"It's his wife, it has to be."
"His wife? You're kidding. No way is that his wife. A guy like that, he marries the girl next door. She'll be a sweet looking woman in her forties by now, with a sensible dress and sensible shoes, staying home to bake cookies for the local fête. No way is that his wife."
"You want to put some money on that?" She was laughing at him, egging him on, and he nodded his head enthusiastically.
"Yeah, okay. I'll put money on it. Twenty dollars says no way is that his wife. She's probably his secretary, and another twenty dollars says it wasn't dictation she was taking in that motel room."
"Ouch. Old age has made you so cynical, Murph."
"It's made me realistic." He leaned back in his seat, pouring them both a mug of coffee from the thermos flask on the floor. "What's wrong? Getting cold feet about the bet?"
"No. No, I'll see your twenty. The first one. But you're right about the dictation."
"Cynical? You better believe it. I was born cynical." She took a sip of her coffee, and laughed lightly. "Look at us. Making stupid bets about the poor man's love life. She's probably his sister, and they were sitting in that motel room discussing plans for their dear old mother's ninetieth birthday."
"She's his secretary." Murphy Michaels, who had been a private investigator long enough to suspect the worst of everybody, flashed his companion a broad and cheerful grin. Years of exposure to the seedy side of life might have made another man bitter, but Murphy had always retained the good cheer of his youth. Experience told him to suspect the worst - his own nature usually gave him a far better outlook. "And I'll bet his wife would love to know all about it."
"She already does. I still say that's her over there."
"You're a hopeless romantic, Laura. You know that?"
"Am I?" Laura Holt, who had been a private investigator for just as long as Murphy, had never quite shared his cheerful outlook. Life had left far more of a mark upon her than it had upon him - for good or for ill - and romantic was the last word she would have used to describe herself. "I don't think so, Murph."
"Aw, hell. I'm sorry." He was immediately contrite. "I didn't... Damn it, it was a stupid thing to say. I haven't forgotten what the date is. I could shoot myself some days."
"Forget it." She punched him on the arm. "I didn't mean to kill the mood. Are we still on for tonight?"
"Of course we are. I wouldn't miss it for the world. You, me, a bottle of Scotch, an office full of paperwork and accounting to catch up on... Where else would I want to be?"
"Some days, Murph, I wonder how on Earth you wound up divorced. Then I hear you say things like that, and suddenly I remember." She laughed at him, though fondly. "I think our guy is going back inside the motel."
"Yeah. The secretary is probably on her way home too. You want to call it a day?"
"I shouldn't." She watched Gerald Paul - a businessman whom they were supposed to be keeping under close surveillance - as he headed back inside his rented room and closed the door. "I should suggest that we stay here all night and make sure nothing interesting happens."
"Laura, how long have we been watching this guy?"
"Yeah. Three weeks. And what's he done in all that time? The chances of anything interesting ever happening in the life of Gerald Paul are about as good as the chances of me winning twenty million dollars on the lottery, marrying Demi Moore, and spending the rest of my life on a Caribbean island drinking Margaritas. Let's go home."
"Demi Moore, Michelle Pfeiffer. You know me, Laura. I'm not picky." He grinned at her. "Now can we call it a day? I want to get back to the office before eight, so I can give the kids a call. See how Alex did in his science test today. He was nervous about it, and I promised I'd speak to him before he goes to bed."
"You're a great father, Murph."
"No, if I was a great father I'd have spoken to him about it when he got back from school. Not waited until he's practically asleep." He shrugged. "But they're good kids. They don't seem to mind. Come on." He started up the car. "If we go now there'll be time to stop off at Marco's pizza place before the queue starts. What do you say? A bottle of scotch and a pizza. Is that the perfect evening or is that the perfect evening?"
"It does sound pretty good." She sighed. "Alright, Marco's it is. So long as we order anchovies."
"And extra peppers."
"And extra onion."
"You always did have great taste in pizza, Murph. You ever think our lives would have been a whole lot simpler if we'd just married each other?"
"I like to think we wouldn't both be divorced if we had." He smiled at her. "But on the other hand, we might be living on opposite sides of the country by now, and never speaking to each other."
"Yeah." She shrugged. "Fair point. Anyway, come on. I need one of Marco's pizzas, and I don't want to wait in a long queue."
"Your wish is my command, Miss Holt." Carefully he pulled the car out into the traffic, and headed it off in the direction of their offices. "I'll pull up outside the store and dash inside. There anything else you want?"
"Now how did I know you were going to say that?!" He grinned teasingly at her. "Yeah, okay. Ice cream. Honestly, Laura. Sometimes I worry about the way you eat."
"Ha! And when I think of the things you used to eat! All those lunches poor Bernice used to go and fetch - the beef and the horseradish and goodness only knows what else. And you begrudge me my ice cream."
"You're a real drama queen at times, you know that?" He flashed her a typically good-natured grin, then eased the car over to the side of the road. "Be back in a couple of minutes. Anything else besides the pizza and the ice cream?"
"No. Just don't forget the anchovies."
"Laura, by now Marco is getting the thing ready as soon as I open the door. He knows our pizza." He climbed out of the car. "Keep an eye out for traffic cops. I don't have change for the meter."
"Murphy..." But he had already gone, heading off into the pizza place with a faint smile on his face. He knew only too well how she would sit there, twiddling her thumbs and staring at the meter, fighting the urge to do the right thing and put some money into it. He had always liked to tease that way. She sat there for nearly two full minutes, all but twitching, staring at the door of the restaurant in the hope that he would reappear. He didn't. Clearly it took Marco more than two minutes to properly construct a Holt And Michaels Special. Eventually, cursing her own ingrained desire to adhere strictly to the law, she clambered out of the car and went through her pockets. She had some change somewhere, she was sure of it. The coins rattled down inside the meter with the satisfying sound of the law being obeyed to the letter, and she felt the accompanying sense of pleasure from everything now being as it should. She smiled to herself, at her own incorrigible conformity, and turned back to watch the traffic for a moment. She had always loved city life, and it was as good a way as ever to kill time until Murphy returned. Watching the cabs and the private cars; the bustling pedestrians and the patrolling police. Somewhere nearby a siren howled, and she caught a brief glimpse of a fire engine shooting off down an intersection. Faces came and went at the windows across the street; and men, women and children went about their early evening lives, at their own speed, in their own way, being whoever they were. Her smile became the distant smile of distracted contentment, as her thoughts soared above all that complicated, collected humanity, and wandered on to more abstract things. Tomorrow; tonight; her caseload all whirling into dozy ideas that somehow interconnected. The cars went on by. Some of them stopped and spilled out occupants. Others picked other people up. Right in front of her a taxi cab eased into an empty space, and she watched it with half an eye as it waited with its engine idling. The man who had hailed it had just come out of a building across the way, bag in one hand, swinging idly. He looked to be about Laura's age, more or less - early to mid forties, though she wasn't really paying enough attention to hazard a proper guess. A wiry build, black hair with a faintly windswept, awry look to it, but which her mind somehow wanted to picture neatly arranged and held in place with expensive spray. Something inside her frowned, but she still wasn't paying proper attention to anything, and it wasn't until several more heartbeats had passed that she thought a little more - about the skin that somehow had the pale tint of a European about it, rather than the permanently sun-tanned look of a Californian. About the smile that seemed to hold the devil inside it. About the eyes that she couldn't see, but which somehow she felt certain were blue. Bright blue, light blue, infuriatingly, damnably, devil-may-care blue, to dance with the smile and drive her mad, and make her want to shout in exasperation. Those eyes. That smile. That certain sense of enragement and frustration that could only, had only, ever been caused by one man. That man. Him. Her eyes sparked, she stood up straight, and for one moment of utter shock and fury she stared across the road directly at the slight, quick frame of a ghost straight out of her memory - then, suddenly afraid, she ducked down behind the car and hid from sight. She was still there when Murphy came back a moment later, and frowned at her in obvious confusion.
"Er... Laura? Are you okay? I know I said to keep an eye out for traffic cops, but I didn't really mean for you to hide from them. They tend to notice that kind of thing anyway, so there's really no point."
"What?" She was surprised to see him, and almost seemed surprised to find herself hiding behind the car. "Oh. Yes."
"Penny for them?" He slid the pizza box and carton of ice cream onto the back seat, then opened the car door for her. "Or did your brain just get too hot spending all day stuck in the car watching Gerald Paul?"
"No, I don't think so." She slid into the car, into the passenger seat, and stared thoughtfully out of the window. The cab was gone, its black-haired, blue-eyed passenger with it. No, she corrected herself, not blue-eyed. Not necessarily. She hadn't seen the eyes. "I just... I thought I saw somebody, that's all."
"Somebody connected with the case?" He was interested straight away. Murphy might be better at taking time off than she was, but he was just as dedicated to their work nonetheless. She shook her head.
"No. No, I..." She sighed. "Him. I thought I saw him."
"Him? Him who?" His eyes widened suddenly, and he stared at her in disbelief as he followed her into the car. "Him?!"
"Yeah. I know, I know. Tell me I'm going crazy. I just thought... I was so sure for a moment, but now I guess I was just imagining it. I used to see him all over the place, once upon a time."
"Don't beat yourself up. With what he did to you, you had every reason to keep seeing him. I would have liked to keep seeing him too, if it meant I finally got the chance to break his smarmy jaw." He sighed. "It's the anniversary, Laura. That's why we do this every year, remember? Because tomorrow is the anniversary of the day he walked out on you, and I didn't like the way you used to spend all that time brooding about it. Hence the scotch, and the paperwork, and the accounts. Your mind is on him. That's all."
"I didn't think my mind was anywhere near him, but I guess you're right. It is the tenth anniversary this year." She smiled over at him. "Ten years. He's been away twice as long as I ever knew him, now. You'd think I'd have got over him."
"Three hundred and sixty odd days of the year I think you have." He started up the engine. "Sooner I get you a glass of that scotch, the better."
"Yeah." Her eyes turned to stare over the road, to the place where the cab had been parked. The man that had so shaken her had been coming out of a hardware store, she realised now. And thinking about it, he hadn't been dressed like him. No expensive suit, no silk tie - just an ordinary, open-necked shirt in sky blue. Blue. That probably explained why she had made his eyes that colour. He had never liked to dress in casual shirts and slacks. He would have been carrying an expensive briefcase, not a carrier bag from inside the store. It couldn't have been him after all.
"Besides," Murphy was saying, making more and more sense all the time, "there's no way he'd dare show his face in Los Angeles again. He'd have to be nuts."
"Yeah." She frowned. "Except it wouldn't take a genius to figure that you and I would end up back in business again, and he knows your business used to be in Denver. He'd probably think it still is. So he might think he'd be safe here."
"Maybe. Though there are plenty of other people he'd have to be careful of in LA." He frowned over at her, looking concerned. "Do you want it to have been him?"
"Maybe. No. Yes." She shook her head. "Sometimes. Sometimes I'd like to see him again. Talk to him. Hit him. I don't know. But you're right, it wasn't him. He'd have to be mad to come back to Los Angeles. And it's the eve of the anniversary, and that always makes me feel kind of weird. And it's the tenth anniversary, and I've been working too hard, and did I mention that you're right?!" She laughed at herself, in a way that was almost completely genuine. "Thanks Murph. What would I do without you?"
"I don't know. I think you'd be living with your mother, or in Bernice's spare room, talking to yourself and going mad. And probably keeping lots of cats." He grinned. "Don't hit me, I'm driving."
"You've got to stop some time, or the ice cream will melt all over the seat." She laughed. "Come on. Hurry it up. You've got to call Alex about that science test, and I want to get started on the paperwork. I've been letting it mount up especially with this evening in mind, and some of the piles are starting to offend my work ethic. I want to dive in."
"Then far be it for be to keep you from your better nature." He sped up slightly, heading for the next intersection. There was a cab parked nearby, just opposite a seedy-looking jewellery store, but neither of them noticed it. Neither of them noticed the man heading back towards it, either, bag still in one hand, newspaper now in the other. He was slight and wiry, and the eyes beneath the half tumbled fringe of black hair were indeed blue. Certainly the off-white slacks were far from expensive, and the open-necked blue shirt was off-the-peg. The black hair bore no trace of oils or sprays, or the work of exclusive salons, and the jaw line bore a shadow of stubble that wouldn't have fitted into Laura's mental picture any better than did the clothing and the hardware store. None of that could change the truth. As blissfully unaware of the close presence of Laura Holt as she was of him, the black-haired, blue-eyed ghost from her past slid into the back of the taxi and stared at the front page of the newspaper. Famous Gem Collection Comes To Local Museum! screamed the headline, with typical lack of subtlety. The blue eyes smiled, as did the stubble-shadowed jaw beneath them. Famous gem collection - and what a famous gem collection. By the time that it had been stolen by the man who had once been Remington Steele, it would be even more famous still. The man that Laura had recognised, even though she had convinced herself that she had been wrong, leaned back into the seat of the car and listened to the engine start up. His lively mind was thinking of security cameras. Security cameras and brown diamonds, and a fabled black opal. He closed his eyes to aid his contented dreaming, and so it was that he didn't see when the cab drew up alongside Murphy Michaels' car. The occupants, busy in conversation, didn't think to look across at it, and the man inside was lost in his dreams. Had he had opened his eyes at that moment he might have been shocked. He might have been delighted. He might even have been afraid.
But instead the cars slid on past each other, and the moment was gone.
"It's made the front page." Throwing the newspaper down onto the bed, Remington Steele followed it with his own wiry frame, flopping down onto the cheap mattress and making the springs squeak. The room's other occupant looked over at the headline and scowled.
"Well I suppose it was only a matter of time. Just as long as that headline doesn't bring a dozen other people to town hoping to get hold of the collection. I missed it once, and I won't miss it again."
"Nobody else has got a hope." Steele rolled onto his back and put his hands behind his head, staring up at the ceiling. "It's not just any old museum, you know. Just any old thief would fail at the first hurdle."
"You have an impressively large ego for a little fellow, don't you." Lucille Turner, a sixty-three year-old miscreant with decades of life on the wrong side of the law colouring the sparks in her eyes, sat down next to him. He glared up at her.
"I am not little."
"Danny, darling, I spent forty years married to a man who was seven and a half feet tall. Bigfoot would seem small compared to my Arthur."
"Fair point." He smiled, and reached out a lazy hand for one of hers. "We'll get the collection, Lucy. Every stone of it."
"You're a good boy." She gave his hand a squeeze, then stood up, heading for the window. It was grimy, and the view beyond was of other, identical windows lined up in a wall across a narrow street. "I just wish that our surroundings didn't have to be quite so austere. This time last week I was in a five star suite in Monaco."
"Yes." He sighed, staring up at the ceiling with a reflective look on his face. "And I was in a villa in Naples, sampling luxurious local wines, and sunbathing beside the biggest swimming pool I've ever had the pleasure of throwing a gendarme into." He frowned. "No, hang on. Naples. You don't get gendarmes in Naples. Had a shiny hat, anyway."
"You didn't have to come." She remained staring at the view out of the window, and he smiled fondly at her back.
"No, I know I didn't." He climbed up off the bed, and wandered over to stand behind her, his hands gently on her shoulders. After a moment she put her own hands up to cover them. "Arthur was a good friend, Lucy. And so were you. If it hadn't been for you I'd have died that night in Santa Barbara, and if it hadn't been for Arthur, I doubt I'd have lived to see twenty. Or if I had, I'd have seen it from the wrong side of a cell door. His last wish was to get those diamonds, and since he couldn't be here to do it himself, it's up to us to do it for him. I'm more than happy to be here."
"Really?" She turned slightly, her very bright eyes suddenly serious. "You and Los Angeles have something of a love-hate relationship; I do know that. It can't be easy for you, being back here again."
"No." He smiled, with a sadness in his eyes that he knew he couldn't hide from her; and so he didn't insult her by trying. "But the Remington Steele Detective Agency closed down years ago. From what I managed to find out at the time from some friends, Laura Holt went to live in Denver. Her old partner had a firm of his own out there, and I guess she joined forces with him. So all there are in Los Angeles are memories and ghosts. Nothing to really want to hide from. Nothing I can hide from."
"Maybe you shouldn't think of trying. Maybe when we've finished up here, you should go over to Denver, or at the very least pick up a telephone and call there. It shouldn't be hard to trace her. You're not getting any younger, you know, and neither is she; and ten years is a long time to wonder about something. A long time to leave somebody wondering whether or not you're still alive."
"You married the woman, Danny. That must mean something."
"It meant a passport." He winced at her glare. "Yes, it meant something. Lucy, I walked out on her at the start of our first night together. All those years trying to melt her defences, and then on the night we finally... well before we finally... Well you know. Just before the last defence melted, as it were, I walked out and I never went back. That's a little hard to explain with a phone call."
"It wasn't your fault."
"No, it wasn't. None of it was. But there was always too much stuff between us that wasn't my fault - and far too much stuff that was. She forgave me more times than she had any reason to, and when I think of all the trouble that I got her into... All the headaches that I caused... She has no earthly reason to believe me now, or even to want to listen. It's best that I leave her to live whatever life she's found. She doesn't need any more of my kind of interference."
"You always did sell yourself short."
"Not really. She's still Miss Middle America, with a past so conventional it hurts. And I'm..." He smiled. "Well, we never did have anything much in common, let's put it that way."
"Poor Danny." She sighed. "I wish you'd use that name here. Is it really safe for you to call yourself Remington Steele again?"
"I think so. At worst he's earned himself a reputation as something of a cad for walking out on his wife. But his name opens doors, and that's a perk that always comes in handy." He straightened his clothing and stiffened his frame, slipping back into the old act he had once become so used to using. "So for the duration of this little escapade, I shall be Remington Steele. Investigator extraordinaire, and much loved celebrity. I'll need to brush up my wardrobe a bit. Remington Steele doesn't usually scrounge around in off-the-peg rags like these."
"That is a perfectly good shirt. And since the only money we have is for the airfare home, Remington Steele will have to make do for the time being. I won't let you take risks by running any other scams here, Danny. You're not to steal anything other than that gem collection; and no conning the locals, either. It's not worth it. Just concentrate on the job at hand. Once the jewels are ours you can dress in Saville Row finery for all you're worth."
"I suppose Steele was probably overdue for an image change." He sighed, with mock theatricality. "Oh well. I should get to work, I suppose. Don't wait up."
"I damn well will. I don't think I shall sleep a wink until we have those jewels. You just take care of yourself, and don't get thrown in jail. I'm not organising a prison breakout here."
"I shan't get arrested. Neither shall I stay up past my bedtime, or accept lifts from strangers." He gave her a brief hug. "See you later. And keep the door locked."
"You'll be at the museum?"
"Primarily. If I go now it'll be the end of their day. Always a good time to catch the unwary. Ten minutes of fast talking late in the evening to set up the show, and then back tomorrow to finish it." He smiled happily. "I may scout around there for a bit and get the lay of the land before I come back. Hopefully I shouldn't be any more than a couple of hours, but if I'm not back by midnight, batten down the hatches. If I'm not back by morning..."
"Leave town. Danny, I have done this before. I may not be a great thief myself, but I was married to one for longer than you've been in the business. And I am a hustler."
"And a great one." He nodded. "Indulge me. I like to be in control. Night."
"Goodnight." She watched him leave, and the expression of faint irritation faded from her face straight away. He could be annoying at times, but she was fond of him; she always had been, and it was hard not to worry now. There seemed to be so much at stake. Closing the door behind him, she locked it carefully as ordered, then wandered back over to the bed and sat down. She knew that she wouldn't relax properly until this was all over. There was nothing she wanted more in all of the world than to own the jewels that they planned to steal, and she could think of little else. For now, though, there was nothing she could do. Much of her contribution to the job had been over as soon as she had discovered where the jewels were to be exhibited, and what was to come next was Steele's department. It had to be. All that was left for her was to battle with her nerves.
The office was empty, as it always was at such an hour. Laura set up a table for the pizza and the whisky, whilst Murphy disappeared into one of the inner offices to make his telephone call. He emerged ten minutes later, wearing a huge smile and carrying a picture of a red rose. He gave it to Laura with a smile.
"Alex faxed it over for you."
"He's sweet." She handed him a glass of whisky. "And it's always nice to have an admirer."
"Cradle-snatcher." They settled down together on the floor, in front of a pile of paperwork carefully assembled earlier in the day. Within half an hour, the whisky forgotten, they would be immersed in a sea of paper stretching to all four walls - that was what always happened. Even the pizza frequently got forgotten about, and usually wound up being eaten around lunch time, with coffee, doughnuts and a disapproving audience of secretaries. Laura held up her whisky.
Murphy nodded his approval. "And pizza." They drank their toast, then he collected a slice of pizza and started looking through a pile of expenditure reports. Nearby Laura was tutting gently over the mess, which as far as he was concerned meant that everything was alright with the world. The cleaners might object about the pizza sauce they were sure to find on the carpet, but that was a small price to pay for a beloved office ritual. He reached for the case notes that accompanied the expenditure reports, and sighed. "That blasted Gerald Paul case has doubled the paperwork. This could take two nights, let alone just this one."
"It's good business, Murph. It might complicate things a bit, but it pays good money."
"Yes, I know." He refilled his whisky glass, rearranging sheets of paper around him on the floor. "All the same, it's the sort of case that we said we weren't going to take anymore. Too much like the old days, with lots of creeping about, and people with supposedly dangerous secrets. We were supposed to have given all that kind of thing up along with You Know Who."
"It's a good case. Stop grumbling, you old moaner." She threw her pen at him, and scowled. "I can't concentrate. I wish I could get that man out of my head. Not You Know Who. Whoever it was I really saw earlier."
"You could start by taking notes with your stationery, instead of hurling it at me." He threw the pen back, but instead of proving a point by beginning his own work, he fetched them both another slice of pizza and sat down beside her. "We're supposed to be taking your mind off things, not talking about some guy who's dredging up old memories."
"After all these years, I don't think that I really need my mind taken off 'things' anymore. Not really." She smiled, and settled herself down with her pizza, looking out at the piles of paper. "It was funny, though, me thinking that I saw him on the way here."
"Yeah. Hilarious." Murphy scowled, as he had always been wont to do whenever Steele appeared in a conversation. "I wonder where he really is right now. Sprawled on a beach in the tropics, or sweltering in some hellhole jail? I favour the latter. And it should have a really sadistic warden."
"Murph!" She threw a newspaper at him. "Don't be unkind. It doesn't suit you."
"Laura, where Remington Steele is concerned unkindness doesn't just suit me. It positively enrobes me." He wiped his fingers on a convenient piece of the newspaper, then frowned at the headline. "No wonder we've been talking about him. There's a famous collection of jewels coming to town. Well just as long as he doesn't turn up trying to steal them."
"Jewel collection? Is that today's paper? I haven't read it yet."
"Yes, it's today's." He threw it back at her. "Sorry about the pizza sauce. I don't think it gets in the way of the story, though."
"Didn't your mother ever tell you to use your handkerchief?!" She looked over the front page of the paper, and whistled. "This is some exhibit. 'Five famous pearls, first owned and exhibited by Sir Humphrey Talbot in 1823.' They must be worth a fortune on their own. And get this: 'The collection also features the Honeymoon Diamonds, a pair of brown stones that are all that now remain of the Ketterick Collection. The rest of the Collection - a selection of some of the finest coloured diamonds ever discovered - was stolen in a series of daring raids during the latter part of the century, supposedly by the late jewel thief Arthur Webb.' It goes on to say that he - or somebody reputed to be him - stole some of the Collection just about every time a part of it was exhibited. The first robbery was in 1959. He even tried to steal the very ones that are coming to Los Angeles now, but he didn't quite make it. He must have been getting on a bit if it was the same guy, but apparently he still managed to give the police the slip when they chased after him."
"You sound almost admiring."
"Well..." She shrugged, and answered his grin with one of her own. "You have to admire the persistence. Almost a shame that he's the Late Arthur Webb now. I quite like the idea of him finally completing his collection."
"See? Like I said, Laura. You're a romantic."
"I just always had a soft spot for jewel thieves." She smiled, mocking herself with the joke. "The Jacques Trovian Miscellany, is the name of the exhibit. I think I'll drop by the museum to see it when it's installed. It sounds interesting."
"Certainly sounds as though it's got a fair few stories to tell."
"I'll bet. As well as the pearls - which are all named, according to this - there's a pair of blue diamonds, one of the largest known black opals, and a set of seven emeralds that have been stolen six times already."
"That's just plain careless." Murphy started on another piece of pizza, quite content now to let the paperwork go undone. "Does it say anything about who stole them?"
"Spanish pirates in the seventeenth century, and a husband and wife team in 1927. That's all that the newspaper mentions." She folded the paper up. "Maybe we should go down to the museum and offer our expert advice as security consultants. Remington Steele earned himself quite a reputation in the eighties as the man to call in if you wanted to prevent a robbery."
"Yeah, and we all know how he came to be such an expert on burglar alarms." Murphy reined in his scowl. "We've got enough of a workload, Laura. We shouldn't take on anything else. And besides, we're not the Remington Steele Detective Agency anymore. Bringing his name into things will only rake up old dirt, and you don't need that. Far too many people know that you married the son of a bitch."
'True." She sighed, then abandoned her whisky and reached for the ice cream, unwrapping one of the little spoons that came with the tub. "I'm still going down there to look at the collection when it's set up, though. I've never seen a brown diamond. I wonder if they're especially rare?"
"I wouldn't know. Though if they're all that's left of a particular collection, you can guarantee that they're counted as pretty rare. They must be priceless."
"Especially if you're sitting on the rest of the collection," mused Laura, her mind drifting back to the late thief allegedly responsible for making the other diamonds disappear. "I wonder if Arthur Webb has any relatives lying about?"
"I'd think that the police would already have that base covered. And even if they haven't, there's going to be a hell of a lot of security following that collection about. This Jacques Trovian guy can't be doing too badly for himself if he can afford all those stones. He'll have hired the best."
"You're probably right."
"I am right. No thief is going to get near that collection. And certainly not a certain blue-eyed thief, who at this moment is cooling his heels in a hellhole jail with a sadistic warden. And beatings."
She laughed. "Remind me never to get on your bad side, Murph."
"There's very little chance of that." He ate the last of his most recent slice of pizza, then wiped his hands - rather pointedly, given Laura's earlier jibe - on his handkerchief. "Although if you carry on distracting me from this paperwork, that might change."
"Oh, because you're not at all distracting." She ate ice cream with a thoughtful expression on her face, watching him as he set back to work. "Murph..."
"It wasn't him, Laura. Just some guy with black hair. You know how many people there are in Los Angeles with black hair?"
"More than one or two. I just think it's a hell of a coincidence, that's all. That I think I see him right when news of a priceless jewel collection falls into our laps. You know what he's like. What he used to be like... What he probably is like again... I don't know, Murph. I just can't help thinking, that's all."
"Yeah." He smiled at her sympathetically, gently, although she was staring at the ice cream and didn't see the expression on his face. The things that he would do to Remington Steele, if ever their paths crossed again... The thought was a fine one, and Murphy smiled. He had been waiting ten years for that confrontation to finally come about. And much though he liked to reassure Laura that Steele was not within thousands of miles of LA, a part of him almost wished that he was. A part of him very likely always would.
The Brown Museum was as boring as its name, at least on the outside. Remington Steele - as he had been, and now was again - went in just as the last customers were being ushered out, and a harassed looking doorman frowned at him.
"It is past closing time, sir."
"Yes, yes. I know." His accent had slipped a bit in recent years, back to its once far more natural Irish, but it was easy enough to resurrect the more correct, precise tones that had belonged in the past to Remington Steele. "Just tell Mr Oban that Mr Steele is here. Mr Remington Steele."
"Remington Steele." Clearly the name meant nothing to a bored doorman keen to be off home for the evening, but the man nodded nonetheless, and headed towards the manager's office. Steele took the opportunity to check his reflection in the glass front door. Not one of Steele's more dapper days, he mused. The less well tamed hair and the shadow of stubble suited the more mature lines of his face, though - or so he told himself as he smoothed imaginary wrinkles from his shirt. With luck it would all combine with the casual clothing, and make him look like a new Steele for the nineties. A natural progression from the smooth, precise clotheshorse of the eighties. He nodded at the thought, ran a hand through his hair, and frowned when the action made the fringe stick up. He had only just got it to behave when the door of the manager's office swung open, and the doorman reappeared.
"Mr Oban will see you," he announced, rather like a ham-fisted butler. Steele smiled sweetly.
"Thankyou. Much appreciated, old chap." He slipped past into the office as quickly as he could, just in case somebody decided to change their mind, and was smiling, holding out his hand for a shake of introduction, and offering breezy greetings even before he was properly in the room. Oban shook the hand, returned the greeting, and offered his unexpected guest a seat in the same rushed tumble of activity, then looked faintly shell-shocked at how fast everything had happened. Steele didn't give him time to recover his composure.
"Mr Oban. It's good to see you. Very good to see you. We never met directly, of course, when I had my business here in the eighties, but I'd heard your name often enough. One does, when one moves in certain circles, you know?" There was no need to mention that the circles in which he had heard Oban's name were, more precisely, squares. Namely the square rooms of a rather shady jewellers, whose premises Steele's had visited earlier in the evening. Oban was nodding though, clearly happy to listen to whatever Steele was saying.
"I've certainly heard of you, Mr Steele," was all that he offered up as a challenge to Steele's waterfall of dialogue. Steele nodded.
"Quite. Quite. And you're probably wondering what I'm doing here? Well simply put, Mr Oban, I've had an eye on the Trovian Miscellany for some time - purely unofficially, as I'm sure you understand. Monsieur Trovian doesn't like the details of his security arrangements to be known to too many people, so consider yourself part of a very select group, and don't speak of this to anyone. Do you follow me so far?" His answer was a faintly stunned nod. Steele smiled, and nodded himself. "Good good. Well, I'm here, naturally enough, to familiarise myself with the security arrangements. Exits, entrances, alarms. The usual thing. Possibly I can suggest a few extra security measures, but frankly from what I've being hearing about you, old chap, I think it's more likely that I'll be the one picking up tips from you. Hardly vice versa." He beamed indulgently. High speed talk, a well aimed compliment - Oban was alternately nodding and glowing, and certainly wasn't taking much time to think. "So. It's all set then? I don't want to bother you with a tour now - you're sure to be wanting to get off home to the wife and children. I did hear right that you have children?" Oban nodded automatically. "Good. Jolly good. Well, some other time then. Excellent. You've been very co-operative, Mr Oban, and I'm glad to see that we'll be working so well together."
"I... I'm pleased to be able to help, Mr Steele." Oban smiled, if a little shakily. His brain was still reeling in its attempts to catch up. "So do I take it that you're planning to return to Los Angeles, or is this just a one off visit?"
"Ah, well." Steele rose to his feet, and shook one of Oban's hands enthusiastically. "Early days yet, old man. Early days. All hush hush, you know. Mum's the word, and loose lips sink ships, and all the rest of it. Don't want to draw attention to myself. Sure you understand."
"I won't say a word to anyone." Oban's chest positively swelled at the idea of being in on such a secret. "And it's not as though I have to check your credentials, Mr Steele."
"Thankyou old chap. Thankyou." Steele contrived to look as though he were greatly affected by the words. "I did wonder if perhaps I'd been away too long."
"It's been a while, certainly. But it's not an easy name to forget, Mr Steele. And your career here in the past was somewhat illustrious. When your agency was shut down under such unusual circumstances, I admit that I thought we'd seen the last of you. I thought that perhaps you'd quietly gone bankrupt. I mean, these things do happen."
"Of course they do. Of course they do. Unusual circumstances? Well, my dear chap, there was the, er... the divorce... you know." He had no idea whether or not Laura had actually divorced him, but rather assumed that she had. Oban nodded sympathetically anyway.
"I quite understand, Mr Steele. Bad business, no doubt. Still, it's certainly good to have you back. Time heals all wounds, I suppose."
"Yes." Steele smiled confidently, though inside his suddenly peculiar pulse was telling a different story. Time healed some things sure enough; but it didn't seem to have done much to that particular injury. "Life goes on, and all that. And time marches onward, and you'd no doubt rather not be here anymore. Shall we arrange to meet tomorrow? Would it be easiest for you after business hours, or during?"
"Any time would be fine for you, Mr Steele, but the lunch hour is probably best. If you could be here at noon, there won't be any visitors and I can give you my full attention. I'll go through the security arrangements with you, the alarms and such. It would be a pleasure."
"For me as well, Mr Oban. For me as well." Steele beamed with all the apparent sincerity of a skilled con-man who knew his job. "Until tomorrow then. I look forward to it."
"As do I, Mr Steele." The manager saw him all the way to the front door, looking rather flushed all the while. The doorman was waiting there, not especially patiently, and he stiffened to a sulky attention as Steele passed him by.
"Good evening," Steele offered him, hoping to thaw a little of the ice. This sort of thing had never happened when he had been wearing the finest clothes in the Steele wardrobe; apparently the casual look didn't demand respect so much as resentment.
"Good evening, sir." The doorman sounded about as sincere as a politician, but Steele offered him another smile anyway, before heading out into the street. There was a danger, of course, that now that he had time to think once again, the unillustrious Mr Oban might begin wondering about the man he had just met, and the story he had just heard - in which case, tomorrow's meeting could turn out to be a trap. But that was the nature of the job, and a calculated risk was all a part of the furniture. He was smiling to himself as he went down the steps, leaving Oban and the doorman to go back into the museum and finish their respective tasks. So it was that neither of them saw the tall, bulky man who moved out of the shadows beside the museum, and caught hold of Steele's arm.
"This way, if you don't mind." There was a faint accent behind the words. German, Steele thought. He struggled, but the other man was far too strong, and bundled him around the corner without the slightest difficulty.
"Now look here." Not entirely convinced that this was a mugging, but playing along as if it was at least until he was sure, Steele tried to remove the large set of fingers from his shirt sleeve. The large set of fingers didn't want to be persuaded. "If you're after my wallet, you're welcome, but there isn't very much in it. I never carry cash."
"Shut up." For a moment he was slammed up against a wall, so that the air rushed out of his lungs, and sparks danced in front of his eyes, then he was dragged across a short strip of pavement and manhandled into a car. His abductor stood in the doorway, preventing escape more effectively than the car door itself could have done. Steele blinked. Limousine. Expensive. Hired. The details filled themselves in even before he had fully composed himself; before his vision had entirely cleared. A civilised abduction, then. None of your street gangs, violent muggings, and body-found-with-slit-throat-by-early-morning-jogger stuff. Which was a good thing, obviously.
"Mr Fairbanks. Good evening." A female voice. German. Cultured. Icy. A familiar voice, out of the gloom of the car. Which was not a good thing, definitely. A light clicked on, and after a second's uncomfortable brightness and patchy blindness, he was looking at the owner of the voice. A tall, very beautiful blonde woman - the classic Hitchcockian ice blonde of so many movies - some fifty-five years old. Cold blue eyes, so pale and hard. Pale skin, pale blonde hair. Everything suggested ice. He knew her well enough to be sure that the chill wasn't just skin deep.
"Miss Brock." He smiled, somewhat tautly. "Good to see you again."
"No it isn't." Her accent was sharp, though not nearly as strong as it once had been. "I'm the last person you wanted to see."
"Not the last person, necessarily. Not the person I was most looking forward to meeting, though, I admit." He watched her cautiously. Her mood could change at the drop of a hat. She could kill without hesitation or provocation, though she was far from unhinged. A more level-headed person he had rarely encountered. "So what can I do for you, Ms... Fräulein... Brock?"
"You can leave town. Forget that you ever heard of the Trovian Miscellany." The words were precise, the meaning clear. "Tomorrow would be good. I'd appreciate it."
"I'm sure that you would." He had known that she had an interest in the famous brown Honeymoon Diamonds, but he still hadn't expected to encounter her here. Eleanor Brock didn't like America. She had never made any secret of that.
"You have no intention of leaving, though, do you." She was watching him as carefully as he was watching her; both subtle in their scrutiny, but obvious to each other. He shrugged.
"I always like to oblige a lady."
"And there's one lady in particular that you'd like to oblige." She nodded. "Lucille Webb."
"She's an old friend. So was Arthur."
"Yes. Yes, so I'd heard. Arthur Webb got between me and the Honeymoon Diamonds, Fairbanks." Her eyes were suddenly more icy; her smile suddenly more cold. "I don't appreciate you trying to do the same thing. Do we understand each other?"
"Yes." Inside he was burning, despite all the ice in the air. Poor Arthur. Strong, redoubtable Arthur, with his cheerful smile and bow-legged walk. Eleanor Brock merely smiled on, all ice and calm detachment.
"You're only alive now because circumstances were not in my favour the last time we met. I can hardly say the same now. I would get out of town very, very quickly if I were you."
"No doubt." Cautious now, Steele let his eyes drift surreptitiously about, searching for a sign of a gun. Brock smiled tightly.
"Not tonight, David. Not tonight." She nodded at her looming associate. "Get rid of him." The light clicked off, and she vanished back into the gloom. A second later the gorilla by the door caught hold of Steele's arm, and with an energetic heave, dragged him out of the car. Only careful twisting at the last second on Steele's part prevented him from braining himself on the roof.
"Get lost," the gorilla told him, giving him a hefty push. Steele regained his balance, considering making a sarcastic reply, but thought better of it. His arm hurt enough just from the manhandling. He had no desire to earn any more bruises. Straightening his clothing, therefore, he turned around and walked briskly away. He didn't look back. Some things were better unseen.
Murphy awoke to the sound of a vacuum cleaner somewhere down the corridor, and opened his eyes rather unwillingly. It was still early - horribly early, to somebody who had stayed up working until after four. His mouth felt fuzzy, and still far too full of the taste of pizza and ice cream; and given that he had hardly drunk any of the scotch, still remarkably full of that, too. He wandered off to office to wash his face and straighten his clothes, then rinsed out his mouth and regarded himself blearily in the mirror. Either he was getting too old to pull all-nighters, or pizza was not a good thing to eat right before falling asleep. Particularly when it was piled high with extra anchovies and onion. He smiled at his reflection, and his reflection smiled back. It didn't look too tired, which was a relief. He didn't want to be walking about the building looking like a dishevelled and befuddled escapee from a sleep clinic. There wasn't even much stubble to offend his sense of decorum. One of the advantages of not being very dark-haired.
"I'll get us some breakfast," he told Laura, heading back to the outer office. Laura mumbled something, but whatever it was, it didn't sound very awake. He smiled. At three-thirty she had still been almost hyperactive, crawling through the mounds of paperwork and doing her usual high speed efficiency act. Now she looked as though a crawl was the highest speed she could ever have hoped to reach. Tidying up the debris of pizza, scotch and ice cream, he left the office and jumped in the nearest lift. The office block was empty but for the cleaners, and a few security guards from the night shift. They all knew him from the erratic hours his career often forced him to work, and none of them seemed to think it odd that he was leaving the building now. A burly security guard offered him a doughnut, but he shook his head regretfully and hurried on out into the early morning sunshine. He needed to get hold of some proper breakfast for himself and Laura, or neither of them was going to be functioning properly when the office opened for business later on.
Most of the usual cafés where he liked to stop during the course of the day were still closed. He hurried on past the fast food joints that might otherwise have attracted him, determined to find something feasibly nutritional. He had been eating stake-out food for the last forty-eight hours, and that had ceased to feel like proper food some years ago. Probably, he mused somewhat ruefully, around the time that he had married a dietician. Louisa had been a great wife, and was still a wonderful mother, but she had wreaked havoc on his digestive system. Bernice, health food fan that she had always been, thought that it was hilarious. In the early hours of a busy Los Angeles morning, though, it was proving to be rather annoying.
He took a short cut down an alleyway, found himself at the back end of a café whose kitchen was obviously up and running, and then got confused trying to find the front of the building. Growling at himself about the state of his own detective skills, he chose another alley at random, abandoned it quickly due to the suspicious smell suggesting at somebody's late night drinking celebrations, and found himself back on the main street. He was still no closer to finding the errant café, and changed direction, heading further away from the office all the time. At this rate Laura would have gone home, showered, changed, breakfasted and got back to the office before he had even managed to put in an order for breakfast. He took another shortcut, jogged down a maze of side streets in an attempt to speed the process up further, and found himself at last in a quiet back street. There were a number of small shops here - a newsagents, a grocers; the sort of small place that still managed to cling on in local areas, where people were further removed from the big supermarkets that stole every other small store owner's business. And there, sending out waves of encouraging breakfasty scents, was a café. Murphy grinned. Success at last. And it had only taken him the best part of an hour. He dug out his phone and called Laura, hoping that she was still asleep, but predictably enough found that she was on her way home.
"Sorry Murph." She sounded amused. "I thought you'd gone home as well."
"And left you sprawled out on the floor? I told you I was going for breakfast."
"You did? I remember some mumbling. I thought I was still asleep."
"Typical. Well, I'll see you back at the office later, I guess. Smells like a great breakfast place, though. Way off our usual route."
"If it's the one I think it is, you're right about the smell. I did a stake-out in a hotel in the old part of town about a year ago. Order the blueberry pancakes. You'll never want to eat breakfast anywhere else again."
"Sounds promising. Catch you later."
"Yeah. Bye Murph." She hung up, smiling to herself as she did so. A mile or so away, Murphy was also smiling, as he folded up the mobile and put it away. Blueberry pancakes. That definitely sounded worth the long walk.
He was in high spirits when he pushed open the door of the café - higher spirits when his eyes scanned across a menu displaying a myriad early morning delights writ large in coloured chalk. This could well be the greatest café ever; even if he was somewhat biased due to hunger. A fellow customer, just in the act of leaving the premises, stood aside to let Murphy past, and for a second they were caught up in a maze of doorway, nearby table and ill-placed chair. Murphy smiled an apology, having been a little surprised by the other man's courtesy in moving so gracefully out of the way. He didn't often encounter good manners anymore, in his world of big city haste and complicated living. The other man smiled back, and their eyes met, briefly. Neither of them was really paying attention to the other, and Murphy, at first, saw only anonymous blue eyes in a handsome, middle-aged face. Handsome types were a part of the wallpaper in California, but that face, those eyes - in the same second that Murphy realised who he was looking at, the other man recognised him. Both sets of eyes widened. Murphy was ready to yell - to grab a convenient arm and hang on for all he was worth. It took him just a second too long to react; a second too long to leap. With all the speed of his dubious profession; with all the advantages of his light, slight frame and razor-edged instincts, the other man had already gone.
"Damn it!" Breakfast forgotten, Murphy gave chase in an instant, flying out of the café and into the street. He saw Steele heading to the left, running for a tiny side alley that would no doubt allow him to disappear. Murphy had no intention of allowing that to happen. He might be a man in his mid-forties, but he had never been desk-bound; had always lived an active life. There was something to be said for chasing bail jumpers and shady types anxious to avoid a subpoena. All the same, if a car hadn't screeched unexpectedly out of an intersection, making Steele skid to a halt, Murphy wouldn't have stood a chance. He had stayed in good shape, sure enough - but Steele without a shadow of a doubt, looked after himself even better.
"Gotcha!" Hissing the word to himself, Murphy called up his last reserves of speed for the few dozen yards that remained between them. Steele had changed direction to dodge around the car, but the precious few seconds that he had lost counted against him now. With all the joy of years of pent-up aggression finally getting its release, Murphy launched himself at his foe. The crashed into each other, tumbling, tangling, rolling in a struggling heap into the road.
"Get off me, damn it!" His voice pure Irish, pure rough and tumble, Steele certainly didn't sound his old, polished self. Murphy, using his bigger bulk and greater strength, forced an abrupt end to the confusion by hauling his prize to his feet.
"Murphy!" His voice suddenly filled with false cheer, Steele offered his captor a bright smile. "So good to see you again. It's been, what, fourteen years? Delighted, delighted. But I must dash."
"Not so fast, you creep." Murphy kept his tight hold of the other man's shirt. "You're not going anywhere."
"Really?" There was a touch of ice - the merest hint of confrontation in the otherwise affable voice. "I had no idea that you enjoyed my company so much, Murphy. You should have said."
"Enjoy your company? You know, weirdly enough, Mister Steele, I think maybe I do. Because I've been wanting to see you again ever since I heard how you ran out on Laura. Oh, I heard all about that, believe me. How you married her, and got her to give up a legitimate relationship with a good man for you - and then ran out on her. Classy, Steele. And all those nights when she was crying. All those days when she was trying to work out what she'd done to deserve it. Where the hell were you, then?"
"You couldn't begin to understand." With a sudden effort, Steele broke the other man's grip. "The problem with you, Murphy - and Laura too - is that you think the whole world is like you. Safe. Conventional. Mortgages, jobs, four walls and a roof and a well-trodden path to follow. You never could see past that."
"Past that to what? To your life? You hurt people, Steele. I don't want to see that. You broke Laura's heart. I never understood why, but she was in love with you. She really did think that she was going to spend the rest of her life being Mrs Remington Steele. And what did she get in the end? A phone call just as the lights went out, and you disappearing. Running out on her, without a word of explanation. How was she supposed to feel, huh? What was she supposed to think?"
"You think I wanted to hurt her?" The Irish was back in Steele's voice, the composure slipping once again. "I wouldn't have gone if it hadn't been necessary, and I didn't exactly run off to better things. If I had stayed, she'd really have got hurt. And I don't mean emotionally."
"More of your mysterious past, hey Steele? Like I give a damn. Like it matters. The only thing that matters is that you hurt a good woman, and left her in pieces for somebody else to pick up. She's a strong woman. An independent woman. It took a long time before she'd open up even to me. And all this time I've been waiting for a chance to break your jaw, you lousy fake."
"I don't think you want to try that." For a second there was a hardness in Steele's eyes, and to Murphy it was like finally seeing the real man behind that constant façade of smiles and sophistication he had known years before. He smirked in response.
"You think you can fight me? You really think you could win? I may be no heavyweight, but I'm bigger than you, and I'm willing to bet that I'm a damn sight stronger, too."
"And powered by all that righteous fury, hey Murph?"
"You're damn right. I was the one who had to put all the pieces back together, Steele. She lost everything because of you. All the years she put into that detective agency - all gone. She couldn't face going back to it with you gone, and even if she had felt like it, she couldn't do anything. As far as everybody knew, it was your agency, not hers. That was her whole life, just gone. Everything she'd ever worked for. Did you think about that before you ran out on her?"
"Would it make any difference if I said yes?" Steele was beginning to sound angry, not that Murphy cared. "You made up your mind about me years ago, Murphy. As far as you were concerned, the guilty verdict came in the day we met."
"Yeah. With good reason. You can't be trusted, Steele. You never could. You're nothing but a con artist. A cheap crook who lies for a living, and doesn't care who he hurts. A thief."
"Have you finished?" This time there was no mistaking the ice in Steele's voice. Murphy smiled coldly.
"Not really. There's a whole lot more I could say about you."
"Fine. Well it'll have to wait. Much though I've enjoyed this sparkling reunion, I have things to do."
"Places to go, people to rob, right?"
"Something like that, yes." For a second the silence hung between them, and each held the other's gaze in a shared sense of anger and suspicion. Then Steele broke the gaze and looked away, shaking his head wearily. When he spoke again it was much more quietly than before, as though all the anger had gone. "Go back to Laura, Murphy. Stay with her. And stay away from me."
"Oh no you don't." Like lightning Murphy made another grab for Steele, catching his arm, clinging on, dragging at him as though to twist his arm behind his back and make some kind of arrest. He hoped, perhaps, to have the element of surprise, but Steele, whose reactions were far better than those of most men, was more than ready for any action that Murphy took. Even as Murphy was grabbing at one of his arms, Steele was moving the other, snapping it up with the speed of a striking snake, and stiff-arming his attacker in the chest. Murphy stumbled backwards, momentarily losing hold of his quarry, and nearly losing his footing as well. He recovered his balance just as Steele turned to leave, ready to resume the flight to freedom that Murphy had so determinedly interrupted. Murphy, however, was not done yet. With a yell that was half wordless roar, half exclamation of fury, he launched himself into a rugby tackle, hitting Steele at the waist and sending both men, for the second time that morning, into a tumbled, confused struggle on the ground. This time, though, Murphy didn't want just to seize hold of the man and prevent his escape. This time he was determined to do some damage. The hatred he had always felt for Steele; the hatred that had festered and grown during those ten years of watching Laura's heartache, exploded into a moment's pure, unadulterated violence. With all the strength he could summon, he drove his fist into Steele's stomach, hauled off, fought to drag them both at least halfway to their feet, then hit Steele again. This time his fist caught the other man on the side of the head, dropping him to the hard ground in a slumped heap.
"Angry, Murph?" Sprawled at the detective's feet, expression dazed, Steele still managed to smile roguishly. Murphy had to fight an instinct to kick him when he was down.
"Just stay where you are," he spat, determined to do something with the fraudster now that he had captured him. Turn him over to the police? Find a convenient sewer to drop him into? Steele, needless to say, had ideas of his own.
"Stay where I am?" His eyes were bright and teasing. "Why? Sorry, Murph. I never did like making things that easy."
"Don't be a fool. I'm bigger than you are, Steele. I can hit harder. I know your type. Whatever else you might be, you're still just a pretty boy with a smooth tongue and hundred dollar shoes that somebody else paid for. Your type don't fight."
"You think?" With an effort Steele pushed himself to his feet, wavering slightly, but keeping his balance. He looked ruffled, his clothes crumpled and torn, dirtied from the road dust. Murphy didn't imagine that he himself looked much better.
"Yeah." Unable to stop himself, Murphy punched the other man again, catching him this time on the jaw. It was the punch he had waited years to deliver; a powerful, stunning blow that was guaranteed to knock most men unconscious. The sort of punch that came from somewhere in the ground beneath Murphy's feet, and carried all the force of nature behind it. Steele went down once again, hitting the road with enough force to make Murphy wince, his head striking the tarmac with a sickening thud. Frightened for one awful moment that he might have killed his opponent, Murphy bent over to check that he was still breathing. Even as he was doing it, he realised his mistake - but by then of course, it was much too late. The belief in his own strength and Steele's weakness was enough to convince him that he was safe; and that was just what Steele had been counting upon. Murphy never really knew what had hit him. The foot that knocked one leg out from under him was like a sledgehammer, the fist that blasted the air from his lungs should have come from a man twice Steele's size. Coming to his feet with a speed and agility that seemed entirely unfair, Steele grabbed the arm that Murphy was attempting to fight back with, gave it an abrupt twist to knock the other man completely off balance, then followed through with a punch that dropped the detective into a woozy heap at his feet. A car screeched to a halt nearby, and Steele stumbled back out of the road, hauling Murphy out of the way as well, before depositing him onto the sidewalk. With a crooked grin and a mouthful of blood, Steele stared down at his feebly moving opponent. His eyes were sympathetic, but his words were cold and hard.
"I may be a 'pretty boy', Murphy; but I've lived a hell of a tougher life than you have. You should have walked away."
"Murphy?" It was a woman's voice, coming from the direction of the recent car; a bright, loud, familiar woman's voice. Footsteps sounded across the tarmac; the running feet of somebody coming to check up on a friend. Steele froze. He was standing over the beaten, fallen body of a man; he couldn't be more guilty if he tried. There was no way to escape it; no way to claim innocence; to claim that he had had nothing to do with this. No way to escape now without being seen. He looked up, heart sinking into his shoes, pulse coming in sudden, speeded up judders that he could feel throughout his frame. With no other direction to look in then, he looked up - and his eyes met, for the first time in ten long years, with the wide, shocked eyes of Laura Holt. She froze. For a second she looked from him to Murphy and back again, and he wondered if there was something that he could say. There wasn't, of course, but he wondered anyway. Had to wonder, and to hope. In the event he didn't say anything at all.
"You." Her voice was hot with loathing, and he could hardly blame her for that. He could barely hold her gaze, such was the sudden desire to look away. "You. Now."
"Laura..." The word had once been so familiar; a word said in so many ways. How many times had she been angry with him? Furiously angry, and exasperatedly angry, and pretend angry? How many times had he said her name; cajolingly, persuasively, innocently, angrily; in arguments and mock fights and intimate moments throughout the years of their relationship? He didn't know. He just knew that there were few words that felt so natural falling off his tongue. Her response was a blood-curdling glare.
"Murphy." She was his first concern. Already she was looking away from Steele, hurting him with her apparent disinterest, looking instead to Murphy. "What did you do to him?"
"Fought back." It felt like a childish reply; the equivalent of He started it. He just hadn't known what else to say. She looked back at him then, poisonously and with loathing.
"If you've hurt him..."
"Laura?" Murphy was stirring, rejuvenated by the sound of her voice. "Laura, I'm sorry. I tried..."
"It's okay." Having crouched down for a moment to make sure that he was alright, she stood up again, staring back at Steele as though she were much taller than him, much larger, making him feel tiny and crushed.
"I don't know why you've come back. I don't care. You made your choice ten years ago. Ten years ago today, if it means anything to you. But I don't ever want to see you again, Steele. I don't want you anywhere near me or Murphy. And if I see you again, I'll hand you over to the police so fast, you won't have time to draw breath before you're in a prison cell."
"Laura..." He thought that his voice had caught in his throat, but she didn't seem to have noticed. She just stared back at him, with more hatred in her eyes than he would ever have thought possible. His Laura. His gentle, harmless Laura. She looked like a demon, clothed in vengeance and hatred. He wanted to say all kinds of things then, in a desperate attempt to make her hate him a little less. Suddenly it meant so much to him that she should listen, and she should understand, and know. For ten years he had told himself that her opinion didn't matter, and that he didn't need her anymore. For ten years he had told himself that same lie, over and over again in his darker moments. And now he was with her again, and there was the chance to speak, and the chance to maybe right some of those old wrongs - and she wanted no part of it. It was like being punched again, and with much more strength even than there had been in Murphy's almost too powerful blows.
"Go away." She seemed about to say something more, then; about to heap more abuse upon him, or have a change of heart; or perhaps just to speak to Murphy. She was opening her mouth, and Steele was suddenly desperate to hear what she had to say. Good or bad, he had to hear it. All that he heard instead was the wail of a siren. A police siren, so close by. Perhaps somebody had seen the fight, or the prolonged argument that had preceded it. Perhaps somebody had called the police. Words stolen by the siren, Laura looked away automatically, and in that moment, his resolve broken completely, Steele made his escape. When Laura looked back it was to see him swinging himself up onto the ladder of a fire escape, hanging far above the ground. He was like a gymnast, she thought, as she watched him pull himself up; so much speed and skill. But not a gymnast of course; a burglar, showing one of the skills of his trade. She wanted to be even more angry, at the way that he had run again; at the fact that he had been there to begin with; that he had fought Murphy and won; that he had clearly been hurt in the process; that he hadn't been hurt enough. If she could have punched him herself she would have, then; but by now he was too far away even to hear her had she shouted out her rage.
"Laura?" Murphy was struggling upward and, suddenly shaking, she helped him to his feet. She hoped that he wouldn't notice the tremble in her hands and her shoulders, but she knew that he must. He didn't comment on it though. Good old Murphy, as always - the gentleman, the friend, the one that she could count on. They didn't speak as she helped him over to her car, and sat him in the passenger seat.
"You okay?" she asked several moments later, when he had got his breath back, and she was more sure that she could trust her voice. He nodded. He was already looking better. Murphy had always been tough.
"Yeah, I'm okay. Sneaky son of a-- I never guessed he'd be that strong."
"He's always been a fighter." She was remembering evenings alone, and tales told. Dark Belfast nights, and cold London days. A childhood, and a youth, and a manhood, always on the run, always on the scam. Always fighting. It was a past that had never quite seemed to fit with the Steele that she had known; the polished, smooth, well-spoken Steele, with his immaculate clothing and his hair always so perfectly arranged. Somehow it seemed to fit the Steele that she had seen just now though; a Steele that somehow it seemed she had never seen before.
"What do you think he's doing here?" Murphy, of course, knew exactly where her mind was. She shrugged.
"What do you think? Those jewels. The Jacques Trovian Miscellany. There's nothing else he'd come back for." She didn't realise how bitter her voice had been during that last sentence, until Murphy reached out a hand for hers.
"Don't be so hard on yourself, Laura. It was never your fault."
"I know. I guess." She sighed. "You remember which museum those jewels are going to be displayed at?"
"The Brown Museum." He frowned. "Laura..."
"Well we can hardly go to the police, can we? What's it going to look like if we suddenly unmask Remington Steele as a jewel thief? We're known associates of his. Even with our reputations, even if we could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that we're not involved with him anymore, we'd still be ruining our business. And what if the real truth got out? About how we've always known what he is? About how he isn't really who he is anyway, and never was? That'd kill our careers for certain."
"But going after him? Are you really sure you're up to this?"
"Yes." She sounded hard; harder than she had intended. "We're going to the Brown Museum, and we're going to find out what's going on. What our illustrious Mr Steele has planned. And then we're going to stop him. And if I get the chance to break both his kneecaps in the process, so much the better."
"I tried to break his jaw." Murphy winced at the memory of their short fight. "It didn't turn out to be all that easy."
"I'm sure I can find a way." Raring to go now, she went around to the driver's seat and slid behind the wheel. "You know where the Brown Museum is?"
"I think so." Something occurred to him, and he frowned suddenly, looking over at her with an appeal in his eyes. "But Laura?"
"What?" She was already all business. All geared up to this new case. It was one of the things that he loved about her; but it could be a pain in the neck at times, especially when he was thinking along lines that didn't involve work. He smiled faintly, though it hurt his bruised jaw to do so.
"Can we get some breakfast first?"
Lucille, despite Steele's exhortations to remain in the apartment, had gone out grocery shopping, and she returned some time after he did. She was surprised to find him there, for he had never been the stay at home type, and she had expected him to be out and about, busy with whatever things he did to fill his time. Instead she found him rummaging through his overnight bag, looking for a clean shirt, the old one screwed up and lying on the floor. He had come in through the window, clearly; there was blood on his face; and his once off-white trousers were now a nondescript grey. None of it spoke of a particularly good morning. She put down her groceries, locked the door, and went to retrieve his discarded shirt.
"Did it do something terrible?" she asked. Steele glared at her for a moment, before he was able to rein in his temper.
"The shirt. You've obviously thrown it across the room. I wondered what it had done to deserve it. I've never known anybody be as careful with clothes as you usually are."
"Oh." He shrugged, then finally came up trumps with a new shirt. It was white, had been expensive once, and should have still been fairly crisp and new. Just now it looked rather like a tablecloth, long after the party was over. His shoulders sagged.
"I can iron it, you know. Or you can. This may be a cheap hotel, but there is an iron in the cupboard." She frowned at him. "Danny, are you going to tell me what's wrong? I'd threaten to beat it out of you, but by the look of it somebody has already tried. Did you run into Brock and her people again?"
"No." He sighed, and went in search of the iron. "Just some old friends, that's all. A little unfinished business. Nothing to do with the jewels."
"I knew it." She sat down on the edge of the bed. "It's dangerous for you to be here, isn't it. Really dangerous. Coming back here was stupid, and I won't have you on my conscience, Danny. Not you."
"Don't be daft." He got in a tangle with the flex of the iron, and had to fight momentarily to sort it out. "It's not dangerous. It was just a fight. A stupid fight that should never have happened. One of those testosterone things, you know. I was showing off, and it didn't end well."
"Those things rarely do." She eyed him critically. "And you're supposed to be meeting that museum curator at noon. You hardly look the part just now."
"It'll be alright." He plugged in the iron, and unfolded the ironing board. "I didn't mean to worry you, Lucille."
"I know. It's just with everything... wanting to do this for Arthur, and then Brock showing up, and me being so nervous about it all anyway. And now this." She gestured at her companion. "Does it hurt?"
"No more than usual. Fortunately for me, Murphy is no professional." Steele dabbed gingerly at his mouth with one hand. "He's strong, and he can hit like a boxer on steroids when he wants to, but he doesn't pick his impact points. He doesn't go for maximum damage. He just hits."
"You'd better let me look at you."
"I'm fine." He began to iron the shirt, and tried to ignore her speculative glances. "Really, Lucy. I'm fine. I've been hit harder, lots of times."
"Maybe." She headed for the adjoining bathroom, and filled the sink with water. "But you're still going to need to clean up. I'll finish that shirt. I want to be sure that you look respectable when you go to that museum. Right now you're dressed like a bum, and you certainly can't go talking to museum curators with blood all over you. Clean up. And change those trousers."
"Yes mother." He rolled his eyes, and she glared at him.
"I'm serious, Danny. We can't afford any screw ups now. Look at you. Is the back of your head bleeding?"
"I don't know." He put up one hand to touch the place where his head had connected so painfully with the road, during his fight with Murphy. It came away covered with blood. "Ow. Yes."
"You should get stitches for that."
"You think so?" He sounded irritable, sarcastic. "Well do you have medical insurance? Because I doubt that Remington Steele has been keeping up to date with his premiums lately."
"There's no need to get snippy." She gave him a few second's worth of her fiercest glare, then sighed. "There's blood running down the back of your neck, Danny. I was worried. When he was younger, I used to patch up Arthur when he slipped climbing down drainpipes, or got in fights in the pub of a Saturday night. But that was all a long time ago. Perhaps I'm out of practice. I didn't used to flinch at the sight of blood."
"I only flinch when it's mine. And I can't see it on the back of my neck." He smiled at her. "Alright. I'll go and wash up. And I'm sorry, Lucy. It's just that this morning hasn't been terribly good."
"Those old friends that you mentioned?"
"You could say that." He disappeared into the bathroom, and she heard the splash of water in the sink. "The meeting will still go ahead, though. I come up well in the wash, hadn't you noticed? Mr Oban at the museum needn't ever know there was a fight."
"You think you can make yourself look respectable?"
"Not as much as I would if you'd let me get decked out properly. A nice double breasted suit and a handmade silk tie ought to complete the image nicely."
"It's just as well you weren't dressed like that today, isn't it. Or do double breasted suits and handmade ties like being tossed about in street brawls?"
"Well, no. Probably not." He sighed. "I like the finer things in life, Lucy. That's all. I liked being Steele before. He meant good tailoring. Bloody good tailoring. And he always had such nice shoes, too. The best restaurants fell over themselves to give him a table, the most exclusive night-clubs always let him in." He sighed. "And now he's having to resort to washing in a basin before dressing in a shirt that doesn't even have cufflinks."
"By the look of what's left in your bag, he's going to be wearing jeans, too." She appeared in the bathroom door, holding up the offending garment, a big grin on her face. "I can iron them for you, if it'll help. Make you feel a bit more snazzy."
"Snazzy?" He groaned, and grabbed the bathroom's thin, rough towel from its hook. "Thanks. Of all the adjectives in the world..."
"It's better than you look now." She headed off back to the iron. "You're the one who got your best trousers ruined in a brawl."
"And you're the one who dragged me away to Los Angeles with hardly a change of clothes, and won't let me get any new ones!" He knew that he was sounding like a cross child, and scowled at himself as much as at her. "The great Remington Steele..."
"The great Remington Steele better start acting like Remington Steele, or we might as well both head back to Europe empty-handed." She ducked aside as Steele made as if to throw his trousers at her, then when he dropped them onto the floor instead, she threw the newly ironed jeans back at him. They hit him on his head, and she winced.
"What's another bruise amongst friends?" He pulled them on, followed them with the newly rejuvenated shirt, and then stared at himself in the mirror on the cupboard door. Hardly the image of style and sophistication. He looked like an ordinary member of the public - and that was enough of an insult when he was just being himself, let alone when he was wearing the mantle of his beloved Mr Steele. "Just as long as I don't meet my tailor dressed like this."
"Are you really very likely to?"
"No. I suppose not." He sighed, trying to sound dramatic and hard done by. "I'll call you when I'm done at the museum."
"You're going now? The meeting's not for a few hours yet."
"I know. But there are some supplies I'm going to need. Some things that I couldn't get at that hardware store yesterday."
"Yes, of course. You wouldn't rather that I bought them? It might raise a few eyebrows if Remington Steele goes around collecting up that kind of equipment. And surely the sort of places that sell it won't want anything to do with Steele anyway?"
"That's if they recognise me. Anyway, I was good business to them in the past. Remington Steele never saw any particular reason to avoid the dodgier shops, no matter how crooked some of their business might have been." Steele adjusted his collar with a critical eye for detail, then made a face and shrugged. "It'll have to do."
"You look fine."
"I look like..." He scowled. "Like Murphy. You'll have me eating hotdogs in the street next."
"Idiot. Now be careful."
"Careful, my dear Lucille, is my middle name."
"I doubt it." She followed him to the window, and watched as he climbed out. "Danny dear, what is it with you and roofs just lately? Is this really the most sensible route?"
"It is if I want to be sure I don't run into Eleanor Brock again. Always know your way about a city via it's roofs, Lucy. I'm surprised Arthur never told you that."
"Arthur never needed to find his way about a city by any way other than the road. He never got into that much trouble." She watched him as he started to go up the fire escape. "Watch out for Brock, Danny. She'll kill you like a shot, you know that. And enjoy doing it."
"I know." He hesitated, looking down at her, and offering her a smile. A devil-may-care smile, that made her respond automatically. He could make all of her worries fade away with that smile; had always been able to, even when there was good reason for her to worry. "Two days from now you'll be safely out of the country, and you'll have the Honeymoon Diamonds right with you. I promise. Now I'll see you later."
"Goodbye, Danny." She climbed back in through the window, clambering awkwardly over the windowsill. It was exciting, to be a part of such an operation; like in the early days, when she and Arthur had worked together to steal jewels all over Western Europe. Those days had gone with her arthritis. She couldn't do the raids herself anymore; hence Steele. Hence the waiting. Hence the worry. Sitting down on the bed, she tried not to think of all the things that could go wrong, and concentrated instead upon Arthur. She could see him, in her mind's eye, sprawled on the bed beside her, with his crooked grin and his callused hands, and his ridiculously broad shoulders. She never had understood how he had managed to fit through all those windows with those shoulders.
"We'll get you those jewels, Arthur," she told the empty bed. And he smiled at her, in her mind's eye, and everything was alright with the world.
Or for now it was, at least.
There was a sort of inevitability to the situation really. Somehow, no matter what he intended to do with his days, just lately Murphy always seemed to find himself sitting in a car with Laura, watching a building, and not really knowing a great deal about what was going on. Still - at least the blueberry pancakes had been nice, if a little difficult to eat in the car. Laura sipped at a paper cup full of coffee, and stared grimly out of the windscreen. Her eyes were narrowed, her mind clearly elsewhere. She hadn't spoken much since they had arrived at the museum; had just sat, and sipped at the coffee. She didn't speak when Steele eventually arrived, either, though her body tensed, and she swallowed a mouthful of coffee rather suddenly.
"You alright, Laura?" asked Murphy automatically. She put the coffee down on the dashboard, and leaned back in her seat with a glower.
"Right." He finished his own coffee and regarded her wordlessly for a moment. "What are we doing here?"
"Watching," she told him. He sighed.
"Yes. That bit I know."
"We can't go to the police."
"I know that, too."
"Well then." She sounded grouchy now. "We have to know what his plan is."
"So we're going to talk to him?"
"Not to him, no. Whoever it is in there that he's gone in to see. The curator perhaps, or some underpaid member of staff who's being bribed to tell him things. I don't know. I just plan to find out."
"And then I don't know, Murph." She rubbed her eyes with one hand, trying not to yawn. Neither of them had got nearly enough sleep the night before. Traditionally they spent the day after their anniversary scotch, pizza and paperwork sitting around in the office, usually finishing the paperwork and the pizza, and falling asleep at each other's desks.
"You shouldn't be here," he told her. "I can watch the museum. You should go home. Get some--"
"You think I want to rest?" She shook her head, still staring at the museum. There had been no sign of movement there since Steele had gone inside. "I have to know what's happening, Murphy. I have to. I have to be one stop ahead of everybody else. I won't let that worthless fraud take us down with him."
"The police probably won't catch him," pointed out Murphy, trying to make her feel better. "He's pretty good at avoiding them."
"True. But since we're not going to let him steal the jewels, it doesn't matter what the police do. It's up to us to stop him in his tracks. Before the robbery. Before the police find out a thing."
"So we follow him when he leaves here? Find out if he's working alone?"
"One of us does." She stared on out of the windscreen. "The other one has to go into the museum like I said, and talk to the--" She broke off, for at that moment Steele came out of the museum and started off down the street. He seemed to be in a hurry. Laura's demeanour changed instantly. "Something's wrong."
"I'll get after him." Murphy was already opening his car door, but Laura reached out to grab his hand, looking at him directly for the first time since they had arrived at the museum. Her eyes were oddly bright, and the expression on her face seemed strange.
"No." Her voice sounded odd, too. Strained and awkward. "I'll go. You see what's going on inside. Something must have happened, so be careful."
"If you're sure." He didn't like the idea of her going, when he had no idea what Steele might be up to, or what tricks he might pull if he realised that he was being followed - and by whom. Laura just nodded, stiffly and slowly.
"I'm sure." She got out of the car, eyes now upon Steele and nothing else. He was already almost out of sight, hurrying along without ever once looking left or right. Whatever his goal, he seemed as intent upon it as Laura was upon hers. Murphy watched her as she ran off after him, then shook his head and scowled.
"Damn you, Steele," he muttered at the buildings around him. But the man himself was Laura's problem now. Pushing them both as best he could to the back of his mind, he struck out for the museum. He was rather looking forward to speaking to whoever was inside.
He found a rather dour-looking doorman who, without speaking, and ignoring all Murphy's attempts to engage him in conversation, led him straight to the open door of the manager's office. There was a man inside, in an expensive but faintly rumpled suit, pacing up and down and casting anxious looks at the telephone. He looked up when Murphy appeared in the doorway, and relief, worry and suspicion flashed in a rush across his face.
"Another guest, sir," announced the doorman, before disappearing. He had no interest at all in Murphy or his reasons for being there, and clearly had no desire to find out what was going on. The manager smiled distractedly.
"I'm a little busy," he said. Murphy nodded.
"I'm sure you are. My name is Murphy Michaels. I'm a private investigator, Mr...?"
"Oban," filled in the manager. "James Oban. A private investigator, Mr Michaels?" For a second he looked hopeful. Murphy nodded.
"Yes sir. I'm here because I have reason so believe that somebody is going to steal the Trovian jewels."
"Oh." The manager's shoulder's slumped, and he sat down rather heavily at his desk. "That's why you're here. I'd hoped for a moment that Monsieur Trovian had sent you. I'm waiting for him to call now."
"You don't seem surprised." Murphy frowned at the top of Oban's head, all that he could see now that the suddenly sorrowful man had slumped down so much in his seat. Oban sighed, and looked up momentarily.
"No, not really. Who hired you, Mr Michaels?"
"Nobody. I just, er... heard some whispers. On the street. You have contacts in my line of work, and sometimes they come up with something interesting." He hesitated, certain that he had sounded far too much as though he had made it all up on the spot. Oban, though, didn't seem to notice; or maybe just didn't care.
"I see." He sighed again, and rubbed at his face with his hands. He seemed to be trying to wake himself up, as though from a bad dream. "Well the truth, Mr Michaels, although I probably shouldn't be telling you this, is that you're rather too late. I just got a call from Monsieur Trovian telling me that the truck carrying his collection of jewels was hijacked just outside of the city. The men travelling with the jewels were all killed, and as you can imagine, things are now rather fraught. The jewels are gone, there are insurance people to deal with, my museum has just lost a display that was intended to save us from closure, and four good men, two of whom I knew personally, are dead. I'm waiting for instructions, and for the inevitable Press and police onslaught, and quite frankly I don't know how to deal with any of it. And worst of all, I may well have been responsible."
"You?" Murphy's head was buzzing at the news of the theft, but he fought the urge to call Laura immediately. Oban nodded his head, looking sad and pale.
"There was a man here, asking questions. Too many perhaps. He claimed to be on Monsieur Trovian's staff, but Monsieur Trovian himself denies any knowledge of him. I'm a fool, and there's no telling how much of a mess I've made of things now."
"And this man. Was he the one that I saw leaving when I was on my way in here?" Trying to probe gently, and avoid arousing suspicion, Murphy asked the question carefully. "He seemed to be in a hurry."
"That's him. He ran out of here as soon as he heard the news. And presumably when he overheard me mention his name to Monsieur Trovian. I wasn't supposed to speak of him - for security reasons, he said - but I thought that since the jewels had gone... Anyway, he went off in a hurry, and it all looks pretty damning to me. Remington Steele. Who'd have thought it? Maybe he had money problems after all. I always did wonder why he disappeared from public life."
"Remington Steele?" Murphy could have hit something - although someone would have been a distinct preference. Steele had given that name? When he was planning a jewel robbery? Laura would be heartbroken, if that name was dragged down. Thinking fast, he frowned in a credible impersonation of surprise. "I don't understand. The man that I saw leaving here wasn't Steele. I just left Remington Steele three days ago in London. I know him personally."
"You... do?" Oban looked even more confused now than ever, which Murphy appreciated no end. Confusion was good. He could manipulate that. He nodded, and wished that he was better at lying, and at thinking up spur of the moment stories.
"Yes sir. But for some while now, Mr Steele has been worried about a man supposedly impersonating him. If you saw them together you'd see the difference, but apparently he's a good double otherwise. He uses that to get close to potential targets. So far we've been one step ahead of him, but it could be that this time he's actually succeeded. I'm sorry, Mr Oban."
"No. Not your fault. My fault. Probably." Oban looked up, a faint smile in his eyes. "Thankyou for coming here to warn me, Mr Michaels. It's appreciated."
"I'm sorry it was too late." Murphy wondered if he should ask a few more questions, but decided to leave it for now. Besides - too many questions might make the man suspicious. Bidding his farewells, he hurried off out of the museum. The story he had just heard bothered him greatly. Four men dead? Could Steele be behind that? He had never seemed he murdering kind before, but a lot could change in ten years, and Murphy had never really known him. Neither, for that matter, had Laura. Steele had always worn one mask or another. And now Laura was following him, alone, and he might be a killer. He fumbled quickly for his mobile, and called Laura's phone. An image of the sound of its ringing alerting Steele to her presence bothered his mind, but he had to warn her. A part of him knew that she wouldn't want to listen, or believe the possible danger, but he had to try. It was with great relief that he heard her voice at the other end. As quickly and as calmly as he could, he told her everything that he had learnt. It was up to her what she did with the information. All that he could do then was try to catch her up.
For her part, Laura wasn't sure what to make of the information. A truck heist, four men killed - it didn't sound like Steele to her, and it made no sense that he should be at the museum if he had plans to steal the jewels before they arrived there. She didn't even want to think about the killings, and how he might have been involved with that. Steele was no murderer - her Steele, anyway. But then her Steele had never existed. The Steele she had known hadn't really existed either, though in a sense she had got to know him well. Or thought that she had. And through it all, she had to remember the night he had left. The night that she had thought was the beginning of their life together, but which had turned out to be no such thing. He hadn't been the man she had known then, when he had disappeared out of her life for ten years, without a word. She watched him now, hurrying along ahead of her, clearly with some goal in mind. The news of the theft of the jewels had made him run off like this, heading so determinedly, so intently, for somewhere. That didn't sound like he was guilty. And yet still she couldn't be sure.
She followed him for what seemed like miles, though couldn't have been. Off the main concourse, off into the back streets that she saw so rarely, heading into a maze of old buildings and narrow roads. Steele seemed perfectly at home there, hurrying down side streets, slipping through short cuts, as though he had lived in Los Angeles every day of the last ten years, and knew it as well as any resident of its more off-beat quarter. To Laura there were no recognisable landmarks, and the streets might as well have been identical, but Steele clearly knew when he had reached his goal. In a place of iron railings and brownstone buildings, he slowed from his hurrying jog, and came to a standstill beside a clearly abandoned hotel. The doors and windows were boarded up, and by the look of things had been for some time. Not that this seemed to discourage Steele. Jumping onto the roof of an old blue car parked at the kerb, he leaped up onto the bottom rung of a rusted, dangling ladder. To Laura it looked like the sort of ancient fire escape that was considerably less safe than the fire itself, but Steele swung up it with an agility that she couldn't help admiring. Only when she remembering who was displaying it, did she wipe the smile from her face, and replace it with a glower. Confound Steele and his apparently still lingering charms. She watched him climb on up the fire escape, and eventually disappear inside a fourth floor window, then heaving a sigh and wishing that she had allocated this task to Murphy after all, she clambered up onto the roof of the car, took a deep breath, and jumped. It was a struggle to haul herself up onto the ladder, which annoyed her no end. Steele had made it look so easy. She tried to content herself with the thought that he was a thief, so at least her lack of agility came from the moral high ground, but it didn't make her feel all that much better. Catching her breath, and being as quiet as she could on the creaking old ladder, she began to climb on up.
The window that Steele had climbed through gave onto a large room, furnished, somewhat oddly, with expensive chairs, a leather-topped desk, and a large television set equipped with a distinctly out-dated video recorder. There was a lot of dust, suggesting that whatever this room - this bolt-hole - was, it hadn't been used in ten years at least. Steele was standing on the far side of the room, his back to the window, talking on a telephone. An old, chunky telephone - not even a cordless one, she noted. A place, then, that Steele had made for himself during the old days here in LA. A place where he could do business that he had not wanted Laura to know about, perhaps, or just a place to hide if ever things had become too hot for 'Remington Steele'. A place of relative comfort, hidden in an abandoned building. There were movie posters on the walls, she realised then; and a series of shelves stacked with video tapes. All classic movies, no doubt. The Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant classics that he had always referenced, driving her to distraction in the process. Catching herself on the verge of another smile, she reverted it into a glower, and turned her attention instead to the ongoing phone call.
"No. No, it'll be okay, Lucy." She could only imagine who Lucy might be, though her brain immediately pictured her as some discouragingly beautiful blonde, with a wildly colourful past. Whoever she was, Steele obviously knew her well. "Yeah... Well I don't know. Maybe she decided to stop us from interfering. Grabbing the jewels before they ever get to the museum is as good a way as any. Anyway, I... No. No, stay put, for now at least, I... Well I'm sorry, I don't care about that. Keep the doors locked, stay away from the windows... Yes, and you know Eleanor Brock. She'll want to kill us anyway... I know, and I'm sorry, but I meant what I said when I made that promise... No, we haven't lost yet... I don't know yet. Not exactly. I'll get you those jewels, though... No, don't worry about that, I'll-- Yeah, I know." He sighed, and she watched his free hand go up to his face. He was rubbing his eyes, she knew, though she couldn't see it. She could hear the fatigue in his voice, too, and recognise it in his stance. Once upon a time she had known such signs well - the relaxing of his stiff, correct posture; the strengthening of his usually soft, almost inaudible Irish accent. His body language was different now, and his accent was different too, but still she found that she could detect the undercurrents. Apparently she still knew him better than she thought.
"Yes," he was saying, still talking to the mysterious Lucy at the other end of the telephone conversation. "It'll be okay... No, my cover as Trovian's man on the spot got blown. Oban checked up on me. It'll be alright though... No, really. I'm Remington Steele, remember? It'll be easy to make out that I was just telling white lies. Investigating the case from an unorthodox angle, you know. The police will be fine about it, if I run into them. Not that I'm planning to... Yes. Yes, exactly... There's nothing to tie me to anything shady... Yeah... Yeah, okay Lucy... Just keep your head down. I'll be in touch as soon as I can... Yes, and be ready to leave at a moment's notice... Sure. Okay, goodbye." He laughed faintly, at something that she said. "Something like that, yeah. Goodbye Lucy." With that he hung up. Laura watched him for a moment, standing there with his back to her, then climbed as quietly as she could into the room. He sighed, and she heard the faintest trace of laughter in the sound.
"Laura. I was wondering when you'd finally catch up." He had known? Her eyes widened, though she blanked her expression as quickly as she could, in readiness for when he turned around. She wouldn't let him see that she was surprised. "Did you hear much of the call?"
"Enough." There was venom in her voice. Anger and mistrust and resentment. "But if you think it's going to signpost your innocence, you're mistaken. You knew I was listening. You weren't exactly going to admit that you were behind that heist."
"True." He turned then, slowly, as though he suspected that she might be armed. "True. But you know that I was nowhere near that truck when the jewels went missing."
"Because that's a convincing alibi." It was disconcerting, being so close to him again. So many memories, good and bad. So much that they had shared, and so much that she had always wondered. He smiled a slight, crooked smile.
"Fair enough. But you know that I'm not guilty."
"I do?" She did of course, but she didn't trust him anyway. She may have heard only one side of the telephone conversation, and she had missed its beginning as well - but it had seemed clear to her that he had had every intention of stealing the jewels. That he had come to Los Angeles for that reason, and that, whoever had stolen them instead, he planned now to take them from in turn. 'Not guilty' was hardly the phrase that she would have chosen. 'Not guilty of one particular charge,' perhaps; but guilty, instead, of several hundred others. Several thousand others. His smile grew a little, and he took a step around the desk towards her.
"It's been ten years, Laura. Hardly a lifetime. I haven't changed that much. Neither have you, incidentally. You look... You look magnificent." His smile was bigger now, and more confident. "Really. The years have been kind to you."
"Really." Her voice was icily cold. Kind to her? They hadn't felt kind, when she was alone at night, and wondering if there had ever been anything she could have done to make him stay. Wondering if it was anything she had done that had made him leave. They hadn't felt kind, all those mornings when she had looked at herself in the mirror, and seen herself growing a little older every day; every day, with its memories, its tricks and its tribulations. Its strains and its stresses. The days when she thought of him, and the days when she didn't, all adding up into ten year's worth of days, and lines, and the first sprinklings of grey that were beginning to show in her hair. None of it had felt especially kind. The years had seemed to like him rather more, though. There was grey in his hair too, and lines on his face - more, perhaps, than on her own. But they seemed to suit him more than she thought that they suited her. They took away the smoothness that she remembered his face displaying before. They added character and maturity and strength; a strength that was echoed in his tougher, stronger frame. She was sure that the years hadn't made her stronger. Harder, perhaps; but not tougher, more agile, more athletic, the way they seemed to have made him. How did he get to look so good? It wasn't fair. He was still smiling, though, little lines crinkling in the corners of his familiar blue eyes.
"I'm a born liar, Laura," he told her, his voice even and warm, and the same as she remembered it and different. So different. "But I'm not lying now. You look... wonderful. Beautiful." She didn't know how to respond to that. She didn't feel beautiful. She felt middle-aged, and nervous about how young and beautiful this 'Lucy' might turn out to be. She wasn't sure that she had ever thought of herself as beautiful, though Steele had made her feel that way in the past. Until the night he had run out on her, and left her doubting everything. She frowned then, and her eyes burned with sudden hatred.
"Don't give me that. You always knew exactly what to say, but you're not winning me over now. The only things that you think are beautiful are jewels. Other people's jewels. You're nothing but a thief, and don't try to pretend that isn't why you're here now. There's nothing else that would have brought you back to Los Angeles. If there had been, you'd have been back long ago."
"Yeah." He looked away then, eyes drifting off to the window. "Laura..."
"Don't." She spat the word out. "Just... don't. I don't want to hear it. I don't want your lies and your excuses. I don't want your tricks. I don't want anything from you."
"Then why are you here?" His eyes were narrowed. "You didn't bring the police, you didn't bring a gun. All you brought was yourself, and you didn't even need to bring that. You could have sent Murphy."
"And had you beat him up again?"
"Murphy's tough. I didn't really hurt him." He had lowered his eyes at her comment, though, and she saw that she had stung him. That surprised her. He hadn't reacted when she had called him a thief, yet he didn't want her to think ill of him where Murphy was concerned. He knew how much Murphy meant to her, then; far more than any jewels could ever mean to anybody. Her own eyes narrowed.
"What's your point?"
"You came." He met her gaze evenly. "Why?"
"Why do you think?" It erupted out of her in a rush, then, although she didn't think that she had ever meant to raise the subject directly at all. "Ten years! You've been gone ten years, Steele! And damn it, I never wanted to call you that again. You left. I've spent ten years hating you, and even hating myself a whole lot of the time. Wondering, worrying. Thinking the worst and wishing it a lot of the time, too. And now you turn up, but not to find me, or to speak to me, or anything like that. No, you come back to steal some jewels. You and your accomplice. Well I wish I had brought a gun. A gun and some handcuffs, and the whole damn Los Angeles Police Department. Maybe an extradition warrant from that nice chief of police down in Acapulco."
He winced. "Laura..."
"Ten years, Steele."
"I know! Do you think I haven't noticed? Do you think I don't know what day it is today? I've felt every one of those years. I've thought about you so much. As much as I'd let myself. Laura, whatever you think of me, I never planned to leave you. I never meant for it to end the way that it did."
"So you improvised. Is that meant to make it any better?"
"You had Tony. He was outside when I left. He'd been trying to get hold of you all along, and don't think that I never noticed you wondering. You always had your eye on him. Something to fall back on, if I didn't pan out?"
Her eyes blazed. "That's uncalled for."
"I know. Though it's true. I left, yes. But I didn't leave you alone. I left you with a man waiting right outside the door, ready to take my place."
"And you really thought I'd turn to him?!" Her voice was rising, uncontrollable. "If I'd wanted Tony, I'd have chosen Tony. You think I wanted to go to him then? Or even weeks later, or months later? You think, when I finally realised that you weren't coming back - even if he was still waiting - that I'd turn to him? That I'd ever give him the opportunity to say 'I told you so'?" I didn't want Tony. I never did."
"I'm sorry." He looked humbled, awkward. She looked away.
"I went to Murphy. Eventually. Murphy and his wife. He at least I knew would never say that he'd told me so. Even though he'd warned me about you more times that anyone. Never Tony. It was never Tony."
"Good old Murphy, hey. Good old trustworthy Murphy." He didn't sound bitter or hateful. He almost sounded grateful. She glared at him anyway.
"Yeah. Good old Murphy. The one I could always trust. Remember trust? Little thing, rather important. The one thing we never had. Dependable, honest Murphy. There's a few other adjectives you don't know so well."
"Ouch." He stared at the floor for a moment, then looked up. "I'm sorry, Laura. For whatever it's worth, and I'm guessing that's not a lot, I'm sorry. I didn't intend to run out on you. I didn't want to hurt you. I wish I'd never answered that bloody phone, although it wouldn't have made any difference in the long run. He'd have got to me eventually."
"And however much it hurt when I left, think how much more it would have hurt if I'd left the morning after." He turned away, then turned back again, then sighed and let the words come in a - for him - weirdly straightforward tumble. "We got a lot of media attention at the end. A lot of people saw us. A lot of people all over the world, some of whom I'd hoped I'd left behind me. So I'm sorry, because at the end of the day it was my fault. Me and my past, and all the places I'd come from. He said he'd kill you if I didn't go to meet him. And I couldn't risk that. He wasn't the sort of man to play games with."
"Nobody you'd know. Fortunately. Just a... just a face, from the past. Someone I'd always wished I'd never met. He wanted me to do a job for him, and he knew just the way to make me do it. I didn't see that I had any choice, but I thought I could come back to you afterwards, and explain it all, and maybe have a chance to put everything right. Except that he wouldn't let me leave. And one job led to another, and another - and then I was wanted again, and he was dead, and everything was up in the air. I thought that I might still have a chance, with you--"
"But you didn't come back."
"No, I didn't. It was supposed to be so simple. A plane ride, a bottle of wine, a big apology. All smiles and sorries and flowers. But there was a reward, and somebody I thought was a friend turned out not to be."
"You were arrested?" The great Remington Steele - or whoever - arrested? She could hardly believe it. He nodded, and for a second there was a real hardness in his eyes.
"Prisons are different all over the world. I doubt I was in one of the worst. At any rate, it wasn't a lot of fun, and it was infernally secure, and I was going crazy thinking about you. I'd probably still be there, if I hadn't bribed a guard, but that took time, and careful work, and it was all a fight every step of the way. I was in there for more than a year before I finally managed to get out. And then I had to get out of the country, and the easiest route wasn't into the States. And by then... I'd been gone more than eighteen months. How was I going to go back to you then? It would have been hard enough before I was arrested, but afterwards seemed impossible. I didn't think you'd still be waiting. I didn't dare hope. It seemed easier not to find out, and I kept putting it off. You were always so... so different. So proper. That's not a criticism, Laura. It's a compliment, perhaps. But at any rate, you see the world differently to me and you always did, and I didn't know how to face you. You've always disapproved of what I am, and I'd tried so hard to be somebody different for you. I'd kept trying, but I could never really be anybody except me. Without a name, or a family, or any of the other things that you seemed to need. I'd tried to be normal, and honest, but I kept going back. Somebody kept resetting the clock. I could never be what you wanted, Laura, and life kept showing me that. So in the end I never went back. I didn't know how."
"Until those jewels came along."
"Tony or no, I thought you'd be in Denver."
"That much I figured out." She sighed, suddenly feeling very tired. "But would it have mattered, if you'd known?"
"No. No, I had to come. I owed it to someone."
"Arthur Webb?" The name came back to her from the newspaper article, and he frowned, clearly surprised that she had heard of the man.
"Yes. I owe Arthur. He was murdered for those jewels. The last ones that he needed. I promised that I'd finish the job for him, and I intend to do it. You can call the police - here or in Acapulco - but it won't change anything. I'll get those jewels eventually, one way or another."
"Somehow I believe you. Even if I can't believe anything else that you say." She wandered over to one of the chairs and sat down. "Eleanor Brock. Is she the one who stole them? Who had those four men killed? I heard you mentioning her on the phone."
"Yeah." He looked subdued momentarily. "Yeah. She killed Arthur, too. She's a dangerous woman, and there's nothing she won't do. You should keep away from me, Laura. She wants me dead, and probably the only reason I'm not that way already is that she wants Arthur's widow dead as well. A clean sweep. I don't want you to get mixed up in that."
"If you're in town, I already am mixed up in it. Like I can turn my back now." She scowled. "Great. Ten years on, and you're still managing to screw up my life."
"It's a talent." He looked hesitant, as though he wasn't sure whether to attempt some kind of apology again, or if it might be safer just to keep playing the rôle of incorrigible troublemaker. He settled on silence, but he smiled at her, and his blue eyes shone, and she couldn't help hating him. Hating him because it was simpler than the other things that she was beginning to feel. His eyes lowered suddenly, as though he was suddenly worried that he might be going too far too fast. Ever the con-man, she couldn't help thinking; reading the signs, responding to his mark, adapting his play accordingly. He was looking awkward now though, and there was nothing smooth, nothing pre-rehearsed or glib about him. If anything he looked a little nervous.
"So what happens now?" he asked. She frowned.
"You've found me. What happens now?"
"Oh." It was a good point. What did happen now? He hadn't done anything yet, so she couldn't hand him over to the police - but then she couldn't really have done that anyway. Could she? In her heart of hearts she didn't believe that he would say anything about Steele if she did. Her secrets would, probably, stay safe. She met his gaze and held it - cold and sincere.
"I don't like jewel thieves in my city."
He sounded cautious then. "Meaning?"
"Meaning that you do whatever the hell you want. I don't care, and I don't want any part of it. But if you steal those jewels, I'll come after you, and so will the police. I won't miss the chance to put that collection back where it belongs. The recognition it would bring to the agency would be too good to miss. A finder's fee would look pretty good to our accountant, too.
"You'd come after me?" He sounded hurt, but she kept her eyes hard. She couldn't let him get to her. Whether or not she believed his story, whether or not she understood why he had never come back, she had no intention of letting down her defences now. Not after all the years she had spent building them up. She just nodded.
"Steal those jewels, and you'll go to prison."
"I made a promise, Laura."
"Oh, I know." Her voice was harder still, then. "You made promises to me, too, years ago. All kinds of promises. What makes this one so special, when you broke all the others?"
"Cold, Laura." He sounded gently reproachful, but she could see by his eyes that her words had found their mark. He did still have a conscience, then, even if it was pretty dusty from years of disuse. She glared.
"Cold? You better believe it. Steal those jewels, and you'll go to prison."
"I've been to prison." He was meeting her halfway, matching her challenge, though with a spark of gamesmanship rather than with any of her ice. "I'm not going back. Better to be dead."
"Yeah. Right." His words had sounded dramatic, and had been intended to - but she had seen Steele complain at getting a mark on his shirt; at having to walk rather than drive - or more often be driven. He wouldn't willingly take death over anything. But on the other hand, for a man who didn't like a hair out of place, or a mark on his clothes; a man who didn't like any way other than the easy way; he looked very natural in those jeans, in that shirt, streaked with rust from the fire escape; with that shadow of stubble on his jaw, and his hair barely tamed. So different. She couldn't stop her eyes narrowing. "You don't mean that?"
He smiled suddenly. "I don't know. Sounds good, though, doesn't it."
She scowled. "Did Humphrey Bogart say it?"
"Humphrey Bogart?" He feigned confusion. "Humphrey Bogart was never a jewel thief. Or an ex-con, that I remember."
"Never mind. Leave town, Steele. Harry. Don't come back."
"It's Steele. And no." He smiled - a gentle, warm, infuriating smile, that recalled so many similar ones, with her wanting to melt into his arms. She had resisted then, though. No reason she shouldn't now.
"It is not Steele. And I am not going to let you take those jewels, especially using his name to do it. You've got a name these days. Why do you still want to hijack his?"
"Because Harry Chalmers isn't a respected private detective whose name makes doors open." He flashed her a wry look. "And because we both know that it was never really my name anyway."
"Oh. I thought--" She broke off at the sound of a car horn down in the street below. "I thought I was the only one who was suspicious about that. You seemed so pleased with the idea."
"Yeah. Well it was a good story, and it gave me the chance to play at being a proper member of society. At trying to be what I thought I needed to be, for you. When I lost you, it rather ceased to be so important. Then when I ran into the real Harry Chalmers... everything changed, I suppose."
"The real one?"
"Yes. In County Fermanagh. He was fostered, and his name was changed years ago. Funny, but it turns out that whatever his pedigree, he's as normal as you. Compulsive lying and permanently itchy feet can't be anything to do with genes after all." The car horn sounded again, and he looked up. "It's not that I was looking for him. Daniel knew that I wouldn't check up on the facts; that's what made it such a neat story, with it being what we'd both always wanted. I just stumbled into the man one night in a little pub in the middle of nowhere. I was always good at Maths, and all those two and twos just kept making neat little fours. I didn't say anything to him, but he said a lot to me. Most of it without words."
"For what? It was a story I never believed. A nice story, but not one that really mattered. It not like I've lost anything." The car horn blasted out once more, and he headed for the window. "It's Murphy. What the hell-?"
"I've been expecting him." She went over to the window, peering out into the street. Murphy was standing beside her car, leaning in through the window to beat up the horn at irregular intervals. She waved to him, and he waved back with obvious relief. "He's quite the bloodhound, you know."
"You have some kind of homing device?" Clearly he didn't believe in Murphy's amazing tracking skills. She had to smile.
"My mobile phone. Murphy and I don't like to take risks. Not anymore."
"Getting staid in your middle age?" It was a mild tease of a question, but she purposefully responded with something that she knew would hurt.
"No. We just don't have the murder, robbery and extortion magnet working alongside us now. We rather like it that way."
"Ouch." He stepped back from the window, clearly not enthralled by the prospect of watching Murphy climb towards them. Laura felt a burst of regret for having spoken so shortly. For a moment longer she watched Murphy, then she looked back inside the room. It looked darker after the brightness of the daylight, and Steele seemed darker still; an indistinct patch, with an invisible expression, his eyes apparently staring into nothingness. A car ride, so early in their relationship. He was upset at the death of a friend, and she was trying to choose a name for him. A name other than Steele, that she could use when they were alone. He had had that same expression on his face then - and she, of all things, had chosen to call him Harry that night. The feeling of regret deepened.
"I'm sorry," she heard herself saying. "About Harry Chalmers. The real one. I'm sorry you still don't know who you really are."
"I never did." He surprised her with a bright flash of a smile. "I never believed that Daniel's story was anything other than wishful thinking. Like I said, I haven't lost anything."
"All the same." She felt awkward, and wasn't sure why. "I'm sorry."
"Thankyou." As Steele spoke, Murphy's head appeared through the window, and the con-man's body language changed instantly. Laura saw it wash over him; the slamming down of barriers, the defences being readied. Murphy didn't see anything, but then he had eyes only for Laura.
"Are you alright?" He climbed into the room, taking her hand for a brief moment. She nodded.
"Fine. Everything's fine."
"No it's not." He shot a furious glance at Steele. "He's using Steele's name to go after jewels again. He's likely to take us down with him, so don't go letting him get to you like before. He'd bad news, Laura. He always was."
"Really bad." The sarcasm in Steele's voice was faint, but somehow all the stronger for that. "All your worst nightmares, hey Murph?"
"What a surprise. It's all a joke to you." Murphy took a threatening step towards Steele, but Laura interceded quickly. Suddenly she was no longer wistful and confused and uncertain. Suddenly she was a referee trying to make players calm down, or a mother trying to get her children to behave. Somehow the latter seemed more fitting. Murphy capitulated readily enough, though his eyes still snarled at Steele. He retreated to the window and sat down on the sill. It might have been a simple retreat, but the fact that it also served as a neat way of blocking the most obvious escape route wasn't missed by Laura or by Steele. "They know about him at the museum," he continued, clearly certain that he had to save Laura from herself. "By now the head curator will have given his description to the police."
"It doesn't matter." Laura might have been angry with Steele over that point, but she had overheard his comment to the mysterious Lucy, and could see the sense in what he had said. "He may be a fraud, but he's still Remington Steele. All he has to do is talk to the police, and they'll stop investigating him."
"He's not Remington Steele." Murphy looked disgusted. "He never was. Look, the manager of that museum was all ready to spread the word about him being a thief. About Steele being a thief. If he's spoken to the police, then that's exactly what he's going to have told them. And you know what that could mean for the agency."
"It doesn't matter." Steele tried to sound patient, for getting cross with Murphy now would certainly not help his case with Laura. "So I lied to old Oban. The police will buy that as a ruse to get me closer to the action to help solve the case. I haven't got the jewels. I didn't steal them--" His eyes darted over to Laura-- "yet. And they can't prove that I did."
"They can prove what they like." Murphy folded his arms. "And your stories won't buy you anything, 'Steele'. I had to think on my feet, and come up with something to stop your buddy Oban putting us all in hot water."
"What did you say?" Suddenly urgent, Steele halved the distance between them before coming to a sharp halt. Murphy smiled, though he didn't really seem to be enjoying the situation.
"I told him that Steele had a double. Some crook who's been trying to impersonate him. I told him that I know Mr Steele - the real Mr Steele - personally, and that he's still in Europe. So the police will be after you, and they won't believe that you were telling lies to help with your investigation. Because you don't have an investigation. Your cover's blown. Most of the police you used to deal with have moved on or retired, and you've changed enough from your old pictures ten years ago to be taken for an impersonator now. You'll be lucky to make it out of the country, with the police operation that'll be mounted to get a collection like that back where it belongs."
"Where it belongs is very much a matter for debate." Steele's voice was level, his eyes unreadable, though his body language suggested real tension. He drew in a deep breath. "Congratulations. It was a good story. Everybody loves a good evil double, running about the place and making things all dramatic."
"Yeah." Murphy's sense of triumph was short lived, especially with Laura in the room. "Well it wasn't intentional. Like I said, I had to think on my feet. I had to think about the business, and about Laura and me."
"We'd better go to the police." Laura felt tired, the long night catching up with her again. "Explain that it was a misunderstanding, and that you're the real Remington Steele."
"Are you kidding?!" Murphy was scandalised. "He's no more the real Steele than I am!"
"Murph, come on." She reached out for his hand, and gave it a quick squeeze. "It wouldn't really be fair to let them arrest him. And besides, he doesn't have the jewels. Letting the police chase after him - however satisfying - will only divert their attention away from the real thief."
"Your concern is touching, Laura." Arching an eyebrow, Steele shot her a look that was part sarcastic rejoinder, and part genuine smile. For some reason it was growing harder to meet those smiles with a glare, and she lowered her eyes. She didn't need to be looking to know that he was now smiling more broadly than ever. Murphy sighed.
"He really didn't take the jewels?!"
"Murphy..." Steele sounded hurt. "Four men killed? A truck heist? I ask you - would the great Remington Steele risk sullying his reputation in an operation like that?"
"The 'great Remington Steele' wouldn't, no. But then you are not the great Remington Steele. Try to remember that. Just occasionally."
"Oh for goodness sakes, you two." Laura rolled her eyes. It had to be fourteen years at least since she had last been in a room with the pair of them, but time had done nothing to calm their animosity. They were spitting sparks at each other just as though the fighting had never stopped. "You have to talk to the police." She hesitated, caught momentarily when she realised that she had been about to slip back into calling him 'Mr Steele'. He wasn't getting that. Compromising, she dropped the 'Mister'. "And Murphy and I better go too."
"Why do I have to go to the police?" Steele had a wary look about him. She glared.
"To tell them about Eleanor Brock. To stop the entire police department from wasting all their time looking for you."
"And also on the off chance that they might arrest you, and throw away the key," contributed Murphy, clearly unable to resist. Steele favoured him with a particularly withering glare.
"If I go to the police, I'll have to tell them how I know about Eleanor Brock. Which is by no means a simple story."
"You're Remington Steele. Tell them that you've been investigating her."
"You don't investigate Eleanor Brock. You discover her name, and then you wind up dead. It's a familiar pattern." He shook his head. "It won't work, Laura. I can tell the police about her, but they can't check the facts, or wire anyone for more information."
"Doesn't necessarily matter."
"Yes it does." He sighed. "We have to have a good story. If they don't believe it, then we're stuck in a far worse situation than we're in now. I can claim to be Steele, but they've already got reason to believe that I'm not. You insisting that I am can put you and Murphy into a pretty damn precarious position, and I don't really intend on doing that. If they don't believe it, and if they don't manage to track Brock down - which they won't - then they're left with the next best thing. Me, without a leg to stand on. Plus the two of you, looking like a right pair of lemons, apparently not even knowing whether or not I'm the real Remington Steele. It's a recipe for disaster."
"Damn." Murphy looked distinctly disgruntled. "I must be more tired than I thought, because that actually seemed to make real sense."
"But if you don't go to the police--" began Laura. Steele held up a hand to silence her.
"If I don't go to the police, you two stay out of trouble."
"And your friend Brock gets away." Laura shook her head. "No. Not after she's killed four men."
"She won't get away. Not scot-free, at any rate. There's no way I'm going to let her keep those jewels."
"I've already made it quite clear how I feel about you and those jewels." Laura was standing firm. "You steal them, you go to jail."
"Not if I don't steal them in this country." He was challenging her now, quite openly. "There's no alternative, Laura. I can't go to the police. They won't get her on their own."
"Then we get her." It didn't seem to have come to Laura in a flash; she seemed to have been considering it for some time. "Why not?"
"Because we don't do things like that anymore." Murphy sounded worried. "Damn it, Laura. Ten minutes back with this joker and you're talking about risking your life and capturing criminals again. We don't do that now."
"It would be great for the agency." She looked over at Murphy. "You know it would."
"Yeah, sure. Until You Know Who runs off with the jewels." He shook his head. "You know how I feel about this guy, Laura. How I always felt about him. He's a liar and a thief, and he can't be trusted. I shouldn't have to tell you that."
"You don't." She looked uncomfortable. "You don't. But this could work, Murphy. And if it does, we'll be turning away work. Once the papers get hold of the story of the theft, this is going to become high profile. It's bound to. There's already a story connected to those two brown diamonds because of Arthur Webb, and the rest of the collection is hardly uninteresting. We'd be the ones capturing the thief. It's perfect."
"It's lunacy." Murphy was grumbling, but she was sure that he would agree. He always did, in the end. Steele frowned, looking oddly thoughtful, eyes sizing up his two former colleagues.
"You're sure about this, Laura? Brock's a dangerous woman. She's not some dowdy old housewife who's cheating on her husband."
"You think that's all we do nowadays?" Her eyes flashed. "We can handle this. Tell him Murphy."
"Yeah." Steele grinned. "Tell him Murphy."
"It's nuts." Murphy wasn't in the mood to tell Steele anything except to shut up. "Absolute nuts. Laura..."
"On the other hand..." The smile fading away, seriousness apparently returning, Steele nodded. "It could work. We've got the perfect bait for her, and you can guarantee she'll have the jewels with her. Typical criminal mind. She doesn't trust anyone."
"Bait?" Laura frowned. "You?"
"You always did have a good deductive mind, Laura." He nodded. "Yes. Me. Eleanor Brock hates loose ends. She wants me dead. Given the chance, she'll kill me if she can, because she knows that I'll come after her for the jewels." He shrugged. "Well, and because... because she just wants me dead, really. Me and Lucille."
"And you think we can wait until she comes after you, and then grab her and the jewels?" Laura frowned. "It does sound like it could work."
"Work?!" Murphy was aghast. "Laura, listen to yourself! You're talking about going after a murderer!"
"Come on, Murphy. Where's your spirit of adventure?" Standing up tall, the old body language there again, and the old voice; suddenly Steele was his old self again. Laura had to smile. Jeans and rust-covered shirt aside, he was just as she remembered him, and she almost laughed at the sudden peculiar joy of it. Murphy was less amused.
"My sense of adventure?"
"Yes. Fighting the bad guys, gathering up the boodle. Just like we used to do. We don't need the flatfoots."
"Flatfoots?" Murphy rolled his eyes. "Oh great. He's turning into an old Hollywood cliché again."
"Come on, Murph. The Three Musketeers! Holmes, Watson and... Well, maybe not that one."
"Holmes, Watson and Moriarty?" Murphy laughed. "Sounds about right to me."
"Yes, well, fair point." Eyes bright, the suddenly irrepressible Steele renewed his off-beat persuasion. "At any rate, that was us before, and it could be us now. Simon Templar, Monty, and the daring Patricia Holm!"
"They were jewel thieves," put in Murphy. Steele ignored him. Laura began to laugh.
"He could be right, Murph. Look, we can do this."
"Of course we can. You can have Eleanor Brock gift-wrapped for the Chief of Detectives before he's even marshalled his troops. What do you say?"
"I say that you're nuts. I say that he's only saying this because he stands a better chance of getting the jewels this way. Far better to get them from us than to go after a murderer on his own. How the hell can we trust this guy, really?"
Laura arched an eyebrow. "The ball is back in your court, Steele."
"Fine." He nodded. "Then I'll give you the same deal that I did once before. I won't touch them while they're your responsibility. I won't steal them from you."
"Just so that we're clear." She fixed him with an intense stare. "I plan to see that those jewels are returned to Jacques Trovian. Their rightful owner."
"Their rightful owner? The Honeymoon Diamonds belong to Arthur Webb. The rest of the collection..." He shrugged, with a rather degenerate grin. "It's up for grabs, shall we say."
"Whatever. If you don't steal them from us, that means you'd have to steal them from police custody." Murphy was smiling too now. "I'm happy with that. You don't stand a chance, and you'll be in custody right alongside them before you can say 'No bail'."
"Age has not improved your sense of humour, has it Murphy." Steele looked from one to the other of them. "Well?"
"I'm in." Murphy shrugged. "It's nuts, but I'm in. You are sure that she'll come after you though? You're only any good as bait if we're sure about that."
"She'll come. If I tell her where I am in the right way, she'll come. Chances are she wants Lucy too, or she'd have killed me last night. Either that or she wanted me alive to see her get hold of the jewels."
"Who is this Lucy?" asked Murphy. Steele smiled faintly.
"Lucille Webb. Widow of Arthur Webb, and a very special lady."
"Lucy..." Laura was confused. "But your accomplice is called Lucy. That person you were talking to when I got here. That was the widow of this jewel thief?"
"Yes." There was a certain note of fondness in Steele's voice. Laura was still frowning.
"But she must be old by now."
"Depends on your definition of the word. She's sixty-three." Sixty-three, tough as shoe leather, and always ready and able to take on the world. There was no thief like an old thief, as the old proverb didn't say. Unfortunately. "All of which leads me to a certain request."
"If it involves you being alone with the jewels, no." Laura folded her arms. "What is it?"
"It's Lucy. When you take Brock to the police, there's could be trouble. There's no telling what she'll say, and I want Lucy well out of the way before that happens. So when you get Brock, I want you to wait a few hours. Let Lucy get a head start, out of the country. It can't hurt. We can make sure that Brock is secure, and the jewels too. Just don't turn them in until the morning."
"We can't all decamp to my house for the night with a jewel thief and her loot." Laura shook her head. "No."
"We can make sure that she can't escape. Look, we take Lucy to the airport, we put her on an aeroplane, and we give her a sporting chance. She might not be able to get away later. You'll have your thief, and your accolades. Your jewels to return to their 'rightful' owner. I'm throwing away my own chance of getting those jewels for you, so that you can do this. It's not much to ask in return."
"He's got an angle, Laura." Murphy couldn't trust Steele no matter how heartfelt the plea. Steele shot him a brief look.
"She's a sixty-three year old woman. She can't hurt anyone, and she doesn't want to. You really want to see her taken into custody? I don't know what might happen to her then, and she's my responsibility. I owe her."
"If it's not safe for her to stay, it's not safe for you either," pointed out Laura. Steele shook his head.
"I'm not running out on this before Brock is in custody. You might need the help. I can stay away from the police, anyway. I've done it plenty of times before. I just don't know if Lucy is up to it. Laura, the minute the police get hold of Brock, she's going to start telling them all kinds of tales, and believe me, Lucy and I will not want to be within shooting distance of the police just then. Or for some time afterwards. We can use Murphy's story about me being an impostor to keep you out of trouble, but once that woman is in custody, I plan to follow Lucy out of town by the swiftest route possible." He shrugged, looking faintly dismissive. "I can always set things straight with the police another time. Regain my favourite alias. Provided none of them gets a good look at me now."
"Set things straight another time?!" Murphy's eyes practically leaped from his head. "Like hell you will!" Steele just smirked at him, and he shook his head in disgust. "Let Brock get the pair of them, Laura. The police can pick her up for murder, then, and really throw the book at her."
"Murph..." Laura shot him an exasperated look. "Steele... damn it, I hate having to call you that... Yes, alright. We'll let her get away before we do anything." She held up a hand to forestall Murphy's complaints. "Just as long as you can promise me that she's not some criminal mastermind herself."
"Lucy? She's done a few burglaries in her time, but none in the last twenty years. Her arthritis rather gets in the way. Trust me, she's no Eleanor Brock."
"Somehow whenever you say 'trust me', that's the last thing I feel inclined to do." She sighed. "What's the plan? You said you had to let Brock know where you are in the right way."
"Yes." He nodded. "A few of those jewels are too well known. The blue diamonds, for instance. She'll want to off-load them before she goes back overseas, and there's only one fence I know of in the whole of this state who's likely to take them off her. Charlie Haymes. He's a jeweller who runs a grotty little place near here."
"And Brock knows about him?" asked Laura. Steele nodded.
"He's known to half the crooks in the jewel business. Doesn't matter how hot something is, he'll always take it off your hands."
"So you'll feed him false information?" He nodded.
"It won't be difficult. She'll come after me and Lucy, we'll grab her, and then you can hand her over to the authorities. Charlie too if necessary." He looked sorrowful. "I'll be sad to see him gone, but he's a slimy little toad when he wants to be, and he'll be falling over himself to betray me for a price. Serves him right."
"When will you speak to him?" asked Murphy. He was still not happy with the situation, but he was no longer going to argue. He could see that Laura had made up her mind. Steele shrugged, and glanced at his watch.
"No time like the present. I'll get down there now."
"Oh your own? Not likely." Murphy stood up, obviously intending to go along. Steele rolled his eyes.
"Murphy, much as I enjoy your company, it'll only lead to awkward questions. It's far better if I go alone. I'll go over to brief Lucy when I've finished."
"Bring her to my place. We might as well all get together." Laura scribbled her address on a piece of paper torn from a pad on the desk. Steele took it, glanced at it, then folded it up and slipped it into a pocket.
"Fine. But with the story Murphy gave to the police, you might have a house full of detectives in the next couple of hours. I can't risk coming to you while they might still be around."
"Here." He went over to one of the shelves, all but groaning under the weight of collected video tapes, and lifted down something covered in dust. It seemed to be a metal lantern; clearly solidly built, and apparently very old. He handed it to Laura, surprising her with its weight.
"What is it?" she asked. Up close it was clearly an antique; a beautiful piece of work. He smiled, the roguish tint in his eyes lighting them up and suggesting, as always, at a number of nefarious deeds.
"It's a smugglers' lamp. They used them to signal to each other back in the old days. You put that in your window; the one most visible from the road. If it's on, I'll know that the coast is clear, and that it's safe for Lucy and I to come on up. If the lamp is dark, I'll know that the police are still around. It's easy to light. You just need a match."
"Okay. I suppose." She looked down at it, admiring it for several moments, and deciding that it was best not to ask how he had come by it. "The police shouldn't have too much to say to me. With luck you won't have to wait long."
"Just be sure of what you have to tell them. Once the police have Brock, she's sure to tell them about me, and I don't want you tarred by that brush. As far as everybody is concerned, the only Steele in town is an impostor."
"Fine by me." Murphy's eyes were bright with the sparks of confrontation. Steele nodded.
"I thought it might be. Just keep on the ball, the pair of you."
"Oh, we will." Murphy was watching him with newly intense interest. "And while we're getting a good boost for our reputation, what exactly are you getting out of all this?" Steele hesitated.
"Getting rid of somebody who wants me dead isn't enough?" he asked after a moment. Murphy's glare deepened.
"How many people are there around the world who want you dead? That's no reason."
"Call it old times sake, then Murphy. Doing a favour for some friends." Steele's eyes grew distant. "Paying a little something back, perhaps." He shrugged. "Or perhaps the truth is that I'd rather not go after Brock alone. We all like shiny jewels, but they're far less fun when you're dead."
"Meaning you still have your eye on them."
"Meaning..." For a second Steele looked as though he might have been about to argue. Then he smiled suddenly, in a particularly devilish fashion. "Meaning that eyes and fingers are two different things." His eyes flickered back to Laura. "I'll be in touch. See yourselves out."
"Now hang on a minute--" Murphy was moving to block the way again, but Steele was already climbing out of the window. Murphy caught hold of his arm for a moment, as though wondering whether to prevent his leaving, but he reconsidered as soon as his eyes met with Steele's. For some reason that he couldn't understand, he saw something in those eyes that he trusted, and he let go of the arm. Steele smiled briefly and was gone.
"You okay Laura?" The question came automatically, even before Murphy had turned back to her. When he did turn, he wasn't sure what to make of the expression on her face.
"I'm okay." She smiled her bright, familiar smile. "Really. I mean, I still feel like I could cheerfully club him to death with the nearest blunt object, but I feel fine." She laughed slightly. "I always thought if I met him again I'd be a mess, but... I don't think I am."
"You don't sound too sure."
"No." She seemed hesitant all of a sudden, and Murphy gave her a hug, not entirely sure what else to do.
"I guess you must feel pretty weird." He was at something of a loss. "It's hardly been an ordinary morning." She laughed then, and he was glad.
"Ordinary? No, it hasn't been that."
"You want a drink? We've still got that scotch back at the office."
"No. Clear heads all round, I think." She headed for the window. "You can buy me some blueberry pancakes, though."
"And that's all you want?" He was dubious, worried that perhaps she was taking this rather too well. She merely smiled, a distant look just failing to be hidden by her otherwise confident eyes.
"There's lots of things I want, Murph. Let's just focus on the here and now, shall we?" She began to climb out of the window. Her step might have faltered as she climbed down the ladder; her mind might have wandered on the way down; but she didn't let herself dwell on all that had happened. She didn't let herself think about the man who was so suddenly back in her life. She had a crime to focus her mind upon first. A murderer to catch, and stolen jewels to recover. Only after that was dealt with could she see what her heart and mind really needed. Only then could she let herself come undone.
Lucy was sitting at the window, drinking a cup of tea and pretending to read a lifestyle magazine when Steele returned. He swung in through the window, ignored her completely, and sat down on the end of the bed. Lucy set down her cup of tea.
"Well that wasn't at all melodramatic. Do you want to talk?"
"Not really." He seemed about to say something else, then lapsed into silence. Lucy sighed.
"And what happened to the door? You are allowed to use it occasionally."
"Avoiding the usual routes." He ran a hand through his hair, obviously tired. "The police will be looking for me all over the place by now. Slight snag."
She was immediately serious. "Are we pulling out?"
"No." His expression hardened. "No. And if I'm going down, I'm bloody well taking Brock with me. We're going to set her up."
"Are we indeed. Well isn't that nice." By the tone of her voice, it clearly wasn't. "Look at me, Danny."
"Huh?" He glanced up at her, surprised, and she came over to sit beside him.
"Wrong? Nothing's wrong. Don't you want to get her?"
"She murdered my husband - not that either of us will ever be able to prove it. Of course I want to 'get her'. But that's beside the point. Danny, how long have I known you?"
"Long enough." He shot her a sidelong glance. "Probably too long. Why?"
"Because I know you. Look at you. Listen to you. You sound like you just left Dublin - by the hard route. You never sound that rough around the edges unless something is very wrong; or unless you're really at the end of your tether. What's happened?"
"Everything." For a second his head hung down, resting in his hands, then he sat up straight again, and regained control. "I saw her. Laura."
"Oh. So that's it." Lucy considered putting an arm around him, but held back. He had never been much of one for that sort of thing, and probably wouldn't appreciate it now. "Did you speak to her?"
"Yes." And how. They had talked for what seemed like hours, but all through her accusations and her anger, he wasn't sure that he had ever really argued his own point of view. Just told her what had happened, without the details. Without the things that he really wanted to tell her; that he still loved her, whatever she thought of him. That he had always loved her. That the last ten years, not to mention today's anniversary, were just as hard for him as they were for her. It felt as though he was, yet again, being clothed in the colours of the bad guy. But there was at least one thing that he could do to make amends.
"And?" asked Lucille. He looked away.
"And we're helping her to grab Brock. It'll be good for her agency. I guess I owe her that much, since I cost her her last business."
"That's not exactly what I mean, Danny. You're sitting there looking like a love-struck teenager, and sounding like your heart's been broken. Are you going to be okay?"
"Love-struck teenager? I don't think I ever felt like this when I was a teenager." He sounded terribly tired. "But we don't have time to talk now. We should get moving."
"Danny, there's always time if you need to talk." This time she did put a hand on his shoulder, and was immediately worried by how tense he felt. "You've spent the last ten years missing that woman, and now you've run into her again. You're allowed to be shaken up. You're allowed to take some time out."
"No." He stood up then. "I've just been to Charlie's. I told him that we're going to be at a café I know, later this afternoon. I made out that you wanted to talk to him somewhere neutral, about maybe selling some of Arthur's collection."
"You did what?" She was shocked. "I would never part with that collection. Not even the smallest piece. Danny--"
"It's not what you think." He sat down on the windowsill, facing her. "Brock wants us dead. We know that, right?"
"If you say so. I don't doubt that she wants you dead, but I can't think what she'd really want with me."
"She's Eleanor Brock. Who knows what motivates her? Anyway, that's not important. The important thing is that she'll have business with Charlie. She'll go to see him."
"So you're setting us up as targets?" She frowned. "I thought you said Charlie was a friend?"
"He is, after a fashion. There's no way he'll pass up the chance to sell me out for the kind of money that Eleanor can promise him, though."
"So we go to this café, and Brock comes trying to kill us, and your... friend... does some kind of citizen's arrest? What about the Honeymoon Diamonds?"
"We'll worry about them later. I'll get them, if not this time around then when Trovian gets them back to Europe. His security system can't be that good."
"Arthur couldn't crack it. And you, my boy, may be good, but you've never been as good as him. You really think that getting Brock under arrest is worth the risk of not getting the diamonds? If we could prove that she killed Arthur, I'd be the first in line to help, but you know that that's not going to happen. You're only doing this for Laura Holt, aren't you."
"I'll get the Honeymooners, Lucille."
"I don't doubt it. Right now I'm more worried about all of this." She sighed. "You really think she'll take the bait?"
"She'll take it. She killed Arthur; she killed Bob Ray in Berlin. Two days after she beat Samantha Galton to the Challis necklace, Samantha washed up on a beach with the back of her head blown off. And the list doesn't stop there."
"She killed Samantha Galton?" Lucy looked stunned. "I thought that was just a random thing. The police thought she went on some dates with the wrong sort of men?"
"The police would. What do they know about Brock? Only the people on our side of the law know about her, and most of them only find out when it's too late. She killed Rajesh Khan because they were both after the same antique watch."
"Time was that I knew the international scene. Now it seems that it's left me behind." She nodded. "Alright, I believe you. She's likely to come after us. But the Honeymoon Diam--"
"They're not worth your life. I'd rather get to the jewels before the police get hold of them, but we'll have to play that by ear."
"And you're sure that your plan is going to work?"
"Charlie won't let me down. Or rather he will, but that's rather the point. You shouldn't be in any danger. Not if I can help it."
"I can take care of myself." She sounded haughty. "You're the one that I'm worried about. This thing with your wife..."
"She's not my wife. Ten years without laying eyes on each other hardly qualifies us as man and wife. Right now she probably never wants to see me again."
"You have to deal with this, Danny. You can't wonder for ten years what would happen if you met again, and then sit here and mope about it when it does happen."
"Yes I can. I assure you that I can mope with the best of them. I have years of experience."
"I know." He met her gaze with remarkable forthrightness. "I love her, and it's killing me. I've loved her for ten years without being able to see her; and now I've seen her again, and I've realised that however much I thought I loved her, it's really ten times worse. I want to take the last ten years back, and put it all right. I want to have been her husband the way I was supposed to be. I want her to look at me the way she used to, instead of the way she did today. All that's gone."
"I'm sorry." She meant it, but either he wasn't in the mood to be comforted, or he didn't find her terrible consoling. He just stood up and gestured to the window.
"This way, or the door? I don't think there's any chance of the police having tracked me down here yet. If Brock hasn't, I doubt they have."
"Danny." She was worried about him, and was trying to be sure that he knew it. He wasn't playing along.
"We should be going." He fetched her coat and held it for her, playing the rôle of gentleman as he had always loved to do. She let him have his way, but she pinned him with a sharp stare all the while.
"What are you going to say to her?" she asked. He sighed.
"Well doing nothing is hardly an answer!"
"I can't stay with her. I can't stop her thinking the worst of me. Anyway, it's all irrelevant now. Business first."
"Business? Is that what you call it?" Lucy climbed out of the window. "I'm getting too old for this."
"Like hell you are." Steele followed her out. "And not a word to Laura."
"You don't want me matchmaking?"
"Well let me think... No."
"I can tell her some charming stories about you. Maybe change her mind that way?"
"You could, yes." He shot her a deeply disparaging look. "But we're several floors up just at the moment, you know. And this is a fairly rickety fire escape."
"Point taken." She flashed him a sad look, but his attention was already elsewhere. Whatever he had been living with for the last ten years, it seemed to be a part of him now. Her perseverance wasn't going to have the slightest effect.
"Where are we going?" she asked, as they reached the roof, and he struck out in what seemed to be a westerly direction. He stopped to help her onto the roof of the next building along.
"Well that's good. If she's inviting you home, it can't be absolutely terminal, can it."
"Did you take lessons in hopeless optimism, or is it some natural design fault?"
"I should have an extremely rude answer to that." She snatched at his hand for support clambering over a skylight. "And I'm definitely getting too old for this."
"Well try not to get any older for the next few hours." The sound of a police siren floated up from the street below them, and he slowed to a halt, looking over the edge of the roof. "I hate that noise."
"I've done a good job of avoiding it all of my life." She joined him in staring down, watching the police car drive away. "I've been in this job forty years, and I've never had the police after me. So that you'd notice, anyway. I don't know how you do it."
"Neither do I." He began to lead the way onward again. "Maybe it's genetic."
"Maybe." They clambered over onto another roof. "How far have we got to go? And how far before we have a big jump over onto the next roof?"
"We won't go the whole way up here." He pulled Laura's address from his pocket. "She's living in a fairly upmarket part of town by the look of this. We'll have to take a taxi."
"What a shame." She looked at the address over his shoulder. "Upmarket part of town, hey? Looks like she's doing well for herself then?"
"We're not stealing from her. Or are you suggesting that I try to claim alimony?"
"No, I'm suggesting you swallow your pride, behave impeccably, and see if you can't move in. A nice house and a fixed address would do you the world of good, Danny. You could be respectable again."
"Another lifetime." If he was thinking about her suggestion, he did not allow himself to do so for long. He had long ago learnt how not to think of Laura Holt.
He lapsed into silence for the rest of the journey, speaking only when it was time to descend into the street, and in order to communicate briefly with the driver of the cab that they hailed. It was not a long ride, but long enough for the buildings to change into newer, brighter ones than before, with better tended, cleaner streets and larger, more showy cars parked in front of the houses. Laura's address proved to be a tall building with a long flight of steps leading up to the door, and an array of hanging baskets and neatly shaped bushes decorating the front. Steele had the driver go on past the building, but the wink of a small light in one of the windows reassured him. He paid the man without a word, offered Lucy a hand out of the car, and led the way up to the front door. Laura let them in, and gave the impression that she had been waiting anxiously for some time.
"Lucille, Laura. Laura, Lucille." Steele performed the introductions without great ceremony, finishing just as Murphy appeared out of one of the adjacent rooms. "And that's Murphy. But don't hold it against him."
"Very funny." Murphy shook Lucy's hand, offering her a smile that neatly masked his faint disapproval of all things Steele-related. "Murphy Michaels, ma'am. Glad to meet you."
"Yes, it is good to meet you." Laura had wondered at the idea of a woman for whom Steele was prepared to do anything - the notion that she and her husband must at some time have meant a very great deal to him. Somehow she had found herself expecting all kinds of things - old, bent, white-haired; big, strong, powerful; sylph-like, to aid her in her days as a thief. Instead Lucy was very ordinary looking, at least in height and build. Her hair, half blonde, half silvery white, suggested age, but her face not unduly so. Her eyes were extremely vigorous, and they scanned both Laura and Murphy very carefully.
"Danny trusts you," she said, with a note of marked suspicion in her voice. Her accent was English; well-spoken, but with a hint of the north still remaining. "I don't tend to be so accepting. Just so you know."
"That's okay." Murphy's smile was disarming. "I've never trusted Steele. So we can all distrust each other quite happily." He looked over at Steele. "Danny?"
"Daniel O'Doyle. It's the name he was using when I met him, and it's the one he's been stuck with ever since." Lucy looked shrewdly at Murphy. "Well you've certainly got the history together, haven't you. Tell me, is it just macho one-upmanship, or are you both jealous of the other's relationship with Miss Holt here?"
"Huh?" Rather taken aback, Murphy reddened slightly. "I don't--"
"Ignore her, Murphy." Steele glared daggers at his travelling companion. "You have to make allowances for dementia at her age."
"Ha. You always know when you're getting close to the truth with Danny." Lucy sounded satisfied. "He gets insulting."
"If we can just drag ourselves away from the finger pointing and the annoying introductions..." Steele looked over at Laura. "We have a thief to round up. I told Charlie that Lucy and I would be at Walter's Café this afternoon. I made it late afternoon. We've got to give Brock enough time to get in touch with him."
"And you're sure that she will?" Laura led the way into the living room, and they all sat down. Only Steele remained on his feet, pacing restlessly beside the window where the smugglers' lamp burned.
"She will. Today."
"You that certain that it's this Charlie she'll go to with the jewels?" asked Murphy. Steele shrugged.
"Sure enough. We've got to try, though, right? The alternative is to leave her to the police - who don't have a chance - and besides, Laura wants this."
"I don't want to miss the chance of at least trying." Laura gave him a sharp look. "Anyway, if we don't get her, you'll go after her alone, won't you."
"Not her, no. Just the jewels. Lucy and I can disappear if we have to. She wants us dead, but she doesn't have to succeed. I'd just leave her alone."
"It would be nice to think that we'd see justice done." Lucy spoke up very quietly. Steele nodded.
"I'm sorry that we can't. And I wish I could tell you that this is the next best thing. Even if it isn't."
"I know." Lucy smiled at him sadly. "And you're a good boy for caring." She looked over at Laura. "So. We're the bait, and you and Mr Michaels here are the trap? When do we get started?"
Laura glanced at her watch. "We have some kind of timetable, Steele?"
"I told Charlie we'd be there at five." Steele checked his watch. "We've still got time to spare."
"I'll make us some coffee." Laura disappeared off to the kitchen, and Lucy shot Steele a sharp glance. He frowned.
"What?! She might appreciate some help."
"I'll go." Murphy started to rise to his feet, but Lucy caught his hand.
"No. You stay here, Mr Michaels. Talk me through this trap business. I'm not quite sure what's expected of me."
"You're not, huh." Murphy sat back down. "Looks to me like you know exactly what to do."
"Matters of the heart are very different to matters of law enforcement." She shot another sharp glance at Steele. "Well go on then!"
"I'm..." He sighed. "I'm going. Keep one hand on your valuables and the other on your sanity, Murphy. She'll have both off you given the chance." With this parting shot he went after Laura, hunting out her kitchen. She looked up at him as he came in.
"I was expecting Murphy."
"He got waylaid." He looked about. "Nice. You've done well for yourself, Laura. I'm glad."
"I was always good at my job." Her tone turned sharp. "Even if somebody else did keep taking all the credit."
"Yeah." He had the grace to look abashed. "Well I'm glad that your business is doing so well, anyway." He fell in beside her, hovering, trying to help but hampered by the fact that he didn't know where anything was. "So, er... you ever hear anything from Mildred?"
"You care?" She sighed, regretting the ice in her voice. "Yes, occasionally. She wound up in Oregon, back in the accountancy business. Retired now."
"And Miss Wolf?"
"Ten years without a word, and now suddenly you're so eager to catch up?" She pointed him at the fridge, and he fetched her some milk. "Yes, of course she's still in touch. And 'Miss Wolf', believe it or not, really is now Bernice Wolfe."
"She is?" He grinned, then frowned. "I thought her cellist's name was Montgomery?"
"He was a saxophonist, and his name was Eaves. He's not the one she married. She has two kids now and she lives in San Francisco. We try to get together once a month. Friends usually like to stay in touch."
"Yeah." He manned the sugar bowl, eager to prove that he remembered how both she and Murphy liked their coffee. ""Laura..."
"If you're going to say that you're sorry, don't bother. The time for that was ten years ago, when you disappeared. I think we've gone a little further than that by now, don't you?"
"Yeah." He laid down the sugar spoon, very quietly and precisely, then gave a rueful smile. "Not very smooth and Steele-like today, am I. All I seem to be saying is 'yeah'."
"Yeah." She smiled in spite of herself. "There's a tray just over there. Make yourself useful."
"Delighted, Miss Holt." He fetched the tray, and held it steady whilst she loaded it up with cups and milk. "Um... just as a point of reference..."
"Actions, Steele." She opened the door for him, but he didn't go through it.
"You were going to ask what you could do, if apologies - words - weren't enough. Actions. Prove to me that you're somebody I can trust."
"Ah." He winced. "Oh dear." She rolled her eyes.
"Just come on." They took the coffee through, wordless now and awkward, and spent the next ninety minutes largely listening to the others making small talk. Everybody was relieved when it was time to go. Lucy shook her head in exaggerated disapproval at Steele as they left the building, but he just glared. He was still glaring when they sat down at their table in Walter's Café nearly an hour later.
"I don't think I could face any more coffee," she said, glancing over the menu. He smiled briefly, the glare at last dissipating.
"No, nor me. Coffee and awkward conversation. That was murder."
"Yes, well at least some of us were actually making conversation. Not just sitting miserably and staring at the carpet. Is it imprinted on your brain yet?"
"Red diamonds. Blue fleck." He looked rueful. "Maybe I'll get lucky, and Eleanor will shoot me."
"If it'll save me from more of your moping, I'll start hoping for that as well." She signalled to a harassed looking waitress, and ordered orange juice. "Love-sick doesn't suit you, Danny. Green never was your colour."
"Maybe I'll get really lucky, and Brock will shoot you too." He leaned back in his chair. "I hate this. It's too exposed."
"And that's not your fault how?"
"Hey, I was going to follow her, take the jewels, and then send her a rude postcard a few weeks later. This is all for Laura. She thinks she can get rosettes for her detective agency this way. I was hardly going to refuse."
"Your way would probably have got you killed."
"True. Or heavily bruised at the very least. Better than sitting here like this." He smiled suddenly. "Not that I don't appreciate the company. Really."
"You might want to try saying that to Laura." The orange juice arrived, and Lucy sipped at hers. "So what do we do? Sit here and wait for a drive by shooting? I've never really done this sort of thing before."
"We wait, yes. Beyond that I don't know. Depends on Eleanor. I'd rather she didn't try the drive by method. There'd be police all over the place, and we'd end up in custody. If we weren't dead."
"Not the greatest of outcomes."
"Not my favourite, no." He stole a glance out of the front of the café, to where Laura's car was parked, just visible beside a delivery truck. Laura looked as if she was alone, which was some consolation. "Of course she might wait outside and try to get us on the way out. That's not my favourite scenario either."
"She won't try to take us somewhere quieter? Shooting two people in broad daylight is hardly subtle."
"She's hardly a subtle woman. She goes in for decisive action and quick getaways. Besides, with all these witnesses, the police will get half a dozen different descriptions. They'll never know who they're looking for. She's a professional."
"She might be hidden in one of the other buildings. Do you suppose she's a good enough shot to get us with a rifle?" Lucy tried to twist about in order to see through some of the windows of the buildings opposite, but it was impossible to see past their glass. "Shouldn't we have bullet-proof vests? Isn't that the sort of thing we're supposed to wear in this kind of situation?"
"Not when the person trying to kill you is fond of head shots, no. I don't think they make bullet-proof baseball caps." He shrugged. "Although I'm sure they'd sell."
"So bascially we just sit here and wait to get shot? And this is a good plan? Were there any bad ones that you discarded, or did you just leap right in with this one?"
"If I move, there'll be nothing between you and the front of the building. You'll be a sitting duck for anybody out there with a gun."
"Well that's nice. Try to make a constructive comment, and you get threatened with death." She looked around the room. "Why choose somewhere so crowded? Any of these people could get hurt."
"No choice. It had to look genuine. Anyway, Brock is a good shot. She won't hit the wrong person." He scowled and looked at his watch. "I wish she'd do something. She must have something planned, or Charlie would have been here waiting for us. He's always early for business like I promised him."
"Maybe she's hiding in the kitchen, and she poisoned the orange juice." Lucy frowned at her glass, then held it up to the light, apparently trying to spot likely toxins. "I don't feel especially poisoned. How about you?"
" I haven't drunk anything yet." He regarded his glass without great enthusiasm. "Why orange juice?"
"You have something against it?"
"Not when it's freshly squeezed and served on a tropical beach by beautiful waitresses in grass skirts, no. It loses something in a grimy café when you're awaiting your possible death." He toasted her with the glass. "Cheers."
"Cheers." She watched him throw back the contents of the glass. "Now do you feel poisoned? Ill? Slightly wobbly?"
"Will you stop sounding so damn hopeful? I know this is boring, but there's no need to hope for death."
"Just yours, honey. Saves me from listening to the 'Oh dearest Laura' routine again. I really could--"
"Really could what?" He frowned, for she was clearly distracted. "What's wrong?"
"I don't think she's hiding outside, Danny." Lucy reached across the table, and put one of her hands on top of one of his. "Behind you and to your left. About two tables back."
"She's here? You're sure?" He refrained from looking. Lucy nodded.
"She's here. What do you suppose she's going to do?"
"Wait her moment. Shoot us both and get away. Damn. I was sure she'd be outside. Less chance of being remembered."
"Nobody looks at each other in these places. It's hardly the local pub, is it." She frowned, trying to stare without staring too much. "What now?"
"When I give the word, get up and go over to the counter. Then get undercover as quickly as you can."
"She won't shoot me if I get up?"
"No. She wants the moment to be right for her. She won't open fire if she just thinks you're going to talk to the people at the till. Just make sure that you get undercover quickly."
"And what about the rest of these people?"
"If I shout: 'Duck, there's a killer in here!' she'll probably panic and open fire. Then I'll be dead and half the customers too. This way she'll probably just fire at me. There are tables. They provide pretty good cover when somebody is shooting at you."
"People must shoot at you at lot for you to be so good at this sort of thing. I can't decide if that makes you very exciting, or just a really bad thief." She have his hand a brief squeeze. "Good luck."
"You too." He did his best to look casual, unconcerned, and not to watch her as she got up and headed over to the counter. She managed it well; not too fast, not too jerky, or awkward with worry. Now if only Laura and Murphy were watching, and realised quickly from the events of the next few minutes that he could do with some help. Taking a deep breath, he pushed back his chair and stood up.
Everything happened fast after that. As Lucy dropped behind the cover of an empty table, Steele crossed the floor to Brock's booth, reaching it just as she came to her feet and went for her gun. He grabbed her arm before she could drag the weapon out, but a man at the next table let out a bellow of rage and launched himself at Steele, tackling him like a wildly over-enthusiastic sportsman anxious to impress.
"Gotcha!" He had Steele pinned on the floor, one arm gripped in a hand the size of a ham, the other feverishly trying to search Steele. "He after your purse, ma'am? Maybe there's something here he--"
"Get out the bloody way!" Fighting back with real fury, Steele lashed out at the have a go hero. Just his luck. When the man had jumped him, his first thought had been that it must be one of Brock's people, but the shout about purses pointed him out to be an ordinary civilian incensed at what he thought he was seeing. With a violent heave, Steele pushed the man off him, and started to get back to his feet.
"She's got a gun!" A shrill female voice put extra speed in his actions as he rose - he tried to look for room to manoeuvre but there were feet and legs, and the legs of tables and chairs, all getting in the way. The man who had attacked him was still making feverish attempts to regain a hold of his intended quarry; and above them, rising up out of her booth with the most expression Steele had ever seen upon her usually blank countenance, Eleanor Brock was bringing her gun to bear. The man fighting Steele saw the gun and blanched.
"Get down!" Steele could see that the man was trying to make a break for it - trying to get away from the gun as all his courage of earlier abandoned him. For all his attempts at flight, he was just getting himself into the line of fire. Brock, meanwhile, finding that rather more attention had been brought to herself than she had ever intended, clearly just wanted to shoot and be done.
"Get out the way!" With a tremendous effort, Steele pushed the man down to the ground, in the process opening up Brock's line of fire. He stared down at the gun, breath catching for one moment, and winced inwardly. Great move. Save the berk, take the consequences. He was just thinking about possibly trying some highly impressive - and very quick - manoeuvring, when the door burst open and Murphy Michaels came into view, agency gun in hand. Steele grinned.
"Excellent timing, old chap."
"Yes. Excellent." With a sardonic smirk, Brock turned away from Steele, the gun finding a new target in Murphy. Her finger tightened on the trigger, but Steele reacted in an instant, throwing himself forward so that her shot instead glanced off the door frame, and buried itself in a chair. Several people dived out of the way, screaming and shouting, as Steele and Brock overbalance, and fell in a heap. Knocked off balance, Steele found himself underneath, wrestling against a disproportionately strong madwoman intent upon killing him. The gun went off again, several times, before Murphy was suddenly hauling the icy blonde maelstrom away. Her gun clattered to the floor.
"Give it up, Eleanor." Steele pushed the hair away from his eyes and straightened up uncomfortably. She laughed shortly.
"You're a dead man yet, Fairbanks."
"Put your hands up." Murphy waved his gun at her in illustration, and she gave him a flash of her icy smile. It was enough to make his blood run cold.
"My pleasure," she told him, the voice unctuously polite, the eyes still bitterly cold. Slowly she raised her arms into the air, and the lights shining so uniformly in the ceiling flashed on something held in her right hand. Steele shouted out a warning, but it was already too late. A sugar shaker spun through the air; a small but precise missile that struck Murphy's gun on the end of the barrel, and spoiled his aim just long enough. Brock made a dash for the door straight away, and with Steele at her heels, raced out into the street.
"What the-?" Caught by surprise, Laura made a hopeless grab at the woman, then had to move aside to avoid being bowled over by Steele and Murphy. "What happened! It looked like you had her dead to rights!"
"Not that simple." Murphy didn't stop to explain, dodging by her and hurtling after Steele. "Where'd she go?!"
"That car." Steele was already backtracking, heading for Laura's car, parked by the kerb. Even as he was running for it, a blue hired car roared away from its parking place, and headed off down the street.
"Not so fast, Steele!" With a burst of speed, Murphy caught up with the other man, sliding into the driver's seat before Steele could do so. The con-man glared, but dashed round and got into the passenger side instead.
"Bloody hurry up if you're driving!" he shouted. Murphy gunned the engine.
"Hold on tight." He saw Laura running towards them, but knew that he couldn't waste time by waiting for her. The best that he could manage was an apologetic shrug as he sent her car racing past her, and hurtling off down the road. "She's going to kill me for this. If I scratch this car..."
"Forget the bloody car!" Steele was staring fixedly out of the windscreen. "There she is! Get the car closer!"
"What are you planning to do? Jump in through the window?! Just keep your hair on, Steele. We'll get her."
"We'd have had her back at the café if somebody had had his eyes open."
"We'd have had her a damn sight sooner if somebody hadn't got himself jumped on by a member of the public. We were supposed to be apprehending the woman, Steele. Not molesting her."
"Just stay on her tail." Steele glowered at the car up ahead. "I knew it was too good to be true. Blasted woman has the lives of three dozen cats."
"Go back a long way, do you?"
"Yeah, because high speed car chases are always the best places for complicated conversations." They careered around a corner, and left several motorists sounding their horns in irritation. Murphy spun the wheel again, as Brock's car shot up a narrow street.
"Maybe talking helps me to concentrate," he said, and promptly winced as the narrow sides of the street murdered one of the wing mirrors. "I'm a dead man."
"Just remind Laura that this was her idea." Steele pointed urgently. "Left. She went left."
"Yeah, I know. And I also know where that street leads."
"You do?" Steele was still good on much of his Los Angeles Geography, but he was drawing a blank right now. "Where?"
"Back of the Carrick Cinema. Don't tell me a film buff like you doesn't remember that place."
The name clicked, and Steele smiled. "That's a dead end."
"Sure is." Murphy spun the wheel again, and brought the car shooting round a corner, and into what had once been the tiny employees' car park outside the cinema. Instantly he slammed on the brakes. Realising that it was a dead end, Brock had turned her own car around, and was speeding back towards them.
"Hold on!" The car slewed to the left, and Murphy wrestled with the wheel. A metal rubbish bin crashed into one wheel, and he tried not to think about the damage it must have caused to the wheel hub. A wall flashed by one window; there was a squealing of brakes and a brief glimpse of Brock's icy expression as her car reached theirs - then with a nasty, prolonged scrunching sound that spelt the end of Laura's left fender, the cars collided with a glancing blow, and both spun out of control. Murphy was still fighting with the laws of Physics, trying to bring the car to a halt, when he realised that Steele had flung open his door.
"Are you nuts! Stay put!"
"She's a better driver than you are, Murph!" It seemed to be true - either that or her car was better, or it hadn't been quite so badly thrown off course. At any rate, Brock was regaining control. As Murphy finally slowed their vehicle to an almost halt, Steele jumped out, running full pelt for the blue car up ahead. Brock straightened it up at that moment, and with an expression of intense concentration upon her face, she pointed the car straight at him, gunned the engine, and allowed herself a small, chilly smile. And the car stalled. Steele, who hadn't for a moment thought that she would regain control so very quickly, breathed a brief, but extremely heartfelt, sigh of relief. That had been horribly close. He redoubled his efforts, dashing towards her, praying that she didn't have another gun, and grabbing for the handle of her door. In the same moment she threw the door open, hitting his hand with it, and catching it an agonising blow that would likely have cost him precious seconds ordinarily, when he wasn't quite so wound up. Ignoring the pain he grabbed her arm, just as she gunned the engine once again. The car roared with enthusiasm; Steele gripped a tight hold of his quarry, and silently thanked the god of seat-belts for being nowhere in attendance today. As the car tried to accelerate away, he tugged, felt the ground jerk away beneath his feet; then felt everything twist and blur. Brock fell; he lost his footing; the car rolled to a halt; the tarmac seemed to leap up and blindside him as he tried to regain his balance. In a confused mass of flailing arms and angry German shouting, he and Brock came to rest on the ground. Reality took several moments to right itself.
"Steele!" It was Murphy, running towards them. "Are you okay?"
"I didn't think you cared, Murph." Steele managed to sit up, and impressed himself with the discovery that he was still clinging to Brock with one hand. She struggled momentarily, but she looked as wobbly as did he, and for the time being the fight was gone. Murphy swooped in, handcuffs at the ready.
"That was some tackle, Steele." Murphy pulled the newly handcuffed Brock to her feet and pushed her up against her car. The con-man had vanished. "Where the-- Steele!"
"I'm here." Steele had been hunting around inside the car, and appeared looking decidedly flushed. "Look." There was a black case in his hand; a tough case, that could only have meant one thing. He struggled with the catch."
"Hey." Murphy shook his head. "No way, Steele. You saved my life back at the café. I'm grateful. Surprised, but grateful. But I'm not grateful enough to let you get your hands on any of those jewels. Just let them stay in that box until we get back to Laura."
"You're a hard man, Murphy." Steele's smile was pleasant enough though, and handing the case over to the other man, he took charge of Brock instead.
"You're both dead." The hellcat of before was gone, and the ice queen had returned for an encore. Murphy shot her a dubious look.
"She always like this?"
"Sweet little Sunny-Side-Up? Oh yes. Rumoured to be capable of freezing rivers at a single glance. You should see her on one of her really chilly days."
"No thanks." Murphy led the way back to Laura's car, wincing at the sight of it. "Although I might prefer our guest's company to Laura's when she gets a look at that fender."
"So long as it still moves." Steele pushed Brock into the back, and climbed in after her. "Not so sure I do. I feel like I've been wrestling a bull elephant."
"Yeah, well the police will be here in a matter of minutes, so let's get out of here before you're wrestling elephants in custody." Murphy switched on the engine. "Does that sound right to you?"
"If it makes the car move, then yes." They headed back to the main road, and hadn't been back on it for long before the unmistakable scream of police sirens all but drowned out the protesting engine. Nobody showed any sign of wanting to pull over the battered and limping car, so with a sigh of relief, Murphy pointed the unfortunate vehicle in the rough direction of its owner, and let it take them back. Laura and Lucy were waiting beside Murphy's car, some distance from the café, which was now full of police officers. Neither woman looked particularly happy.
"Murphy! Steele!" Laura ran to meet them, just as Lucy did the same with a cry of "Danny!" Steele flashed her a cheery grin, and endured a mauling hug.
"Hey Laura." Murphy did his best to stand between her and the damage to her car. "We got the jewels."
"All of them." Disentangling himself from the hug, Steele attempted to look virtuous.
"Or so we assume." Murphy handed his partner the case. "I wouldn't let him open that."
"I'll try to be diplomatic and pretend that I'm not relieved. I-- Murphy! What the hell happened to my car?!"
"Several things." He backed away slightly. "There wasn't time to get to mine. It was a chase."
"Thanks, I noticed." She sighed. "Never mind now. I'll get a mechanic out to it in the morning. In the meantime, we have to get out of here before somebody in that café tells the police that we were mixed up in what went on over there."
"Out of here and off to the airport, right?" Steele looked sharply from one to the other of them. "Right?"
"Seriously?" Murphy had never been happy with that idea. "We're really going to let her go. Wait around overnight before we hand over Brock and the jewels? I don't know, Laura. I can't believe that there isn't something here we're not seeing. We shouldn't let either one of them out of our sight."
"We made a deal."
"Yeah. I know. I just don't like how it means we're letting a thief get away."
"I can't say that I'm exactly thrilled with the idea myself," complained Lucy. Steele turned to her, taking both her hands and giving her a gentle smile.
"I'm not risking your life," he told her firmly. "Now indulge me." She frowned for a second, then smiled at him and nodded her head.
"Alright. I'll go quietly. But you're not to take any risks, Danny. Why not come with me?"
"Because this isn't finished yet." He shrugged, and for a second didn't meet her eyes. "Let's just get you to the airport. I'll see you soon."
"Soon, right. I know your definition of 'soon'. Eighteen months time, you'll turn up on my doorstep with half your ribs broken, expecting me to put you right." She sighed, then let go of his hand and climbed into Murphy's car. "Come on then. Take me to the airport. But don't go taking any risks, Danny. Whatever it is you're after, it's not worth going to prison for."
"It might be." Steele pushed Brock into the back of the car, and climbed in after her. His voice lowered then, and his eyes looked at things that only he could see. "That's something I have to find out."
They left Murphy and Brock at Laura's house, securing the icily silent thief to the cast iron bedstead. It would hardly do to take a prisoner to the airport, with the long wait for a plane, and the vast number of prying eyes and security cameras. Laura almost wished that she had stayed behind as well as she watched Steele say his farewells to his friend. She felt like an interloper, although somehow it seemed as if Steele had wanted her there. He wanted her to see this other side of him, she realised; the man who was kind and thoughtful to an old friend; the man who wasn't the feckless cheat she had accused him of being. He was silent on the return trip, several hours later, staring into space as Laura drove them back to her house. She thought about speaking to him, but she knew how unresponsive he could be when he sunk into that sort of state, and so left him alone. He seemed almost surprised when the car came to a halt, and he followed her to the front door of her house as though on auto-pilot.
"You look tired," she told him. He laughed briefly.
"So do you."
"True enough." She fumbled with her keys, momentarily clumsy. Something about his close presence could still do that to her. She wasn't sure whether it was infuriating or weirdly exciting. "It was a long day, and a long night last night. Something tells me this one is going to be longer."
"I'll spend the night with Brock. Keep an eye on her. You get some sleep."
"Not likely." Murphy met them at the door, gun in hand, as though he had suspected that they might be members of Brock's gang come to liberate her, and he hoped to stop them by hiding behind the front door. "Leave a thief to guard a thief? No way."
"I'm not going to spring her. If I take her cuffs off she'll break my neck."
"I'll guard Brock. She's not going anywhere. No reason why I shouldn't get some sleep as well." He frowned at Laura. "That's if you'll be alright alone with this joker? I can always dig out some handcuffs for him too."
"No. I think I can trust him." Besides which, it could be that we need the time alone. She led the way into the living room, putting the case of jewels down on the coffee table. "I'll get us some blankets and pillows. This room is comfortable enough."
"More than comfortable." Steele sat down on the arm of a chair, pointedly avoiding looking at the jewels, whilst Murphy even more pointedly looked at him. Laura almost laughed when she came back into the room.
"Murph, you have a real prisoner to guard," she reminded him. He nodded.
"I know. But only if--"
"I'll be fine. What's he going to do? Mug me?" She looked sharply at Steele. "He promised."
"I certainly did. The jewels are safe as long as they're in your possession. I won't take them."
"Good." She put a pile of blankets and pillows down on the settee. "Night Murph."
"Night." It was still early, but they were both tired enough after the previous night to be willing to settle down. "Be careful."
"I will." Her eyes dragged themselves away from Steele. "And you be careful too."
"Sure." He vanished off towards her bedroom, and Laura sat down on the nearest chair. For several minutes the silence reigned, and she almost blushed at the awkwardness of it all. This was stupid - they had known each other so well, once; and yet here they were acting like teenagers on a difficult first date. Try as she might, though, she couldn't think of something to say to begin the conversation.
"I keep trying to think of something to say," ventured Steele at last. Laura laughed softly.
"But there isn't anything, is there. We've both said it all. I've explained where I was. You've explained how you feel about it. There aren't any more words."
"No, I don't think there are."
"And I can't think of any actions that'll make you trust me. Quite the opposite."
"You saved Murphy's life today." She smiled at him. "That's a start."
"That was just instinct. Meaning no disrespect to Murphy, but I'd have done that if he was a complete stranger."
"I know. That's why it's a start." The silence grew around them again, and she found her frustration growing with it. This was stupid. If they couldn't be as they had been before, they could at least behave in something approaching a normal manner. Reaching out for the jewel case, she clicked it open. "Talk me through these," she suggested. "It's better than the silence, and it's not often you get the chance to play with expensive jewels." He smirked, and she glared. "It's not often I get the chance, then. You know this collection, right?"
He nodded. "Yes, I know it. Or I know about it, at any rate. There aren't many people who get to be as close to it these days as we are right now."
"Always." The glint in his eyes suggested that he hadn't necessarily been talking about the jewels. "Alright, Miss Holt. I'll show you the Trovian Miscellany. But wouldn't you rather get some sleep?"
"I'm not sure that I could sleep right now." Not with you so close by. She pushed the coffee table out of the way, and lit the fire that waited in the grate nearby. It flickered into life, its little flames bouncing merrily. "So tell me about them."
"My pleasure." He sprawled beside her on the floor by the firelight, the smugglers' lamp casting its friendly glow onto the case before them. Laura couldn't resist playing with the jewels, even though her original plan had been to lock them away until morning. She held one of the blue diamonds up to the lamp, and smiled at it.
"They both are." Steele took out its twin, and tilted it slightly so that it cast patterns onto the floor. "But both of them together aren't worth as much as the opal."
"I prefer the diamonds." They were a beautiful colour, and the cut was exquisite. Presumably they were flawless, though she had no jeweller's eyepiece, and couldn't check. Wasn't sure that she would know what to look for, anyway. Steele shrugged.
"I like the opal." He picked it up, showing it to her. "You see the iridescence? The colours? It looks black at first, but there's a lot more to it."
"I suppose it has a certain something." A mystery. A deceptive darkness. She could see why he liked it, even beyond its huge value in monetary terms. "What would you have done with it?"
"If I'd stolen it?" He turned it over in his hands. "I always wanted a ring with a black opal in it, but this is far too big. Be a shame to cut it down to size."
"So you'd have kept it?"
"Kept it?" he laughed. "No, I'd have sold it. Probably for a fraction of its value. I'm a thief, Laura. I steal things, and then I sell them."
"But you love it. I can see it in your eyes. That stone is special to you."
"It's a stone. Something worth money. It's food, and clothes and a roof. It's a car, maybe, or a case of fine wines, or bales of fine cotton for some perfectly tailored suits. Keep it, and it's evidence. And maybe a jail cell."
"I didn't think of it that way."
He grinned. "You're not a thief."
"No." She frowned, then. Thinking of him and his lifestyle; the life that she had always hoped he would live with her, in Los Angeles, being the man she had made up. "If I was..."
"If you were..." He looked over at her very intensely then, and the firelight, and the smugglers' lamp, made his eyes shine at her in an echo of the twin blue diamonds. "Laura, you are who you are. I tried to be someone that I wasn't, for you, and I could never get it right. There always seemed to be barriers somehow. It wouldn't work the other way, either. When I fell in love with you, I fell in love with who you are. You're Laura Holt. You don't break rules, you don't break laws, you don't park your car illegally. Your life is in perfect order, and your world is perfectly controlled. Planned. Ordered."
"It doesn't have to be."
"Yes it does. Because that's what makes you who you are. That's the woman I married. If you were a thief, wandering around the globe, going hungry sometimes, getting shot at sometimes, never knowing where you were going to be tomorrow... you'd be miserable."
"Maybe." He was right, of course, but it was a tempting thought for one brief moment. Going with him, staying with him, being with him. It sounded more tempting than him leaving without her again. He put the opal back into the box, and took her hand for a moment instead.
"We are who we are, Laura."
"And never the twain, I suppose."
"Well, not never, no." He kissed her fingers, then clearly thinking that he had gone too far, let go of her hand and picked up one of the pearls. "Now these are an oddity. Five pearls, each of them named for one of the daughters of Sir Humphrey Talbot, their first owner."
"You always were good at changing the subject."
"This one, the biggest, is Elizabeth." He dropped it into her palm, and smiled as he did so. "It's not about changing the subject, Laura. It's about damage limitation."
"Elizabeth, you say?" He had a point, and she could see it; and if he wanted to play it that way, that was fair enough. He nodded.
"She was a blonde, apparently. Married into the Church."
"Do you know the entire history of the family?"
"Mostly just the pearls." He took out the others, and handed them to her one by one. "Anne-Marie, Mathilda, Beatrice and Josephine. Josephine was the youngest. She was a bit of a rebel by all accounts."
"Shocked polite society, you mean?"
"Absolutely." He sounded as though he approved most highly. "She left home when she was eighteen. Eloped with an apprentice boy, and went overseas with him. They wound up living in Southern Italy."
"How do you know all this stuff?" She was amused and impressed in one. To her there was no difference between the pearls - no way of knowing if he could tell them apart, or if he was telling her the right names; even if Sir Humphrey Talbot had ever had a daughter named Josephine, runaway or not. As he himself had said earlier in the day, Steele was a born liar. It was just one of his many talents.
"What, you thought I only know about old films?" He flashed her one of his annoyingly charming grins, and she found herself returning it. Damn him, he had always known what that grin could do.
"You know about the emeralds too?" she asked. This time it was her wanting to change the subject. "I'd heard that they'd been stolen. Six times?"
"Seven now." They shared a brief laugh. "Yes, I know their history. The Spanish pirates who stole them from a merchant in the West Indies, the highwayman who stole them fifty years later, without even realising it. The last time they were taken, before now, was in 1979. Before Jacques Trovian got hold of them. They were stolen from a private collection in Malta, along with a ruby necklace, a gold locket..." He grinned. "And a copy of Gunga Din. Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks Jnr. 1939, RKO. On Beta Max."
"You stole them?"
"And sold them to Jacques Trovian. He displays them now, without ever making any secret of the fact that he always knew they were stolen. Mind you, the person I stole them from also acquired them illegally, which could be why he's never tried to claim them back." He shrugged. "All's fair in love and international thievery."
"And the ruby necklace and the gold locket?"
"I don't remember." He frowned. "I think the ruby necklace went to a fence in Liverpool. I used the locket as part of a scam in Rome that same year, but I don't remember the details. Only that I nearly got shot by an Italian army officer. I came out of it with a profit, though, so it was probably worth the trouble."
"1979." She had been a private detective then, of course. The early days, building the myth of Remington Steele, erecting the legend of the man she had tried to create. The perfect man; hijacked, improvised, twisted about and forever changed by the still nameless con-man now sprawled beside her. She smiled. "I was still toying with the idea of Remington Steele being a blond back then. Murphy thought he should be a redhead, but then he's biased that way. We were going to compromise on strawberry blond. And he was going to have brown eyes. I was quite insistent on that."
"Don't apologise. I created a story. A two dimensional character who was an extension of me - and who was bound to get found out one day. Would have been, if you hadn't come along. Remington Steele isn't a brown-eyed blond. He's not a tough former CIA agent who loves to cross every 't' and dot every 'i'. That's me... except for the CIA bit. Remington Steele has black hair and blue eyes. He improvises, he doesn't obey the rules, and instead of being the perfect boss, he turned out to be a major annoyance. That's Steele. I'm sorry I tried to turn him back into my creation. I'm sorry that I was always so annoyed when he didn't conform. Somewhere along the line I forgot who it was I'd fallen in love with."
"You're not the one who should be apologising. I hijacked your life."
"I hijacked yours."
"And now we've both gone back to doing what we want." Lives back on track, as though those few years together had never happened. Always wondering if things could have been different. And after all this time, she was finally realising that they couldn't. She hadn't done anything wrong - she hadn't done anything to make him leave. He hadn't done anything wrong either. Whoever the man was who had stolen Steele away that night, and changed the course of their lives; it hadn't been his fault, either. Steele couldn't be happy living her life forever, just as she could never be happy living his. This was Steele. Jewels and car chases, and hiding from the police. Aliases and stories, and being shot at by Italian soldiers. That was who he was. She was neat paperwork in the office, figuring things out, following the rules and helping to put people like him in jail. That was who she was. It didn't stop her loving him, but it did make things rather more complicated.
"Not exactly what we want." He toyed with the emeralds on their black cushion. "If I was doing exactly what I want, I'd be sprawled on a Caribbean beach right now. I wouldn't have promised not to steal these things, and I wouldn't be facing the prospect of going home empty-handed."
"Ha. I don't think that's a word you should be pointing at other people." She put the pearls and the blue diamonds back into the case. "Which leaves us with the last of the collection, I suppose. Where are they?"
"The Honeymoon Diamonds? They're here." He took a black box from the bottom of the case, and flipped it open. The famous brown diamonds were there, glinting in the flickering, warm light. Not especially large, not as immediately arresting as their blue cousins, but attractive nonetheless, in their own way. The last piece of the Arthur Webb puzzle. She took them.
"Why are they called that?"
"The Honeymoon Diamonds? It's because they're such a pair. Not identical but complimentary, so that they go together quite naturally. Like a married couple. Like newly weds, who haven't found anything to fall out over yet. Honeymooners."
"Why did Arthur Webb want them so much?"
"Because they were they only ones that he didn't have. The original collection of coloured diamonds was irresistible to him. He couldn't not steal them. These were the last ones."
"And you seem to think that they belong to him."
"They do, in a sense. He bought them from Jacques Trovian several years ago, but Trovian gave him fakes - paste replicas. Arthur's eyesight was failing, or he'd never have fallen for a trick like that. I don't know the whole story, but I'd guess that he decided to take advantage of the fact that Arthur couldn't go to the authorities. Poor guy only tried to buy them because he thought he was getting too old to do the job properly anymore. He didn't want to leave his collection incomplete."
"He kept the rest of the collection then? He didn't sell them?"
"Not a single one, no. Only Lucy knows where they are now. The great Kettering Collection. Must be quite a sight."
"Worth dying for?"
"To Arthur? I don't know. Dying is a risk every thief takes, in a sense." He took the diamonds from her, weighing them in his hand. "Poor old Arthur. Brock obviously thought they were worth killing for. She loves brown diamonds, and these are a notorious pair. Any collector would love to have them." He slipped them back into their box. "But they were never going to be hers."
"You really would have taken them back from her, wouldn't you. Whatever it took. For Arthur Webb?"
"Laura, I'd steal them out of Fort Knox for Arthur Webb. If they were worth peanuts, I'd still steal them out of Fort Knox for Arthur Webb. Although if they were worth peanuts, I might want to know what they were doing in Fort Knox to begin with."
"Regretting your promise?"
"No." He pulled a soft cloth from his pocket and carefully wiped the jewels, returning the Honeymoon Diamonds to their box. He wiped that as well, then put it carefully back into the case, amongst the trays of emeralds and pearls. "The jewels are safe while they're in your possession. Now you'd better put them away. I might not be planning to take them, but there are still plenty of other thieves in this city."
"True." She let him finish removing any trace of his fingerprints, then closed up the case, sealing the jewels in their segregated little compartments. "Sure it's clean?"
"I'm fairly well practiced at removing fingerprints." He smiled without a hint of apology, and she gave him a half-hearted glare in response, before going to stow the case away in the safe. He wasn't watching her when she dialled up the combination to open it, and she knew that it was a nod to her sense of security. Not that it mattered. She had no doubt that he could open the blasted thing easily enough if he wanted to.
"Alright?" he asked as she came back, settling herself down on the sofa. She nodded, pausing to arrange one of the blankets over herself. It was beautifully warm, and beautifully relaxing.
"I do feel better now that they're locked away, yes. It's not that I don't trust you."
"You don't have to explain yourself." He lay down on his back in front of the fire, staring up at the ceiling. "Brings to mind certain other evenings, doesn't it, Miss Holt."
"Many evenings. In many places."
"Beside many fires." He folded his hands behind his head, and she threw one of the pillows at him.
"There are plenty of spare blankets. There's probably room on the sofa here too, if you want it."
He laughed softly. "I want it rather too much. That's why I'm staying on the floor. I have to leave tomorrow, Laura. For your sake as well as mine."
"If things had been different..."
"Don't say it." She didn't want to hear about what might have been. She had lived for ten years with that. Tomorrow he would be gone, and it would be just her and Murphy again. Steele would be a simple memory. This time she knew that it would be wrong to wish he would stay.
"It's awfully quiet." Whether just to dispel the sudden, strange silence, or because he was genuinely concerned, Steele frowned towards the door. "You don't suppose she's throttled Murphy with a pillow case and run off?"
"I doubt it. Murphy isn't the type to take a throttling quietly."
"Murphy doesn't do anything quietly." He smiled, and she threw one of the sofa cushions at him, scoring a neat bull's eye, right on his head.
"What is it between you two?! You fight like a pair of schoolboys."
"He doesn't approve of my career choice." He threw the cushion back at her. "He's the wholesome type."
"I don't approve of your career choice," she reminded him. He nodded.
"True. And if Murphy looked a little more like you, I might fight with him less." He grinned suddenly. "Or more. Rather depends on the fighting."
She threw the cushion back at him again, scoring another direct hit. "It's still childish."
"Well don't blame Murphy." He sounded serious now. "He just cares about you. He doesn't want to see you get hurt. I suppose he's rather better at making sure that that doesn't happen than I am."
"True." Somewhere, in some other, parallel universe, there was a Laura that had been happily married to Murphy for years. There had to be. They were contented, and their world was well. She, however, was living in a rather more complicated universe. She settled herself back down, and turned her own eyes to the ceiling, trying to refrain from staring at Steele any longer. It wasn't easy.
"There something on your mind, Miss Holt?" He kept switching between the old voice and the new one - or, rather, between his 'real' voice and the one he had always used to use in her presence. What was new to her was presumably old to him. She smiled at this return to the old accent; the old, clipped tones; the use of her title rather than her name.
"Yes. Can you promise me something, Steele?"
"Of course. Anything." He sounded remarkably sincere. She had always thought of that as reason enough to distrust him in the past.
"Promise that it won't be ten years before I see you again."
"Ah." He looked away. "Anything but that. I can't make promises with my life, Laura. It won't let me."
"You said you'd promise anything," she reminded him. He sighed.
"Anything but that. What if I promised you that I'd return in twelve months? And I was in prison then? Or caught up in something else that I couldn't get out of? You'd feel let down again, and you'd hate me even more than you have for the past ten years. It may be pure selfishness on my part, but I don't want that. So I won't make that kind of promise."
"That's a shame." She understood in a sense, but she still felt sad. He had a point. She just didn't want to think about not seeing him again. Strange how so much could change in so short a time. Or perhaps how firelight could put such a different perspective on a situation. She closed her eyes, trying to remove the temptation of watching him there, so near and so far, highlighted by that treacherously romantic light. "Goodnight, Mr Steele."
"Goodnight, Miss Holt." He sounded troubled, but he didn't let the feeling last. There was no point. Instead he turned his head, watching her on the verge of sleep, and found himself smiling at the sight. He had missed her. He would go on missing her. But he wouldn't stay, and he wouldn't promise to return. Life didn't play by the rules any more than he did, and he wouldn't risk hurting her again. Leaning back against the pillow, he closed his eyes and let sleep slowly take him. It was a hard floor, but the company was perfect. That night he slept better than he had for ten years.
A hammering at the door and a cheerful salutation awoke Laura in the morning, and she stumbled sleepily to her feet to let in Murphy. It confused her when she opened the door to discover him out in the corridor, instead of outside the front door, and she frowned at him for several moments before it clicked that he had spent the night in the bedroom. He grinned at her, annoyingly wide awake.
"Don't tell me, let me guess. You spent all last night sitting up, talking about old times?"
"Not exactly." She stifled a yawn. "I don't think we were all that late. We did talk, though. About the jewels. It's quite nice playing jewel thief, gloating over the spoils."
"Just as long as you don't get a taste for it." He looked about. "So where is the Prince Of Annoying?"
"Steele?" She looked instinctively to the rug before the fire. The fire was still there, glowing softly; but the pillow now rested neatly on the arm of a chair. There was no sprawled figure enjoying the last of the heat. Nobody smiling cheerfully back at her. Steele had gone. Laura felt a pang of regret. So he had left, then; slipped out in the night whilst she slept. She wasn't sure whether to be angry, upset, or glad that he had saved her the pain of an awkward farewell.
"Run off?" Murphy headed for the safe. "I guess it makes sense, since we're on our way to see the police. You put the jewels in here?"
"Don't look like that. He hasn't taken them. He promised he wouldn't."
"Did I say anything?" He opened the safe and hauled out the box, opening it up to look over the contents. Seven green emeralds blinked back at him, nestled in their cushioning tray. Five pearls, two blue diamonds, one giant black opal. And in the bottom of the box, in a small, cushioned box of their own, the famous Honeymoon Diamonds lay in their quiet, muted brown splendour. Laura tried not to let her sigh of relief be too audible.
"See," she said, hoping to mask the sigh. Murphy nodded.
"Yeah, okay. It just made me suspicious, that's all. When a guy like that disappears into the night..."
"It doesn't hurt to have a little trust, you know."
"It does when You Know Who is the one you're trusting." He smiled. "Okay, I was wrong. I can admit it."
"And very graciously, too." She shut the safe, then snatched up assorted pillows and blankets from the sofa and headed towards the bathroom. "I'm going to get freshened up. I'll be as quick as I can. Do you want breakfast?"
"No. Better not. I'd rather just get that woman in police custody and get all of this over with."
"Fair enough." She disappeared, and he settled down on the settee to wait for her, watching the flickering fire. It was hard not to think about Steele spending the night in this room with Laura, and he wondered if the old jealousy was resurfacing again. After his marriage he had ceased to think of Laura that way, even after the divorce - or he thought that he had. Maybe he had been wrong.
"Penny for them?" Reappearing with remarkable alacrity from the direction of the bathroom, Laura flashed him one of her brightest smiles. Murphy almost jumped, as though he suspected that his private thoughts had been broadcasting themselves at high volume.
"What? Oh, nothing. I was just, um..."
"Just in dream land. Yes, I noticed." She drew back the curtains, flooding the room with light, then turned off the fire and flashed him a smile. "Still sleepy?"
"I suppose I must be." He jumped to his feet and picked up the jewellery case. "We should get moving. You okay with dear Miss Brock, or would you rather I took her?"
"I'll do it. You just keep a good hold of that case." She disappeared off to the bedroom, where Eleanor Brock was still handcuffed, glowering, to the bed, and chained her own wrist to one of her prisoner's. Brock's remarkably icy stare followed her every move, and it was something of a relief to get back into the perpetually warm company of Murphy. He waited for her to join him before he opened the front door, and then led the way down the long flight of steps into the street.
"So did you get some kind of contact address for What's His Name?" he asked as they descended. Laura shook her head.
"No." For a moment she looked wistful, and he felt his insides churning. Damn. Yes, definitely jealousy then. "You know what he's like though."
"All too well, Laura. All too well." They reached his car and he unlocked it. "You ready for this?"
"Yes, I'm ready. Everything's fine, right? I mean, even with You Know Who involved, there's not a lot that can realistically go wrong. Leaving our potential utter ruin aside, anyway."
"That's the spirit." He smiled, sliding behind the wheel, waiting for her and Brock to take up residence on the back seat. "It's all downhill from here." It sounded hopeful, anyway, even if he didn't believe a word. When Steele was involved it was plain good sense to expect trouble.
Jacques Trovian was a tall, rapier-thin man, with a thin black moustache, a well-gelled head of thin black hair, and thin but ferocious eyebrows. Dark, sharp eyes glared out at the world from a thin, sallow face, and a thin-lipped mouth marked a straight line that showed no warmth to anyone. Laura and Murphy smiled their greetings to him, but his interest, clearly, was directed at nothing but the case of jewels.
"This is Monsieur Trovian." Lieutenant Rose, a dour but oddly charismatic detective with whom Laura and Murphy were well acquainted, performed a rudimentary introduction. Trovian showed no desire for conversation, or even to shake hands.
"My collection, lieutenant?" he asked. His voice was clipped and precise, the accent only very slightly French. Rose shot the two civilian detectives a brief smile.
"Miss Holt and Mr Michaels have gone to a lot of trouble to retrieve your jewels, Monsieur Trovian." He rather mangled the pronunciation of the title, but Trovian didn't seem to notice. "They were able to capture the thief, and from her we're hoping to find the location of the rest of her gang."
"Yes, yes." Trovian didn't give a damn. "My collection, lieutenant. If you would be so kind."
"Yes sir. Of course." Rose pushed the case across the top of his desk. "I can't let you take it away with you just yet, but of course you're perfectly entitled to look through it. I was just about to call up a jeweller who advises the department from time to--"
"There'll be no need of that now, lieutenant." Trovian stepped forward, his body language anxious even though his facial expression hadn't changed. He pulled a jeweller's eyepiece from a little bag extracted from somewhere about his person, then opened the case with hands that almost trembled. Laura was stung by a sudden desire to laugh.
"Well I want to thank you, anyway." Leaving Trovian to his anxious study, Rose turned back to the two detectives. "You're okay? That woman looked a right cold fish."
"She is." Murphy sat down on the corner of Rose's desk. "Thanks for meeting us downstairs."
"Hey, when you turn up with stolen jewels and the person who stole them, you're entitled to the VIP treatment." Rose's smiles were rare, but he flashed them a warm one now. "I think we've got the report finished, but I'd prefer it if you both stuck around here for a little bit longer. There might be some creases to iron out."
"We're not in any hurry." Laura had no desire to go back to the office just now, and certainly not to her empty house, with its memories of the previous night spent there with Steele. He had come back into her life so suddenly, and had left so suddenly, and yet again she had to pick up the pieces and get on with things, and try not to wonder if he would ever return. A busy police station, with questions to answer and details to analyse, had to be better than that.
"I'll have plenty of coffee laid on." Rose looked over at Trovian, who was in the midst of an examination of the emeralds. "Now, you said that this phoney Steele helped you to get the jewels back? That it turned out he wasn't involved with the robbery at all?"
"His story was pretty convincing." Murphy was thinking a number of not entirely complimentary things about Steele, but he kept his face neutral, and his voice businesslike. "He was very useful in the end."
"I'll consider withdrawing the APB." Rose nodded. "And the jeweller? Charlie Haymes? I have somebody on their way to pick him up. He'll say what exactly?"
"I have no idea, beyond trying to save his own skin." Laura remembered what Steele had said about a slimy little man, who would sell a friend for the right price. "Offer him a deal and he'll probably co-operate."
"Yeah. From what I hear about Charlie Haymes, he gives criminals a bad name. Probably sell out anybody for the right deal." Rose shrugged. "Still, I suppose I shouldn't grumble if it helps me out." He threw down his pen. "Anyway, I promised coffee, and I could do with some myself."
"The coffee will have to wait, lieutenant." The clipped, precise voice of Jacques Trovian gave nothing away, and neither did his largely impassive face, but his already fiercely intense eyes spoke volumes. They were unnaturally bright in his sallow face; hot with definite anger. Rose raised a quizzical brow.
"Monsieur Trovian?" He spoke politely, although it was clear that he had little time for the man. Trovian held up a small black box that Laura knew only too well.
"The Honeymoon Diamonds," he said, his accent suddenly stronger as he spat out those three all important words. "These are fakes, lieutenant. They're not even especially good ones. Paste replicas."
"Sir, are you completely certain?" Taking the box, Rose looked at the gently shining stones. As far as he could tell they were real. They certainly looked like diamonds - or as diamond-like as something could look when it was brown. As far as he was concerned, they were supposed to be approximately white. Trovian glared at him.
"Sure? I've dealt with jewellery and precious stones for nearly thirty years, lieutenant. Of course I'm sure. Anybody with even a passing knowledge of jewels would be able to tell you that those are fakes. And they shouldn't even need an eye glass to do it." He turned his glare upon Laura and Murphy. "Those stones were real when the collection was stolen."
"Well don't look at us!" Indignant to the point of explosiveness, Murphy had to reign in his temper as best he could. "Why would we take them? We recovered the jewels and the thief."
"Miss Holt and Mr Michaels are highly respected investigators, Monsieur Trovian." Rose was also trying to be polite, but that didn't stop a certain chill showing in his voice. "I can assure you that they're not thieves."
"It makes little sense to me, lieutenant, that the thief would make such a switch. What reason could she have? And how would she have got hold of a pair of replicas so quickly? She would have had to have possession of them already."
"Maybe she did. Maybe she was hoping to get away with selling them twice?" Murphy, still simmering, nonetheless was managing to bring his temper back under control. "That's possible, right? And anyway, where would we have got hold of replicas so quickly?"
"Perhaps from your friend." Trovian took back the jewellery box, shut it with a snap, and all but threw it at Murphy. "I know that you were assisted in your recovery of the jewels by a man claiming to be Mr Remington Steele. A man you yourself had already unmasked as an impostor who was after the jewels."
"Yeah..." Murphy glanced across at Laura, amazed by her continuing silence. "We know the real Remington Steele, so we've come to sort of know the phoney one. We've run into him once or twice. He's a con-man, sure, but he's not really a bad guy. He's hardly in Eleanor Brock's league, anyway."
"Nevertheless. An impostor." Trovian practically trembled in his righteous rage. "I bow to the authority of your policeman friend on this matter. I will give you the benefit of the doubt, if I must. But I refuse to trust a man who claims to be a famous investigator for the suspected reason of attempting to steal my jewels from the Brown Museum. Be sure that I heard the full story from the head curator there."
"We're getting ahead of ourselves. Why suspect that anybody other than Eleanor Brock is responsible for this?" Rose picked up the small box. "I'll take you to one of my colleagues, Monsieur Trovian. You can give him a proper statement, and I'll go and talk to the officers who are interviewing the thief." He gave Laura and Murphy an apologetic smile. "Don't go anywhere."
"We're not planning to." Murphy sat down on his nearest unoccupied chair, watching as the two other men walked away. Laura didn't sit, and it struck Murphy then that she hadn't moved or spoken since the discovery of the fake diamonds. He called out to her, and she turned to look at him with saddened eyes. He realised then what she was thinking, and a look of disgust passed across his face.
"It was Steele, wasn't it. You think he switched those jewels."
"It had to be him." Slowly she joined him, sitting down on an adjacent chair. "Last night we were looking through the jewels, and he didn't notice that they were fakes then. You heard Trovian. Anybody who knows jewels should have been able to see that they were fakes; and Steele knows jewels. There's no way he could have missed that." She lowered her voice, even though she was already speaking so quietly that he could only just hear her. "And he already had the fakes, Murph. He told me about them. Apparently Trovian tricked Arthur Webb with a set."
"Oh, great. So we're insisting on our innocence, and trying to keep our heads above water, and it's all because of him." Murphy looked away in disgust. "You've got to tell Rose the truth, Laura - or a bit of it at any rate. We're not going down because of Steele. Hell, didn't Steele say as much himself?"
"Yes." He knew right away that she wasn't planning on doing anything to incriminate the man, and he rolled his eyes.
"Laura, Brock saw us with him. Making out that he decided to come clean and help us was a good story, but it all dies in a ball of fire if he's stolen those diamonds. We can't look like we knew anything about it. If we'd brought Brock in when we grabbed her, instead of taking her home for the night, we'd be in a lot better position right now."
"You know why we waited until morning."
"Yeah. Right. To make sure that Steele's accomplice got away." Murphy's eyes widened. "That's it, isn't it. She had the diamonds then. We were covering for her so that she could get away with the real diamonds!"
"I don't know. It's just as likely that he took the jewels out of the safe last night, and ran off with them then." She rubbed her eyes. "I know I should talk to Rose, and part of me wants to. But I don't really want to turn him in."
"You're too damn nice, Laura." Murphy glanced up, aware that Rose was walking back towards them. "Looks like trouble. I'm sorry Laura. I won't let you throw everything away just to avoid causing trouble for Steele. He's caused trouble enough for us."
"Because of me! I was the one who wanted to bring in Brock and the jewels. If I hadn't been thinking about the agency's reputation, it wouldn't be at risk now. It's not Steele's fault."
"What's not? That he stole those diamonds? Looks like his fault to me." Murphy fell silent as Rose reached them, but he could hear all of the things that he still wanted to say buzzing around inside his head. Rose pulled over a chair and sat down beside them.
"We've got trouble," he said, though he said it like a friend. He didn't sound like an investigating officer. Murphy glowered.
"There's a surprise." He didn't speak further. He was no telltale, and he wouldn't say anything to implicate Steele unless he had to - whatever his earlier words to Laura. "What is it?"
"It's Brock." Rose let out a sigh, long and thoughtful. "Look, she's a real piece of work, and I'm not saying that I believe her - but it's a good story, and from what I hear she's telling it well. She's claiming she's all but innocent, and we've got no real contradictory evidence bar your phoney Steele saying that she's guilty."
"There's the jewels," pointed out Laura. "She had them on her."
"Oh, she admits to possession of the jewels. Problem is, she said that your impostor gave them to her. She's back there now swearing that it was this fake Steele who did the robbery, and that all she's guilty of is handling stolen goods. As it happens, I don't believe her. She's doing what she can to discredit him, since it was his tip off that led you to her. But she swears that Charlie Haymes will back her up, and if he does... well it's a better story than we can get from some impostor who's already a suspect himself. Without him to make any proper statements, we don't really even have his testimony anyway."
"If he came in to give a statement, you'd arrest him, wouldn't you." Laura didn't need to hear the answer to know what it would be. "He'd never agree to that. I believe him though, Gary. He's a con-man, I know, but he's never been a really bad guy."
"Yeah, well there's something else. She swears that he's got the genuine Honeymooners. I was going to ask her about that, and she said he switched them. I didn't even mention a switch. Guilty of the original robbery or not, we've got to go after him for that. So unless he's willing to come in here and talk to me, he's taking the heat for those diamonds at least." Rose let out another long sigh. "Look, Brock isn't trying to implicate you two. That's good news. Just between us, I think she's too smart to take the story that far. She's obviously got something against your impostor, though. I'm guessing they have some kind of history."
"Probably." Laura didn't elaborate. Rose just nodded.
"You know where we can get hold of him?"
"He didn't exactly leave a forwarding address." Murphy realised that he had snapped the words rather, and dredged up a weak smile. "Sorry. Look, he's a criminal. A con-man, a thief, whatever. Nothing that we can prove, but we've always known he was up to something. When we heard he was in town we were going to go looking for him, but then he came to us. He said that Brock had stolen the jewels, and that he was worried that the police were after him, because the curator of the Brown Museum had asked too many questions. Getting back the jewels seemed like a great coup for us, so we went along with him."
"I still believe him," added Laura. Rose nodded.
"Well I've never met the guy, but I'd believe anybody over that ice queen back there. I have to investigate though, now that she's saying all this stuff. I'm going to have to try to bring this guy in."
"He's probably gone by now. We haven't seen him since last night." Laura wanted to go home. She wanted to lie in bed and shut out the world. Rose nodded, the sympathy in his eyes suggesting that he knew exactly what she was thinking.
"He'll have tried to get away I guess, but he was already a suspect, so he won't be finding it easy. We may not have any pictures, but the description we got from that guy Oban was good." He flashed a muted smile. "I'm going to get us some coffee. I'll try to speed things up, and get you out of here as soon as I can, but we could be in for a long day anyhow. There are questions that I have to ask. Whatever your links to this fake Steele creep, though, I don't consider either of you to be a suspect in this. I don't think there's going to be any fall out for you."
"Thanks. That's the only thing that feels good right now." Murphy waited until Rose had moved away, then offered Laura a gentle smile. She returned it, though hers was a trifle strained.
"You doing okay?" he asked her. She nodded.
"My ego and his light fingers. What a pair we are."
"Don't blame yourself." He took her hand. "Looks like we're in the clear, anyway, thanks to Rose. Lucky break."
"Not for Steele. If I hadn't wanted to bring in Brock myself, he probably wouldn't be in this mess. It was us interfering that caused all of this, Murphy."
"And we were supposed to stay out of it? Ten years he's gone, then he turns up and we're not supposed to ask questions?"
"We're not supposed to get him stuck on the Ten Most Wanted list! You heard what Rose said! The whole police force is going to be out there looking for him, and who knows if he's had a chance to get clear. The only consolation is that they don't have any pictures of him. Yet. He could end up in prison. And what happens if somebody gets the bright idea of wanting to interview the 'real' Mr Steele about his 'impostor'?" She looked away. "For the last ten years I've hated him, and now, when it would be so much easier to hate him still... I can't. I love him, Murphy. And to hope he stays free, I've got to hope that I'll never see him again."
"It'll be okay." He gave her hand a squeeze, and tried not to acknowledge the jealousy that he couldn't help feeling squirm within him. "He'll be out of the country by now. Probably flying back to Europe as we speak, laughing about the jewels he stole from right under our noses." He whistled. "He's got a nerve, anyway. No way is a guy like Trovian going to let this rest."
"Or Brock, if she manages to get away with this story of hers. Without the rest of her gang - and who says they won't back her up anyway if they get brought in - she can't be tied to the robbery. So as well as killing Arthur Webb, she gets away with killing four security guards. And then she's free to go after Steele."
"She won't get him."
"She won't necessarily have to. He could wind up with the police in half the countries of the world out looking for him."
"So? So suddenly he's Danny, or Harry, or Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, probably with the genuine documentation to prove it. He can disappear anywhere. Nobody has seen his face except Oban, Brock and that crooked jeweller. There are no pictures to send to Interpol. He'll be fine."
"Charlie Haymes knows him from before. If he thinks about it, he could unmask him as the real Mr Steele, and that blows our whole story out of the water. Us with it."
"From what I hear about Charlie Haymes, he won't do that. No money in it." Murphy let got of her hand. "Come on, Laura, enough with the guilt. It's not like he doesn't know the risks. And don't forget that it looks very much like he really did take those diamonds."
"I know. International jewel thief long before we met. Enemies and arrest warrants in every city. I just can't help the way I feel."
"None of us can help the way we feel." He heard Rose approaching, and felt a burst of something like relief. "It'll be okay, Laura. All of it."
"Sure it will." Rose handed them each a mug of coffee. "You're not being accused of anything here. Just that lowlife con-man. Everything will be fine, and the sooner we get him in custody, the sooner everything will get worked out. Right?"
"Right." Murphy didn't look at him or at Laura, but he felt his heart sink. Damn it, now even he felt bad for Steele, even if just for Laura's sake; and beside him he knew that she would only be feeling worse. So much for the optimism they had both been feeling at the start of the day. Rose sat back down beside them.
"Ready for more questions?" he asked. They both nodded more through automatic reaction than in any form of agreement. "Good. With luck this won't take too long. Let's see if we can't get this creep nailed once and for all." He didn't know how those words made the spirits of both his guests sink. And as he began his questioning, he had no idea just how much they were hoping that he and his colleagues would fail.
It was the afternoon before Laura returned home, taking a taxi to allow Murphy to go straight home himself. He had offered to give her a lift; almost insisting, since he had been the one responsible for putting her car off the road. She had laughed, and told him that she didn't blame him at all; and if she hadn't been so tired, she might have seen the relief in his eyes; the joy that she bore him no ill will. The sense of general happiness. Bidding him farewell, she had left him alone on the steps of the police station, and got into the first taxi she had seen. She hardly noticed when they arrived.
The living room was dark, which surprised her, until she decided that she must not have drawn back the curtains that morning. She laughed at her own oversight, but couldn't be bothered to correct it. Instead she threw herself down on the settee, and rubbed at her neck with one hand. She was tired, and she was stiff, and she had spent too many hours, tense and uncomfortable, answering questions at the police station. Too long listening to reports of Eleanor Brock's many statements; her accusations against a man called David Fairbanks. That had become the name of the faux Steele, in the eyes of the police, and Laura had had to listen to their theories spin and grow and spread. Fairbanks had taken the Honeymoon Diamonds; Fairbanks had possibly stolen the jewels in the first place. He had killed the four men guarding them, and he had attempted to assault Brock - his inadvertent associate - in a crowded café. A member of the public had tried to help her, and Fairbanks had attacked him too, until finally Brock had drawn a gun to defend herself. She had not fired the gun until Fairbanks had attacked her again, when the gun had gone off and nearly injured several members of the public. Everybody in the café had given such confused accounts that her version might as well have been the truth. Laura hadn't really been able to say anything, save insist that Brock was the real thief, and that she believed the word of the impostor who had given her the story in the first place. She couldn't very well explain why. Murphy had tried to tell the story of what had really happened in the café, but with such a jumble of conflicting statements already, and Murphy himself having arrived on the scene late, even that didn't seem to have helped. Exhausted, Laura closed her eyes and tried to quieten her mind. Echoes of the earlier conversations kept coming back to her; things that she had said, and should have said. Things that the others had said to her. Opening her eyes again, she stared into the fire and tried to focus on its gentle glow. It had always helped her to relax in the past. So tense was she; so heavily focused upon the elusive goal of relaxation; that it was several moments before she realised that she hadn't lit the fire. That she had turned it off before leaving to go to the police station - just after she had drawn back the curtains. Somebody else must have drawn them. Somebody who had also lit the fire. Suddenly alarmed, she began to rise to her feet.
"Just relax." Hands on her shoulders pulled her back down; strong, capable hands that began working straight away on her taut, knotted neck.
"You shouldn't be here." She tried to sound cross - he had scared the life out of her - but the truth was that she was delighted he was here. And oh but he had lost none of his old talents. He could have been a masseur, and quite likely had been at some point in his life. If so, she envied his regular clients.
"I know." He rubbed a little harder, and she almost purred. Damn him. Couldn't he tell that she was still hoping to play hard to get?
"I thought you'd gone. I thought you were safely away from here by now. On your way to London, or Moscow, or Reykjavik. Wherever it is one goes to escape the law."
"I had gone. Or I nearly had."
She heard his laugh. "I came back."
"Yes... I noticed that. What I want to know is why."
"Oh." He stopped rubbing her neck, and she grumbled a quiet protest. He started again. "Sorry. I came back... I came back because I hadn't said a proper goodbye. And I wanted to. I ran off the last time, and it didn't seem right doing it again. This time, I just wanted to do it properly."
"Really?" She thought back to that night; the way he had run off after the phonecall; the way she had waited up all night, expecting him to come back. How he hadn't; not that night, not the next day, nor any day after that. No proper farewells. Everything left open, like some gaping hole in her life. He was right; there were far, far better ways to say goodbye. She put one hand up to his. "Thankyou."
"It's as much for me as it is for you. How's the neck now? Still tense?"
"Not so much." She groaned. "I'm still tired, though. I could sleep for a month." He laughed quietly
"Sorry. I didn't mean to cause you so much trouble. I thought you'd never even know I'd been in the country."
"I'd have wondered. Even if I'd still been in Denver, if you'd managed to steal the Trovian Miscellany, I'd have heard about it on the news. And I'd have wondered. I always wonder, when I hear about jewel robberies.
"I guess I make a good suspect." He stopped his work on her neck. "Was it very bad with the police?"
"Just like you said, Brock tells a good story. The police are after you, even more than they were before. She's told them that you were behind the robbery, and she's made it sound good."
"You're in the clear though?" He sounded concerned about that, without commenting at all on Brock and her lies, or what they might mean for him. She nodded.
"Looks like it. You were right; she's trouble. It would have been better if I'd just left things alone, and let you go after her in your own way."
"Laura Holt, stand back and let a robbery occur?" He laughed again, though gently, and walked around to the front of the sofa. "You did what you had to do. You got the thief and the jewels, and it's not your fault if the police can't make the charges stick. They'll keep her for a while, anyway. That's better than nothing."
"And what about you? How long will they keep you here?" She folded her arms, staring up at him with the cold glint returned to her eyes. It was a good shield for her - a way of trying to make him keep his distance. He frowned, but she could see that his puzzlement was only skin deep.
"They won't get me, Laura."
"Won't they? I told you that if you took those jewels, you'd go to prison. And you promised that you wouldn't take them."
"No. I promised that I wouldn't take them while they were in your custody. I didn't."
"I know." For reasons that went deep, she believed in that promise. "You took them when you caught up with Brock, didn't you. Problem is, she saw you."
"She can't have. Murphy was manhandling her into a pair of handcuffs at them time. Has she said something?"
"Only that you stole them."
"Oh." He sat down on the arm of the nearest chair. "She must have realised I was up to something in her car. Still, what's one more charge? It'll be okay, as long as I can get clear of California."
"Nobody official has seen you. There aren't any photographs."
"No, but there's Brock, Charlie and Oban to give descriptions. The people in that café. Besides, I'm a Steele impersonator, remember? 'Looks just like Remington Steele' is a pretty damning description when you actually are Remington Steele. It's not safe."
"So tell them that you really are Remington Steele!"
"And when good old respectable Mr Oban pulls me out of a line up and says that I'm definitely his impostor? Laura, we can pretend that there's a fake Steele in town, but we can't pretend that he and the real thing are identical twins, or exact doubles. That sort of thing just doesn't happen. I can't get picked up."
"So why come back here? Why not just follow Lucy? I'd have thought that you'd want to keep on her tail. She's got the Honeymoon Diamonds, because you slipped them to her at the airport."
"No. Outside the café, actually, before we ever went to the airport." He shrugged. "She needed a little encouragement, remember, before she'd agree to leave."
"I remember. You held her hands and she changed her mind."
"Exactly. You know, Miss Holt, you should consider a career in investigation." She rolled her eyes.
"Fifteen years on, and he still thinks that's funny."
"A little humour, to ease the atmosphere." He looked at her straight in the eye, with unnerving directness. "So are you going to turn me in?"
"No. If they get you they won't just charge you for that switch with the Honeymooners. They'll book you for all of it, the murders included. Murphy quite likes that idea, I think, but I won't risk an innocent man. Or... whatever you are, anyway."
"Thankyou." He looked quietly delighted. She sighed.
"It's the least I can do. It's my fault. All of this has spiralled out of control, because I insisted on going after Brock. You went along with it because I wanted to, didn't you. You knew what a mess it could create, especially for you, but you went along with it because it was what I wanted to do."
He shrugged, looking awkward. "I wanted to do something for you, Laura. What else could I do? Say sorry until there's no breath left to say it with? I could bring you expensive presents, but you'd only turn them down."
"They'd be stolen," she pointed out. He looked momentarily cagey.
"Well, yes. Probably. Or bought with ill-gotten gains. But the thought's what counts. At any rate, it wouldn't have meant anything to you, and I wanted to do something. I know I've hurt you, and I know that I've caused you a whole lot of tension headaches. Even before I disappeared."
"It wasn't the headaches that mattered." She got up, going over to sit down beside him. "You can take aspirin for headaches. There's nothing you can take when it's certain other things that are hurting." He looked away, and she smiled faintly. "I haven't been very nice to you since you came back, have I."
"Nicer than I deserved." He flashed her a very wan smile. "I should never have married you."
"I knew what I was marrying."
"No. You didn't." He reached for her hand, but hesitated as though thinking the better of it. Finally he took hold of it anyway. "You have no idea who I am, Laura. No idea. I've told you bits and pieces over the years, but it was only little things. Nothing very real. You can't even begin to imagine who and what I really am."
"Yes I can." She could feel a strange warm feeling inside that she knew was the past ten years loosening their hold upon her. All those cold and unpleasant thoughts and impressions appeared to be drifting away. She smiled gently. "You're Remington Steele."
He laughed. "You're not angry with me then?"
"For stealing those blasted diamonds? I should be. Mind you, I've met Jacques Trovian myself now, and I can't say that I'm sorry he's lost them. What will you do with them?"
"Me? Nothing. Lucille will put them with the others, and then who knows? We never discussed that. She just wanted to finish Arthur's work."
"I think I'd have liked to have met him."
He smiled, his eyes looking back through the years. "Everybody liked Arthur. Mind you, I think they were afraid not to. He had to have been eight feet tall at least. I never did work out how he managed to be so good at sneaking into buildings."
It was her turn to laugh. "I'd forgotten how much I used to enjoy your little anecdotes. Actually there's quite a lot I used to enjoy that I forgot about. I've hated you for a long time."
"I hated myself quite a bit, too."
"Stay." She didn't know quite where the plea came from, but she couldn't help it suddenly escaping her lips. "This will all die down, and you can come back as Remington Steele."
"It's not safe. Not for you, not for me. It wouldn't work."
"Because of me. If I hadn't--"
"I don't mean because of the police, and all that rubbish that Eleanor has told them. I mean Jacques Trovian. He may be a respectable businessman, loaning out jewels to little museums, but there's a side of him that I don't want you to see. He'll have recognised the fake Honeymooners, and that's a good clue to start on; plus Eleanor will be after me too. I doubt her case will go far in front of a judge. It'll all be dismissed soon enough. They'll both be after me, and unlike the police, they do know exactly what they're looking for. I won't expose you to that."
"You'd be safer here."
"Safer how? The whole world to hide in, or one city? For the time being at least, things are going to be pretty dicey. I won't stick around anywhere for long."
"But I've just got you back."
"Really?" He smiled. "It's not very long since you were telling me that you hated me, and playing the ice queen better than Eleanor Brock."
"I know. I was angry. And hurt, and confused. It's not easy, suddenly having you turn up. You've been away for longer than you were here, and it's hard to know how to feel when you're faced with that."
"Tell me about it. When I saw you again, I thought my head was going to burst." He winced. "Although that might have been because Murphy had just bounced it off the tarmac."
"He's been waiting years to punch you."
"I noticed." He leaned back, feeling more contented, and more relaxed, then he seemed to have done in a long time. "I don't think he'd like it if I stayed."
"He'd adjust. Murphy's one of the best."
"Murphy probably is the best. You should listen to his instincts. Stick with hating me."
"No. Not anymore." She had turned a corner, and she knew it. She just didn't know why. At some point it was as though the hate had suddenly run out. After ten years the tank had to go dry sometime, she supposed. All the bad feelings had run out with it.
"Really?" He grinned rather roguishly. "I'll remember that."
"Do." A siren sounded outside the window, and she jumped, then laughed at her reaction. "Being around you always did do weird things to me. You've got me jumping at police cars now."
"It pays to stay alert." She could feel the difference in him. From the hand in hers to the set of his shoulders, the sound of the siren had wrought changes. He stood up and went over to one of the windows overlooking the road. She followed him automatically.
"It's nothing. Police cars go past here all the time. It's a respectable area, and we have a good police presence to keep it that way."
"The local community always watching out for each other, and reporting suspicious things, you mean?" He pulled aside the curtain a little way, and peered out into the street. A police car was parked opposite, and a middle-aged couple were talking earnestly to the officers inside. They pointed up at Laura's house as they did so, and Steele pulled back from the window straight away.
"What is it?" She went as though to look through the window herself, but he pulled her back before she could.
"Bloody Neighbourhood Watch, that's what. Your neighbours are down there now telling a pair of policemen that they saw somebody breaking into your house earlier. Why did you have to choose to live in the one part of Los Angeles that still has real community spirit?!"
"I'll tell them it was me. I've forgotten my keys and climbed through a window in the past."
"Not the one I went through, you haven't. Right now they're giving an estimate on build and hair colour, and those two policemen are getting their brains in gear." Another siren sounded; another car drew to a halt outside. "Told you. Somebody is hoping to win their detective's shield."
"It doesn't matter." Another siren sounded in the distance, and Steele laughed hollowly.
"Doesn't it? They'll be coming up any minute. Tell them I had you prisoner, Laura, or they'll have you too."
"No! Damn it Steele, don't talk like that. Just turn yourself in. We'll get it all sorted out. Even if they arrest you... well it could be for the better, couldn't it. You'd be clean then."
"And the murder charge? Those four guards?"
"We'll sort it out. We'll get good lawyers. Tell the truth for once. Why not?"
"Because." He smiled at her so gently that she felt she might melt. "I'm not going to prison, Laura. Better to be dead, remember?"
"You don't mean that."
"Yes." He looked and sounded truly honest, which if it wasn't a world first might as well have been. "I do. I'm not going back to prison. I don't care how 'clean' I'll be when I get out. If I get out. That's one of the differences between us, isn't it. You still have all that faith in the system."
"And you don't."
"I come from the other side of it." He cocked his head on one side. "Listen."
"I don't hear anything."
"No? It's footsteps outside. Coming up to the door." A second later fists hammered on the front door, and he smiled slightly. "Told you."
"How can you be so calm?! Damn it, we can beat this! We can tell them who you really are. Tell them that you're Remington Steele."
"But I'm not. I never was."
"Yes you are. More than anybody I could have made up. It's your name. You won it. You earned it. You're a better man that any other Steele could ever have been."
"I appreciate that more than you'll ever know, Laura." He took her hand again, and smiled down at it. "Much more. I thought I'd blown everything with you. That you'd never look at me the same way again. It was worth coming back here again to hear you say that. Whatever happens now."
She was filled with a sudden fear. "I'll tell them the truth. I'll tell them everything. About the lies, and about how Steele was just somebody I made up. I'll explain about the 'impostor', and everything else. I can live without my career. A reputation isn't everything. I'll tell them that you're the real Remington Steele."
"Oh Laura. Laura, Laura, Laura." He kissed her hand briefly. "But if I let you do that, then I wouldn't be, would I."
"No." He flashed her the sort of smile that she had forgotten he possessed - the one that had played havoc with her mind even in the early days, when she was trying to resist him at every turn. "If I'm to be Steele, then let me play the part properly. Whatever else he may be, Remington Steele is a gentleman. You should know that. You created him."
"What are you going to do?" Her insides were doing very strange things. He headed back to the window and glanced out. There were policemen positioned in the street, and others still hammering on the door. They would break in soon, and there was no telling what Laura might try to say to them then. He had to make sure that their attention was diverted; so he shrugged, and pulled a gun from inside his shirt. Laura's eyes widened.
"Are you crazy?!"
"Probably. It's only a cigarette lighter, so it won't be much use. Like I said - tell them I forced you. I won't take you down with me."
"Talk to them. Please talk to them."
"Better dead than in prison, remember." For a second he stared at her, apparently trying to imprint her face upon his memory; then he gave her a sudden, spontaneous hug, and kissed her hard. "Goodbye, Laura."
"But what are you going to do?!" There was the sound of splintering wood from the door, and her breath caught in her throat. "Put the gun down. If they see it they'll shoot you. And don't tell me that that's better than prison!" But all that he did was flash her a devil may care smile, and push aside the curtain. The window gaped wide beyond. "Steele!"
"I'm glad I came back. It's been fun. It was always fun."
"Steele..." Her heart was in her throat; she wanted to grab hold of him, and stop him from going out of the window; but she didn't. She couldn't make him stay. She couldn’t make him into somebody he wasn't; she knew that now. And as the front door at last caved in, Steele went out through the window, hauling himself upwards and out of sight. Laura almost felt like going after him.
"Drop the gun!" The shout came from somewhere out in the street. Laura heard herself shouting that it was just a fake, but there was so much noise now. The room filling with policemen; orders being barked; voices asking her if she was alright; if she had been hurt; more sirens and tyres screaming in the street outside. She heard the gunshots as they rang out, and she heard her heart pounding in her chest; but that was all that she heard with any clarity. The world was in chaos; and somewhere in the middle of it was Steele, running for his life with a bright, bright smile, and all the odds stacked against him. Laura listened in fear for the end, but there was nothing to hear. Nothing save gunshots, that rattled on long after there was any more reason to fire.
Laura waited in vain to hear whether Steele had escaped. The police never found a body, but the letter she had hoped for to end her fears never came. She didn't think that she would ever see him again. He wouldn't come back, even if by some mad stroke of luck he was still alive. Why would he? At least for the next year or so, it seemed to her that the heat was far too great; that it would be madness to return. She said as much to Bernice, when they spoke on the phone a few days after his insane dash for freedom. Bernice laughed; a curiously joyous sound on the other end of the phone line.
"I don't think he cares about the danger, Laura. If he had, he'd never have gone back to see you."
"I wish he hadn't. For all I know he's dead now. Lying in some alley, with nobody knowing he's there."
"Well aren't you the optimistic one." She laughed again, lightly and with obvious glee. "Remember the first time we met him? I said then that we'd never see him again. What reason did he have to come back? But he came."
"He wasn't dead then."
"True. But for all you know, he isn't now. You know what a slippery character he is. He'll be back, Laura. You wait and see." And that seemed to be Bernice's last word on the subject. He would be back - because Bernice was a die hard romantic, and always believed in such things. Because Bernice had always loved the idea of a blue-eyed romantic adventurer, and refused to accept that that fifteen year old story was over. Laura wasn't so sure, for Laura had never been a romantic. That was Bernice's job; Bernice's - and Steele's. Laura had always been the logical one of the team.
And so she went back to her job, and to the familiar things in life, though with a lighter heart than before. There was still the Gerald Paul case to see to its end, and there were a lot more phone calls following the media coverage of the return of the jewels. There was always work; the work that would always make her happy. There would always be Murphy, and Bernice, and all the other things that she loved about her life. Steele, though, was gone; and whatever her friends thought, she didn't believe that she would ever see him again. The world was his playground; Los Angeles a potential prison. Even if he was still alive, he wouldn't be coming back there again.
But she kept the smugglers' lamp in her window. Just in case.