One week ago…
Maddie Hayes watched her office door creak open inch by inch. She waited, pencil pressed to her lips. David Addison's face appeared just above the doorknob, his ridiculous grin making her smile a little herself.
"Hey, Blondie Blonde—we got a case?"
She sighed, her smile disappearing. "Do we ever? The office is empty; I sent everyone home early. Agnes is out there calling herself and playing with her new rhyming dictionary."
"Great! We've got time then."
"Yeah, time. Time to solve the Missing Minutes Mystery: what really happened in that garage?"
"Addison, that case is closed."
Three days ago…
"Hey, Blondie Blonde—"
Maddie didn't even look up from typing up the accounts. "Mommy's working right now, Addison."
He pulled her door shut again, muttering under his breath. "Gee, Ma, give a kid a chance…"
"Hey, Blondie Blonde, I was thinking—"
"Again? The doctor warned you that was dangerous!"
David exited again, pouting. "Fine, I'll go endanger others…"
"It's a vacation, Laura, not a one-way fare to Sodom and Gomorrah."
"Oh, please. I'm starting think a visit to Hell itself would be more enjoyable than another of our—your vacations."
"I think that's a bit harsh—"
"Is it? Name me one trip—one so called vacation that didn't end up with some madman a) trying to kill us, b) trying to frame one of us—and by one of us I mean you—for some heinous crime, c) actually catching us—and again, I mean you—committing an only slightly less heinous crime, or d) some delightful cocktail of all of the above."
Steele opened his mouth to protest, and then closed it, at a loss. He turned away, the better to pace, and thought for a few moments before shrugging and turning back to face her.
"All right, I'll admit no one instance springs to mind. But that's why we have to go—we owe it to ourselves, Laura. If we continue on this course of disastrous vacations, we'll never be able to leave LA again. We'll be captives of the city and her environs for the rest of our earthly days."
He paused in his pacing to look thoughtfully at Laura. "But I suppose we'll manage; your sister does live here at least—we'll always have somewhere to go for the holidays. I mean we'll never be able to just take off for Paris at Christmas time or spend Easter in Rome, but then Francis will be so pleased. I'm sure even your mother would be overjoyed to visit for the holidays once we explain the situation to her."
He gave her his most winning smile. Laura glared back.
"My mother," she said through gritted teeth. "You want to invite my mother."
His grin grew. "Charming woman, your mother—a delight at any family occasion, and since we won't be traveling, she'll always know where to find us. I'll have to call and tell her to pop by anytime, now that we know we'll always be here." He reached for the phone, winking at her outraged expression.
Laura spoke in level tones, doing her best to suppress the panic-induced queasiness brought on by visions of her mother 'popping by.'
"Touch that phone, and you're a dead man."
He pursed his lips in mock disapproval, barely containing the smile hiding in their corners. "But Laura—how will I make the plane reservations?"
"You play very dirty, Mr. Steele."
His eyebrows rose as the sparkle in his eyes morphed from self-satisfied to seductive. Laura felt her cool anger beginning to thaw in spite of her best intentions. Damn his eyes. Nothing else in the world could affect her like his eyes—now sincere, now highly suspect—always steely blue and shining. One flash of those mischievous eyes, and she was a goner. And worse—he knew it.
He watched with a grin as the fury evaporated from her face, knowing full well that all his considerable charms would provide him no protection from her wrath if his threat had been serious. He stepped away from the phone to pull her into his arms, eyes softening with affection. She moved into his embrace without protest, a hint of a smile appearing in the corners of her mouth.
He leaned closer to kiss her temple. "Only when given half a chance."
"Oh?" She raised one eyebrow with amusement, watching him lean even closer. He nodded in answer to the query in her tone and paused to meet her eyes before brushing her lips with a soft kiss.
"Does this mean you'll consider a peaceful sojourn somewhere with new sunlight and white sand?"
Laura paused to give the illusion of thoughtful analysis. "Consider, yes. Though I highly doubt there will be any peace involved."
Recognizing her attempt to placate him, he sighed and accepted momentary defeat. "That's what I love about you, Laura—always so open minded." He kissed her again—because a vacation wasn't in the cards, but necking was always a solid back up. This time she pressed even closer, bringing up one hand to stroke the back of his neck. She smiled into the kiss, and Steele was just beginning to plot ways of moving their activities to the couch when their secretary Mildred Krebs burst through the door.
"Mildred!" Laura jumped out of his arms, leaving him disoriented and lost. He stumbled forward and caught hold of a chair before making it all the way down to the floor. His hair fell into his eyes, and he tried to blow it away without much success. He finally settled for glaring at his secretary through the offending strands.
"Did you need something, Mildred?"
Mildred winced apologetically. "Sorry, kids. I did knock, but you probably had other things on your mind—important things—case things, um…"
Steele sighed and straightened up, pushing his hair back with his fingers and flopping into a seat. "Important things yes, but nothing a nice, long, tropical vacation couldn't solve, eh Miss Holt?"
Laura looked up from straightening her blouse and gave him a mischievous grin. "A vacation, Mr. Steele? Where do you get these ideas?" She turned to the mirror above the sideboard for aid putting her hair back into some semblance of order.
Steele admired his handy work with a smile and leaned back to place his feet on the desk. "Oh, they come and go, Miss Holt, they come and go."
She snorted. "Well, do me a favor next time—take two aspirin and wait for them to pass."
Mildred coughed in an attempt to get their attention. She hated to interrupt, but she knew she would have to if there was going to be any chance of reclaiming them for the rest of the day's business.
They both turned to look at her, almost surprised to find her there.
He recovered first and straightened in his chair, lowering his well-polished shoes to the ground. "Yes, sorry Mildred. You were saying."
"I was saying there's a client outside. She's been waiting almost a quarter of an hour."
He sighed and rose to his feet. "Well, show her in, Mildred, show her in."
"Hey, Blondie Blonde—whoa!" David pulled Maddie's door shut just as one of the porcelain knickknacks from her desk smashed into the other side.
"Truce, Maddie! Desperate times, kid," he called through the door.
There was silence on the other side for a few minutes. David envisioned her smacking stacks of paper onto her desk and gnawing on pencils in frustration. Finally, she called out, "Come in."
David poked his head into Maddie's office and glanced around hastily before meeting her raised eyebrows with one of his own.
She sat back, straightening her blotter with a sigh. "Would it matter?"
He pretended to consider that question before shrugging. "Nope." He opened the door further and ushered a weeping Agnes DiPesto in underneath his arm.
Maddie rose from her chair immediately, rushing over to wrap her arm around the distraught receptionist and lead her to the couch. She made soothing noises against Agnes' hair and then shot a pointed look back at her partner in the doorway, already turning to flee from the scene. "Could we get some tissues over here, Mr. Addison?"
He had the good grace to look momentarily guilty before the barefaced boldness she'd come to respect brazenly manifested itself. "Me? Tissues? Sure thing. In fact, I'll run downstairs right now—clean the store out. Need anything else? Ice cream, sappy movies, some cute little bunny slippers? I'll tell you what—I'll get it all—all they got. You don't have to tell Dave twice. I'll be right back."
He attempted to escape, only to be foiled once again.
"Actually, the box on my desk will do—if you think you can manage that."
He froze halfway out the door, contemplating the benefits of making a break for it. Which would be more painful—crying now or bitching later? Tough choice.
He finally turned and retrieved the tissue box, muttering mutinously. He took a seat beside Agnes and held the tissue box out to her. "What seems to be the problem, Agnes?" he asked brusquely.
"David," said Maddie, coupling her disapproving tone with a disparaging shake of her head. She patted Agnes' shoulder. "Is everything all right, Miss DiPesto?"
"Maddie, she's sobbing—no, everything's just fine."
They glared at each other over Agnes' bent head until a tiny voice broke through the open mouth sobs, bringing their attention back to the woman between them.
"My—" Agnes managed one syllable before relapsing back into tears.
David leaned forward, trying to catch her words. "Your?"
"Guy? Your guy?" He looked at Maddie in confusion. "She has a guy?" he asked, using a stage whisper that achieved nothing.
Maddie shrugged. "It'll be all right, Agnes. He'll be alright."
Agnes shook her head, frustration beginning to cut through the tears. "No, not my guy! My g—"
"Guru? Grandfather? Geologist?"
David eyes went wide with horror. Maddie cleared her throat to catch his attention. "Perhaps Mr. Addison should go out for those tissues and ice cream, now."
He met her eyes, barely registering her words. "Wha? Oh, um—right. Tissues, right. Uncle Dave's got this one."
Still dazed, he stood slowly and made his way to the door. "Tissues and ice cream comin' right up. Dave's all over it."
When he was gone, Maddie returned her attention back to the slightly drier, but still upset Agnes.
"Do you want to talk about it, Agnes? What happened?"
"He's dead, Ms. Hayes," said Agnes, the sobs beginning to seep back into her voice.
"Mr. Addison? No, honey, he just—"
"No, Ms. Hayes! My gynecologist. He's dead."
"Oh," said Maddie, momentarily stunned. "Oh," she said again, as the meaning of Agnes words began to sink in. "Oh, dear. Umm—wait here just a second, all right Agnes? I'll be right back."
She patted Agnes' arm and hurried to the door, wrenching it open to call into the outer office. "Mr. Addison, I think we're going to need you in here after all. Bring that ice cream."
"Charlotte Gear to see you, Chief."
Steele looked up from the drawer he'd opened to suggest he actually used his desk as anything but a handy surface to sign the papers Laura handed him. He slid it shut as he stood and extended a hand and the accompanying con-artist smile to the beautiful woman following his secretary.
The woman before him was the essence of loveliness and while he liked to consider himself a previously committed man—although some days it was hard to pin down just to what—he couldn't help but notice that she was a vision in red. Her legs were smooth and creamy and long—lord, were they long. As his eyes traveled upward, her skirt seemed to shrink and by the time he reached her angelic face, he felt a little dizzy. Her lips curved in an amused smile—as if she could read his thoughts. She squeezed his hand softly—red nails, dear Lord—and released it to toss her long, perfectly curled, blonde hair back from her face.
"Pleasure to meet you, Miss Gear. It is Miss?"
`"Yes, just for a little longer. I'm engaged."
"Splendid—splendid. No ring, I see. Bold choice, Miss Gear. Quite right, too. Constant worry—diamonds. You wouldn't believe the ones I've seen—cases I've seen, I mean—of course."
Steele felt a lightheaded again and steadied himself with one hand on his desk.
"You ok, Boss?"
"Fine, Mildred, fine. Some tea would be lovely, thank you."
Mildred looked mutinous, but left all the same, muttering under her breath. "Tea, hooey—a cold shower would be more useful."
He was babbling. He knew it. Seventeen years or more as a thief, conman, boxer, and detective, and he still sounded like sixteen-year-old Harry chatting up Felicia for the first time. He laughed nervously and felt relieved when Laura exited the bathroom—makeup and hair returned to order—and brought him back to his senses with an exasperated expression.
"Ah, Miss Holt, there you are. Miss Gear, may I introduce my associate, Miss Laura Holt."
Laura smiled obligingly, trying not to hold their new client's gorgeous legs and long blonde hair against her. Beautiful people are people, too, she reminded herself. They have problems just like everyone else; even if they make everyone else feel like a mangy, flea-ridden stray to their pedigree perfection.
"Miss Gear, it's a pleasure." Laura extended her hand politely.
"Thank you, Miss Holt. Please call me Charlie—both of you. As my sister Emily used to say, Charlotte is such a mouthful."
She spoke in perfectly modulated tones—soft and airy with just a hint of some accent, carefully suppressed by years of extensive practice.
Of course, thought Laura, even her voice is rich and beautiful.
"Used to?" Steele asked, his natural curiosity fueling his detective's intuition.
It took Laura a moment to find her place in the conversation. Good sense: vanity's first victim. Laura wasn't even sure why the woman bothered her so; Laura was an attractive woman in her own right, smart, dedicated, loyal, tough—tougher than this floozy—bad, Laura….
Charlie was already answering Steele's question—the one Laura should have asked instead of wishing her client ill. Maybe it had something to do with the glazed look in Mr. Steele's eyes.
"Oh, Emily's a free spirit," Charlotte was saying with an indulgent smile. "I haven't seen her in—well, about five years. I'm not worried. When she was six, she ran away from home for a whole week. Most kids get as far as the hedge or the tree house, but not my sister. She hit the road and kept on going. She spent five days riding the merry-go-round and filching cotton candy before anyone noticed. She'll be back."
"Then you don't want the Remington Steele Agency to find her for you?"
"Heavens, no. She's very much like Little Bo Peep's sheep. Leave her alone, and she'll come home, dragging her pride behind her. Unfortunately, what I've come to see you about is much more serious."
Laura nodded, channeling efficiency and dedication. "Of course, Miss Gear—Charlie. Won't you please take a seat?"
She motioned to the chair before the desk and moved to stand behind her partner as he took his seat.
"Tell us all about it, Miss—ah, Charlie," Steele said, employing his best sympathetic smile.
"Well, it's quite a long story. It begins with Emily, I suppose. Well, the two of us anyway. We're twins—identical. When we turned nineteen, we moved out here to LA, thinking all sorts of ridiculous things. We were going to be dancers—singers—actresses. We didn't know what we were going to do, but it was going to be exciting and glamorous.
"And then reality reared its ugly head. We had beauty, sure—a fluke of nature. Nothing to be sniffed at, but nothing to make a career out of either. I became a hair stylist, I've been working on my degree at night and if it's not as glamorous as my early ambitions, at least it pays the bills. That's also how I met Jake—my fiancé. He's such a sweetheart—such a head of hair.
"But Emily never was the steady job type. She's a wanderer by nature and—well—a con artist by trade."
Laura felt Steele stiffen in front of her and placed a soothing hand on his shoulder. He relaxed slightly but not before Charlie noticed.
"Oh, I don't really mean that. She never stole anything—not that I know of anyway. She just—well, men went stupid for her. Hordes of them. Expensive presents, expensive dinners—an apartment in the swanky part of town. All sorts of down payments on promises not quite fulfilled. She never had to lift a finger so long as a man was there, ready to kiss it. I love my sister, but I can't condone her behavior.
"Anyway, a few years passed and then she was ready to move on. The well was beginning to dry up—too many promises to keep, wives beginning to get suspicious, that sort of thing. She took off five years ago, much to the relief of wealthy society, I assure you. But before she left, she had a brief affair with the man who was then our gynecologist."
Steele's eyebrows shot up, but he remained silent. Charlie nodded at his expression.
"I know. It's not a subject that comes up in polite conversation, but it is relevant to the case."
"Of course, Charlie." Laura nodded encouragingly. "Mr. Steele is first and foremost a professional." She gave his shoulder a squeeze to emphasize the point.
Charlie nodded. "Well, I was appalled. I mean I know this man—one could say quite intimately, and my sister is my exact copy in every way. I was furious, and I refused to return to his office. I found a new gynecologist"— Steele winced—"and soon Emily left town. I thought that was the end of it.
"But a few months ago, my new—ah—doctor moved. I hate finding a new one. There are certain aspects of myself to which I'd prefer to limit access. So rather than find a whole new practice and a completely new set of eyes, I decided to revisit my former doctor, foolishly thinking that enough time would have passed for all the awkwardness and recriminations to fade away. I was wrong.
"The doctor recognized me all right, but he thought I was Emily. Or at least I assume he did because as soon as I stepped into the office, he had his hands on me. It was hugely embarrassing for the both of us and worst of all, my fiancé Jake had dropped me off. He confronted the doctor in front of an entire office of witnesses and threatened to kill him if he ever came near me again. And the whole time Dr. Symmons just stood there looking shocked and puzzled. That was last week.
"I just couldn't stand it if Jake goes to jail. They will kill him; he's such a sweetheart. I need you to prove that he didn't do it. I need you to prove that my Jake is innocent. Please help me, Mr. Steele."
Laura looked confused. "Do what? So far, I haven't heard anything that could send your fiancé to jail, Charlie. He threatened the man, but—"
"That's just it, Miss Holt. He threatened Dr. Symmons—threatened to kill him. And now Dr. Symmons is dead."
"What d'you think the odds are?" asked David as he and Maddie climbed the stairs of the dead doctor's apartment building.
"You heard me. Hundreds, possibly thousands of doctors who specialize in the female arena in this town and someone decides to kill DiPesto's? What are the odds?"
"About the same as any other gynecologist, I'd imagine." She noticed him wince at the name and smiled tauntingly. "You're uncomfortable with the profession, aren't you? What bothers you more, the clinical aspect of it all or the thought that someone else has an annual pass?"
"I'm not bothered by it."
Maddie snorted. "Please."
"I'm not. It's integral part of feminine healthcare—I'm glad you girls take care of yourselves—ecstatic—but I don't really need to be acquainted with all the intimate details."
"Like the fact that gynecologists exist?" There was that flinch again. This case could actually be enjoyable.
He grumbled. "Something like that."
He came to an abrupt stop on the landing and sighed before turning to face her. "Look, we're just doing a favor for DiPesto. I'm not even convinced she hasn't invented this whole murder thing. Frankly, I find it highly unlikely that anyone would want to kill a gynecologist."
"Well, it's obvious you've never been in the stirrups," Maddie muttered, brushing past him to continue up the stairs.
Steele drove the Auburn with practiced ease, keeping one eye on Laura beside him.
She sifted through her notes with agitation. "It just makes no sense," she muttered to herself.
"Does it ever? In my experience, murder and mayhem tend to be inherently incomprehensible until a motive turns up. And even after a motive turns up, come to think of it."
"That's not what I mean. Of course the case doesn't make sense—we haven't started investigating yet. But what makes even less sense is why we're investigating it in the first place."
"We're private investigators, Laura. And it may come as a shock to you to learn that occasionally people actually hire private investigators to investigate things—mysteries, for one—murders, for another."
Laura glared at him, shaking her head. "Thank you for those startling pearls of wisdom, Mr. Steele. You managed to get right to the very crux of my confusion and clear it instantly with that wonderful way you have."
"All right—I'll bite. What is your confusion?"
"This case—it makes no sense. A doctor dies—unfortunate, but not surprising. He was nearing retirement, and if his mortgage didn't kill him, eventually his affection for fatty foods would. There's nothing to suggest any foul play—no marks on the body, nothing suspicious enough to warrant an autopsy or any further investigation on the part of the police. The funeral arrangements have all been made and calling hours are set for tomorrow at noon."
"Sounds pretty standard."
"Exactly. There's nothing suspicious here at all. Nothing to make anyone in a position of authority look twice. And yet today, Charlotte Gear walks into our office and asks us to prove her fiancé didn't kill the man. Why? No one suspects him—no one official even knows he exists—why bring him to anyone's attention if you think he might be connected to a murder?"
"Respect for the laws of your lovely country and an unfailing need to see justice done?"
She turned to him thoughtfully. "If you thought I'd murdered someone, would you tell the police? If no one in the world—no one but you, the person who knows me best—suspected a thing—would you give me up?"
He met her eyes briefly, distress written on his features, before tearing his gaze away from hers to focus back on the road.
She looked away and nodded. "That's what I thought."
He cleared his throat. "Well, you have to admit, Laura, I'm not the straightest arrow you've ever met. I take a much more interpretive approach to the law than most other individuals. And I'm absolutely convinced that anyone ushered from this world by your hand would desperately deserve it."
"Thank you. I think. The point is, bent or not, you don't turn in someone you care about on a hunch. You get proof, you investigate on your own before breathing a word to anyone, because actually speaking your darkest thoughts out loud makes the betrayal real.
"But Charlotte did none of that. No research, no personal snooping. Instead, she hires us to do the snooping for her—betrayal without significant cause. It makes no sense. No one has a clue a murder may have been committed, let alone that her fiancé might have been involved. Not even our favorite Huck Finn of homicide has stuck his exceptionally inept nose into this file. It's almost as if—it's crazy, but it's almost as if she wants us to find something—something the police missed. It's almost as if she wants us to prove her fiancé is a murderer. That's crazy, isn't?"
Steele shrugged. "Not if she really thinks he might be guilty. But—"
"But if she did, she would have proof—we would have a starting place. We wouldn't be heading to the late doctor's apartment in the attempt to turn up some scrap of evidence to go on."
"Maybe all is not well in lovers' paradise. Maybe a false murder accusation is just her painfully twisted way of telling him the wedding's off."
"In that case, we shouldn't take this case."
"Why not? She's paying. So, we find out the good doctor died of a coronary, and the fiancé was in the next state—well, she can still break up with him, and we get to collect our fee and put it towards a lovers' paradise of our own, eh?"
"The words ethics and moral obligation still hold no meaning for you, do they?"
"And if it turns out she's right, and he really did kill the doctor, what then? How ethical would it be to let a murderer go just because his fiancé wants to become an ex?"
Laura blinked at him, baffled. "How do you do that?"
He grinned at her. "Do what?"
"Turn all my arguments around until I have to agree with you based on my own logic."
He laughed and turned back to the road. "It's a skill. If it's any consolation, I often find myself agreeing with myself based on your logic, too."
"Well, I tried."
The rest of the ride was silent. Laura contemplated the case that didn't appear to exist, and Steele watched her, a question she'd asked niggling at the back of his mind.
He parked outside of the building and ran his fingers through his hair nervously. "Uh, Laura, when you asked earlier whether I'd turn you in—um…" He trailed off, at a loss.
Laura smiled and took pity on him. "I knew you wouldn't. And I haven't to date, if that's what's worrying you. And there's been ample evidence and cause for doubt over the years, believe me. But you're safe with me—whoever you are and whoever you've been, you're safe now."
He swallowed hard and nodded. "It's still something of a foreign concept."
"I know. Trust doesn't exactly come naturally to either of us. But you're still here, and I'm still here, so I guess we're going to have to get used to the idea."
He blinked at her, a slow smile spreading across his features. "You are an exceptional woman, Miss Holt."
She grinned and leaned forward to press a kiss to his welcoming lips. "I try, Mr. Steele."
"I'm going to check the bedroom."
David grinned. "Need any help with that?"
Maddie rolled her eyes. "Search the desk, Addison."
David watched her pass through the doorway, taking a well-deserved moment to admire the view. God had outdone himself the day he made those legs. He smirked as he turned back to the desk and its many drawers.
"Well, let me know if you need any pointers in there. That big four poster thing? Don't worry about it. I'll show you everything you need to know when we get home."
Even as the words left his mouth, he half heard the front door barely tremble against its frame.
"Addison—" Maddie's voice sounded exasperated, but her following lecture was cut off by his hurried whisper.
She came to the doorway to look at him with concern. "What?"
"I think I heard something at the door. Stay there, Maddie."
She nodded and retreated back into the bedroom as David inched toward the door. It was definitely moving now, just shaking against the doorframe, almost too quietly to tell. He paused for a moment with his hand almost on the doorknob, before closing his fingers around it and yanking the door open.
There was a woman on the other side, shaking her head at a man kneeling in front of the doorknob's former location.
"I told you to try the knob first—you taught me that, for heaven's sake. But no, you just had to get pick happy. So you've been out of practice lately—so you're getting rusty? It's not like we're breaking into the Louvre."
The man picked himself off the floor with as much dignity as humanly possible under the circumstances. He straightened his already immaculate jacket and scowled back at her. "Please, don't remind me, Laura."
David's eyes flicked back and forth throughout this exchange, finally settling on the woman's face in disbelief. "Stats?"
Her head whipped around, and her eyes widened with shock and recognition. "Davy?"
"In the flesh."
Her face broke into a smile. "Davy Addison—my God, you haven't changed a bit."
He winced. "And here I was thinking I'd grown and matured over the years."
She snorted and patted his arm affectionately. "You? Never." She smiled up at him. "Do I get a hug?"
"Do I get to cop a feel?"
The man next to her started, a flash of irritation and pain flickering across his face before an expression of steely, calm nonchalance settled on his features, removing any hint of emotion below.
Laura ignored her stormy partner and laughed up at David. "No, but a hug and an explanation of what the heck you're doing here would be appreciated."
He smiled and hugged her gently. "We're going to need a reciprocal explanation, Stats."
"David, I—" Maddie froze in the doorway to the bedroom, fury coming into her face.
David let go of Laura guiltily and tried to look apologetic. "Maddie, I know what it looks like—wait, why am I apologizing?"
But Maddie wasn't listening; she was already halfway past him and picking up speed. "You," she spat, waving an accusatory finger in Steele's direction. "What the hell are you doing here?"
To Laura's amazement, her partner's expression turned from blank to icy within an instant—not the white-hot chill she sometimes found directed her way during their frequent arguments, but a true deep frost carried in on an arctic breeze.
"Why, Ms. Hayes—how delightful our paths should cross once again."
Laura looked to David. "They know each other?"
"Delightful? I'll show you delightful! You're going to be so delighted you're not going to be able to sit for a week, you overstuffed, miserable excuse for a human being!"
David's eyes widened. "I sure hope they know each other—that's her most intimate yelling tone."
"Oh, lovely talk for a lady, Madolyn."
"Lady? Lady! Oh, no mister. Lady implies that there's a gentleman involved, and I sure as hell don't see one in this room."
"You know, a guy could take that kinda personally." David grinned as Maddie's head whipped around, her eyes flashing. "On the other hand, you're clearly on a roll—please, don't let me stop you."
Steele defended himself. "I was a perfect gentleman."
"Oh, yes. I forgot. Sneaking out the back before desert is the coup de grace of all fine etiquette manuals. And you did it so well."
"I paid for everything—the champagne, the oysters, the filet mignon—"
"Wow—I'd go out with this guy." Laura snorted beside David as both combatants turned to stare at him. He amended is statement, "Only if you promise to sneak out the back though."
And they were back at each other's throats.
Finally, Laura stepped in as the voice of reason. "All right—I said all right. That's enough!"
She placed a hand on Steele's arm and repeated herself quietly. "That's enough." Her eyes held his for one long moment until he nodded, and the tension began to diffuse.
"Now whatever it is you two did to each other or didn't do—and no, I don't want the details—I'm sure it can wait until we're out of an apartment that belongs to a dead doctor. Agreed?"
David stepped in to back her up in the face of the others' stony silence. "Agreed."
"Thank you. I think the most pressing question is why the two of you are here—Davy, I didn't even know you'd ended up in L.A."
"Time flies when you're—well… "
"I think introductions are in order all around," said Steele, icy demeanor thawing under the warmth of Laura's hand.
"All right," said Laura. "Mr. Steele, please meet David Addison. Davy—this is Remington Steele."
"Really? I'll be—the Remington Steele in the flesh. I believe you've already met the lovely Madolyn Hayes."
"I haven't had the pleasure," said Laura, offering the other woman her hand and smiling a touch too broadly to be sincere.
"Neither have I," muttered Steele, earning himself a foot stomping from Laura.
Maddie chose to ignore his comment, instead turning her full one-hundred-watt smile on Laura. "I'm sorry; I didn't quite catch your name."
"She's Stats," David said at the same time.
Laura nodded at him and smiled. "Thank you, Davy. I work with Mr. Steele at Remington Steele Investigations. I take it the two of you have met before?"
"Unfortunately. You and David must have quite a past. Is that right, Davy?"
David shifted uncomfortably on his heels. "We moved in the same circles once, yeah."
"If by circles you mean we were in the same postal code once a very long time ago, then yes, we have a past," Laura added with a laugh.
"Which brings us to the present," Steele said, clearly wishing to skirt the issue of Laura's past with David Addison until privacy allowed. "What are the two of you doing in the home of our late, great gynecologist?"
David shuttered and Maddie arched one eyebrow at him in amusement before turning back to ignore Steele and address Laura.
"Miss DiPesto, our secretary at the Blue Moon Detective Agency was very distraught to find out her only gynecologist of twelve years had died. She's convinced he would never have departed from his duty without external assistance. We're simply investigating his death to set her mind at rest."
"Yeah, DiPesto's mind at rest is terrifying enough," David added under his breath.
"So, you don't really have a client?"
"Just a slightly addled secretary of the rhyming persuasion. You?"
Laura looked at Steele and shrugged. "Our client walked in this morning and asked us to prove her fiancé didn't kill the doctor, which is interesting because the police seem to have dismissed the case even before they started looking for suspects."
"Do you think your secretary knows something she's not sharing?" Steele asked David.
"DiPesto? Not share information? Trust me—we can't shut her up. If she knew anything Maddie, me, and half the city of Los Angeles would know."
Steeled turned to Laura with a sigh. "It seems then that we have come no further."
Laura nodded. "We're going to have to search the apartment. I'm sure the two of you have much more pressing pursuits to devote your time to. We can finish up here and stop by later to put your secretary's mind at ease."
David shrugged. "What d'ya say, Maddie. Knock off early?"
Maddie pursed her lips in disapproval. "David, how can you even think of going back to the office without an answer for poor Agnes? She'll worry herself sick. We owe it to Agnes to stay."
"Maddie, I know Stats—she's the best. If she's on the case, Agnes' mind can be put to rest, and you and I can move on to more pressing matters, guilt free. She's got this—and I for one would hate to stand in her way."
Half an hour after David and Maddie left, Laura and Steele began to turn up some promising information.
Steele sat at the desk, flicking through all the papers he could find. "Looks like he kept a copy of the books here as well as that the office. I can't speak for the other set, but these are as crooked as they come."
Laura came out of the bedroom to begin pacing. "Crooked books? Huh. I found some long blonde hairs in the bedroom and the bathroom—our doctor was single and grey. I think the mystery woman might be useful."
"Long, blonde hair—match anyone we've met recently?"
"Maddie Hayes? She was in there—but her hair is shorter than the strands I found."
"And the only other blonde we've run into today aside from Mildred?"
"Charlotte Gear. Now wouldn't that just be a coincidence. Of course, she could accuse a man of murder if she was the one to give him the motive."
"There's a letter in here, too—well, a piece of a letter anyway:
My dearest darling,
After such a long time, to be reunited and our love rekindled…"
Steele whistled to himself. "Pretty steamy stuff."
Laura nodded thoughtfully and began pacing. "Mr. Steele, what if Charlie Gear was lying? What if Emily never had the affair, but Charlie did. We already suspect she was tiring of her fiancé; she could have rekindled her romance with our dead doctor in order to send him off in a fit of jealousy."
Steele considered. "And when that didn't work, she killed her lover and framed her fiancé for murder? All to avoid telling the poor man the wedding was off? Seems a bit over dramatic, don't you think, Laura?"
"Well, she said she always wanted to be an actress. It's farfetched, but it's all we've got."
"Mmm. Well, at the very least we should take these books back to Mildred. It seems far more likely that someone he swindled came back to return the favor. That's if anyone did help send him on his way to the great beyond in the first place. I've yet to be convinced."
Laura sighed. "We'll just have to order an autopsy ourselves, then. He had no family to speak of; the funeral's being arranged by his practice. You can drop me off there after we drop by Blue Moon—we should have the autopsy report in a couple of days or so."
Steele grinned. "Where's old Murphy when you need him, eh?"
David watched the numbers on the elevator change, feeling like each one came more slowly than the previous.
"Remington Steele, huh? Christ, what a name. Might as well wear a sign on your back that says 'I have more money, power, and good-looks than a sucker like you can ever hope to have." He looked over at his partner, who crossed her arms and pointedly ignored him.
David's eyes flicked back to the shifting numbers. "Still," he added with a smirk, "a kid named Remington must have had a hell of a time on the playground."
Maddie pursed her lips to hide a smile. "And I suppose that's some consolation?"
He shrugged. "So, what if it is?"
This time Maddie smirked. "David Addison, I do believe you're jealous."
"So, what if I am?"
"So, nothing. I just wonder what of—the money? The power? The good-looks?"
"My looks are just fine."
She glanced at him briefly—just long enough to affirm his statement. Just fine, indeed…
"Or perhaps a little closer to home?" She fished a little deeper.
"You? I hate to break it to you, Blondie, but—"
"That Laura's a lovely woman, isn't she—Davy?"
"Stats? I guess—" A light dawned, and David turned to look at her, a smug smirk growing on his face. "Oh-ho—now who's jealous?"
The ride to the Blue Moon Detective Agency was quiet with unasked questions. Laura watched the sidewalk go by, cataloging all of the information pertinent to the case. It should have been a simple task—routine if anything—but information gaps that had nothing to do with business and everything to do with her partner kept getting in the way.
She sighed in resignation and tentatively broke the silence. "I know we make an effort not to pry to closely into each other's personal affairs, but—"
Steele interrupted her, a wry expression playing on his lips. "Please, Laura—what personal affairs? The only time we're not together is to sleep at night, and frankly I'm all for abolishing that separation once and for all."
Laura ignored the suggestion to voice her immediate concern. "Madolyn Hayes—know her well, do you?"
Steele looked thoughtful. "Define well."
Laura shrugged, trying to appear nonchalant and failing. "Champagne, oysters…"
Steele winced. "Not that well. We met at one of those crime writer's benefits you send me to. You were on a date." In response to her look of confusion, he clarified, "Last year, that wonderful Cannes agreement to go our separate ways with separate people, remember?"
"Oh." Laura did remember—all too painfully.
"Oh, indeed. Madolyn was there promoting the Blue Moon Agency and I thought, 'there's a beautiful woman, and I'm hungry—" A flash of pain crossed Laura's face. She remained silent, but he noticed all the same. "Please, Laura. That came out wrong. I meant why not take her out to dinner? I was in such a rush to leave the office I never got to grab a bite, and she looked like the type you have to remind to eat more often than not. So, we went out. We had champagne—she had oysters—and I slipped out the back after paying the bill. We had one date, and it lasted two hours and seventeen minutes. I know because she kept checking her watch out loud the entire night."
Laura tried to hide her amusement, but she didn't strain herself. "Some date. You snuck out the back? You?"
"Slipped, Laura. It sounds more dignified." She laughed, and he smiled at the sound. "To be fair, neither of us belonged there. She clearly had other things on her mind, and I had more than enough on mine."
"Oh? And what did you have on your mind?"
He turned to meet her eyes, thinking he'd admitted to worse, and she was still sitting there beside him. He grinned down at her—without his eyes' usual conman glint—and whispered conspiratorially. "You."
Laura blinked back, a little stunned. "Oh."
Steele nodded and looked away. He smoothed the pad of his thumb over the steering wheel and hesitated for a few minutes before continuing.
"She called me Mr. Steele," he said quietly. "And it bothered me a lot more than it should have—than I ever expected it to."
Laura nodded, trying to look understanding and supportive, but radiating puzzled bafflement all the same. He attempted to explain:
"No one calls me Mr. Steele, Laura. They introduce me as Remington Steele, clients simply use the last name, and women use the first or some variation thereof." Laura winced, remembering the unfortunate 'Remy' incidences. Steele nodded and continued. "My old mates call me Harry, or Richard, or Dougie—whoever they knew me as, and that's the way it should be. But you and Mildred call me Mr. Steele and at the time you were the only person in the world who knew the truth—that actually, I have no name. Mr. Steele is yours. I'm yours, Laura. And hearing Mr. Steele from the lips of Maddie Hayes just made that fact all the more glaring."
Laura sat still in shock. "Oh," she said, at a loss for anything more articulate to say.
Steele nodded and changed the subject, delighted to make her squirm for a change.
"So just how did you meet this Mr. Addison? Brownies?"
Laura narrowed her eyes at the road ahead. "Why would you like to know?"
"Oh, come now, Laura. You know I find endless fascination in the everyday affairs of your scintillating past." She turned to look at him with one eyebrow quirked in an expression of skepticism. "Yes, well, in your past affairs, anyway."
"Mmmm. I see."
"It was nothing. Just one encounter in my misspent youth."
"Hmmm. I'm beginning to think it's a real tragedy my misspent youth never ran into yours."
"I think it would have been a tragedy if we had. Can you imagine the math major meeting the Kilkenny Kid?"
"Oh, I don't know. I like to think the Kid would have been smart enough to try a few summations." He grinned at her, eyes sparkling with barely contained mischief. Her misspent youth had gotten a lucky break evading his—those eyes could have talked her into far more reckless escapades then she'd ever embarked upon. Of course, they still could…
"That's what I'd be worried about."
"Did David Addison try any summations?"
"Not that I recall. It was one night, a long time ago, but as I remember he was a perfect gentleman. In fact, I remember being a little miffed the next morning that he hadn't tried anything."
"Well, he was cute and funny, and he had this sad story—I was a sucker for sad stories. We—ah—met one evening in my junior year, and we talked all night long; then we parted company. Haven't spoken since."
"David Addison—that David Addison—went to Stanford?"
"Then where did you two meet?"
"Let's change the subject, shall we?"
"Oh but, Laura, it was just getting interesting…"
"So, who would want to kill a gynecologist?"
"A little more than 51% of LA?" He snickered at his own joke before catching Laura's less than amused eye. He made an effort to sober his expression and forestalled her chastisement with a mumbled apology. "Sorry, Laura."
The Blue Moon office shook as Maddie Hayes slammed her inner office door shut for the third time in an hour.
On the other side, David pouted at the closed door with his hands on his hips. "Oh, c'mon, Maddie! You're crazy about me—admit it. You look at me you see china patterns. That's ok—we can work with that. That's what a partnership's all about. You see china patterns; I see China. We're almost there; we just have to find some middle ground."
Maddie wrenched her door open again with a growl. "You are the most insufferable human being I have ever had the unbelievable misfortune to stumble across! You are lower than low—there are single-celled organisms feasting on animal dung somewhere with better social skills than you. The only way I envision china patterns in conjunction with you is if I'm fantasizing about hurling a Wedgwood platter at your worthless head!"
She sucked in the next breath like a substitute for mind-numbing liquor, her cheeks flushed with anger, her hair wild with frustration. Her eyes flashed and sparkled under the fluorescent light; if she could have, she would have zapped him with a bolt of lightning from those eyes.
David grinned, clearly enjoying the show. "Worthless, huh? Well at least I won't miss it."
She screamed in frustration and sent the door flying back on its hinges to make the doorframe and the walls attached to it quake—probably in fear. Once the tremors abated, Agnes released her protective hold on the fragile objects she'd braced through the storm and picked her head off the desk. She removed one earplug and glanced over at the partner still standing in the outer office.
"Is it over, Mr. Addison?"
David favored her with a wry smile. "For now, Agnes. Tune back in after lunch, I'll give you a floor show."
There was a discrete cough behind David's right shoulder. He turned slowly, dreading the worst. He found Laura Holt and Remington Steele instead, and since it could have been a client, or Maddie's parents, or—terror of terrors—his brother, he figured that the universe had decided to give him a break.
Steele smiled sympathetically. "Domestic troubles, Mr. Addison?" he asked diplomatically.
David shrugged. "What, that? She's crazy for me." Another muffled scream shook the office door behind him. Agnes put her earplugs back in.
"Well, she's crazy anyway," David amended with a smirk.
Laura bit her lower lip and glanced sideways at her partner. "I hope we're not intruding, but we did say we'd drop by to fill you in on Dr. Symmons' death."
Agnes removed one earplug again. "Dr. Symmons? My Dr. Symmons?"
David nodded. "Who else? Why don't you sit in on this one, Agnes, put your mind at ease. Someone, please do the introductions; I'll go get the boss."
He knocked on the closed door and called, "Hey, Mad-dieee! We got company!"
There was a crash from within, followed by the sound of stomping footsteps. Then the door flew open again; it's creak of protest covered by Maddie's snarl. "A likely story—" She stopped mid-screech, spotting Steele and Laura in the outer office. "Oh…"
David laughed. "You got to start trusting me more often, Blondie. They've got some news. Is your office presentable, or should we mosey on over to mine?"
Maddie blinked, struggling to find her place in the conversation. "Mine's fine. Come in, come in." She stood back, staring at David as he ambled past, followed by Laura, Steele, and Miss DiPesto. She felt an apology was due. "Sorry about that. Administrative conflict."
Steele looked amused. He leaned down to whisper in Laura's ear. "I'd call it more of a lover's tiff."
Laura patted his arm and shook her head to forestall further comment. "Glass houses, Mr. Steele, glass houses."
Maddie motioned them onto one of the couches and moved to sit next to Agnes on the other. David, for once respectful of her clear desire for space, grabbed one of the desk chairs and sat on it backwards.
Once seated, Laura took it upon herself to break the tense silence. "We gave Dr. Symmons office a thorough going over, and while we discovered a few suspicious items, we're still not at all convinced the man was murdered."
"But I just know he was!" Agnes wailed. "He wouldn't die—not just like that. He couldn't!"
Steele gave her a sympathetic smile and patted her hand. "I assure you, Miss DiPesto, if the good doctor was the victim of any foul play the autopsy will show that, and Miss Holt and myself will not rest until the culprit is revealed and appropriately dispensed with by the appropriate officials."
Agnes nodded, looking comforted if still woebegone. Maddie recognized the many charms of Remington Steele at work and did her best to distract her secretary. "Why don't you go make us some coffee, Agnes?"
"Some tea would be lovely, Miss DiPesto," Steele added with a gentle smile.
Maddie glared at him, clearly not over the failed date. "We only have coffee."
David shook his head at her and shrugged by way of apology to Laura, who shrugged back. She was more than accustomed to the way her partner could rub certain people the wrong way. Agnes sniffed and shook her head. "I'm sure we have something floating around in the file cabinet. Mr. Addison sometimes likes tea when he's—when he has a headache. Let me see what I can do."
"And some chocolate milk, Agnes, would you mind?" David called after her as she went out, figuring she was dazed enough by the great Remington Steele to not protest digging through his office fridge.
He turned back to find Maddie and Steele entertaining themselves with a glaring completion. David leaned forward against the chair back and spoke to Laura. "So, what'd you find, Stats?"
Laura shrugged. "Well, among other things, one long, blonde hair and some fairly suspicious bookkeeping. I'm not sure how it's all going to pan out, but it looks like our client's fiancé is in the clear at the very least. That's if the doctor was murdered at all."
Steele nodded, breaking eye contact with Maddie. "We'll have to wait a few days for the autopsy report. In the meantime, our best financial expert will work her way through the books and see what she can come up with. We'll check out the office and ask around. Maybe a few more suspects will turn up."
David shook his head. "I did some calling around for you. Sounds like this Dr. Symmons was a pretty well-liked guy. A little shady, perhaps, but friendly and easy to talk to. His practice practically had lines out the door, despite his advancing years. You see the way Agnes is about him. I couldn't turn up anyone who would have wanted to kill him."
"All the same," Steele said, "we'll have to follow up on our own. Thank you for all your help, David, Madolyn. We'll be in touch." He stood up and looked down at Laura. Before she could move, Maddie broke in.
"Leaving so soon, Mr. Steele?" Her gaze was anything but friendly.
He winced. Laura patted his hand and stood next to him. "We have to be going. Pleasure to meet you, Ms. Hayes." She smiled at David. "Davy, it's always a pleasure."
David grinned back. "We ought to meet at crime scenes more often, Stats. Come share my postal code anytime."
She laughed. "Will do. Mr. Steele?"
Steele followed her out and from outside, David could hear him speak to Agnes.
"Miss DiPesto, you're a marvel. I regret we'll miss your splendid coffee."
Agnes giggled and from the sounds of grinding teeth emanating from Maddie, David could tell she had heard the exchange, too.
He tilted his head in her direction. "What gives?"
She stood and fluffed the couch pillows—a sure indication that something was bothering her. "Whatever do you mean?"
"Maddie—you're picking fights with another man. What are the kids going to think?"
"What does it matter?"
"They're gonna think Mommy's having an affair is what they're going to think."
"Is it? 'Cause Dad's getting a little suspicious over here."
"David," she said with exasperation. "Even if I was dumb enough to get involved with a man like Remington Steele, what possible difference could it make to you?"
He shook his head, unsure whether he was amused or annoyed. "You really don't know, do you?"
He laughed without amusement and stood up. "Remington Steele, huh? Who'da thunk it? We'll just have to see how worthy Charm Boy is. Can't have you throwing yourself at just any Tom, Sid, and Sue." He left the office, determination in his stride.
Maddie's concerned eyes followed him. "Oh, David…"
Maddie had hoped that David's new-found fascination with Remington Steele—particularly his involvement in her past—would pass the same way his dubiously brilliant ideas for Broadway musicals and hit TV series usually did.
Two days later, when he stepped into her office before lunch and said, "About Charm Boy—" she knew all her hopes had been in vain.
"What about him, David?" Her tone betrayed her irritation, but her partner was undeterred.
"I've been doing some research on him—talking to some of the guys I know on the seedier side of the street. Turns out, up until a few years ago, nobody'd ever seen the guy. Oh, there were rumors—Paris, London, Madrid—" he paused to look around stealthily before whispering, "—Moscow." He raised one eyebrow at her—to convey the secrecy involved. She saw his eyebrow and raised two.
He grinned and winked at her and before continuing. "But no one had ever clapped eyes on the man, in the flesh, so to speak. No one except Laura Holt and the firm's few office minions. Then four years ago—bam!"
"He appears out of nowhere—fully-formed and tailored to boot—like one of those Greek myths. Bam—a flash of lighting and roll of thunder—twenty pairs of perfectly polished shoes—and low and behold, the man exists! And soon Fox and Murray—Murphy?—something, anyway, they're out, and Mildred Krebs is in.
"And then Remington Steele starts turning up all over town. And not just the society pages, mind you, but all the seedy, shady places the society pages conveniently forget about. He's a gambler—a real high roller—and there are whispers that if you're missing a real swell piece of jewelry, he might be the guy you want to see. Very big on finder's fees, our Remington Steele.
"And then a year ago, all that stops. The gambling had already leveled off to once or twice a month, but last spring it runs dry altogether. And if you're missing jewelry, it's pretty clear you better go to the office and ask for Miss Holt.
"So, questions: Who the hell is he, and what happened last year to make him change so drastically?"
Despite herself, Maddie was intrigued. "Spring, huh?"
"Ring any bells?"
She shrugged. "I went to dinner with him in March."
David narrowed his eyes. "Did you give him a mind-altering experience?"
"No! How could you even suggest such a thing? The man is a peacock—a pretty face with no feeling. About as much use as a marble statue."
They glared at each other for a few heated moments—just long enough for Maddie to realize that she would never liken her partner to a marble statue—a Roman god, perhaps, but never its statue.
"Glad to hear it," David muttered as his shoulders slowly unclenched.
There was a timid knock at the door. In David's experience there was only one person who could make a knock sound reluctant. "Come in, Agnes."
She cracked the door open and peered in. "Sorry to interrupt Mr. Addison, Ms. Hayes, but there's a client out here."
"Real or stuffed?"
Maddie rolled her eyes with exasperation. "Like it would matter! We need the business."
"He's real all right, and he's hopping mad."
"At us?" David asked. He looked at Maddie. "What'd we do?"
"We? We don't get people mad. What did you do?"
"Not you," said Agnes. "Remington Steele."
David raised an eyebrow. "The plot thickens."
Maddie shook her head. "So do you. Send him in Miss DiPesto."
Once Agnes left, David grinned at Maddie. "Hopping mad, huh? Always makes me think of red toads. Hop, hop, hop." He laughed as he hopped over to the edge of Maddie's desk and took a seat.
Maddie gave up rolling her eyes and exercised her frustration by straightening the desk instead. "Will you at least try to behave like you passed kindergarten on your first time through? Please, David?"
He smiled down at her and brushed a stray hair out of her pleading eyes. "For you, Maddie Hayes, I'll pretend I skipped kindergarten all together."
"That's small consolation," she said dryly as the door opened, and Agnes entered leading their prospective client.
"Mr. Jacob Grove," she said, and then gestured to her employers. "Ms. Madolyn Hayes and Mr. David Addison."
The man following Agnes accepted David's handshake and made Maddie giggle by kissing her extended fingers, tickling her with his mustache. He smiled at them both. "Call me Jake," he said with a soft southern twang.
Maddie returned the smile, and nudged David to follow suit. "David and Maddie, please," she said, motioning him into a seat. "How can we help you, Jake?"
He waited for Maddie to take a seat before finding his own. "I'm getting married this weekend," he announced.
David nodded sympathetically. "I understand your problem, Jake, but I'm not sure what we can do to help you." David winked at Maddie; she ignored him.
Jake shook his head. "That's not my problem. I want to get married—Charlotte's the love of my life." He sighed, a dreamy look coming to his eyes and a small smile playing beneath his mustache. "Have you ever met someone like that? Someone who just makes the rest of it go away, 'cause when you look at her you think if God could create that, then everything else can't be half as bad as you think it is. And you think that when He created her, He had to take the next day off just because perfection is a hard act to follow. And you are the luckiest son-of-a-bitch just to be able to look at her and hold her and love her and know she loves you back. Have you?"
David stared at him for a full minute before swallowing and shaking his head. "Depends on the day."
"No, it doesn't. Once it hits you, it never really goes away."
David cleared his throat, all too aware of Maddie's eyes boring into the back of his head. "Good to know. Why don't you tell us about your real problem, Jake?"
"It's pretty simple. Some smarmy detective agency is poking around, saying my Charlotte killed a man and causing all kinds of hell, and I want it stopped. And if you can't stop it, I want you to prove Charlotte didn't touch a hair on that man's head."
David and Maddie looked at each other.
Maddie bit her lower lip. "And this detective agency, which one did you say it was?"
"Remington Steele Investigations. What the hell kind of a name is that anyway?"
"We'll take the case," David said, anticipation in his voice.
Maddie cleared her throat. "What my partner means is that we've had previous relations with Mr. Steele and his associate and would be more than willing to discuss your concerns with them and, of course, begin an investigation of our own."
"Is that what I meant?" David asked, as Maddie ushered Jake out the door. "You got all that from four little syllables?" He met Jake's amused and slightly baffled expression over Maddie's shoulder. David smirked. "Do we make great partners or what?"
"Things aren't looking good for Charlie Gear, Boss." Mildred looked up at Steele from the pile of papers on her desk. "Not only does the hair Miss Holt found seem to place Charlie in the apartment where the doctor died, but that note you dug up clearly matches her handwriting on the forms we have all our clients fill out. Add to it the fact that all of Dr. Symmons' crooked money's been filtered into an account under the name Charles Gear and, well, she looks about as innocent as Nixon."
"Mm—that's just the problem, Mildred," Steele muttered. "She looks like a great many things, but there's no proof of any of it. If only we had a witness—preferably two: one to place her at the scene of the crime and one to tie her into the bank account, then we could be sure. We could hand her over to Detective Jarvis and have done with the whole sordid business—maybe even work in a vacation as a reward for a job well done." He crossed his arms and pouted for effect.
Mildred shook her head. "Easy, Chief. Miss Holt will have something, just you wait."
"Where the devil is the woman? Lunch was over an hour ago."
"Here," croaked Laura, dragging herself through the door as she shook her hair out and clutched a sealed packet to her chest. "It's pouring buckets out there. You must feel right at home, Mr. Steele. Here—take this." She handed the packet to him and shook herself like a dog. Droplets splattered everywhere. With very deliberate, staid motions, Steele removed his handkerchief from his top pocket and dabbed his face dry.
Laura laughed. "Sorry about that. Give it here." She snatched the handkerchief out of his hands and finished the job before applying it to her own dripping face. She looked down at the rest of her and sighed sadly. "Well, there's another pair of pantyhose ruined. This job is just not nylon friendly." She looked up to meet her partner's amused expression and blushed because he had her favorite look in his eyes—the one that said 'she looks like any other woman, she dresses like other woman, and then she opens her mouth…' It was a look of perpetual amazement, and while it had originally annoyed her to no end, now it only reaffirmed her long held belief that they would be surprising each other for years to come.
She nodded to the packet in his hands. "Copy of the autopsy report. Open it up and tell us some good news." She looked back down at her jacket and plucked the sodden material away from her body carefully before giving up with another sigh.
Steele worked the seal open and withdrew the papers within with a flourish. He read silently for a few moments. "Murder. Trace amounts of poison in his system." He handed the report to Mildred for further scrutiny and turned back to Laura. "Well, that's something, anyway. We're no longer trying to prove a man didn't kill a man who wasn't killed."
"On the other hand, now we have to prove that a woman with an airtight alibi poisoned our doctor," Laura said. "I checked with her fiancé earlier. She was on a bridal retreat half a state away for the entire weekend—Friday through early Monday morning. Presumably, our office was her first stop after arriving home and discovering that Dr. Symmons was dead. He was killed Saturday night and three of Charlie's good friends plus two manicurists will swear she was at the spa the entire time."
"Perhaps she left the poison in something she knew he would be likely to consume while she was away?" Steele suggested, grasping at straws.
Laura shook her head. "It hardly seems likely. If I were going to murder someone, I'd want to be damn sure of when he died so I could be somewhere else."
"It does seem rather far-fetched. Still, we have a motive. Mildred's been brilliant, as usual. Tell her, darling."
Mildred looked up from the autopsy report. "What? Oh—the money."
"The dirty money?" Laura asked with interest.
"The very same. It's been siphoned off into an account under the name Charles Gear, and it's set to close by the end of the week. Someone's cleaning up shop."
"That's terrific, Mildred!" Laura exclaimed, already planning. "We can stake out the bank and see who turns up."
"Boss—there's a problem with this report."
"What is it, Mildred?"
"Well, the poison—when they say trace amounts, they mean trace amounts. It'd kill you, sure, but very slowly over a very long period of time. Someone was feeding Dr. Symmons poison little by little, no doubt hoping the added stress on his system would cause the old duffer to keel over one day soon. Without an autopsy his death would be put down to a life lived beyond the limitations of his health, and our murderer would get away with all that money. But apparently that plan wasn't working fast enough. Someone skewered him instead—right through the base of the skull. Quick, bloodless, and for our doc’s sake, I hope painless. The ME never noticed." She leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially, "I heard Saturday is his drinking day."
Steele clucked his disapproval. "Charming."
Laura wrung the water out of her hair with another sigh. "Well, that rules out Charlotte, doesn't it? She'd have to physically be there to stick a needle in his brain, and five witnesses swear she was getting French tips at the time."
"Pity," Steel agreed, watching water drip off Laura and onto the floor. "What did you do—stop to bathe in it?"
Laura glared at him through her mussed hair. "If you must know, I had to walk five blocks through what felt like a fish tank because someone stole my umbrella last week to use as a sword, since he'd misplaced the Agency gun yet again."
He grinned. "Yes, we really should do something about that, Laura. It's beginning to become a bit of a safety hazard."
"You're a bit of a safety hazard," she grumbled, peeling off her suit jacket. "Lord, I feel like a drowned rat."
"You smell better at least."
Laura pulled her wet, pink camisole out of her skirt and rested her hands on her hips. "Thank you for those words of encouragement, Mr. Steele."
Steele smirked, noticing with distinct pleasure the way water made that particular shade of pink almost see-through. "Anytime, Miss Holt, anytime."
The door opened behind them, heralded by the voice of David Addison.
"Whoa—Stats—figures always were your strong suit."
Mildred read the look of distaste on Steele's face and employed her detective training. "Let me guess, David Addison?" She looked behind him to the beautiful blonde in soft pink. "Then you must be Ms. Hayes. Pleasure to meet you both, I'm sure. Tea? Coffee?"
While Mildred distracted their company, Laura took the time to hide behind Steele, who was suddenly feeling a lot less pleased by the amount of Laura revealed in the drenched camisole.
He straightened and swept his jacket back with his hands on his hips to provide Laura more coverage. "Mr. Addison, Ms. Hayes—to what do we owe the pleasure?"
David grinned, a wicked glint in his eye. "Oh, the pleasure was all mine."
"Davy, behave yourself," Laura chastised, emerging from behind Steele, re-clothed in her soaked blazer.
"Yes, Davy," Maddie chimed in. "Behave yourself."
She turned back to Laura with a smile. "We're working on manners. Soon we might even let him answer the telephone without supervision."
"Hey—" David started to protest, but his partner cut him off.
Maddie address Laura again. "We were hired by a client who is concerned that the Remington Steele Agency believes Charlotte Gear is a murderer. We assured our client that we would be willing to talk to you about your findings and proceed with our own investigation to prove otherwise."
"I wish you luck," Steele muttered before Laura placed a restraining hand on his arm.
She smiled back at Maddie, just as sweetly. "If we were investigating a murder involving Miss Gear, all information pertaining to the case would fall under client confidentiality. We would need to check with our client before we could discuss any details with Blue Moon Investigations."
David met Steele's eyes and despite their mutual animosity, the two shared a common thought. It went something like this: Red tape really only applies to those not sharp enough to slice through it.
David cleared his throat. "There a bar 'round here? I'm a little dry."
"There's a pub around the corner," Steele volunteered, the picture of helpfulness. "I'll just walk you down. Wouldn't want you to get lost, and I'm certain these ladies have more than enough business to discuss without us under foot. Eh, Miss Holt?"
He grinned at her, and she surveyed him with a skeptical eye. "I'm sure," she said, tacitly agreeing to trust him in the face of all evidence once again.
"Good. Grand. We shall return, ladies, never fear."
"Tootles," David said, giving Maddie a finger wave and blowing Mildred a kiss.
Outside the office he looked at Steele, respect growing in his eyes. "You sure are one smooth operator, Charm Boy."
Steele smirked with amusement. "Oh likewise, David, likewise."
When they were at the bar and clutching two glasses of beer (which David would have called sixteen ounces each, but Steele would have sworn were two pints), David bravely broached the subject lurking in the awkward silence between them.
"So, about Stats—"
"Her name is Laura or Miss Holt, and she happens to be a woman I care about rather deeply, so I'd appreciate a little decorum from you on her behalf."
David took a sip of his beer, considering the man seated beside him. Taken on the whole, Remington Steele didn't make a hell of lot of sense. The man was an enigma—all polished surfaces and smooth talk until the shit hit the fan, and then his diamond sharp edges became terrifyingly obvious. Who the hell was this guy? Only one thing was clear—whatever else this man was, whoever else he'd ever been—he truly did care for Laura Holt.
David returned his glass to the counter, ignoring the coaster Steele nudged his way without looking up from the wood of the bar. David rested his chin in his palm, the better to watch Steele almost imperceptible expressions. "All right," he said, as if finally deciding Steele was worthy of Stats. "Good. That's what I wanted to hear."
Steele looked up from his glass, brow furrowed with irritation. "What possible difference could it make to you?"
David winced—obviously, this was also a man who didn't appreciate another man caring for a woman he cared deeply about. Well, David could sympathize with that, too.
"Look, I think I'd better explain about the nature of my previous relationship with your—associate."
Steele snorted and looked back into his glass, straightening his coaster in agitation. "You'll forgive me if I'm not positively electrified by the prospect."
"Yeah, well, it was a long time ago—spring break week back when we were both young enough and stupid enough to think it was the best excuse for a party since the bomb gave the world that timeless pickup line, 'You know, the world might end tomorrow—better live while we still can.'"
Steele snorted. He'd used that one himself with varying degrees of success. Once, he'd even contemplated using it on Laura—obviously, he hadn't known her all that well at the time…
David took another sip before continuing. "Anyway, I wasn't in college, but I needed to get the hell out of New York, and Florida seemed as good a place as any to crawl inside a bottle for a couple weeks. So, I'm in this beach hut bar one night, going to hell the best way I know how, when I see Stats—Laura, I mean. Her bare feet are planted on the bar between a bottle of rum and an empty martini glass, and she's wearing one of those Hawaiian lei necklace things and not a whole lot else, if you catch my drift."
"Consider it caught."
"Yeah, well, she was something else all right."
"The mind reels."
"Anyway, the speakers are blasting behind her, and there's this sea of dipshits surrounding the bar, staring at her like they've never seen a chick before—I know 'cause I was one of them."
"Does this story have a conclusion or are you enjoying the exposition too much?"
"I'm getting there, Charm Boy. Anyway, Stats—Laura—starts dancing—middle of a mob with a very low brains to testosterone ratio, and the damn fool starts dancing—this big, ridiculous fan dance—"
"Let me guess, the dance was big—"
"—And the fans weren't. You better believe it. So, she's doing this dance on top of the bar, in a sea of guys, on a beach lit by a hell of a lot more than just moonlight. And I get to thinking: 'once this song ends, once those fans fall, this chick is toast. They are going to swallow her alive and spit out the feathers in the morning.' Needless to say, I was getting a little concerned. So, I start inching my way toward the bar, fighting my way through these shitfaced guys, and I get there just as the song ends.
"There's this one moment of perfect silence, and she looks down at me, just as the reality of the situation hits her. I mean there is nothing but sheer panic in this woman's eyes, and before I know what I'm doing, I'm on the bar, dragging her behind the counter with me just as the crowd surges forward. We look at each other, and I have just enough time to yell 'Run!' before she grabs my arm and a bottle of tequila and breaks through the back of the hut. We're talking plywood and four-inch framing, and her in bare feet and a flowery necklace. I have no idea how she made it through that wall—I figure she broke through by sheer force of will alone."
Steele smiled and took a sip from his glass. That sounded like his Laura, all right. "And what did the two of you do next?"
"Do? I didn't have time to do—this crazy chick is dragging my arm out of its socket so hard she's dislocating my brain. I have two very simple options—follow the madwoman or lose the arm."
Steele snorted. "I've been there once or twice myself."
"I believe it. Anyway, we escape the mob, and she stops running long enough for me to free my arm from her grasp. I'm breathing heavy and sweating like a pig, but she's just standing there, hands on her hips, shaking her head at me."
"I've been there, too."
"Yeah. So, I'm sitting down, trying to figure out what the hell just happened, and she starts pacing, firing off questions one after the other. Finally, she looks at me and asks me where I'm staying. She actually gives me a chance to answer this one, so I do, and she says great, we'll go there. And I say, 'we will?' She asks me if I have any better ideas. This is a time of my life when the better ideas I do have always involve scantily clad women in my hotel room with tequila, so I don't put up a whole lot of protest."
Steele felt his teeth clench and tried to remind himself that he too had gone through a similar period of better ideas. But visions of scantily clad Laura Holt of the tiny fans were dancing through his head, and he was feeling less than charitable toward the man seated beside him.
David noticed the new tension in his drinking partner and shook his head. "Calm down, Charm Boy. She wasn't that kind of girl, which was fine because by the time we found our way back to the hotel, I wasn't feeling much like that kind of guy. She was cold, even with my jacket on, and I was hungry and growing more and more sober, which was a condition I'd hoped to avoid by going to Florida in the first place. So, she took a shower and got into some of my sweats, and I ordered us some food. Then we cracked the tequila bottle and settled into our respective corners of the room. She was a great listener, which I needed more than the tequila really, and she had a few stories to tell herself—stuff about her dad and Stanford and hating being a math major. I teased her about being stuck in stats and voila—a nickname was born.
"She said she wasn't cut out for columns of figures and boring equations. She was going to be a ballerina—no, a tightrope walker—no, wait, better still—a private detective. She was so excited—so vibrant. She was giddy over this idea—about becoming the world's greatest PI—the fame and glamour, the daring and intrigue. Hell, she made it sound so good the idea got stuck in my head, too."
He smiled slightly—memories of the infallible, unflappable Laura Holt floating past his eyes. "But more than all that—more all the fame and fortune, she wanted to know; she wanted the truth—she wanted justice. And she wanted to be the one to deliver the two. She wanted to know who the bad guys were, and she wanted to take them down—all of them—as many as she possibly could. That's what I remember most about her—not the fans and the body, but the fire behind them. She was going to fix the world, one bad guy at a time, come hell or high water."
Steele smiled fondly, picturing the young Laura Holt the way she must have looked to the man beside him all those years ago. Earnest and pure, so sweet you might think she was easy until you realized the soft heart was backed by a spine of steel. Young Harry would have taken one look at her a gone running, but Davy Addison had just sat and stared in wonder. "She still is. Fixing the world, I mean. We haven't had a vacation that didn't end up as a case since I met her, and it doesn't look like the situation will be remedied anytime soon."
David laughed. "Good. I'd hate to think that fire could ever go out."
"Mm. Well, the coals show no sign of cooling yet. Am I then to understand that you two spent the evening together and that was the only fire you shared?"
David met Steele's eyes and nodded solemnly. "We shared a hotel room, our life stories, and a bottle of tequila, but that was it. She wasn't interested, and I was more than satisfied just talking to her. She was going to save the world—it was kinda flattering that I got to help save her."
Steele smiled and nodded, looking at the wall in front of him. "I suppose I understand that feeling, too. She's a hell of a rescue-e, our Miss Holt, not that she often gives me the chance." He pushed his glass away and crossed his arms on the bar. "Now, shall we get back to what we escaped down here to discuss?"
"Sure, fire away."
"Yes, well, it seems to me that we both have information the other might desire."
"Yeah. I'm sure we could really help each other out, you know, if it weren't for two very lovely ladies and this pesky client confidentiality thing."
"Mm. Tricky thing—confidentiality."
"I'll drink to that."
They did and silence descended as they contemplated the situation.
Finally, David set his glass down in order to lean closer to Steele's ear. He spoke quietly. "You know, confidentially to confidential—we could really use a little of that glowing limelight your agency seems to be swimming in all the time."
Steele nodded, considering the proposition. "Mm. Well, confidentially to confidential—the faster this case is wrapped up, the more time I'll have to talk Laura into taking her fan dance routine on a well-deserved tropical sojourn sans investigation."
"Well then, it sounds like a little trade of information may be just what the doctor ordered."
"Not likely—the doctor's dead. And I'm afraid the condition may be catching, if and when Miss Holt discovers we've had this conversation."
David snorted. "Yeah, I'm sure Maddie will be thrilled, too."
"I suggest a partnership. I propose we present a unified front to our lovely, leading ladies and suggest a little cooperation between agencies—not unlike your FBI and CIA, only friendlier and with fewer casualties. That way we both might actually get somewhere as opposed to stepping on each other's toes at the starting line."
David raised his glass to toast the proposition. "You're not bad, Charm Boy. I think this just might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
Steele grinned, delighted with the Casablanca reference. "Oh, I hope so, David. I certainly hope so."
Maddie watched her partner's back disappear through the office's front door with suspicion. She moved closer to Laura. "They're up to something," she said softly.
Laura sighed and turned away from the door. "I think I'd be disappointed if they weren't."
"I hate it," Maddie whispered, still watching the empty doorway. The vehemence in her voice made Laura glance at her with concern.
"Did I miss something?"
"I hate the games and the scheming and the—the lies." Maddie shuddered. "All of it—lies."
"Davy?" Laura asked.
"What?" Maddie's eyes turned to Laura's in genuine surprise.
"I'll tell you what, honey," Mildred said, bustling out of the break and storage room with two cups of tea in her hand, "that Mr. Addison of yours is a real pip. Quite the smooth talker. I'll bet he and the Boss get on just fine." She handed a cup of tea to each of the younger women and stayed until they both dutifully sipped and made sounds of appreciation. Satisfied that the outer office was well taken care of, Mildred returned to the back offices, leaving Maddie and Laura to stare uncomfortably at each other.
"Well," Laura said, at a loss for conversation starters with a woman she barely knew and shared little with beyond a slightly murky connection to two men who they both seemed to know rather intimately. She gestured to the couch to suggest a more comfortable venue for an increasingly awkward conversation and prayed Maddie would take the lead.
Maddie nodded graciously and followed Laura to the couch. "David's something, all right," she said, grasping for the only common ground between them. "How did you two meet again?"
Laura sat down heavily on the taupe cushions and tried to look innocent. "Junior year of college."
"I didn't think David went to college."
"We met in Florida. Spring break. It's a long story—boring, really. He did me a favor, and I like to think I did him one in return. He was in a lot of pain when I met him. I was in pretty poor shape myself. Davy and I listened to each other—just listened. And drank. I seem to remember a lot of tequila being involved. But we didn't—I mean, we never…" She trailed off, looking away from Maddie with a blush.
Maddie sipped her tea, smiling slightly. "That's a pity. I'd love some insight on how the young Davy Addison operated."
Laura shook her head, the image of Davy as he'd looked that night coming into her mind. He'd been thin and haggard; his hair had grown long and stuck out every which way. He hadn't shaved in the week since he'd left New York, and his clothes were reaching the crisis point where doing laundry became the only alternative to a wardrobe bonfire. And then there was the way his eyes glossed over every now and then, and he sunk back into himself—back behind blank expression until alcohol and her persistent coxing drew him out of his darker thoughts.
"C’mon, Davy," she'd said, laughing and pulling faces at him until his scowl broke into a reluctant smile. "You tell me your secrets, and I'll tell you mine."
"You're a math major. What kinda secrets you got, Stats?"
"Don't you want to find out?" she'd teased, laughing at him until he laughed, too, softly enough to make her lean forward, even though she was across the room.
"Yeah," he'd said quietly, "I'd like that."
Laura looked up at Maddie now, tears lurking in the corners of her eyes. She wiped at them and sniffed, before laughing a little and shrugging. "He was a good guy. He still is—well, as far as I can tell. It's been a while."
Maddie looked away, feeling irrationally guilty for spending the last two years with David and never quite reaching the level of intimacy Laura Holt had achieved in one evening. Was it youth or was it Laura? Maddie couldn't help but hold the latter responsible. Something about the infallible Miss Holt made a person want to open up his soul and show her all the redeeming qualities he'd stashed away inside. Was that quality the magic that had cracked open David's hard shell all those years ago?
"Yes," she whispered, almost reluctantly. "He's still a good man." And with that tiny fracture in the dam, the rest of the reservoir came rushing through. "He's bent, though. I mean you only have to look at that trickster grin of his to realize that. That man could sell sand in a desert and make you think you'd snatched up something rare and precious. The things he comes up with sometimes… And I just look at him, and I think how could you—how can you—uh! It's wrong! It's all just so wrong..."
She stopped talking for moment, reigning in her emotions and frustrations while Laura sat by quietly and nodded sympathetically. Maddie looked down at her now lukewarm tea and then back up at Laura.
"But I trust him. He talks me into the most ridiculous schemes, and I let him, because even though I only see black and white and he just sees all the shades of grey, usually he knows what he's doing. Or he knows how to land on his feet—one of the two. And he'd never hurt someone for his own profit. He can see the flaws in the rules and bend his way around them. I can't, Laura. I just can't. Rules are rules, and black can't be white. But we live and work in such a grey area, and sometimes I just have to trust him."
"But I bet you keep him from straying too far into the dark," Laura said, smiling. "That's a good thing, I think. You're good together, what little I've seen. Very different, very…vocal, but then I think that just keeps things interesting."
Maddie laughed weakly. "Well, it does that. Never a dull moment around the office. Of course, never a case either, but we're working on that."
"You've got a case now. Dr. Symmons death?"
Maddie shook her head. "We're a little stuck on that. Beyond coming to you about Charlotte Gear, we really haven't thought this through yet. I suppose we'll just start at the beginning and keep poking away until we get somewhere. It's always worked before—well, almost always."
Laura nodded. "Leg work—Mr. Steele's favorite. You won't have to start at the very beginning though."
Laura shrugged. "I think I can safely say our client would be very glad to have someone paid to prove her innocence on her team."
"Charlotte Gear's your client?"
"We can't believe it either."
"She hired you, and you think she's guilty?"
"She certainly looks it. Want to help us prove otherwise?"
Maddie looked tempted, but then shook her head. "No. We'd be violating our client's confidentiality. It would be wrong."
"And yet you came over here for information?"
"I—" Maddie paused, caught in a grey area without David's shady vision to see her way out.
Laura set her cup down on the coffee table and then leaned back to meet and hold Maddie's gaze. "Let me ask you something—no schemes, no deception, just an honest question." Maddie nodded warily and Laura leaned in closer. "If you thought David had committed a crime—a serious one—say murder, and no one else in the world suspected a thing—just you—would you turn him in?"
Maddie froze, mind shorting out as millions of considerations piled in. "I—"
"There's no evidence. No one suspects foul play. What do you do?"
Maddie's eyes went wide, taking in the thought. "No evidence?"
Maddie blew out a sigh. "Well, I guess I'd hunt around for something to base my suspicions off of besides a gut feeling. I'd feel pretty silly taking that to the police, and besides…"
She trailed off, and Laura nodded. "Exactly. You don't potentially betray someone you care about on a hunch alone. You don't let him get away with murder, but you don't throw him under the bus either."
"And you ask him. I mean, if I thought—if I ever suspected that David could do something like that—I'd want to know why. I'd want a reason—explanation—something."
"And if it tracks in your mind, maybe it wasn't such a bad thing after all. Maybe the police don't need to know. Grey area."
"It sounds horrible," Maddie said, shaking her head. "What kind of person thinks like that? But yes, I do. I think David would have a legitimate reason. I think I'd want to hear it. I'd want to help him."
"And I think the feeling is mutual," Laura assured her. "Not that it's ever likely to come up. But we agree, you don't betray a loved one without significant proof?" Maddie nodded, confused by the tenor of the conversation. Laura enlightened her with another question. "Can you then explain to me why Charlotte Gear walked into our office Monday morning and announced that her fiancé might be a murderer with no proof and nothing for us to go on?"
"No," Maddie said, baffled by the thought. "I can't."
Laura smiled sweetly. "Would you like to help us find out?"
Steele entered the office first, expecting to find Mildred cowering under the debris scattered by Laura and Maddie reenacting the western front.
David came in behind him and stopped short, surprised to see the ladies in question sitting on the couch by Mildred's empty desk and talking like old school buddies.
"Jake Grove," Maddie was saying, "is convinced his fiancée didn't murder her gynecologist."
Old school buddies with loose mouths, David thought.
"Well, we'd love to say she did do it," Laura informed her. "All our leads point to her, but unfortunately her alibi is rock solid."
"My, my," Steele said, causing the two women to jump. "Isn't this cozy?"
"Snug as a bug in a rug," David agreed. "Two bugs in a particularly sleazy rug."
"What are you talking about?" Laura asked in startled confusion.
Steele raised an eyebrow. "I think we could ask you two the same question. David, you'll excuse us, won't you? I just want a little word with my associate. Laura?"
Safely in his office, Laura voiced her confusion. "Would you care to explain yourself? Are you angry? You and Davy take off for parts unknown, and you're angry?"
Steele leaned against the door and watched her work up steam. He felt the chill seep into his veins, the way it did whenever he became truly enraged. "You already decided that we were going to partner with Blue Moon on this case?"
"You weren't even going to ask me? Laura, how many times are we going to have this discussion? How can I be involved and be dedicated to this Agency when you won't even give me a say in whatever the bloody hell we're doing?"
Laura looked thunder struck; no one could turn icy calm like Mr. Steele. The man practically invented the expression. But it was one that she's seen less and less frequently over the years. She had almost hoped it had disappeared for good. But staring at him now, frozen by his frigid gaze, she realized that this particular iceberg would not be melting entirely anytime soon. She considered very carefully for a minute before nodding.
"I'm sorry. I guess I didn't realize you felt so strongly about Blue Moon. I assumed you would be in favor of the partnership. It means less leg work for us, and we both know how fond you are of leg work."
Steele pushed off the door to walk towards her, his icy calm replaced with irritation. It's a start, she thought.
"Yes, Laura, I'll admit I do have a certain aversion to leg work. And no, I don't particularly mind partnering with Blue Moon. In fact, David and I were just contemplating the same alliance. But we were going to ask the two of you—not steamroll you into the deal."
"All right?" he asked, taken aback.
Laura nodded soothingly. "All right. You're right. I should have waited to consult with you. You are my partner; you deserve a say in who we partner with even when I know you are going to agree. I apologize."
Steele scrutinized her sincere expression, already feeling his anger and frustration ebb away. "Just like that?"
"Just like that. I'm sorry."
Steele lips quirked upward. "I don't know what to say."
Laura laughed out loud. "There's a first. Why don't you tell me I'm exceptional again?"
He grinned and moved even closer to her, settling his hands around her waist, and sending ripples of warmth up her spine. He kissed her nose and whispered, "You are exceptional, Miss Holt."
He kissed her lips for good measure, and they were both prepared to forget about the case when the door opened.
In the outer office, David and Maddie were having a similar conversation.
"It's my Agency, David. It's my call."
"Whoa, Blondie Blonde—did I say anything? Did I? It's your call; it's my suggestion. Now we're both on the same page, let's start over. How are you, dear?"
"Splendid. I am also well, in case you were wondering."
Maddie pursed her lips. "That's—"
"Splendid? Spiffing? Another one of those marvelously special 'sp' words those Brits use? He's a piece of work, Maddie, but I can't help liking the bugger."
"He's a rat," Maddie said with fervor.
David chuckled. "Go on—tell me how you really feel."
Maddie clenched her teeth. "He's a bounder. And a cad—"
"Oh no—let me guess—he's a rascal, too. That rapscallion."
"David! I'm serious. He's a…" She trailed off, mulling over her choices.
"A what?" David asked, truly curious.
"A shitheel," she said with finality.
"Woah-ho! Maddie Hayes—you kiss your mother with that mouth?"
Not wanting to pursue the point of contention, he changed the subject. "You seemed to be getting on pretty well with Laura."
Maddie smiled, pleasantly distracted from the subject of Steele. "She's lovely, David. Truly lovely."
He watched her smile widen even farther and realized he was genuinely pleased Maddie and Laura appeared to like each other. In fact, he might even go so far as to say he was delighted. He didn't think he'd ever been delighted before, at least not until Remington Steele had introduced the concept into his vocabulary. He looked at Maddie again, taking in her stunning smile and soft, slightly crinkled blue eyes. She was delightful. And he was delighted.
He returned her smile lazily, enjoying the heat working its way up between them. "She is lovely," he agreed. "And she isn't the only one."
Maddie bit her lip and her eyes sparkled. "Oh, no?"
"Nope," he said, grinning down at her. "I'm not so bad myself."
She laughed and he suddenly realized the absence of noise coming from Steele's office.
"Do you think they're done?"
She shrugged and turned to head for the inner office door. "They'll have to be. We have a murder to solve."
The door opened and Maddie walked into the office to find Steele and Laura lip-locked.
"Oh my—I'm terribly sorry—"
David came in behind her and grinned. "I guess it's a good thing you didn't go into risk management after all, huh Stats?"
Steele and Laura broke apart—she blushing, he unabashed.
Maddie was still fussing. "How embarrassing! I'm so sorry—"
"Don't be," Steele said with a sigh. "We're used to it."
"Well, of course you'd say that," Maddie said in irritation. She hurried over to Laura with concern. "Are you all right? Did he hurt you?"
Laura looked at Maddie with a mixture of amusement and confusion. "Maddie, I'm fine. We're together—well, for a given amount of together."
"I resent that," Steele objected, but he was smiling.
Maddie glared at him. "Well, you know men—"
"Apparently not the way you do," David interrupted, closing the subject. "Now, can we move on to the case?"
"Splendid idea, David," Steele agreed. "Splendid."
David grinned. "I knew you were going to say that.
An hour later, Laura stood up to pace. "So, what do we have? We have a murder and a suspect who couldn't have done it because she was half a state away getting French tips."
David watched her pace and began to feel dizzy. "We have a fiancé who might have done it because he found out the love of his life was screwing another man. Stats, would you cool it?"
"She thinks better in motion—gives her a sense of urgency," Steele said, pinching his eyes to forestall the oncoming headache. "And the fact that Jake Grove's so adamant about proving his fiancée innocent would appear to tip the scales in his favor."
Maddie nodded and swung her feet up onto the desk in front of her chair. "And the way he talked about her—a man betrayed in love couldn't talk about her like that. He was glowing. She might as well have been the Virgin Mary."
Laura stopped pacing and sighed. "We seem to be running out of suspects."
Steele stood up and stretched his back. "It seems to me we've been short on them since this case began. I keep getting this nagging feeling that there's another person wrapped up in all of this."
A thought occurred to Laura. "Psycho? The Hitchcock movie? Paramount Pictures, 1960. Anthony Perkins and Vera Miles."
Steele's expression turned thoughtful. "Jake Grove believes himself to be Charlotte Gear and while assuming her identity kills the man she's secretly been poisoning? Not bad, Laura."
David scratched the back of his head, looking skeptical. "It's a bit out there."
"Can you come up with something better?"
But David never got to finish his suggestion because at that moment Mildred came bursting through the door.
"Boss, my old IRS buddy at the bank just called. Someone calling themselves Charles Gear called ahead to make sure the funds from his account would be available when he comes in to close it in half an hour."
Steele kissed her on the forehead and shouted her praises. "Mildred, you are a genius!"
Laura grabbed her hat off the desk and grinned at David and Maddie. "Ready, partners?"
David grinned back. "Do bears bear? Do bees be?"
"Does he ever stop using that line?" Maddie asked with exasperation.
But on the way out the door, Mildred had another call.
"Hold it gang. Ms. Hayes and Mr. Addison are urgently required back at the office. That was Miss Agnes DiPesto on the phone. She says your client's back, and he's brought trouble."
"And we'd better get back there on the double?" David finished for her.
"Yeah—how'd you know?"
"I have a gift."
Maddie shook her head. "He speaks DiPesto."
On the way to the bank, Steele stared out the window, lost in thought.
"His Girl Friday," he said finally.
"His Girl Friday. Columbia Pictures, 1940. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. Grant plays the shady, fast talking newspaper boss trying to reconcile with his ex-wife and top reporter played by Russell. The sparks fly, tempers flare, but in the end there no denying they're meant to be together."
"All right? Laura, it's perfect."
"Well, I guess I'm having trouble finding the correlation between verbal foreplay and our dead gynecologist—oh…"
Steele grinned. "Rather apt parallel to our amusing, but romantically challenged partners-in-crime, eh?"
Laura snorted. "I suppose that depends on who you want to cast as Rosalind Russell."
He shrugged. "Yes, well, as luck would have it, that's not really our problem. Now it's your turn."
"My turn for what?"
"Well, that was my perspective giving movie reference for the day. What's yours?"
"You are impossible."
"You know what bothers me?"
"You're going to have to be a little more specific."
Steele glanced at her for a moment before nodding in serious contemplation. "Yes, the subject often keeps me tossing and turning at night."
Laura rolled her eyes. "I'll bet. But what bothers me is that we keep hearing about these French tips, and I don't remember seeing them. Do you?"
"Well, I've seen them, yes. Just white tips on a nude base, right? Quite fetching, really."
"Good to know. And if they're fetching, you'd be likely to notice if a woman had them, right?"
"I suppose so. Yes."
"Right. And what color were Charlotte Gear's nails the morning she came to see us? The Monday she arrived home from her spa weekend in preparation for her wedding—the spa at which she got French tips?"
Steele thought for a moment and then turned to Laura in shock. "Red—they were blood red. I remember thinking those things would draw the same color blood on whoever's back they encountered next—sorry, Laura." He looked sheepish.
She kept her eyes on the road. "Mind on the case, Mr. Steele. Why would a woman remove nail polish she'd paid good money for and reapply her own—all on the morning of her return while she's distraught over the prospect that she's engaged to a murderer?"
"If she chipped it killing Dr. Symmons? But she didn't because she was getting French tips. And if she was at the spa, and she got French tips, then she couldn't come to our office and accuse her fiancé with red nails, thereby implicating herself. How the hell—oh."
"The third person in the case, Mr. Steele. The first person we ever heard about Monday morning. Just as you suspected."
Steele pouted. "That's not fair, Laura. You didn't cite a movie reference."
David whistled while driving a sullen Maddie back to Blue Moon.
"Something bothering you?" Since she did not seem inclined to respond, David continued on without her help. "Me—I'm disappointed. Of course, we'll have to give Jake Grove back the money now that his fiancée is about to be shown for the murderer she really is. That check would have gone a long way in the pool table fund, I can tell you."
Nothing. No rise, no rebuttal, no Maddie.
"Maddie? You all right there?" Silence. "Are you mad again? You know you have to tell me these things." He waved one hand in front of her face. "Mad-dieee? Hello?"
"Sexual harassment," she said suddenly.
"Hell of a segue."
"Steele and Laura—it's sexual harassment. The way he treats her—never mind kissing in the office."
"Because a parking garage is so much more romantic," David muttered under his breath.
Maddie chose not to hear him. "I can't believe it. In this day and age. The—the—slime—the filthy slime we have to put up with from you men!"
"Oh, geez, Maddie. Lighten up. I think you're reading this situation all wrong. Steele's a great guy. Maybe I wouldn't let him marry my sister, but I don't have a sister, and Laura can hold her own. They're happy."
"Oh, a great guy, huh? Let me tell you about that great guy. He—"
"Left you all alone in a swanky restaurant. He abandoned you; he humiliated you. But Maddie it's not all about you. Can't you accept, just this once, that just because he didn't want to stick around for your dessert doesn't mean that he's not prepared to fetch Laura breakfast in bed?"
"Addison, you are the most despicable—"
"Cool it, Blondie. Plenty of guys are mad for you—do you need to throw a hissy fit when just one would rather go crazy for Laura and beat the line?"
Maddie gritted her teeth. "But it's not just one, is it?" She spoke so softly that he almost missed it.
Maddie sighed. "I don't know, David. I'm sorry; I didn't mean that. I'm happy for Laura, if she's happy. But how can she be? She's the nuts and bolts of that place—you saw it! She ran that meeting. She knew that file backwards. And he takes all the bows and all the credit because it's his name and his Agency—" She stopped, already seeing the abyss opening before her.
David was silent for a moment before speaking very quietly, his tone dangerous. "Did you ever stop to think that maybe she lets him? That maybe she likes letting him take the credit and the bows so long as they're together and he's happy and at the end of the day he knows who to thank and how?"
Maddie let one tense moment pass before daring to breathe again. "We're not talking about Steele and Laura anymore, are we?"
"Nope," David answered tersely, his grip on the steering wheel turning knuckle white.
The chill between Maddie and David froze the outer office of the Blue Moon Detective Agency when they walked it.
Agnes recognized the arctic blast from many a previous argument and ducked behind her desk, pointing to Mr. Addison's office with the one hand still in shrapnel range.
Maddie marched to the door; David trailed behind. They entered to find a happy couple snuggled into the leather couch. The couple sprang up, embarrassed to be discovered.
Jake blushed. "Sorry, Ms. Hayes, Mr. Addison. This is my fiancée—the one all the fuss is about—my very own Charlotte Gear."
"Charlotte?" David asked, just to make sure.
She nodded. "My sisters' names are Emily and Shirley. My mother was a fan of the Bronte sisters—sometimes I think she would have been better off in a Gothic novel."
"Gee, that's a cheery thought."
Maddie and David stared at the blonde woman that they had expected to be on her way to Rio now after a quick stop at the bank.
"Addison—if she's here…"
"And so is he…"
They turned to look at each other, cold war temporarily forgotten. "Who's going to the bank?"
"Red nails, no ring," Steele muttered, thinking out loud.
Laura nodded. "She wasn't lying about Emily having an affair with out dead doctor; she just left out one little, minor detail. She is Emily."
"And she kept seeing him after she left town and helped him embezzle from his own practice."
"They put the money in an account under an adaptation of her sister's old nickname, Charlie."
"And Emily plans to slowly kill her partner using low doses of poison so that she can keep all of her unjust rewards. And if he's dead, no one will ever be able to prove whether she killed him, or her twin sister did. I think this was an Agatha Christie novel."
Something clicked in Laura's mind. "Say that again."
"What? Agatha Christie?"
"No—the part just before."
"And if the doctor's dead no one will be able to prove it wasn't her twin sister who killed him? Why?"
"His office sent us their files on those two, right?"
"They weren't supposed to, but then much stronger bureaucratic systems have crumbled before Mildred Krebs."
"Do we have them?"
"Somewhere." He leaned back and dug through the papers on the back seat. He pulled out two manila envelopes. "Here we are. What am I looking for?"
"A difference. Anything that might help to tell the twins apart. Anything that only our good doctor would have noticed."
Steel opened the first file and began to read. He gave a low whistle. "This could ruin women for me, Laura."
Laura rolled her eyes. "I'll risk it."
He flipped open the next one and compared the two.
"Apparently, our twins were identical in every respect." Laura was amazed to see him blushing. She giggled, earning her a disapproving glance from her partner. "Not so fast, Miss Holt. There is one discrepancy. It appears our Miss Emily has a birthmark in the shape of a pear where most ancient sculptors would discreetly place a grape leaf."
"And Dr. Symmons was the only person with documented proof of the difference—the only one who could tell the difference between the two to a jury of their peers.
"Yes, but why the rush? He was going to die eventually. Charlotte would be the only one known to be in town, and Emily would get away scot-free. He can't identify her from beyond the grave."
"We're missing something."
"The anticipation's killing me." He thought about that statement for a moment and reconsidered. "All right, bad choice of words."
David looked at Jake and Charlotte in the rear-view mirror.
"Everything all right back there?"
Charlotte nodded. "Cozy, but fine."
Maddie stared ahead, pondering. "Who's the third person? If it's not him, and it's not her, who's left?"
David glanced into the back seat again. "Either of you got an evil twin we don't know about?"
Charlotte shrugged. "There's my twin sister Emily. She's nuts."
David blinked and looked at Maddie. "The evil twin—really? You got to be kidding me. That's the oldest cliché in the book. It's so old, the book refused to reprint it in its second edition."
Maddie shrugged. "Stranger things have happened."
Laura and Steele arrived in time to catch Emily signing for the money at the bank teller's counter.
She turned and spotted them. A blank expression quickly replaced the shock on her face. "Mr. Steele, Miss Holt—this is a surprise. What are you doing here?"
"Oh, you know, just passing through." Steele's smile was cool.
Laura crossed her arms. "But then, so are you. Aren't you Emily?"
Emily stared at them for one calm moment, before dropping the money-filled suitcase and lunging for Laura's eyes, red nails bared. Steele caught Emily by the waist and used the momentum from her leap to swing her around and throw her back into the counter. The bank teller had the presence of mind to ring the silent alarm.
Emily caught herself against the counter and smiled in a way that reminded Steele of the feral, wild cats he'd run into in South America. Her long, beautiful hair—once so elegant—now spread outward in a mane of tangled split ends while her eyes—so sultry before—were red and wild with spitfire.
Laura stared at her opponent, transfixed by the terrifying vision before her. "Why, Emily? Why drag Charlotte into this?"
Emily snarled—actually bared her teeth and snarled. "That bitch! That little thief deserves so much more pain, but I'm working with a deadline. They're really murder." She grinned without amusement, madness evident in the depths of her eyes.
Laura glanced at Steele. "What did Charlotte take?"
Steele's expression was grave, watching Emily's every move for a threat. "Jake. Charlotte has Jake, and she had a decrepit old doctor she was sleeping with for his money. What does that make you, Emily?"
"Jake is mine! He was always supposed to be mine. We grew up together; he came out here with me. He's a sweetheart, and he's mine!"
"Except he was never rich enough for you," Steele said, rubbing his lower lip in thought. "You had to make your fortune first, anyway you could. But he changed the rules, didn't he, Emily? He found love elsewhere—your sister Charlotte."
She laughed bitterly. "Daddy's adoration wasn't enough for her—oh no. She had to take Jake, too. Well, I'll take it all back. Jake's mine—he's always been mine."
Laura looked at Steele. "So, she kills the doctor—" Laura didn't have to finish the thought; Emily did it for her.
"Doc had to die eventually, but when I found out the wedding was set for this weekend, the timetable had to be moved up. I thought without him to identify me I could take her place at the wedding. But after one afternoon impersonating Charlotte, I knew I'd never manage to convince Jake. And it wouldn't matter. If he married me as Charlotte, she would still get him—don't you see? She would win."
Steele shook his head, almost feeling sorry for the deranged woman in front of him. Almost. "And you couldn't have that, could you?"
Laura nodded, neurons firing with excess adrenaline. "So, you decided to frame Charlotte instead. A sure-fire way to stop the wedding and send Jake into your comforting arms."
"And it would have worked if you two had just done your job," Emily spat.
"You hired us to prove Jake didn't murder Dr. Symmons. We did that. And we're here to collect our fee." Steele nodded to the cop cars surrounding the bank and the teams filtering into the lobby. "Justice served in exchange for services rendered." He looked to Laura with a raised eyebrow. "Sound about right?"
Laura grinned. "How generous of you, Mr. Steele."
Emily growled and lunged for Laura again. Laura stiffened, preparing herself for the impact, only to realize it never came. Suddenly Emily was snarling on the ground while David Addison held her down and snarled back. "I don't usually hit blondes, but for you, I'll make an exception."
When the dust settled and the blood was mopped off the floor, everyone returned to the Remington Steele office with one exception.
"Where's Davy?" Laura asked with concern.
Maddie winced. "We had a fight. If past behavior is any indication, he's at a bar somewhere."
Laura gave her partner a pointed look.
Steele sighed. "I'll go convince our missing hero to return, shall I?"
Without waiting for a reply, he walked out of the office, stride full of purpose. Three pairs of female eyes followed his progress.
Charlotte sighed appreciatively. "You have that? My God…" Confident in his love, Jake laughed.
Laura shifted in her seat. "Well, have is a relative term. I have Mr. Steele the same way one might have a stray cat. He's content to be yours provided there's lots of milk and plenty of attention to keep him occupied, but he's liable to wander off again whenever the mood moves."
"I heard that." Steele appeared in the doorway, slipping into his jacket. "Don't believe her for a moment. This cat is getting positively domesticated."
Laura smiled. "So I hear."
"So, you know, though Lord knows you'll never admit to it. Well, this cat is going a wandering after Mr. Addison. Leave the milk out, Laura, there's a dear."
Laura blushed, secretly pleased. She caught Maddie looking at her with disbelief. "What?"
"You love him, don't you? You don't mind if he takes all the bows and all the credit."
Laura laughed. "That's his job. Sometimes he gets carried away, but that's why he's got me. And trust me—some days, he wishes he was me."
Oh dear, thought Maddie, David's right again.
David was belly up to the bar by the time Steele arrived.
"Tequila," David told the bar tender, in case the man had a sudden lapse in memory. Anything was possible; David was being to feel a bit foggy himself. "Intravenously if possible."
Steele slid into place beside him. The bartender spared him a glance, and Steele shook his head. "Nothing for me, thanks."
"You don't drink?" David found the concept difficult to grasp.
Steele shrugged. "Not to excess. Inebriation was something of an occupational hazard in my former profession."
"Oh yeah? What profession was that?"
Steele assessed the man next to him and decided that if David could remember the details of this conversation when he sobered up, he deserved to keep the information.
"Yeah? Figured as much. Me—I tended bar. Listen to the world's problems all night long and inebriation becomes a job description." His shot arrived and David downed it in one gulp. He looked back to Steele. "How do you do it?"
"Stay with one, exasperating, aggravating woman and stay sober all the time?"
Steele smiled and tilted his head in thought. "Depends on the woman, I suppose. There are few women I would be tempted to try it with in the first place, let alone get committed to the idea. But Laura—I don't know. I'd rather drive her crazy then drive myself to drink. Better time."
David nodded, considering. "Maddie argues great. I love the way she argues. I mean, I'm always wrong—even when I'm right, I'll be wrong eventually. But she's sooooo strong; she's just so—there, you know? Like if I don't bait her just a little she'll withdraw into this cold, icy shell, and I'll never see her again. And man, she can just be sooooo warm. All that ice—it's a crying shame."
"Have you tried explaining this to her? It sounds pretty good to me."
"Yeah, I try. Man, I try. But there's just so much to say, and we just don't. We haven't since I told her I'd loved her forever that first day and she smacked me one good." He shook his head, pursing his lips a little to grasp his slipping concentration. "We kissed a while back, yeah? I mean a really great kiss. Fan-freaking-tastic kiss. Definitely in my top five. And what do we do? Ignore it. Pretend it never even happened—like 'whoopies, I tripped and accidentally frenched my partner.' Happens all the time, no big deal." He tossed back another shot and smacked the glass back down on the bar. "Bullshit."
Steele nodded, at a loss for any further pearls of wisdom to offer. Laura would know what to say. He signaled the bartender. "You'd better start me off with a scotch, thanks."
Back at the office, Laura kept a wary eye on Maddie, who was slowly growing paler and paler.
"Should we discuss this?"
Maddie shook her head, motioning to Jake Grove and Charlotte Gear sitting on the couch. "Shouldn't we do something for them?'
Laura sighed. "Right, business first."
"It's this darn dedication," Maddie commiserated. Laura blinked at her. "What?"
Laura laughed. "Nothing. Are you sure you only went out once with Mr. Steele?"
"Once was enough."
"All right." She turned back to the couch and dragged a chair over to face its occupants. "Mr. Gove, Miss Gear, I'm afraid we haven't been formally introduced. I'm Laura Holt. I'm an associate of Remington Steele Investigations, we're partnering with Blue Moon on this case." Seeing concern in Jake's eyes, she smiled reassuringly. "Free of charge, I assure you." She looked to Charlotte. "We were hired Monday by your sister Emily who was using your name. She told quite a story; it's hard to tell which parts were true and which were fabrications. I hope you won't mind me asking a few questions to clean up our files?"
Charlotte shook her head. "Not at all. I assume I'm no longer under scrutiny for murder?"
"Not at all. We believe your sister intended to frame you for the murder of Dr. Symmons in order to forestall your wedding this weekend."
Charlotte looked at Jake and sighed. "Unfortunately, that makes a lot of sense." She turned back to Laura and continued. "Emily and I met Jake in the second grade. We moved from Iowa to Georgia one summer, and it didn't go too smoothly. Jake was the only one we met that year who didn't laugh at our northern accents. Kids are tough. Eventually I picked up a little of a southern twang, but Emily went in the opposite direction. She wanted it all gone—perfect speech, perfect inflection—no hint of where she came from or who she was. And that wasn't the only thing she was set on perfecting. Hair, makeup, clothes—by the time we graduated, it was hard to tell that we'd ever been related, other than our faces. Daddy took it hardest. He thought she was abandoning her family, but I knew that wasn't it. It was worse. She was abandoning herself. But she loved Jake, or tried to at least. She was so wrapped up in ditching her past that she forgot to make room for him in her future."
Jake shrugged. "Wouldn't have mattered. I've always been crazy for Charlotte, and nothing could change my mind."
Charlotte nodded. "Emily realized that after we came out here. I was working and going to school; Jake had inherited his uncle's auto shop, and what time we weren't spending working or studying we spent with each other. We just didn't have as much time for her in our lives anymore, and Emily didn't know how to find her own. She latched on to the first kindly person she met."
Charlotte sighed. "Yes. He was kind, and he knew a thing or two about crazed women. I think he really loved her, but I've never been convinced that they slept together. She would have, I'm sure, but I like to think better of Dr. Symmons." Charlotte was quite for a moment. Maddie stared at the coffee table, thinking about love's fragility. Laura nodded for Charlotte to continue, accepting that she'd probably never know the truth about Emily's relationship with Dr. Symmons.
Charlotte looked to Jake and shrugged, turning back to answer Laura. "That's about it. She took off five years ago when she realized that Jake and I were getting serious. I never really expected to see her again. I changed gynecologists; I thought that was best for both of us. But then my new one moved to Washington, and I thought, what the heck? I mean how many people do you want to have poking around down there if you can help it, you know?"
Maddie and Laura looked at each other and shrugged. They knew.
"So, I went back last week, and it was fine. He was just as lovely as ever, just as charming and easy to talk to. I told him about Jake and me tying the knot next week, and he was so happy for us. Last weekend I went away with some girl friends for a spa weekend. My grandmother is almost bed bound and can't leave New York, so we're having the wedding out there, and let me tell you: it is not easy planning a wedding on the other side of the country."
Jake laughed. "Charlotte's been a little stressed."
"Stressed? I've been damn near homicidal." She winced. "Bad choice of words. Anyway, I take off for the weekend, and Sunday afternoon Jake gets this call."
Jake leaned forward to pick up the story. "I didn't want to tell you at the time, in case it ruined my Charlotte's alibi, but a woman called pretending to be Charlotte. There was no reason it couldn't be Charlotte, I mean we'd agreed not to talk while she was away, but it could have been an emergency. But it didn't feel like Charlotte. Even over the phone I could tell it wasn't her. And now that I think of it, there was something else that happened last week."
Laura sat up straighter. "Yes?"
Jake bit his lower lip. "Well, last Thursday, the day after Charlotte went to see Dr. Symmons, there was this kiss. She came into the auto shop after lunch. It was pretty steamy, too, and I remembered thinking that something was different, and I didn't quite like it either. I asked Charlotte about it after and she said, 'What damn fool kiss?' We argued about it all the way home. That's when she said we better not talk while she was away." He looked at Charlotte questioningly. "Do you remember that?"
"I sure do. I thought you were losing it on me. I remember thinking, 'oh great, sixteen years and he's gonna crack on me a week before the wedding."
"But I wasn't cracked. It was Emily, trying to be you."
Laura cleared her throat to get their attention. "She told Mr. Steele and myself that she realized she could never deceive you into believing she was Charlotte, and so rather than kill Charlotte she decided to frame her for Dr. Symmons' murder."
"Poor Dr. Symmons."
"No." Maddie spoke from her seat at the desk for the first time. "Rich Dr. Symmons. He had embezzled nearly half a million from his own practice by the time Emily killed him."
Charlotte shook her head sadly. "I can't believe that. He was always so kind."
"Kind or not, he's books were a work of fiction," Laura stated. "He must have told your sister about your upcoming nuptials. She intended to kill him anyway, but her failed attempt to seduce Jake made her first plan inoperable. Instead of stepping up the poison, she stuck a needle in his brain, figuring the poison will be enough of a tip off for anyone with a functioning brain cell to tell that he was murdered.
"But Saturday is the ME's drinking day, and he signed off on the body with just a cursory glance. When no news of the murder turned up by Monday, she came here to set the Remington Steele Agency on the trail, figuring it would all come back to the only twin in town. But she didn't know that her sister had an airtight alibi, or that her red fingernails would eventually give her away.
"And then she did the stupidest thing of all and made a grab for the money." Laura shook her head, baffled by the thought. "Why? Why not let it sit and rot? It was only going to lead us to her."
Maddie sighed. "I suppose she was going to use it to incriminate Charlotte, again. Or take off and hope all the evidence would just come crushing down on her sister. If Charlotte hadn't been in our office, David and I never would have suspected a thing. Emily couldn't know you had connections at the bank or that nail polish would lead you to the truth. What a mess."
Jake stood up. "It certainly is, Ms. Hayes. We want to thank you both for clearing it up. An ongoing murder investigation would have really put a crimp in our weekend plans."
Charlotte stood next to him with a laugh. "Now there's an understatement. Jake and I would be delighted if you and your partners would accept invitations to our wedding in New York this weekend—all expenses paid. After all, it's because of you there's even going to be a wedding."
Maddie and Laura shared a glance.
"That's awfully gracious of you—" Laura began.
Maddie jumped in. "But we really couldn't—"
"Say no!" Steele shouted from the doorway. "A wonderful, weekend wedding. Marvelous! Just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? A weekend wedding. In New York. Not quite as rolly, that one…" He giggled and stumbled into the room to fall on the couch, forcing everyone to back out of the way.
Laura smiled apologetically at Jake and Charlotte, who were staring at the prone figure of the great Remington Steele.
"Is he drunk?"
Laura sighed and nodded morosely. "I don't suppose you want to rescind that invitation?"
Jake and Charlotte left after reassuring Maddie and Laura that they would still expect to see them in New York. Laura found herself alone in the office with an inebriated Mr. Steele and a disapproving Ms. Hayes.
"That man could drink Ernest Hemingway under the table," her partner lamented, slurring his words.
A yard away, Laura could still smell the booze on his breath. She tisked and went to lift his feet onto the couch and straighten his pillows. "What happened to you?"
Steele hiccupped and smiled while Laura to fussed over him. "You smell like smoke."
She snorted and perched beside him on the coffee table. "You, I'm afraid. Been playing Bogart again, have we?'
"You, again. Did you roll in the stuff?"
"What about him?"
"David Addison happened to me. His alcohol problems are catching."
"All right, Mr. Steele. Just lie still." She looked up at Maddie. "I've only seen him this drunk twice in all our time together. One bad case and—"
"—One righteous party," Steele finished gleefully.
Laura looked back down at him and laughed. She brushed his hair out of his eyes and kissed his forehead. "You are going to hate yourself in the morning. Davy must be worse than we thought."
Maddie grimaced but remained silent, worry lining her usually soft features.
Steele hiccupped again. "Nothing a bottle of tequila won't make go away in the next hour anyway."
"Oh, David…" Laura barely heard Maddie's pained whisper.
Another hiccup. "I really think Laura ought to have a go. She's the tequila expert in this outfit."
"Tequila? I haven't had tequila since—oh."
"Pre-cisely. Ob-Ob—clearly the woman for the occasion."
Itsy-bitsy spoilers: ML: "Big Man on Mulberry Street"
Laura left Steele hiccupping on the couch under Mildred's loving care. Maddie sat at the desk, head resting on clenched fists. She was too worried about her missing partner to waste energy picking fights with an incapacitated Mr. Steele.
The bar David was patronizing was filled with smoke and bad R&B. The poor lighting made the air hazy, and the gloom made the crowd in front of her blur even as their voices mingled with the echo. She tried to imagine the pristine Remington Steele in a place like this and drew a blank. Harry, maybe, Richard Blaine, certainly, but Remington Steele, no. Sometimes she thought it was a good thing he had multiple identities, because no one character was a full person.
He couldn't live as Remington Steele alone, any more than he could be Daniel's Harry for the rest of his life. He was a complex man; he had complex identities. Laura was just beginning to come to terms with that fact. Until he had a name and identity of his own, he was going to be some conglomeration of the lot, and the only consoling thought in that prospect was that at least one of them—probably the one without a name—needed her just as much as she'd come to need him.
She shook her head to clear her thoughts and made her way down a close aisle between chair backs and barstools, checking faces and evading groping fingers. David was near the end, arguing with his neighbor about condiments.
"Catsup? What's that about, huh? What the cat threw up? Yeah, that's appetizing—"
The bartender was giving him the eye, probably deciding whether to throw him out the front door or the rear. Laura moved in quickly to slide an arm around his shoulders.
"My brother, Davy—they called to say he got out again. This was his favorite place, such a shame." She smiled at the bartender. "I'll just take him off of your hands."
She paid the tab, trying not to think about all the money that'd gone into making David slump into her side. "Ok, up you get." She drew his arm over her shoulder and half-dragged, half-walked him out of the bar. Outside she leaned him against her car and stepped back, crossing her arms.
He grinned at her and fished his sunglasses out of his jacket pocket, despite the dark. He tried to slide them on and poked himself in the eye instead. "Hey—Sis, these things are loaded."
She took them out of his hands and slid them on carefully. "Davy…"
"Yes? We going for a ride or something?"
"No. We're not going anywhere, yet."
"Then why'd you drag me out of the bar? Me and Bubba were having a hell of a time!"
"David, I think we need to talk."
He slumped back against the car. "Man, I hate it when you chicks say that. Whenever Maddie says that, I know I'm in trouble."
"Nothing about Maddie. Maddie's history. I'm done with women—Maddie, too. All women. 'Cept you, Stats. You're all right."
"Thanks. But I think we both know Maddie's not history, Davy. She's your future, and you are fucking it up."
After a moment of silence, David raised his sunglasses to look at her. "Stats, you swear? I ain't never heard you swear before."
Laura tapped her foot impatiently. "Davy, focus. Tell me about Maddie Hayes."
David considered. "She smells good."
"That's a start."
"She's got great hair. Usually, I like brunettes, but man, that hair. Blond as a button." Laura let the mixed metaphor go, shaking her head. "And those legs. Did you get a load of those legs? God must have just sat down and stared when he made those legs.
"And then there're the eyes. Sometimes she looks at me, and I swear she knows everything about me. But that's just it. She don't know a damned thing about me. And she says things like 'But David," and "I can't believe you said that, David," and "How could you, David?" And I think, well, how the hell would you know?
"Geez, Stats—you know more about me than she does. We spent one night talking years ago, and you know me better than the partner I've been working with for two years. For. Working for. With? I don't know. But you listen, Stats. That's it. You listen. She doesn't listen. And if I told her all the stuff I want to tell her, I don't know what she'd do. Like my first wife. How the hell do I drop that bomb and walk away in one piece? She's so…"
He trailed off. Laura leaned in closer to hear him. "What? What is she?"
He sighed. "Perfect. She's perfect. And rigid. Being perfect—it makes her rigid, 'cause she's never found herself in a compromising situation and thought if I just bend, just a little, this will all go down a little bit easier. I love that about her. I mean—it's drives me crazy, 'cause it seems like I've been bending just a little all my life and now I'm about as straight as a pretzel, but man, she's so beautiful when she argues. She's perfect, and I just want her so much."
He looked up at the sky. The stars were masked by the city lights reflecting off the smog. He shook his head at the night. "If I was a better man, I'd walk away. She needs better; she deserves better. But I'm a pretzel and all I can do is hope she's got a thing for salty snack food."
Laura stared at him, thinking she'd go for salty snack food any day if she didn't have a main course and a bottle of champagne waiting for her back at the office. She shook her head to clear it and turned her thoughts back to her companion. "Tell her, David. Tell her anything you want, but don't do this to yourself, not when all you have to do is have a simple conversation."
"Simple, she says," he scoffed, pushing off from the car and swaying on his feet. "Nothing with Maddie is simple." He might have continued, but at that point he turned green and doubled over to wretch into the gutter.
Laura shook her head, sympathetic but not surprised. "That's probably why you like her," she observed wryly. "You're a masochist at heart."
He groaned, hands on his knees. "And you're a sadist. Take me home. What the hell are we waiting for?" He wretched again and then pushed off then car to right himself.
"That. Get into the car, Davy. Try not to be sick again. I really hope you remember where you live."
Remington Steele was beginning to sober up. The hiccups had disappeared, and he had stopped slurring his words quite as much. Mildred fussed a little longer before he sent her home with the reassurance that he would survive. Maddie watched Mildred bustle out of the office and then moved to sit next to him on the coffee table.
"How was David?"
Steele clutched a bag of ice to his forehead. "Why not ask him yourself?"
She looked away, ashamed because her partner might be face down in a gutter somewhere and she wouldn't know. "You don't know David. If he saw me before he cooled down it would just be another shouting match. I might as well shove him into the bottle."
"All right." Steele considered her drawn face and white-knuckle grip on the edge of the table. "But you do know him. What could send him on a bender like this?"
Maddie laughed, a little bitterly. "Me. What else? His family's on the east coast. We argued and I said some stupid things and so did he and before you know it, we're reenacting a world war. Again."
"Just like that? What did you argue about?"
She shrugged. "I don't really remember. You, I think, and Laura."
"Me and Laura?"
"I said you were taking advantage and all the credit, and David said maybe she liked it that way and then it all spun out of control, and we were talking about us and my habit of under appreciating him."
Steele smiled dryly and shook his head. "Take a tip from me, Madolyn, never take anything for granted. It can all disappear tomorrow. Leprechaun gold—that's all life is. Grab a fistful while you can."
She blinked, taken aback. "You really mean that, don't you? You've really lost it all before."
"Twice. Life hasn't always been kind. I suspect your Mr. Addison would tell you much the same."
Minutes passed in silence and stretched out into hours. Finally, Maddie spoke. "I lost it all. Just once, but it was enough."
Steele turned his head to consider her cool expression in the moonlight. "I am truly sorry, Madolyn."
She laughed, a little bitterly. "You are, aren't you? Good."
"Have I missed something?"
Maddie sighed and sifted on the coffee table. "Do you remember Ronald Sawyer, Mr. Steele?"
"Ronnie?" he asked with surprise. "Haven't seen the man in an age—an absolute age! Let me think—the last time we met was—"
"Rio—six or seven years ago. Am I close?"
He shrugged noncommittally. "Could be."
"You introduced us. I was still modeling; Ronnie was a seemingly dull but dutiful accountant, and he called you Harry."
Cold chills of pure terror ran through his veins.
"I didn't remember until I saw Ronnie again. Imagine my surprise to realize the man who'd pancaked on me the year before had also introduced me to the man who stole all my money and ran away to start a casino."
"Is your real name Harry, or is that just another affectation?"
"It's just a name, Madolyn. They're all just names. They're not me."
"And who are you, Mr. Steele?"
He sighed and looked up to the ceiling. "Devil if I know."
"Does Miss Holt know?"
"If anyone does, it's her."
"I meant about your many names."
He turned back to her, his eyes incredulous. "Who do you think gave me half of them?"
Maddie sucked in a breath. "She's an accomplice?"
"To what? Investigating? She's my partner. She knows more about me than any other living soul. Probably even more than I do. I'm bent, Madolyn, but I'm not a criminal. Not anymore. And let me tell you, this clean-living stuff isn't easy."
"But you were a criminal?"
"I stole things. I tell myself it was only from people who could well afford it, but the truth is, when you're starving and frozen inside and out, you'll steal from an orphan just for a hot cup of soup. And I have, Maddie. And much worse."
"Who were you robbing when we met in Rio?"
"A baron? No, a countess. You should have seen the sapphire she had—big as your eye. Just as blue, too. I spent two simply divine weeks in Morocco on the proceeds from that gem alone."
Maddie was silent.
"Where did Ronnie run off to with your money, Maddie?"
"South America. David says we'll never get him or that money out of there. He took everything from me. Years of hard work, fledgling independence, my faith in mankind—everything. The world seems a lot colder now. Darker. I know that's reality. I know I was naive. But sometimes I just miss it. Life was a lot simpler. Black and white. Good things should happen to good people. They don't, but they should."
She sounded so lost and confused. Steele sighed and sat up on the couch, resting his feet to the floor. He took her hands with a squeeze and drew her in to sit beside him with his arm around her.
"I'm sorry, Maddie," he whispered into her hair. "I'm so very sorry."
"He'll pay. I have friends in every walk of life. I'll get your money back."
"I don't think I'd want it now."
He nodded. "All right. But he doesn't get to keep it. I'll make some phone calls."
He squeezed her shoulder and Maddie buried her face in his chest, relieved to let go just for a moment—to let every façade she maintained so stringently fall away without having to worry. The man beside her was just as exposed, just as vulnerable. And just as relieved to let go. She realized dimly that the man she was clinging to now was not Remington Steele. He wasn't anyone she'd ever met before—not in Rio, not in LA. She didn't know who he was; he probably didn't know either. Laura might, but she was still sorting out David. Maddie groped for a name—only one sprang to mind. "Thank you, Harry."
Laura walked into the pitch-black office half expecting Mr. Steele to have departed for the evening. She flicked the light on and smiled when he groaned his protest to her from the couch.
"Laura, the light's too loud."
"Oh, good." She nodded with sympathy and walked in to throw her purse and hat down on a chair. "We're feeling better then?"
He pushed off the couch and dragged himself upward, swaying woozily. "We are not feeling a blasted thing," he gritted out with a long-suffering sigh. "You have no conception of my misery."
"A ton of bricks on your head?" she asked, laughing on her way into the bathroom.
"If only," he said with a grimace. "Like a herd of baby elephants racing around up there."
She returned and handed him a glass of water. "Teach you to try to out drink David Addison."
He nodded a few times before his pain relay system caught up with him. He took a sip and lay back down. "It was an education, to be sure. How is he?"
She sat down beside him and kicked off her shoes. "He'll do. I took him home and put him to bed. The place is empty, though. And I mean empty. Barely a scrap of furniture anywhere. He might as well live in the office; it'd be more comfortable. But he left most of the alcohol in the gutter, though, and his head will thank him for it in the morning, which is more than can be said for you."
"My head will be fine in the morning; it just hates me now. I'm not too fond of it at the moment, either."
"I'll bet. How was Ms. Hayes?"
He shrugged. "An officer and a lady. She was too concerned about David to have a go at me, so that was a nice change. I sent her home with Fred; her worrying was playing havoc with my head."
"Rats," she said on a sigh, curling her toes into the carpet. "Gentlemanly gestures aside, I had hoped for a ride home at this point."
He closed his eyes in agreement. "Chivalry is such a burden."
Laura bit her lower lip. "Do you think you could find some room on that couch?"
He cracked open one eyelid and grinned at her—the same wonderfully tempting, con artist grin—the kind the wolf probably gave Little Red Riding Hood before he ate her. "Well, if all else fails, I suppose I could let you have the top."
The Friday flight to New York was less than eventful. Laura slept, snuggled into Steele's side the way she never would have allowed herself to be if she had been conscious. He pressed a kiss into her hair and smiled, enjoying the moment before it disappeared.
In the seat ahead of them, awkward silence reigned. Maddie and David were operating on a quickly patched together peace that threatened to give way under the slightest pressure. It was a familiar if uncomfortable position to be in. Maddie considered reopening their last discussion and then resolved to leave well enough alone. The plane was far too crowded to survive another blowup argument.
She took out the paper she'd bought on the way out of LA and flipped her way through to the crossword. Perfectly mind-numbing. Beside her, David closed his eyes and pretended to sleep.
Somewhere over the Great Lakes he opened his eyes. He watched her stare out the window at the clouds, pencil pressed to her lips in the pose he always thought of as the pens-ess. The sun lit her hair from behind, making her look even more angelic than ever, and suddenly losing the argument didn't seem like such a high price to pay, so long as he got to keep her a little longer. He leaned over to whisper in her ear. "Know any five letter words for idiot?"
She turned to meet his eyes with a smile. "Maddie?"
"Well, she's an idiot," she said, sighing with relief as he grinned back at her.
By the wee hours of Sunday morning, the reception was still in full swing. Laura sipped champagne through a straw, watching the blurry lights move across the dance floor. She pushed the glass away from her in disgust, shaking her head. "Uh. They'll have to roll me onto the plane tomorrow."
Maddie nodded in agreement. "I wonder if David could carry me back to the hotel. This is one night I'd be willing to compromise on Women's Lib."
Laura turned to watch David, who was leading the party's conga line with his tie wrapped sideways around his head and his sunglasses sliding down his nose. She turned back to Maddie with a broad smile. "I'd like to see him try." She went back to sucking champagne with her straw.
Steele tut-tutted his disapproval behind her. He reached around her to remove the offending glass. "Sip it or miss it, Laura. That's no way to treat a nice Dom Perignon."
Laura stared at the now empty space before her. "Hey…"
Steele dropped into the empty seat beside Maddie and surveyed the general mayhem before him. "Quite the party."
Maddie's lips curled up in an amused smile. "Righteous, you might say."
He leaned back in his seat, assessing her expression as best he could. Her face revealed nothing to his well-trained eye; she stared him down with a cool gaze. He slumped again, impressed despite his best intentions. "Why do I have the feeling that's a pointed reference?"
Maddie laughed and sipped her wine. "No reason."
A waiter moved around their table and stopped to collect glasses and fresh orders. Laura looked to Steele. "What can I sip through a straw?"
He quirked one eyebrow at her. "Water?" he suggested.
She sighed and looked up at the amused waiter with a woebegone expression. "I'll have water. And a straw. He's such a champagne snob."
"I have good taste," Steele defended himself. "Although it would seem I should be reassessing my criteria when it comes to the feminine company I keep."
Laura stuck her tongue out at him. He shook his head. "You are the poster child for maturity, my dear."
Their plane left Manhattan at five on Sunday afternoon. Laura curled into herself, already feeling the ill effects of her three-day binge. "This was probably not the most attractive weekend we've ever spent together."
Steele smiled affectionately and brushed a kiss along her hairline. "On the other hand, no one shot at us, no one died, and you didn't have to spring me from wrongful imprisonment to prove my innocence."
She sat up straighter at the thought. "You're right," she said, laughing in amazement. "We did it. We took a vacation and didn't stumble into a case. We're free!"
"Don't get ahead of yourself, Laura. It was only a weekend. Who knows what could happen, if say, we took a week's sojourn in the Caribbean?" he suggested, blissfully unaware that a day later he would be using her shoulder for a pillow while on the run from cops, nuns, and a particularly loathsome loan shark named Pittsburg Phil and whispering vehemently, "This proves nothing, Laura, nothing…"
Laura narrowed her eyes at him. "And I suppose you'd like to find out?"
He grinned. "Purely in the pursuit of academic research, Laura, of course."
She rolled her eyes. "At the risk of sounding like Mildred, hooey, Mr. Steele."
He shrugged, anticipating another six hours ahead in which to change her mind. He changed the subject. "Weren't David and Madolyn supposed to meet us here?"
"Let me check," Laura said, digging into her purse for her daily planner. She came up with two boarding passes instead. "Oh, no…"
She blushed and bit her lower lip. "Apparently tipsy Laura has nimble fingers." She handed him the boarding passes made out in the names of Madolyn Hayes and David Addison. "I guess she thought it would do them good to be stranded alone together in a strange city."
He grinned, slipping an arm around her shoulders to pull her closer and kiss her forehead. "Who could have guessed it? Tipsy Laura's a little thief!"
David sat at a bar, carefully ignoring the beer beside him. He watched Maddie swaying by the juke box. Someone shouted a joke into her ear, and she laughed, tossing her hair back so it caught the dim light and scattered it in his direction. There were, he considered, a lot worse places he could be.
LA for one. He could be on his way back to LA and squabbles at the office if Laura hadn't taken matters into her own hands. He wasn't worried. Stats would never intentionally strand him on the east coast without a backup plan.
He pushed off from the bar and made his way through the crowd to Maddie. He watched her sway up close for a moment, feeling slightly lightheaded, and then he pressed a warm hand to the small of her back.
"Dance with me?" he whispered into her ear.
She looked around with surprise. "Here? To this music?"
He smirked into her hair. "What did you think you were just doing?"
"What? That? No, that wasn't—"
"I'll sing," he offered, cutting her off.
"It'll be great—just trust me."
"C’mon, Maddie—this is not the worst thing I've talked you into."
She didn't sound convinced, but she came into his arms all the same, resting one hand on his shoulder and leaning in closer.
He began to turn slowly and pressed his cheek to hers, the better to whisper into her ear.
"Someday—when I'm awfully low,
When the world is cold,
I will feel a glow just thinking of you…
And the way you look tonight.
Yes, you're lovely, with your smile so warm
And your cheeks so soft,
There is nothing for me but to love you,
And the way you look tonight."
She pulled back, her eyes glossy with gathering tears. "David—"
"I know, Maddie—I know."
Something in his voice made her think that he probably did. She stopped pulling away and waited for him to continue.
"We're not ready yet. There's so much we have to deal with—stuff we can't even imagine about each other yet. Stuff that's gonna come back to bite us later—I know that."
He pulled her closer until he could smell her hair and swayed a little with her in his arms. "But we're not done yet. It's gonna take years to have all the arguments we're gonna have.
"And maybe we don't make it. Maybe years down the line we decide it's not worth the arguments and the pain, and we cash in. And that's ok. Someday you may leave my ass cold and that's ok, too. Just give me tonight, Maddie. Just dance with me tonight and pretend like tomorrow will never come, and I'll disappear in the morning if you ask me to."
She nodded, not wanting to ruin the moment as he stared down into her eyes and begged her to let him in. She pulled him closer and rested her cheek against his shoulder, swaying while he finished singing Frankie—just a whisper in her ear—soft and sure. And after he stopped singing, she gave the silence a few more minutes, just to enjoy it a little longer. The world didn't end; David didn't disappear, and when she lifted her head from his shoulder, she found his eyes waiting for hers.
She smiled and stroked the soft wisps of hair at the nape of his neck. "You'd leave tomorrow if I asked you to?"
He smirked and looked away for a moment. "Maybe."
She laughed and leaned up on tippy toe to kiss him softly, just because. "Liar."