lips did not reach above his mouth. The rest of his face was hard, and his eyes were unreadable. "You don't want to know anything else."

"Maybe I do, if we're going to run into many more of your old associates." He smiled at that, and she saw the real humour reflected in his face. Then he shrugged.

"Maybe I should just leave now, while the going's good. So long as I'm around there's always a chance that somebody will discover your secret; and that could destroy your agency."

"I'm willing to take the risk if you are." She reached for his hand, surprised by how cold it felt. "Maybe there are a few more questions I want answered before I'm prepared to let you get away that easily."

He smiled again, stretching sleepily, and trying not to yawn. "So many questions, so many more answers. I'd like to carry on avoiding them all night, but I don't think I can stay awake that long."

"Me either." She rose to her feet. "I'd better be getting home. I really only came by to be sure that you were alright."

"I'm fine. Did you see David Hunter on the news?"

"I saw him." She shrugged. "Strange guy."

"No. He just has a lot of regrets." He smiled. "It was nice of him to give the agency so much credit; and for once you don't have to explain it all to me." She laughed at that, although he didn't seem to share in the humour.

"Claude's widow seemed more inclined to give the credit to some guy called Larry Ballentine," she commented idly. He nodded slowly.

"Strange woman. I rather think that's why Larry disappeared the way he did. He was terrified of her."

"Good old Larry." She smiled at the unspoken knowledge that they both shared; the certainty of who the odd Ballentine had really been, and the equal certainty that it was a secret no one else was a party to. "What made you choose that name? Humphrey Bogart? Or was it Cary Grant this time?"

"Neither." He looked insulted, as though he was more original than that, and could think up plenty of aliases that didn't involve Hollywood. "Actually it was Robert Young. They Won't Believe Me, 1947. Good film."

"Don't tell me. He plays a man on the run from the police."

"Not exactly, no. He plays an innocent man on trial for murder, facing insurmountable odds against a tide of damning evidence to prove that he really didn't do the crime. In the end he can't take the heat any more, and he tries to escape from the courtroom. He's shot down and killed by the guards just before the Foreman delivers a verdict of not guilty. I always found the ending rather affecting. They had no reason to shoot him down. He wasn't even armed."

"You have unexpected depths at times, you know that?"

He turned to look at her more closely, his expression suggesting that his mind was on something else. As though, perhaps, the plot of that film meant rather more to him that he was letting on. Finally he smiled, the first real smile she had seen from him since David Hunter had first confronted him in the offices several days previously. It seemed a shame that, just as he was starting to relax again, she should have to leave him; but she could hardly keep her eyes open. She wasn't even really sure why she had come; she could just as well have telephoned. Now she faced the long journey home. He seemed to sense her thoughts.

"Stay here." He caught the look in her eyes and grinned. "I'll take the couch. It's your apartment really, after all."

"No it isn't. Not anymore." She took his hand as she went to the door. "Goodnight. It's good to have you back."

"Laura..." Shadows moved through his eyes. "I - I can't promise that I'm going to stay here. I can never promise that. I've never really stayed anywhere more than a year, even when I was a kid. There are - there are certain things which you have yet to discover about me, and when you do discover them, you may not want me around any more. Please bear that in mind."

She frowned. "Is that a brush off?"

"It's a word of warning. I'm not Murphy."

"And I'm not Bernice." She gave his hand a squeeze, then opened the door. "Get some sleep, Mr Mystery. I'll see you at the office in the morning." He nodded, and she saw the beginnings of a smile in his eyes. Her heart warmed. Oh, but life was complicated. A few days ago she had been ruing the day when he had walked into her life; wondering, even, how she could get him back out of it. Now here she was, celebrating the fact that he had returned; to stay, at least for now. She let go of his hand, turning away to walk out of the door.

"1953," he blurted out, surprising her. She glanced back.


"It's when I was born, I - I think." He shrugged. "It's a start. I guess you've earned that much." She felt her shoulders shaking, laughing at the absurdity of that.


"Hey, it's nothing." They grinned at each other, then she finally turned away and left, closing the door behind her. She smiled to herself as she headed off down the corridor. It probably was a start, although she had a feeling that he wasn't going to give anything else away quite so easily. It was almost exciting; so much still to discover. So much, undoubtedly, still to be infuriated by. She shook her head and stepped into the lift, finding herself still thinking about him as she leaned against the wall, arms folded, eyes closed. She could still see him, inside her eyelids, smiling at her in that secretive way. It was dangerous, living in the fallout of a guy like that. It could be fatal, at least for her business; but she knew that she wasn't about to change things just yet. The last few days without him had told her that. Dangerous it might very well be; infuriating it was without a doubt. But it was also a whole lot of fun. She grinned to herself as she stepped out of the lift and headed towards her car. Up above her, although she didn't look, she knew that he was watching her. She could imagine him standing by the darkened window, blue eyes masked by shadow, unreadable thoughts passing through his mind. So much that she still didn't know. But she could wait.