STEELE IN A BLUE MOOD
BY: Phaedra Phelan
SUMMARY: Remington has a case of melancholy after the solution of the "Platinum Airlines" case and Laura's mood mirrors his as they try to finally find their way to each other.
DISCLAIMER: This "Remington Steele" story is not-for-profit and is purely for entertainment purposes. The author and this site do not own the characters and are in no way affiliated with "Remington Steele," the actors, their agents, the producers, MTM Productions, the NBC Television Network or any station or network carrying the show in syndication, or anyone in the industry.
It was very late in the evening on a Wednesday in mid-December of 1986. Remington Steele came into his apartment and was suddenly more aware than ever of its emptiness. The Platinum Airlines case had been finished successfully. The bad guys had been caught and taken away, he and Laura had congratulated themselves on another case solved; then they had parted and gone their separate ways. Remington had wanted to ask her to come to his apartment or to go to hers. He had been especially loathe to part from her this evening.
Ever since they had come together unexpectedly in that room at the Downtowner Moter Inn during the Perennial Insurance case, they had been somewhat uncertain around one another, or rather Laura had been somewhat different in her behavior toward him. Remington couldn't quite put his finger on it, but her responses to him alternated between warm and open and stone cold. That night in New York during the Platinum Airlines case when he had gotten onto her bed with her, he was hopeful that she would have welcomed him into her arms again, but, although she accepted his kisses willingly enough, she had sent him on his way to sleep alone. To him she seemed to be trying to forget their coming together that night in the Downtowner Motor Inn. But Remington could not forget.
On his way home Remington had stopped off at a small chic club that he often visited for lunch. He didn't feel like trying out one of his own culinary delights this evening. He wanted to simply eat a fine meal and go home and try to go to sleep.
The club, Mario's, was quiet, but the atmosphere was quite different from daytime. This was apparently "Sinatra Night" because Frank's music was all that was playing. Although the staff was entirely different from daytime, Steele's elegant demeanor, along with dropping the name of the daytime maitre-d', gained him a table in a secluded corner. The restaurant was about half full-mostly with couples who seemed to all be wanting to claim some private space for themselves as well.
Remington ordered a glass of pinot noir and sat back to let the atmosphere of the place wash over him. Frank was singing "What Is This Thing Called Love?" The words seemed particularly apropos in view of his situation with Laura at the moment and he closed his eyes and let them wash over him. They seemed wrung from the bottom of his own heart as he heard them.
"You're new here."
The somewhat sultry voice startled him from his reverie and he looked up to see a voluptuous blond woman exquisitely dressed in a strapless black evening dress standing at his table.
"Excuse me." Remington rose courteously, seated the stranger and then seated himself again.
"My name is Lauren-Lauren Sanders. I sing a set here most nights-when they're not playing Sinatra."
"So I gather Sinatra is de rigeur here every evening."
"Yes. My father owns the place. He and Mr. Sinatra were friends, from the same neighborhood back in Hoboken, New Jersey. It's his way of-of honoring him."
"I come here often for lunch. It's different evenings, isn't it?"
"Quite. What made you change your pattern?"
Remington was very much aware of the woman. She was coolly beautiful, cultured and yet so 'female' with her full firm breasts seeming ready to escape the confines of the black crepe gown.
"I'm lonely and I have no place to go. I need a woman to make love to me."
"You should have no problem getting that need taken care of, Mr . . ."
"Steele, Remington Steele."
Lauren moved closer to Remington Steele and placed her index finger on his in a way that was somehow more suggestive than if she had put it on his thigh.
"I have a need that is more than physical, Miss Sanders. If we went somewhere tonight, we would surely satisfy the basic human urges that we are feeling, but I have an emotional need for one woman that has me in an indescribable agony. I don't know why I am telling you-a total stranger-about my personal life."
"Sometimes it's easier to talk with a stranger."
Lauren removed her hand from his and relaxed against the smooth burgundy leather of the booth where they were sitting as she realized that this man was much more complicated than she may have realized initially.
"Yes, it is."
"I hope that she's worth it."
"She's worth it. I'm in love with her"
"You have an-an understanding, the two of you."
"I thought we did. I think we do. She has issues that she is trying to resolve-some related to me, some related to her own experiences in life."
"Well, Mr. Steele, if I were in her shoes, I certainly would have surmounted those issues and gotten on to the main event. Excuse the pun. It was unintended."
"I'm sure you would have."
Remington smiled at Lauren, taking all of her in with his blue-eyed gaze.
"Mr. Steele, you shouldn't look at me like that with those gorgeous baby blues if all we are going to do is talk. I'm only human, you know."
"A beautiful woman like you shouldn't have any problem finding and getting what she needs. In a different time and circumstance I would not have hesitated to explore our possibilities, Miss Sanders."
"Now that's a backhanded sort of compliment, Mr. Steele."
"It was intended as such." Remington cleared his throat. "I think that I am going to leave now."
"You aren't going to have dinner? The cuisine is excellent, as you know."
"Yes, it is. But everything here is a bit too excellent this evening, Miss Sanders. I suffered for the need of this woman for nearly four years. We finally-made the pieces fit so to speak-just ten days ago, but it seems that we have some rather rough road still ahead of us."
"She hasn't continued to surrender to your charms I gather."
"You might say that. And I want her, need her, and-and that's all I can think about right now."
"I hope to meet this woman that has captured your fancy so completely one of these days."
"Here is my card. We are business partners."
"Private investigators! Umm, interesting. You never know when you are going to need one of these, do you?"
"That is why we exist, Miss Sanders. Now I really must take my leave. Thank you for your company. I wish that I could stay for your set, but I might find it even harder to leave then than right now."
Remington Steele signaled to the waiter to bring the check.
After taking care of the waiter, Remington lifted Lauren's hand to his lips and left a very stimulated and puzzled Lauren Sanders at the table.
The word's of that Sinatra tune still rang in his ears and instead of driving the Auburn home, he stopped by a record store and wandered through the aisles looking through the Sinatra tapes till he found a collection with the song that had so caught his mood this evening. He bought it and went home.
Back at the Rossmore apartment Remington poured himself a shot of Glenlivet and carried it into his bedroom where he placed it on his dresser and began to remove his clothes. He shrugged out of his jacket and found a comfortable loose-fitting silk sport shirt to put on. After shedding his finely tailored woolen slacks and hanging them neatly in his closet, he reached for a comfortable pair of soft faded jeans and pulled them on.
Remington realized that his obnoxious behavior on their return flight to LAX on Platinum Air had been an ill-advised reaction, but he had just wanted to get some emotion out of her (which he did). Remington smiled ruefully as he remembered Laura dumping ice-cold club soda into his lap. Actually he wondered for a moment if that treatment would help him now. He was in such dire need now that he could think of nothing else but the ache in his loins.
Going into his kitchen, he rambled about for something simple to eat. He was hungry. After his encounter with Lauren, he had left the restaurant without eating. He had felt his resistance weakening and he knew that this woman was not like that cutie of a flight attendant who had enthusiastically offered to "throttle his engines" at that hangout for airline people where he and Laura had gone undercover a couple of days previously. This woman was the kind of woman that he had always found irresistible-tall, long blond pageboy haircut, voluptuous body. He did not dare test his ability to keep his pledge of his troth to Laura by even the slightest dalliance. He just wanted to keep that pledge. After going this far, he was determined to hang on for dear life
Remington dropped the cassette he had purchased into the stereo system and turned up the volume so that the sound of Sinatra's perfectly phrased but anguished song filled the apartment.
What is this thing called love,
This crazy thing called love?
How will I solve its mysteries?
Why should it make a fool of me?
I saw her there one wonderful day.
She took my heart and she threw it away.
And now I ask the Lord up in heaven above
What is this thing called love?
Hitting the rewind button, Remington sank down on his sofa, his drink in hand and groaned softly, the need in his loins washing over him as the tape played again. It seemed that he had never felt more alone. The tape went to the next track and as Sinatra sang poignantly 'How Deep Is the Ocean?' Remington gave in completely to his melancholy and wept silently.
How much do I love you?
I'll tell you no lie.
How deep is the ocean?
How high is the sky?
How many times a day
Do I think of you?
How many roses are
Sprinkled with dew?
How far would I travel
To be where you are?
How far is the journey
From here to a star?
And if I ever lost you
How much would I cry?
How deep is the ocean?
How high is the sky?
Remington sat overwhelmed, dejected, head in hands. There was no one to talk to, to explain his situation to who could possibly understand. Then he remembered glancing at the mail as he came into the apartment. There had been a postcard from Murphy among the junk mail, one of those that notifies of a change of address. Remington reached for it on the coffee table and picked up the phone.
Murphy was home.
"It's me, mate, Remington Steele."
"Well, hello! Haven't heard from you people in a while!"
"I got your card-in the mail today." Remington paused, floundering, his voice husky with emotion.
"Say, man, are you all right?"
"Not exactly, mate. I just need to talk to someone tonight-someone who would understand my . . . predicament."
"Is Laura all right?"
"She's, she's fine. We just solved an important case. Everything is fine along those lines."
"The last time I talked to Laura she said that you two were getting very close. She didn't elaborate, but I sort of filled in the blanks. That was about two months ago."
"Murphy, it finally . . . happened for us-ten days ago."
"God, nearly four years. You never fell off the wagon all that time?"
"I found myself just taking one day at a time, enduring. I finally felt like I was in some sort of twelve-step program. After a while it was as if we were together, but just waiting . . . Hell, Murphy, I don't know what we have been living through for the past four years."
"Well, you two finally made it. That should have been a relief-for both of you."
"It was marvelous, fantastic, beyond any dream, beyond any imagining."
"So-you don't sound happy right now."
"She still has these issues. Since then she has not mentioned what happened between us. I was all right before . . . adjusted to doing without a woman. But now I am in agony, mate, climbing the walls. I love her and I need her and I feel like I am going mad without her."
"Steele, try to get a hold of yourself. If you two have gotten this far, you'll go the rest of the way. Have a couple of good stiff drinks and hit the sack. You'll feel different in the morning. And, by the way, congratulations!"
"For meeting that challenge. I respect you for that. I never could be sure if you really cared for Laura. Now I know for certain."
"Thanks, Murphy. I'm going to finish getting smashed and go to bed. Take care-and thanks."
Remington poured himself another single malt scotch and quickly knocked it back. He was still aware of his empty stomach and stumbled into his kitchen and tried to make a sandwich from what he could find in his refrigerator. He piled cheese and salami on French bread and forced it down, chasing it with another double shot of whiskey. He was determined to drink till he no longer felt that ache in his loins.
As he made his way carefully back to the living room, the phone rang. He almost tripped over the coffee table as he reached for it, knocking it to the floor in the process.
"Mr. Steele?" It was Laura.
"Yes . . . yes. Laura?"
"Are you all right?"
"Donno. I need you, babe."
"You sound . . . high."
"I am drunk. I hope. I'm drunk. Drunk."
Remington dropped the phone onto the couch without hanging it up and fell asleep still muttering to Laura.
Laura paced back and forth in her loft trying to decide what to do. She knew the need that Remington was talking about. She had felt it for days. That one night they had spent together would never be enough and she knew it. She had been greatly disturbed by her own feelings for him ever since. Picking up her purse, she left the loft to drive to Remington's place.
When she arrived, Laura used her key to go into the apartment. Remington was sprawled on the sofa, out like a light. She took the empty glass from his hand and sat it on the coffee table.
"Mr. Steele, Remington, you have to get in your bed."
Remington roused somewhat as she gently shook him.
"Is that you, Laura. I want you, Laura. Please . . ."
"I'm here. You need to get into your bed. You are absolutely drunk."
Laura went into his bedroom and turned back the bed. Then she went back into the living room where Remington sat dazed on the sofa and helped him up and into his bedroom.
"Don't you want to take off your, your things?"
Laura helped him with his shirt and went to look for pajamas in his dresser. She found a pair and brought them back to the bed. She helped him out of his jeans. He looked so uncomfortable in bed with them on. He was barefoot already. The sight of his perfect feet brought her momentarily to a standstill. She could not remember ever finding a man's feet exciting her so. She remembered seeing his shoes and socks by the sofa. Lying before her, clad in just his silk shorts, Remington's physique forcefully reminded her of that night just a little over a week previously when they had clung to each other, giving themselves to one another, and she caught her breath involuntarily at the memory.
"Please, you . . . you need to put these on."
"I'm all right. I want . . . sleep, sleep."
Looking at Remington practically naked in front of her was entirely too much for Laura on this night. Her eyes filled and spilled over as she covered him up and turned down the light on his night table. She wanted him as badly as he had wanted her. They had unleashed something very powerful when they came together in that motel room and she was as finding it as difficult as he to pull back now to previous boundaries. She slipped out of her clothes, put on his pajama top, and lay down beside him, nestling close to his body heat.
After midnight Remington awakened briefly and realized that Laura was in his bed. He put his arms around her and she snuggled under him and continued to sleep.
When Remington awakened at nearly ten the next morning, Laura was gone. Remington Steele shook his head as he remembered that she had been in his bed. He went into his kitchen, made his standard tomato juice and bitters remedy for hangover and downed it before going for his shower.
Laura was at home sleeping in her own bed. When she came back to her apartment at just before dawn, the memory of being in Remington's bed assaulted her again and again. She had wanted to be with him, to lie next to him, to feel the warmth of his body next to hers. She wrapped her arms around herself remembering and finally went to the upper level of the loft and fell asleep again.
It was nearly eleven when Remington got to the office, and noon when Laura finally arrived there. Mildred wasn't too shocked. She was accustomed to them coming in late after solving a big case and the Platinum Airlines case had been big.
"I guess you two decided to spend some quality time together, Miss Holt?" She smiled at Laura when she came in.
"Not exactly, but . . . well . . . yes, in a way." Laura searched for words.
"He's in there-told me to ask you to come in when you got here."
Laura walked into Remington's office. She was as beautiful as he ever had seen her, wearing a stunning black and white silk blouse that loosely fitted her torso paired with a soft black silk skirt that swirled against her thighs and then fell to mid-calf.
"Good morning, Mr. Steele." She wanted to go right into his arms. In spite of his impeccably tailored façade, he looked tired. There were faint circles under his clear blue eyes.
"I'm sorry. I want to apologize for my condition last night. I drank too much to be any sort of company."
"Why did you get yourself drunk, Mr. Steele. I haven't seen you like that since the Peppler case."
"Ah, yes, the Pepplers."
"You said something to me when you were drunk on the office floor then. You said 'I rather enjoyed being a Peppler. Such a shame about the divorce.' "
Laura came to him where he sat and Remington Steele drew her down in to his lap.
"Kiss me, Laura. Please kiss me."
Laura kissed him and when their lips met, Remington's passions took him over and his mouth was hungry upon hers, searching, tasting her, his hands wandering over her slender figure, finding every curve through the soft silk of her clothes.
"Mr. Steele, Remington," Laura gasped as she returned his kisses with the same ardor that he gave them.
"You are so beautiful, so beautiful," Remington murmured as his lips explored her neck, the sensitive spot between her collarbones, his hand loosening the buttons of her blouse all the while.
"I was lonely last night-so lonely-in such agony, Laura."
Laura took his hand and caught it to her bosom. She was wearing nothing but a silken teddy this day over her dainty breasts, no brassiere.
"My God, Laura, you're not wearing . . ."
"I don't need one today, do I?"
"No, Lord, no!"
They sat in his chair entwined in their lovers' embrace, trying to let the powerful passions they were feeling ebb, but it was very difficult for them.
"I enjoyed . . . sleeping in your bed last night. You were . . . so warm. I'm always cold in bed."
"You undressed me."
"You looked uncomfortable with your clothes on like that."
"Thank you, darling. I'm sorry that I was so out of it."
"You haven't told me why you felt it necessary to get drunk. We had solved the case. We were all safe."
Remington Steele's face clouded as he looked into Laura's troubled brown eyes.
"I felt alone-lonely, a pitiable affliction but an affliction, nonetheless, consumed with melancholy. I remembered the words of a poem that I learned when I traveled the oceans with Marcos Androkos on that tanker. There was a volume of poetry in the library and one poem has stayed with me through the years. I was still quite young, just beginning to feel my oats so to speak, never thinking that the emotional need of a woman could be so painful a thing. I believe that is what intrigued me with the poem."
"What did the poem say, Mr. Steele?" Laura realized that she was opening up herself by asking the question but she wanted to know.
"It was an ode by Walter Davison. Part of it goes like this.
'How often have my sighs declared mine anguish,
Wherein I daily languish,
Yet doth she still procure it:
Heart, let her go, for I cannot endure it.
Say, shall she go?
O! no, no, no, no, no.
She gave the wound and she must cure it.
The trickling tears that down my cheeks have flowed,
My love have often showed;
Yet still unkind I prove her:
Heart, let her go, for nought I do can move her.
Say, shall she go?
O! no, no, no, no, no.
Though me she hate, I cannot choose but love her.'
Remington's voice broke slightly and he could not continue and Laura, unable to bear to look into the sadness in his cobalt eyes, dropped her head.
"I feel that same melancholy. We are becoming so very close, aren't we?"
"Yes, we are, Laura. You 'gave the wound and you must cure it.' "
Remington's nostrils quivered as his sensuality asserted itself irresistibly and he drew Laura's lips close to his again.
"I am quite consumed with need, darling," he murmured as his mouth possessed Laura's once again.
The kiss was full of all the restrained passion and ardor that was running rampant in both of them as it went on and on until they forced themselves to part and simply clung to one another breathlessly.
"I think that I'd better leave you now, Mr. Steele. Our clients, you know?"
Remington nodded. They were both literally shaking as Laura slid off his lap and tried to pull her blouse together.
"Here, here, let me help." Remington attempted to button her blouse, but gave that up and drew her back down onto his lap, but his arms fell helplessly to the arms of his chair. He was unable to bring himself to cover her from his sight.
He dropped his head in despair and Laura held him in her arms, smoothing his dark hair, saying nothing, finally lifting his head so that she could look into his eyes. The distress she saw there was almost palpable and Laura was seized with the need to comfort this man that she loved.
"Mr. Steele, I-I . . ." Laura's voice was just a whisper. "I don't know where I am. I feel so out of control when I'm with you. And I'm scared. I'm so scared."
"I'm frightened to death too, Laura. I've never found my life totally caught up in anyone till you and-God! I don't know what to do."
Laura took his cheeks in her hands and tenderly kissed him, but Remington's lips searched and hungrily probed for the deepest part of her mouth and Laura kissed him back just as hungrily. When finally Remington's slender fingers brushed her thighs, Laura could only capitulate, moaning softly in response to his caresses.
"Remington, help me! I-I . . . need you so."
"I know. We're both in pitiable shape. Oh, God!"
"Darling . . ."
Remington picked Laura up in his arms, carried her into the smaller room in the back where they had privacy and locked the door behind them.
They were caught up in their feverish need and lay down together on the narrow bed, seeking relief. They did not have intercourse, but in their intimate caresses they held back nothing of themselves from one another.
"Laura, Laura," Remington groaned as they lay embracing. "Yes, touch me. I'm yours. I belong to no one else but you. I lie in bed night after night wanting to give myself to you. The, the agony . . . the agony of need consumes me, Laura. Just as it consumes you."
"You can tell how-how much I need you?"
Remington nodded. "We're driving each other crazy like this. You're driving me mad with desire, seeing you all the time, wanting you all the time."
They kissed, continuing to rub and caress each other with abandon, gasping and groaning, shaking uncontrollably as they literally saw stars together.
"I dare say we both will feel better now . . . for a while, love."
Remington drew the soft quilt up over Laura and they cuddled close together. It was quite a while before they could compose themselves and get back to the work at hand.
The next few days were like a warm blur as Remington and Laura found themselves together again and again-at their respective apartments, in the room in back of the office. They couldn't resist touching and caressing at this new and more intimate level. They didn't talk about it. They just found themselves turning to each other again and again, like children returning again and again to a new toy.
Mildred watched them and smiled. It was obvious to her that they were finally slipping into a full-fledged affair. The hunger in Remington's eyes when he looked at her, the way Laura flushed and blushed before him were different-so intense that it was difficult to watch them without feeling that something very private was somehow being invaded.
The memory of that night together in the motel when they had had intercourse was in the forefront of both their minds even though they didn't speak of it. They knew that they were eventually going to have to address that, but at this point they just needed to find some relief for the tremendous passion they were nursing.
A week later on Monday afternoon Lauren Sanders paid a visit to the Remington Steele Agency. Remington was not in when Miss Sanders arrived and Mildred ushered her in to see Laura Holt.
"It's a pleasure to meet the other part of the Remington Steele Agency. You are Mr. Steele's partner."
"Yes, we are . . . partners." Laura flushed slightly.
Lauren saw Laura's reaction and it confirmed to her that this was the woman deeply involved with Remington Steele.
"Forgive my boldness, Miss Holt, but do I discern that you and Remington Steele are partners in that somewhat special way?"
"Well, yes," Laura faltered, at a loss for words. "You might say that."
"I met your Mr. Steele just over a week ago. At the time I had no idea that I would need the services of a private investigator so soon."
"You met him?"
"At the supper club where I work. You know you shouldn't leave a handsome man wandering about like that."
"Climbing the walls, my dear. I look at you and I am sure that you do not know what you're doing. He's thinking about nothing else but you. That kind of focus is rare these days in a man. I practically threw myself at him. The man barely blinked. And I'm like the RCMP, Miss Holt. I nearly always get my man."
Laura dropped her head, trying to sort out how she should respond to this stranger. Lauren was tall and willowy, buxom and voluptuous in a finely tailored bright navy suit accented with a cranberry silk blouse.
Lauren Sanders smiled and gave Laura time to compose herself.
"Was . . .was there some way that we could be of service to you, Miss Sanders."
"Actually, you could. I have had a rather serious situation come up at the club. The club belongs to my father. He has been in business at that spot for the past thirty years. He runs a clean place-no drugs, no illegal gambling. Two days ago two men came by and roughed up my dad. He is an old man, Miss Holt . . . with a heart condition."
At that moment Remington Steele came into the office.
"Ah, Miss . . . Sanders. Sorry that I was detained, but I see that you are in the able hands of my associate, Laura Holt."
"Yes, she is quite able, Mr. Steele. We were just discussing the problem that brings me here."
"Yes, Mr. Steele. Would you please join us?"
Laura glanced at Remington and then quickly looked away when she saw the heat in his blue eyes. She was wearing a favorite dress of his, a pink and black striped fitted top with a peplum that hugged her figured paired with a simple straight black skirt, and he was obviously distracted by his diminutive business partner.
Lauren paused for a moment, amused at the sensual interplay between Remington and Laura, and then continued.
"It seems that these men represent certain interests that want to take over the club . . . use it to launder money for their organization. They said that we didn't really have much choice, that the decision had been made."
"You had never seen either of these men previously, Miss Sanders," Remington asked.
"No, I really don't think so. A lot of people come into the club so it's possible that they have been there, but I can't remember."
"Do you do any sort of photo surveillance where you would have a record on video of the clientele?" Laura inquired. "If so, we could use that as a kind of lineup to see if they came in before, and if so, whom they were with."
"We do have a camera that scans the clientele as they come in. We do it just in case of a robbery. We keep the films for one month before taping over them."
"We should take a look at those tapes. If you spot one of the gentlemen that visited you, that will give us a lead. We need to know if they are representatives of one of the known crime families in the city or if they are independents," Remington said. "These groups are rather territorial."
"That's putting it mildly," Laura said.
"Why don't you go back to the club. It's only two p.m. Mr. Steele and I will meet you there within the hour to go over what you have on film."
"That sounds like a good idea. I will see you there."
Lauren Sanders rose to go and Laura escorted her from the office.
"I hope that we can be of help, Miss Sanders. And thanks . . . for everything."
Laura returned to the office to find a somewhat subdued Remington Steele sitting behind his desk.
"You are surprised to see Lauren Sanders so soon again?"
"I guess so. Her case . . . I hope that we can help. She's straight up, you know. I felt so down that night."
"She said that you were 'climbing the walls.' I believe that was the expression that she used."
"I was and I am, Laura. Aren't you?"
His blue eyes met hers in an arresting gaze that literally gave Laura palpitations.
"Yes, I was . . . and I am."
"Come here, please, Laura."
Laura came behind the desk and sat on Remington's lap. They did not embrace. She just sat there, shoulders slumped, head bowed, defeated by her own emotions.
"Our anguish, in which we daily languish . . ." Laura repeated the words from the Davison poem Remington had quoted to her a few days earlier.
"We are truly languishing here, darling."
Remington smoothed Laura's long hair and tilted her face toward his so that he could gently kiss her lips.
Laura sighed and dropped her head against Remington's shoulder for a long moment as he continued to simply stroke her hair.
"I guess we should start trying to figure this case out, um?"
"I'd say so."
"Did you find Lauren Sanders attractive?"
"Yes, but I find many women attractive. Ask the question that you really want answered, Laura."
"Did you feel an urge to . . . to have sex with her that night when you met her at Mario's? She said that she's like the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, nearly always gets her man."
"Yes . . . and yes, I am sure that she does, but I didn't. I am only human. I decided long time ago to tell you the truth. You know what I want, what I need. It's you, Laura, who preoccupy my thoughts."
Laura stared into his eyes now and she knew that he was speaking truth to her.
At that moment the phone rang, breaking their mood.
"I guess that we should go." Laura reluctantly slid off Remington's lap and went to retrieve her purse from her office, leaving Remington at a loss as to his next move.
When Remington and Laura arrived at Mario's later in the afternoon, Lauren had already checked her video surveillance camera and she was very excited.
"You people really know your stuff. I found the men who came in here to threaten us. Here they are. It was just two weeks ago that they were in here for dinner."
She showed Remington and Laura her findings in the office of the club.
"Well, well, well, here is a somewhat familiar face. I wonder who it is this chap is workin' for these days. Last time I encountered him he was working for Joseph Barber. It was a distinct pleasure to relieve him of his senses the night of the Herschel Sinclair fight. "
"Moody." Laura whispered his name. "He was one of Joseph Barber's lieutenants. Barber was trying to take his grandson from his mother. Such a sad case. I wonder what they did to him?"
"Don't know for sure, but I have a fair idea. If you lose that kind of power, you rarely escape with your life. The best you can hope for is an elaborate funeral," Remington said wryly.
"This fellow was high in Barber's family. Who is he working for now."
"Or is he trying to establish his own organization. That is a possibility as well. This fellow and I had a couple of memorable encounters."
"There is something else," Lauren Sanders said. "They came in here twice. The second time they were with someone that I know."
"Notice this." She fast-forwarded the film. "I know this man. I dated him for a while in the past. I didn't remember him coming in with these men."
"And what's his story?"
"He's a kind of self-styled entrepreneur. Always trying to break into some new business. I was impressed with his drive at first. Then I discovered that he was more talk than anything else. When he asked me to 'invest' in one of his schemes, I bailed out of the relationship. I'm not stupid." Lauren's eyes filled and she turned away from the monitor.
"You loved him." Laura stated it as the obvious fact that it was.
"You make mistakes when you're thirty-something and lonely, Miss Holt. Be thankful you have . . . him." She gestured off-handedly toward Remington Steele. "It's true what the song says . . . 'A good man is hard to find.' "
Laura took and deep breath and tried to concentrate on the matter at hand.
"Give us a last known address for this man. He may be a good lead."
"Yanni Graziano. He used to have an apartment in West Hollywood. He dealt in tickets-tickets for plays, musical shows, things like that. He boasted that he could get you a ticket for anything-for the right price."
"Let's put Mildred on this. We will get back to you later, Miss Sanders," Remington said as Laura took the information that they would need.
"I hope so. My dad has taken to his bed. The stress of this is entirely too much for him. What are you going to do when you find out who it is we are dealing with."
"You must know who your opponent is. Then you can decide your plan of attack. These racketeers all have a point of vulnerability. When you discover that point, then you plan a strategy. I prefer the 'gingham dog and calico cat' approach," Remington explained.
Laura interjected when she saw the question in Lauren Sander's eyes. "The children's poem, Robert Louis Stephenson, A Child's Garden of Verses. You know, 'Side by side on the shelf they sat . . . they ate each other up.' You find out who their enemy is and use those to eliminate them."
Remington smiled at Laura's referencing the poem as he normally did movies, and raised an eyebrow in approval.
"I see where you're heading."
"By the way, Miss Sanders, was your parting from Yanni Graziano, let us say . . . amicable?" Remington phrased the question carefully.
"No. Putting it nicely, I told him to get the hell out of my life. The last thing I wanted was a leech, a man who would try to use me like that. I'm not about to 'keep' a man. If he doesn't have his own resources spelled m-o-n-e-y, I don't want him in my life."
Laura and Remington left the restaurant and headed to West Hollywood to try to find the address for Yanni Graziano that Lauren had given them.
"A curious case, eh?"
"Yes, it is. Do you think that her rejected lover is paying Lauren back by directing those thugs to her father's business? That is a pretty mean thing to do."
"It sounds like Lauren cut him up to rather nicely with her tongue. You ladies don't realize how painful those wounds can be. A man can begin to wonder if he really has it, if he doesn't have a great deal of confidence."
"Are you comparing me to Lauren?"
"Not really. You're . . ."
"I'm what?" Laura almost snapped at Remington.
"You're beautiful. You're irresistible. And you are blushing, my dear."
Laura pulled the Auburn over to the curb.
"I can't drive when you, you distract me like this."
"We are nearly there. Please drive two more blocks. It should be on the left somewhere up there."
Remington did not take his eyes off Laura, his pure maleness seeming to exude from every pore.
"Put your sunglasses back on, Mr. Steele. You are staring at me."
"I can't help myself."
"You are not helping this situation."
"I don't care. I'm stimulated beyond reason with no outlet."
Laura flashed a look at him that didn't help at all and pulled back out into traffic.
The address for Yanni Graziano was in an apartment complex that was centered around a small garden area and Remington and Laura easily gained entrance to his apartment.
"Nothing exceptional here. Let's see what a man named 'Yanni' could be interested in."
Remington Steele began to look through the desk drawers and Laura checked out the bedroom.
"Seems like he had an appointment for this afternoon. It appears to have been with a certain . . ." (Laura was rubbing the indentations on the note pad by the phone) "the name is, no, it's a place, an address-on Pico for five o'clock. We just have time to get there."
Remington drew Laura into his arms and kissed her hard.
"Mr. Steele, we have to go. We can't do this here."
"I know. But I needed that, didn't you?"
Remington took Laura's hand as they quickly left the apartment and got into their car.
"Would you please drive? You have too much time to let that vivid imagination run riot with me driving today. And keep your eyes on the road," she added softly as they pulled back into traffic.
Remington smiled obligingly as they took off on the trail of Yanni Graziano.
They both fell silent as Remington maneuvered their way through the late afternoon traffic. Laura tried not to concentrate of the warmth in the pit of her stomach, the need she felt that she was afraid to address within herself. She tried to push that night they had come together in that motel room from the forefront of her mind. It had all happened so naturally. She had sensed his need, his fears that night as much as he had sensed hers. When she thought about it, the whole experience came rushing back in upon her as they rode along.
'Sure, I want him as much as he wants me. But how can I be certain of him. He might use me and then, when he's tired of me, toss me aside and walk out of my life. I'm afraid I could never maintain his interest. One night is one night. God knows Wilson got tired of me. Whatever I was doing, it wasn't enough to keep him. I am so, so scared. I wonder if he knows how much I love him. I keep hearing his voice calling my name when it happened for him. I don't know what he even sees in me. I'm so plain . . . practically no breasts to speak of, these awful freckles all over me. Yes, I have fairly nice legs and a decent figure, but so do a lot of women. That Felicia, now that was his type of woman. And this Lauren Sanders. She's his type . . . tall, blond, statuesque, beautifully manicured, every hair in place. Look at my hands, nails short, unpolished . . . and he always wants to kiss my hands. He must know that he unhinges me completely when he does that. I just want him to kiss my mouth with those lips. The taste of him . . crisp, clean, slightly citrus, like fresh limes.'
"You're daydreaming, love." He stated it as a fact rather than a question.
"Yes." There was no need to deny it.
"About the taste of your mouth . . . the taste of you . . ."
Remington swallowed hard, trying to maintain himself and focus on driving.
"Laura, now you are making it hard . . . for me . . . to concentrate."
"Do you know how scared I am that it isn't going to work out for us. How scared I am of what I feel when I'm with you, how insecure I am."
"Are we committed or not, Laura?"
"You know we're committed."
"What does that mean to you?"
"I know what it means to me. The question in my mind is what that means to you."
"Do you remember that day outside the police station during that case when that nebbish of a lawyer went in cahoots with those thieves and murderers to try to take the agency away from us? You were uncertain of me that day. When I was in jail, all I wanted to see was your face. If no one else believed in me, I had to know that you believed in me. You have taken every bit of the 'con' out of this con man, Laura. I need you. I want you. I will never have enough of you."
"But why? Why do you want me? It doesn't make sense."
"Did we make sense when we clung to each other that night nearly two weeks ago?"
"Yes." Laura's voice was just a whisper.
"I know we did. And I don't pretend to know why. From that first day we met, you got under my skin. I promise you the same thing I promised you that day outside the police station. I'm not going anywhere . . . ever. That is more than I promised you a year or so ago. I still thought then that perhaps I could view my, my . . . feelings for you as a temporary thing that would run its course and then be over. Now I know that that is not possible."
Laura just looked at him as they pulled up at the address on Pico.
"Do you believe me, Laura? This is me, Remington. This is not Langston Druze you're talking to."
"I'm trying to believe you. I don't lack confidence in your promise. I just don't know if you will want to stay with me-over the long haul. Everyone I've ever had . . . feelings for eventually leaves."
Suddenly there was a commotion from the storefront office that was the address on Yanni Graziano's note pad-shooting and a slender man with dark curly hair running for his life pursued by two other men firing at him.
Remington and Laura slid down in the convertible and when the shooting stopped they raised themselves up again. The slender man lay in a pool of blood on the sidewalk and the men pursuing him took off in a Lincoln town car with dark tinted windows as police sirens descended onto the street.
"I'll wager that's our Mr. Graziano, Laura."
"I wouldn't bet against you on this one, Mr. Steele."
They got out of the car and approached the crime scene.
"Any idea who the poor chap is, officer?" Remington Steele asked the policeman.
"No ID on him. Whoever did it intended to finish this fellow off. Look at the size of that hole in his chest. Shot down in the street like a dog. My God!"
"The man ran from that building. We had an appointment there to meet a certain Yanni Graziano. Think that might be our quarry?"
"What did you want with him?"
"Private investigators. We were to meet him here."
"See if there is anyone in that building. I'm sure there isn't but look anyhow," a plainclothes detective directed.
"Here is our card, officer. Contact us if we are needed for any reason. We will be happy to cooperate." Remington led Laura away from the crowd that had gathered at the scene.
There was a young man with long Rastafarian dreadlocks standing in the background. Remington had a sixth sense when it came to recognizing a lookout.
"Say, mate. What goes on in that office?"
"Man, me don't know nothin.' Me jus' deliver packages for Mr. Roberto whenever he wants."
"What sort of packages?" Laura asked.
"Don't ask no questions. Don't care really. Know what I'm sayin'?"
"I know what you're saying, but it doesn't add up. I don't believe you'd deliver packages and not have an idea what they contained. I also think you know somethin' about what happened to Yanni Graziano there. Now I can finger you as a material witness right now or you can talk to me."
"Man, you can't . . ."
"Oh, but I can, mate." Remington's steely unwavering gaze told the young man that he meant business.
"Okay, okay. Let's go somewhere, where we can talk. Know what I'm sayin'?"
"Lead the way and don't try anything or you will have ten cops on your arse before you say 'jack rabbit' I've forgotten more about the street than you will ever know, laddie."
"You funny, you know. You really funny."
"I know. That's why you're breaking up with laughter, eh? Come on. Get movin.' "
Remington and Laura followed the thin young man into a seedy-looking diner nearby and sat down together.
"My name's Steele, Remington Steele. This is my partner, Laura Holt."
"She your lady, man. Fine, she fine, real fine."
"Yes, she is. And she is my lady. Now why don't you introduce yourself to us."
"Oh, my name? Ace. Ace Wainwright."
"Did you know the man who was killed?"
"I seen him a few times. Workin' for Mr. Roberto too. Dunno what he did. I think he be on the other end of whatever be goin' down."
"Maybe. I dunno. Small packages delivered to office buildings downtown most times."
"Cocaine?" Laura asked. "That can be in some pretty small packages. You could end up in prison for a long time if that is what you're delivering."
"You seem like a likeable enough chap, Ace. From Jamaica?"
"Yeah. Kingston. Came here when I'm fifteen. Me tryin' to send money home to me mum and sis down there."
"Well, you can't send money from jail, son. Walk away from this. There's plenty of decent work if you're clean,"
"Work hard to find. You got job for me, man?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact I do. Come to this address tomorrow morning at 9:00 cleaned up and I'll send you on a job. But I'd lay out of this operation for now if I were you. It seems likely they may be getting rid of everybody who knows anything about anything. And you look rather expendable to me."
"Thanks, man. You straight up. I'll be there."
"No trace of herb or coke on you or in you or the deal is off. Understand?"
The young man gave Remington a high five and tipped his head to Laura and eased out of the back of the diner.
"You took a liking to that young fellow?"
"I'm going to send him round to Monroe. He'll help him. I still feel I need to atone somehow . . ."
"Yes, I do. I need to do something. Seeing that kid blown apart like that. I still see him . . . whenever I get off the elevator in my hallway. It was ghastly. An active seventeen year old suddenly reduced to pieces of flesh that were hardly recognizable as having been a human."
Remington's hands shook slightly as he recalled the scene that he would not forget for as long as he lived. "Let's get out of here," he said sadly.
Laura wanted to take him in her arms at moments like this when he seemed to wear all of his sensitivity on his sleeve, but she suppressed that urge and instead drove them back to the office. The case and its problems had driven their immediate personal situation out of their minds as they tried to figure what the link was between the dead man and the problems of their client, Lauren Sanders.
Mildred was still at the office at seven o'clock when they arrived back there.
"We thought you'd be gone for your bowling league, Mildred," Laura said as they walked past her into Remington's office.
"I did some research on the case you called about and all of the known associates of the late Mr. Joseph Barber. This is everything I've come up with. Addresses, social security numbers, it's all there. I'll stay a while longer if you need me."
"No, it's not necessary. Mildred, we walked up on a mob hit this afternoon trying to follow up on the leads we had. This case is much more complicated that a simple money-laundering scheme, I fear."
"Well, I can stay here and work on it with you."
"No, we can do this. We will fill you in on this in the morning. By the way, Mildred, a young Jamaican fellow with rather long dreadlocks will be here tomorrow morning. His name is Ace Wainwright. If we're late, just have him wait till I get here. I want Monroe to take him on, help him get a proper start in America."
"Sure, boss. I'll take care of it."
"Call yourself a taxi, Mildred. We'll see you in the morning."
Remington and Laura stood for a moment in the middle of the office unsure of which direction they wanted this evening to take, their need for one another pulling them in one direction, the concerns of the case in another.
"I guess that we should take a look at this . . . this material Mildred put together," Laura said unsteadily.
"Laura . . ." Remington stepped toward her ready to gather her into his arms.
That was when they heard Mildred's voice.
"Hey, guys. I decided to stay and help. I can't just leave you in the lurch like this."
She came into the office through the door that had been left slightly ajar and immediately assessed the situation between her employers.
"But . . . if, if you two need . . . to be alone. I understand."
"We do need you here tonight, Mildred. We are having trouble keeping our, our . . . focus," Laura said, suddenly all business, as Remington went back to his desk and slumped unhappily into his chair.
"Boss, don't look so glum. I'll order Mexican food in, make fresh coffee, and we can really sink our teeth into this case." Mildred winked at Laura and bounced out of the office.
"Mr. Steele. I think that we need Mildred here this evening . . . for a while anyway, don't you?"
"You are probably right, Laura. I must force myself to these other matters at hand." He sighed and dropped his head into his hands. "God help us," he muttered and growled in frustration.
They realized that Mildred had actually accomplished a great deal when they began to dig into the material she had gathered.
"So after the death of Joseph Barber, his 'business' interests were taken over by his rival, the one they call Mr. Roberto. The former lieutenants of Joseph Barber vanished from sight. They probably were fearful for their lives. One family does not easily adopt orphans from another." Mildred presented this key information.
"It's like what happens when the old lion, head of the pride dies. The new alpha lion kills all the cubs of the old lion when he takes over the female," Remington explained.
"Well, Joseph Barber was a widower with only a surviving grandson who at this time is still a pre-schooler. His lieutenants would not have been welcome elsewhere," Laura said.
"Right. So our best guess is that they laid low for a while and then started up their own operation. The Barber family was heavy into illegal gambling-boxing, the ponies. What about drugs?"
"That wasn't their main interest," Mildred said.
"So these blokes decide to go in another direction. Filling a specific niche that seemed to be there for them."
"Selling narcotics to people working in business, in offices. Delivering their marijuana or cocaine to them just like you deliver their deli or pizza."
"That's where people like your young Rastaman Ace Wainwright come into the picture."
"Exactly. He was probably just one of several runners in the operation," Remington offered.
"They were making money and now had to have a way to launder it. That's where Yanni Graziano fits into the puzzle. He was probably still smarting from Lauren Sander's rejection of his proposal and decided to teach her a lesson," Laura surmised.
"They used him, but they did not trust him. Maybe he asked for too big a piece of the pie, or even worse took too big a piece of the pie. These people will kill you over a farthing missing." Remington was excited. The case seemed to fall together for them as the food that they had ordered arrived. "Speaking of pie. Bring on the enchiladas, Mildred. This case is making me ravenous."
Before they knew it, it was nearly midnight.
"We need to talk with Lauren, Mr. Steele. She doesn't know that her former lover was shot dead in the street this afternoon."
"I don't think we want to deliver that kind of news over the phone. We will stop by Mario's on our way home."
"Call Fred to bring the limo, Mildred, when you call for your taxi. It's raining and we'll leave the Auburn in the building garage," Remington said as they got ready to depart for the evening.
When Fred arrived they sank gratefully into the seat together and prepared to enjoy the ride to Mario's, but as they pulled out of the building garage, Remington spotted a slender young man with dreadlocks huddled out of the rain near the entrance to the building.
"Stop the car, Fred."
Remington jumped out of the limo and approached the young fellow. It was Ace.
"Sorry, man, me had no place to go. They be layin' for me at my place. I scared they gonna kill me. Got no place to go, man."
"Get into the car. We'll figure out something. You can't stand here in the rain."
They got into the limo.
"Good night, Miss Holt," Ace respectfully greeted Laura.
"Why, hello again, Ace."
"By the way, is that your Christian name? I doubt your mum named you Ace," Remington offered.
"Me name be Alison-Allie. Me change it here in LA."
"Well, I prefer Alison or Allie, for that matter. Do you mind if we call you that?"
"No, man. It make no difference to me."
"There is much value in knowing the name your mother gave you, son," Remington's tone turned almost wistful for a moment.
"Yeah, man. True."
"And if those dreadlocks are not a matter of faith to you, I would advise you shed them so as to change your appearance. It would make it more difficult for these fellows to track you down."
"Understand. Understand. Me not wantin' to die, me, Mr. Steele."
"I dare say you don't. How old are you?"
"Twenty . . . just twenty this month."
"You can change the tide of your life now, mate. It's up to you."
Fred took them first by Mario's to speak to Lauren Sanders.
Allie swore when they pulled up to the club. "Excuse, Missy. Man, me make delivery here every week."
"You've delivered drugs here, Allie?" Laura demanded confirmation.
"Yeah, yeah, to a tall good-looking woman . . . Lauren."
"What did you deliver to her?" Remington asked without emotion.
"Dunno. I bring package. Dunno what be in the package. Coke or herb most generally."
"Damn." The word slipped softly from Remington's lips.
"Well, this adds a new dimension to this situation," Laura said as she tried to absorb this new piece of information.
"Stay in the limo. Laura, can you take Alison to my place? Listen, young man, I'm trusting you without much reason."
"Man, me know she your lady. Ain't gonna do nothin' but what she tell me."
"I'm counting on you."
Remington kissed Laura quickly on her forehead before sending the limo on its way. "Send Fred back for me."
Remington Steele went into Mario's, took a seat in a quiet corner, and ordered a martini.
Lauren Sanders was singing accompanied by her pianist and bassist. This evening she was as alluring as ever in a long white beaded gown. It was the first time that Remington had heard her sing and he had to admit that she was good. Her rendition of "They Can't Take That Away from Me" at its upbeat tempo was followed by an equally fine version of "But Not for Me." As Remington listened to the line 'They're singing songs of love, but not for me,' he was realized that she was probably singing from her heart on that one. She ended with a rousing rendition of "Jeepers Creepers."
When the set was finished, Lauren came to his table.
"You are in excellent voice tonight, Miss Sanders. My compliments."
"Why thank you, Mr. Steele. I dedicate "Jeepers Creepers" to you. I think 'Where did you get those peepers? is a legitimate question, don't you? You see, I don't give up easily," Lauren quipped as she smiled and settled herself in the booth and began to sip the Peregrinno the waiter brought to her. "How are you doing with the case? And where is your lovely . . . partner this evening?"
"Laura dropped me here. We are quite involved in the resolution of the case at this point. I am afraid that I am compelled to ask you a couple of rather delicate questions, Miss Sanders."
"Ask anything, Mr. Steele."
"I met a young Jamaican chap today who said that you were on his route, so to speak. Ace Wainwright."
Lauren Sanders dropped her head as well as her flirtatious manner.
"What does my occasional use of marijuana have to do with this case?"
"Aside from the fact the you should seek help for any level of drug use, when you buy drugs, you are not buying them from some nameless entity. There is always a person, an organization behind that package. Who got you started, Miss Sanders. You don't have the look of your average longtime pot head."
"It was Yanni. Sometimes singing . . . I get a case of nerves. He gave me some to help me calm down."
"If that was his idea of help, you were wise to extricate yourself from that relationship. Do you know how many pop divas have been taken down by drugs, Miss Sanders? You certainly as a woman of the world knew what he was offering you."
"Yes, I did. He assured me that it would not be addictive, no more than it would be to have a glass or two of wine before performing."
"And you believed him?"
"I wanted to believe him. I hoped that he was speaking the truth. I was involved with him-on all levels-at that point, Mr. Steele. There was no money involved. He provided whatever I needed."
"Did you ever wonder where he obtained his supply?"
"No. I didn't want to know."
"I went looking for Yanni Graziano this afternoon. When Laura and I followed the trail we found him-shot dead in the street in East Los Angeles."
Lauren Sanders gasped and stifled a cry of anguish.
"Yanni . . . dead?"
"Very. And his young courier, Ace, was nearby. Here I am in the process of trying to rehabilitate the young man when he mentions that you are one of his deliveries. It occurs, fairly shouts to me that Yanni Graziano was deeply involved in some aspect of organized crime."
"And these are the people who are trying to take my father's business."
"Yanni said that he was in the messenger business."
"He apparently was indeed. Did he ever mention anyone other than Mr. Roberto, a partner, a name?"
"Only someone he called Moody. He had to call him from time to time."
"That is the chap we saw on the film you gave us."
"I . . . don't know what to say. Could Yanni have set us up? Could he have been that angry about my breaking up with him?"
"We will try to find out. The police are involved in searching for the killers of Mr. Graziano. They will no doubt be here soon to question you. Tell them the truth-everything that you know."
Lauren Sanders sat stunned.
"Perhaps you might like a drink . . . something stronger than that Pelligrino. At least alcohol is legal."
Lauren nodded. Remington signaled the waiter to bring her something additional and Lauren asked for a brandy.
The mâitre-d' came over to the table and discreetly mentioned to Remington Steele that his chauffeur was waiting in front for him.
"I must leave at this point, Miss Sanders. Laura or I will contact you first thing tomorrow."
"Thank you, Mr. Steele." Lauren paused, collecting her thoughts. "I must say that your Miss Holt is quite a gal. It is obvious that there is something very deep between the two of you. I hope it works out for you."
Remington bade her good night and went out to find Fred and the limo.
Back at the Rossmore apartment Laura was pacing, waiting for Remington to return. For some reason she felt uneasy this evening apart from him. Recent cases that had ended up in violence had made even Laura nervous. And now knowing for certain that organized crime was once again involved made her especially jittery.
"You worry your man get hurt, Missy. Me think him take care himself."
"I know Mr. Steele can handle himself. I'm just a bit . . ."
"Me think you be missin' him."
Laura ignored the young man's comment.
"Yes. Allie, are you hungry? We can make sandwiches-grilled cheese."
"Sound good to me."
Laura busied herself but her mind was racing, trying to sort out the facts of the case. Allie truly did remind her of young Rudy who had been killed in Remington's hallway just a few weeks earlier. She understood why Remington wanted to help him.
"Here we go, Allie. I'm not a great cook, but I do make a good grilled cheese sandwich. How about Pepsi, or milk?"
"Milk, please, m'am."
Allie was simply a young man in need of help and Laura felt tender, almost maternal emotions toward him.
"Me thank you, Missy Laura. I scared now . . . really. Mr. Roberto, he be a mean man. He kill Yanni-like that!" The young man snapped his long slender fingers to emphasize his point.
"Did you see it happen, Allie?" Laura spoke quietly to him.
"Yeah! Yeah! He tell me I see nothing. I say okay. When he gone, I go back in the place. I got place to sleep in there. But I thinkin' everything not so cool. I tryin' to sleep, tryin' to forget seein' Yanni in the street. I get up, see the car and Mr. Roberto's guys comin' in the place. I seen that move before. I knew they be comin' for me. So I get out the back."
Allie's hands were shaking and his brown eyes wide as he recounted his narrow escape.
"You did a wise thing. There is no life in that business, Allie. You have a chance to change direction now. Let Mr. Steele help you."
Laura patted the young man affectionately on his shoulder and got up to clean up from the snack.
Allie walked over to the stereo system and flipped the switch to the tape deck. Immediately the strains of Sinatra's plaintive "Baby, Won't You Please Come Home?" flooded the apartment.
Baby, won't you please come home,
Cause your daddy's all alone.
I have tried in vain
Never no more to call you name.
When you left you broke my heart
Because I never thought we'd part.
Every minute in the day
You will hear me say
Baby, come home.
"Sound like your man got blues real bad, Missy Laura. Me think you givin' him hard time." Allie chuckled and shrugged his shoulders and continued to look through the collection of cassette tapes.
Laura found herself at a loss for words in the face of this perceptive young man and simply continued straightening the kitchen. She realized that she was giving both Remington and herself a hard time, and hearing Sinatra crooning about the suffering of a man strung out on his passions was the last straw.
Baby, won't you please come home
Cause your daddy's all alone.
I have tried in vain
Never no more to ever call your name.
When you left you broke my heart
Because I never thought we'd part.
Every hour in the day
You will hear me say
Baby, come on home.
Daddy needs baby.
Baby, won't you please come home.
Laura went to the system and turned off the tape.
"Perhaps, perhaps you might like to watch television instead, Allie. We don't want to depress you with . . . this stuff."
"Eh, Missy, I hopin' one day I find the lady make me hurt for her like that. That cool. That real cool."
Just as Allie had settled in on the sofa to watch television, Remington came back.
"Everything all right here, Laura?"
"It's just fine, Mr. Steele."
"Well, I called Monroe. He told me to bring Alison over first thing in the morning. He can stay here tonight." He paused for a moment. "Do you want to go home?"
"I'll stay here . . . with you."
Remington swallowed nervously and proceeded to arrange Alison on the sofa in his living room. The youth was exhausted from the excitement of the day and promptly fell asleep.
Remington and Laura stood for a moment, unable to take the next move. Then Remington held his hand out to Laura and led her into his bedroom. It was well after midnight and they were both quite tired, but there were the latest developments of the case to go over. They sat down together on the side of his bed and began to talk.
"I fear that our Miss Sanders opened herself up to more than she realized when she got involved with Yanni Graziano, Laura."
"Was he the one who got her started?"
"Suggested that she use it to relax her nerves before a performance."
"And now she's hooked."
"It seems so. The fallacy of marijuana being non-addictive has been the downfall of many. If you have a certain physiology, it is as addictive as any drug ever used."
"So apparently he had no sincere motive in his romantic interest from the start. The idea was to get her using and then to move in on the business."
"No doubt. Yanni had probably told his . . . handlers . . . that it was a done deal."
"Then Lauren proved to be too difficult for him and dumped him-along with his prospects to carry out his plan."
"That meant he had to go to Plan B," Remington said. "Namely, use the muscle men to come in and take the business over by force. Yanni had underestimated the woman he was dealing with."
"Do you think that is why they killed him? Because he didn't deliver right away on his promise?"
"It's possible. If Moody is bringing people over to Roberto who used to be with Joseph Barber, they have to prove themselves or it's curtains for them. That is probably why Moody had to kill Yanni-to prove himself to Roberto. Otherwise I would bet that the murder was about money pure and simple."
"It's awful, isn't it."
"Apparently they had a scheme to deliver drugs to people at their work places-by messenger, just like you deliver anything else. Something new, something different. Joseph Barber had been into boxing, horseracing. Apparently Anthony Torrance who took over his business on the West Coast had the same interests. Here was a way to get into an area where no one was operating. He took the proposition to Mr. Roberto and he accepted it-on the contingency that Moody prove that he could set up the whole operation-the money laundering, the whole thing."
"So is Roberto looking for Moody now?"
"I'd wager that Moody is pretty uncertain about his future. He was a despicable fellow, no character whatsoever."
"So what's our next move?"
"I think that we should get some rest . . . or something."
Remington drew Laura into his embrace and she relaxed in his arms as he kissed her gently on her cheeks and forehead, wooing her, the deep flush upon his face and his flaring nostrils betraying to Laura how aroused he was.
"Young Allie sensed that you have been in a blue mood . . . from the music you had on the system. He, he said I must be giving you a hard time."
"Perceptive chap. Don't worry. I won't try anything with him sleeping in the next room. You would certainly betray us, lassie. You wax quite vocal with the least bit of petting."
"And you? You! You!" Laura feigned indignance.
"I enjoy . . . life." Remington smiled and winked at her before he dropped a series of kisses on her neck, on the rise of her freckled bosom. "And the sight of all these lovely taches de rousseur." His lips finally ended upon hers.
"Taches de rousseur?"
"Freckles, beautiful freckles on your shoulders, your breasts, all over your beautiful body. I don't know why they excite me so."
"Remington, darling," she whispered and finished unbuttoning his partially open shirt so that she could touch his chest. She gripped the thick hair that adorned him and Remington gasped sharply, caught her hand in his and kissed it, the inside of her wrist and then the sensitive skin of her inner forearm.
"I can't help myself, love. I can't."
Laura threw her arms around him and they kissed one another frantically, caught up in their need for one another, till Laura forced herself to at a certain point to pull back.
"Laura . . . woman . . . please don't pull away from me now," Remington implored her.
"I don't know what to do. I . . . want to be with you, but I'm so confused. These anxieties just consume me . . ."
"Will you please just tell me what you are anxious about, Laura?"
"You don't understand. You . . . you call me 'love,' but you don't say 'I love you.' Is it just a word with you?"
"It's very basic with me. I want you. I need you. I'm in agony for you, and Lord, and this conversation isn't doing either of us any good, Laura. I think that we should try to get some sleep and work on our relationship when we're completely alone."
Remington released her from his embrace, got out of bed, retrieved a pair of pajamas from his dresser and retreated to the bathroom to take a much-needed cold shower, leaving Laura to suffer alone with her passions.
When he finally returned to his bed, Laura had undressed, found one of his pajama tops to sleep in and was lying quietly in bed. Her eyes followed him as he prepared to turn in.
"Are you all right, Laura?"
"No, I'm not all right."
"You're aching, darling, in all the places where it hurts the most."
"Yes. What are we going to do with ourselves?"
"I don't know. I only know that right here in my bed is where I want you, where I need you, Laura. And I don't want to just kiss and pet. We are adults, not teenagers. It's driving me insane . . . this, this teetering on the brink like this."
"I know. Please don't get tired of waiting for me. You are my friend, the closest friend I have. I would never have imagined when you came into my life that one day I would say that."
"Then trust me, Laura. Trust your feelings for me. I promise that I will never hurt you."
"I just need to know that you are close, that you are safe. I don't want anything to happen to you. Am I losing my nerve after all these years in this business?"
"I don't want you to worry like this. When Rudy was killed in this very building and I was so distraught, Monroe reminded me of something. He said that we don't control the cards that life deals us. We don't control the deck. If we are together, we are together. It is as simple as that. And I promise that I won't do anything foolish. I won't take any chances that could cause me to lose you."
"Come here. Lie close to me tonight," Laura said, reaching for Remington's hand.
Remington took Laura in his arms and rocked her to sleep.
Laura wakened in the early morning hours and Remington was still holding her around her waist. She could feel his warm breath against the back of her neck; and Laura was suddenly supremely conscious of the length of his body against hers as, even in repose his manly nature manifested itself in a most distracting fashion.
"Oh, God," she barely whispered the words but Remington must have sensed her waking and he was instantly awake.
"Is . . . is everything all right?"
"It's fine. Everything is fine," Laura replied but she knew that everything was not fine. She wanted to be in his arms like this, and she wanted more even than that. This was where she felt truly safe, secure. How would she ever get past her fears to where she could give herself to him without reservation, without question?
She eased a ways from him so that the excitement in his flesh would not drive her mad as he sank into deep sleep again.
"Laura, Laura, I . . . I want you."
Laura realized that he was talking in his sleep.
"Babe! Babe! Oh, God!" He groaned out as the reflexes in his flesh gave voice to his need. He shook and trembled, his flesh betraying the power of the dream he was experiencing as he continued to ramble on "Love . . . so in love . . . Laura. I love you. I love you, babe."
Laura lay astonished. The words that he had never said when conscious had slipped so easily from his lips in the midst of the erotic dream he was having. Her eyes flooded with tears of happiness.
Remington had rolled away from her as he tossed in the midst of his dream and it was Laura's turn to put her arms around him and hold him, as his body jerked in the convulsions that would give him release.
"Yes . . . yes . . ." he murmured as his flesh calmed.
Laura lay for a long while awake, trying to sort out the complicated man that lay beside her. Would he ever look at her with those irresistible blue eyes and say those words to her directly that came so easily from his subconscious when fast asleep? And she envied him his release as she lay with all her need pent up inside her.
Next morning Laura rose early and prepared to take a taxi home so that she could change clothes and get ready for what promised to be quite a day.
Remington roused, realizing that she was leaving.
"I'll see you at the office, Mr. Steele," she said softly.
"I . . . I'm glad that you stayed."
Laura wondered if he would remember the sensual dream he'd had and soon got her answer.
"Laura . . . did we do anything unusual?"
He gestured descriptively to illustrate coupling.
"No, we didn't." Laura could not suppress a smile.
"Then it must have been a dream. Lord, it was so vivid. I could have sworn that we actually did . . . The mind is an amazing thing, isn't it?"
"It truly is, Mr. Steele," Laura said, bending to kiss him on the forehead.
He drew her down into his arms.
"You were in my dream . . . with me."
"I know. You talk in your sleep. Did you know that?"
"What did I say in my, er . . . somniloquy?" Remington's eyes searched her face.
"All kinds of things that I will tell you one of these days," Laura said coyly.
Remington kissed her soundly and released her to go. He lay in the bed they had shared and tried to remember every minute of the intense dream that had brought blessed relief to his flesh a few hours earlier. Just what had he said in his sleep?
"My God, did I say that I love her?" he wondered aloud and then buried his head in his pillow.
Remington finally roused himself and went into his kitchen to prepare a breakfast for his young charge. He made a very heavy breakfast. In a curious way young Alison reminded him of himself when he lived on the streets as teenager, and he remembered that he had always been hungry.
He gave Alison fresh clothes and sent him into the shower while he finished pancakes.
Remington was pleasantly surprised when the young man reappeared shorn of his dreadlocks and looking completely different. Alison was about the same size as Remington and one of his blazers and a pair of jeans and a light blue polo shirt made him look almost preppy.
"My, my, you accomplished quite a transformation there, Alison."
"Well, I not wanting them chaps to kill me. Them dreads not worth getting' killed, man. Thank you for the clothes. I mean it."
"Accepted. And let's just try to find you something constructive to do. My friend, Monroe, is a straight shooter. Do what he tells you and you will be fine. I've spoken to him. He has a place where you can stay in his warehouse over there. Don't lie to him and don't steal from him. Understand?"
"Did you finish high school, Alison?" Steele asked as he served him breakfast.
"No. No money, no time."
"Well, they have something in this country called a GED. You do know what the GED is?"
"Yeah, man, I know what it is."
"You have to prepare for adult life, laddie. I suggest that you take some time to prepare to take the GED test for a start. There's no need to think that you can make it being a delivery boy for the mob. You just missed getting yourself killed yesterday. And you are still not out of the woods as long as those guys are on the streets."
"I'll do it." Alison was attacking his breakfast. "You good in the kitchen, man. You don't need no woman to cook for you."
"No, I don't need Laura to cook for me."
"But you be needin' her."
Remington smiled wryly. "Yes, I 'be needin' her,' mate. One of these days you will meet a woman that you need and you won't even know why. You just do."
"It be like that?"
"That's the way it is, laddie."
"I like her. She cool, cool, cool."
"Yes, she is very cool," Remington said smiling, his eyes twinkling at Alison's assessment of Laura.
"She the only woman you got, eh. You ain't got but one woman?"
"I got but one woman. More than one woman will make you trouble, laddie. Don't ever dare try to juggle women or you'll end up with none and, depending on the woman, you can end up hurt."
"Long as that one woman takin' good care o' you. Know what I'm sayin,' Mr. Steele? You got all those sad songs about needin' and wantin' on the stereo. I just askin.' I learn lots from grown folks, know what I'm sayin'?"
Remington nodded but did not volunteer an answer for a long moment as he debated with himself as to whether he should divulge so much of his private life to this engaging young fellow who was really a stranger.
"A woman is the most complicated creature on the face of this earth, Alison. If you want a woman to love you, you have to prove that you're not a just a dog lookin' to mount any available bitch, that you know how to be faithful. And if a woman has been mistreated, it takes a long time for her to learn to trust again. My woman had some rather bad experiences and I have suffered because of those bad experiences. Laura and I have found our way to each other and every moment that I am apart from her is sheer agony. Hence, the sad songs."
"Man!" Alison exclaimed and sat back from his plate trying to absorb what Remington Steele had told him.
* * * * * *
Remington delivered Alison Wainwright to Monroe who sized him up and put him to work in his warehouse right away.
As Monroe followed Remington to the limo, he inquired after Laura.
"You two still getting' it on, Mick?"
Remington and Laura's unspoken signals to one another during the Perennial Life Insurance case had left no doubt in Monroe's mind that they had finally come together in that special way. He had known Remington too long to miss the signs in his old friend. He had never seen him totally smitten by any woman till Laura.
Remington stopped and looked directly at his friend when he spoke and his blue eyes were troubled.
"I don't know where we are in this, Monroe. For three years I chased that woman. I went abstinent."
Monroe smiled and shook his head, knowing that for Remington to forego women altogether-given his known prowess in that area-was an indication of the depths of his feelings for this woman.
"Now that we've been together, Monroe, I'm going mad without her. All I think about is her, being with her, needin' her."
"If I may ask, what seems to be the problem?"
"She's like a skittish racehorse, so passionate, but so nervous, so worried about whether I'm sincere, whether I'm going to stay with her, why I won't put my feelings into the words that she wants to hear."
"Man, you just tell her what she needs to hear."
"Suppose I can't tell her, Monroe. I can't tell her. Do you know that? What's wrong with me that I can't tell the woman that I would give my life for that I love her, that I love her with all that I am? What's wrong with me? I choke on the words, Monroe. I feel them in my throat when I'm holding her in my arms and they just won't come out."
"Perhaps you're scared as well, scared that when you declare yourself like that you might be somehow vulnerable. But you're checkmated, Mick. You might as well admit it. That woman she tie you up in so many knots you gonna never get free of what she put on you."
"I don't want to be free. I . . . I want to marry her, Monroe. I want to have children with her."
"But she knows that in the beginning all you wanted was her arse and to move on."
"But I haven't moved on. I've stayed because of her-not just because I enjoy being Remington Steele. Doesn't that count for something?"
"Sure. She finally got into bed with you."
"And it was unbelievable. My God, it was unbelievable."
"Man, you got to be patient. It'll work out. One of these days you and Laura will be old married folk with a bairnteam and you won't remember these tough times."
He clapped Remington soundly on his shoulder before he got into the limousine.
"Take care of Alison for us. He's got a lot o' sass. And thanks, Monroe."
"No worry. You take care of your woman."
* * * * * *
When Remington got to the office, Laura was already there outlining the progress they had made on the case with Mildred. She was radiant this morning, her long hair shining, swinging with every step, her lithe figure lovely in a peach colored soft silk sweater paired with a tan suede skirt. Remington's eyes took it all in.
"Why, Mr. Steele, you're here. How did it go with Allie?"
"He'll be fine. Monroe took him in hand. I don't think Roberto's men would recognize him now anyhow-minus his dreadlocks and in some of my borrowed clothes."
"What are we going to do about Mr. Roberto and your old friend, Moody?"
"Perhaps it's time for Johnny Todd to make another appearance. I think that a well-placed tip in the right places could derail Mr. Roberto and his fellows."
"The disreputable Liverpudlian strikes again."
"Well, Johnny Todd is not your Liverpool type. He's more your Birmingham sort of bloke . . . but I know you love to say 'Liverpudlian.' " He smiled engagingly down at Laura. "Mildred, would you find out where Anthony Torrance, our 'East Coast Don' is keeping himself these days? I need to call him?"
Remington caught Laura's hand in his and brought it to his lips as Mildred left to find the information on Torrance, and drawing Laura into his arms, he kissed her soundly on her mouth.
"I forgot to do that before you left this morning."
Laura smiled and relaxed in his arms.
"You know I can't get any work done when you do things like this."
"We are doing what is most important, darling."
They were getting into the kiss again when the phone rang.
"They've got Lauren Sanders," Mildred said. "They're holding her till you give them Ace back. The man said that you have till midnight to deliver him."
Remington swore. "They know he's a material witness to murder. They want to eliminate him."
"What do we do now? God, I hate these cases that involve organized crime," Laura said in frustration. "Remind me the next time something like that comes up to absolutely refuse to get involved."
"Frustration will not locate Lauren Sanders for us. She is in danger, grave danger. I think that Johnny Todd should get in touch with Anthony Torrance right away-from an untraceable phone."
"Boss, here is the last known number I could find for Anthony Torrance. It's an unlisted number into a private club in Vegas. He has moved the biggest part of his operation west it seems, took over Barber's interests there."
"Good. He'll find it that much easier to pull some strings here in LA. Give me the number, Mildred."
Remington headed out, got into the limo and had Fred drive him to a seedy part of East Los Angeles where he found a public phone booth.
"Mr. Torrance, it's Johnny Todd. I spoke to you a couple of years ago on the matter of Joseph Barber."
"Ah, yes. You were the fellow that gave me the tip on Joseph's situation. I never was able to repay you . . . and I am known as a man who always pays his debts, Mr. . . ?"
"Todd. Call me Johnny, sir."
"What can I do for you?"
"I thought that you should know that one of Joseph Barber's lieutenants, a bloke called Moody and his partner Mr. Roberto, have started their own operation in LA, delivering drugs to the workplace by courier . . . just like FedEx. If I'm not mistaken, that might be your territory, Mr. Torrance."
"A problem came up in the operation. They killed a certain Yanni Graziano yesterday and there was a material witness who escaped from them. Now they are holding a young woman as a hostage. They want the witness by midnight tonight or she dies."
"Who is the woman?"
"Lauren Sanders. Her father runs a club in West Hollywood, Mario's. He was a boyhood friend of Mr. Sinatra, back in Jersey."
"And why are you telling me this?"
"Because all of this is shining a very bright light on your operations, Mr. Torrance, and I thought that might concern you. Talk to you later."
Anthony Torrance stood with the phone in his hand for a long time and then turned to Leo Santana, his closest lieutenant, who was playing solitaire at a nearby table.
"Put the word out on the street in LA. Somebody kidnapped Mario Sanders daughter, Lauren. Find her. Get her back home. And kill Moody. I knew I should have tracked him down after that unfortunate incident with Joseph."
"He works for Mr. Roberto, Mr. Torrance."
"Tell me something that I don't know, Leo. Roberto has crossed the line. He will be fortunate to come out of this with his own skin. And, by the way, why didn't anyone tell me that Roberto was delivering drugs by courier to workplaces in downtown LA?"
"Uh . . . what?"
"Yes, what? Get it done, Leo, before I add your name to the list of those who are expedient. And find out who the hell is Johnny Todd."
* * * * * *
Remington got back to the office within an hour and found Laura and Mildred busy at work on the office computers gathering as much information as possible on known associates of the Roberto crime family.
"Boss, this crime family business is like a maze. Each door opens another and another and another."
"We're trying to create a kind of 'family tree,' Mr. Steele, showing the Roberto family and the Torrance family. If we see where they converge, it could tell us a lot about their operations."
"Well, I spoke to Torrance, planted the information. We just have to see what happens. Remington was carefully scrutinizing the top sheet of the information Mildred had gathered."
At that point Lieutenant Jarvis walked into the office.
"Why, Lieutenant, how good of you to stop by here."
"Cut the small talk, Steele. Officers on the scene of the Graziano murder yesterday put you near the crime scene when it happened. You gave them your card."
"I had no reason to hide my identity."
"But I think that you may be hiding a material witness to a murder."
"What are you talking about?"
"A young black man with dreadlocks was seen running away from the scene. Where is he?"
"If he is found and testifies against the mob in open court, his life is not worth a farthing. You know that as well as I do."
"So you won't reveal his whereabouts."
"I don't know his whereabouts at the moment, Lieutenant. Why don't you let the mob do its own housekeeping? They seem to do quite a good job of it, don't you think?"
"What are you getting at, Steele?"
"They have demanded that I offer up the same young man of whom you speak by midnight, or they will kill a certain young woman, a Lauren Sanders, who was until recently intimately involved with the man who was shot dead in the street. I would suggest that you try to find this woman before midnight because I am certainly as unable to turn this young man over to the mob as I am to you."
"Give me what you've got. I'll put a team on it."
Laura came forward and gave Jarvis a stack of papers with information on the case.
"You and Steele . . . you're pretty unorthodox, you know. But I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt."
As Jarvis left the office, Remington and Laura exchanged significant glances.
"I'm not throwing that boy to the wolves, Laura. And truthfully, I don't know where Monroe has him stashed. He has three locations, you know."
He went into his office and Laura followed him and closed the door behind her.
"What do we do now?"
"We wait for Anthony Torrance to get it done, darling. There is absolutely nothing that we can do within the time frame they've given us. I wager that Lauren will be back at Mario's in time for her second set this evening."
"I hope that you're right. I would never have given up Allie. I am so proud of you when you stand up for principle like that."
"Thank you, Laura. Having you on my side means everything to me. Why don't you go home and get dressed for an evening out? I'll pick you up at nine o'clock and we'll go to Mario's for the remainder of the evening."
"You are very confident that Lauren Sanders will be returned, aren't you? Is there something you aren't telling me?"
"Look at the top sheet, the diagram of the Torrance family." He slid the sheet of paper across the desk to Laura.
"Anthony Torrance had a sister, Ula, who married a certain Mario Sandera. She died giving birth to a daughter in 1968. Mario Sandera is a restauranteur in West Hollywood."
"How did we miss it?"
"You and Mildred were looking too hard. It jumped out at me when I picked up the sheet of paper."
"So Lauren Sanders is Anthony Torrence's niece, his blood. That's why you're so sure that he will get her back."
"His voice registered his shock when I mentioned Lauren Sander's name. I couldn't figure why at the moment, but it's all clear now, isn't it?"
"Yes, it is. I think that I will get dressed for this evening. I don't want to miss the finale of this one."
Laura leaned over and kissed Remington thoroughly on his lips and then she left for home.
"I'm leaving, Mildred. Go home and get some rest. You have been working a lot of overtime. This case should wind up this evening."
"Thanks, boss. I'll be on pins and needles."
"Well, come by Mario's later on if you don't want to wait until tomorrow to find out, but I think we've got this one under control now."
Remington Steele headed for home to change for the evening. His spirits were up as he anticipated the resolution of the case. He truly hated cases involving organized crime just as much as Laura and wanted this one to go away as soon as possible.
"Come back in two hours, Fred. Eight-thirty should be fine. We'll pick up Laura after that . . . give her the maximum time to adorn herself in that lovely way that she does."
Fred chuckled. "Yes sir, Mr. Steele."
In spite of his taciturn manner Fred had not missed the shift in the relationship between his employers and it amused him greatly. He would have put money on Mr. Steele getting Miss Holt from the day he came into the picture, but he never dreamed that it would have taken so long. That prim little woman was tough but the suave Irishman with the continental manner had kept on pursuing till he got her where he wanted her. It was hard to read where this was going. They seemed so up and down these days-some days all over each other in the limo, other days acting like strangers.
Fred reflected on his own relationship with his wife of twenty years, Agnes. She was a quiet woman but they had met, gone out a few times for dinner and one night he simply gave her a ring, without a word. She knew what he wanted. They got married. When he wanted her, she was always there for him, gladly opening her thighs to him to satisfy and be satisfied. She sure never let him climb the walls for the need of a woman the way he had seen Mr. Steele suffer. A chauffeur knows the sexual habits of the people he drives for, and Fred could almost pinpoint when Mr. Steele had left off womanizing. It was over three years previously. A couple of weeks previously when he picked up Mr. Steele and Laura along with that client of theirs, Lester, at the Downtowner Motor Inn that morning, he saw in their faces that they had finally made it. They didn't have to say anything. It had happened for them. Just the way he touched her as he helped her into the limo was different, the knowledge that was in their eyes when they looked at each other. It all said that she was finally really his woman.
As Remington let himself into his apartment, he hesitated for a moment but then walked in and was immediately confronted with Moody and his 45 caliber automatic.
"Well, Mr. Steele, we meet again."
"Is such a large gun necessary? You wouldn't be trying to compensate for a lack in some other essential area, would you?"
One of Moody's accomplices shoved Steele down onto the sofa and slapped him hard across his face with the back of his hand.
"We want to know where the kid is."
Moody stood gloating over Steele.
"You know what kid. Bring that trash can out here, Sammy."
'Sammy' brought the trash basket from Remington's bathroom and confronted him with it. The basket was full of the thick matted dreadlocks that Alison had cut off that morning.
"I don't think these are exactly your style, Steele," Moody said. "I'd advise you to cough up Ace if you want to keep on living. I'd love an excuse to finish you off."
"Well, finishing me off would not solve your problem. You need Ace and killing me would not find him for you."
Moody nodded at his other henchman and the thug proceeded to pummel Remington mercilessly in his abdomen while Sammy held him. Remington tried to absorb the blows but groaned in pain.
"Cough him up, Steele!"
"Go to hell!" Remington gasped as Moody punched him hard twice in his belly. Remington fell to the floor and Moody kicked him in the stomach before his men dragged him up again.
"Not up to a fair . . . fight, Moody?" It took all his strength to say the words. His ribs felt as if he had been kicked by a horse.
Moody pressed his revolver against his cheek in a manner that left no question as to his intention.
"Fair is killing you later, rather than right now, Steele."
"You don't have the balls to fight fair, Moody."
"Bring him with us. It'll give me pleasure to let him watch us kill Lauren Sanders and then we'll get rid of our pretty boy boxer once and for all."
"Yeah, he's the guy that gave you the KO. I remember him."
"Shut up, Sammy. Just bring him."
* * * * * *
Back at Laura's loft she was putting the finishing touches on her look for the evening. She had decided to put on a black dress that Remington especially liked. She wanted him to stare at her with that hungry blue-eyed gaze that turned her insides to jelly. This long-sleeved tube of a dress of silk jersey with its side slits that revealed her well-shaped legs and wide square neckline that generously showed off her freckled chest was guaranteed to get the desired reaction.
Laura's heart was racing, and it was not just in anticipation of the finale of the case. She was almost trembling as she gave in to her need for Remington Steele, letting her mind run riot with images of him. Remembering the taste of his kiss, she caught her lip in her teeth and then the memory of the sensation of his body inside hers on that fateful night nearly three weeks earlier overwhelmed her and she gasped and covered her mouth with her hand.
Laura had imagined many times how it would be when she and Remington Steele finally would come together physically. Perhaps after a special evening of dancing, or at some special resort with hot tubs and all the other amenities, on a private moonlit beach somewhere, or even at a five star hotel like the Mark Hopkins in San Francisco where they had visited the year before. She had never thought it would be in the Downtowner Motor Inn, a moderately priced tourist hotel that they regularly drove by scarcely paying attention to it.
Laura had thought of them coming together after a long hot bath or a warm shower together and yet they had found themselves sharing that special moment after one of the most stressful days of their lives when they had both stared death in the face, so to speak. When she held him close that night, the smell of smoke from the explosion in his apartment building was mixed with the scent of his cologne, but it had only heightened the sense of urgency as they came together.
She had been cold, shivering and frightened and his arms, his embrace had warmed her. Then Remington Steele took her where she had never been before-suddenly, swiftly as if the two of them were all alone on their own giant roller coaster ride. She had always envied the men in her experience the simplicity of their sexual release-so basic, so physiological, so predictable. Yet that night with Remington the desire so long unfulfilled had carried them both to the pinnacle together and her Mr. Steele had given her something that had been so elusive to her that she had begun to think it non-existent. That night when the spasms that were altogether foreign to her seized her in the pit of her stomach and went on and on till her teeth literally rattled in her head, and those white and blue lights burst before her eyes, Laura Holt had become a complete woman. And the moment she heard Remington croaking her name and crying out to his God, the joining became complete emotionally and psychologically as well as physiologically for both of them as the powerful involuntary thrusts of Remington's pelvis flung his ejaculate deep into her. Then the tenderness of the afterglow-Remington whispering to her, his soft words of comfort melting away every vestige of fear in her for that moment till they fell asleep still joined.
I've got to get a grip on myself. I have never wanted to be with anyone so badly. I don't want to let him know, but I can't help myself when he touches me. God, I feel so vulnerable. Please, don't let me make a fool of myself over him. I've never felt so helpless.
Laura reached for her phone. She had forgotten to ask Remington what time he would come for her.
The phone rang at Remington's apartment just as Moody and his men were about to take him out.
"Pick it up and let Steele talk. Act like nothing's goin' on or it's curtains right now, Steele."
"Hello, Mr. Steele."
"Oh, Miss Groggins, it's . . . it's you."
"Is everything all right? You sound strange."
"That will be just fine. Check with my office, Miss Groggins. I must leave now."
Sammy put the phone down and the three men took Remington from his apartment.
At her loft Laura sat puzzled and concerned. During their years of working together she and Remington had established a telephone SOS code between them. If he called her Myrtle Groggins, that was an SOS from him and if she referred to him as Trevor Keach, it sent the same signal. She felt a sickening sensation in the pit of her stomach that told her that this was really bad. Already dressed, she decided drive the Rabbit over to the Rossmore apartment.
When Laura got to Remington's, she cautiously let herself in. Seeing the signs of a struggle in the normally well-arranged apartment, she realized that he had been taken somewhere by force and she had no idea where.
"Oh, God, what has happened to him," she whispered.
Laura sat stunned for a moment, her knees weak as water, all her nerve gone. She didn't feel in control enough to drive, so she called a taxi to take her to Mario's.
* * * * * *
Moody and his sidekicks drove Remington to an abandoned warehouse in the garment district. Remington sat quietly, his abdomen still throbbing from the blows he had received, but he would not allow himself to show any discomfort. He knew that this was a war of wills that he was engaged in and that any sign of weakness could easily get him killed.
"You won't look so smug when we finish with you, pretty boy," Moody said as he tried to stare Steele down in the back of the Lincoln town car in which they were riding.
"And what do you hope to accomplish by 'finishing' me? You won't have your young courier. And I guarantee that you will never find him where I have sent him."
"What do you care about one stupid black kid? He was going to end up on drugs or in jail sooner or later anyway. I wouldn't get myself killed over some worthless Jamaican."
Remington stared him down without answering as they pulled up to the warehouse. He was jerked from the car, protesting the possible damage that they were doing to his suit, taken into the back of the building, shoved into a what seemed to be a small dark room, and locked in. He lay for a few minutes, trying to orient himself to the darkness, then stood up and began to feel his way around the space.
"Who's there?" It was Lauren Sanders' voice.
"It's Remington Steele."
"I'm . . . I'm tied up, can't move."
Remington went toward the sound of her voice and realized that the room was in fact rather large. She was nearly twenty feet away.
"I have a penlight in my purse, on my key chain, but I can't get to it."
"Good. I was just cursing myself for not having a light."
"Near my feet . . . somewhere over here."
Remington felt around till he found her purse and the penlight. It shed a dim but helpful light on things.
"Why didn't they tie you up?"
"Incompetence, I'd say, Miss Sanders. Here, let me free you."
Remington loosened Lauren Sanders and assisted her to her feet.
"Well, I think that I will see about getting us out of here."
"They said that they will kill me at midnight . . . if they don't get what they want . . . the boy, the courier."
"I am aware of that. It's nearly nine now."
Remington went to the door and used the penlight to inspect the lock. It was not complicated and he began to work with it using the tool that he always had with him. The lock quickly yielded to his expertise.
"Let's vacate this room. At least I don't want you here when they decide to come looking for you. Follow me."
They eased along the wall outside the room. They could hear angry voices in what sounded like an office nearby.
"You fool! Why would you bring Remington Steele here? I don't want to draw any more attention to what I'm doing?"
"Mr. Roberto, we can fix it so nobody ever finds him. That's one thing Joseph Barber taught us well," Moody said.
"He better have taught you real well, Moody. Cause I will kill that broad at the drop of a hat, but I have to have a really good reason to kill Steele and bring that kind of heat down on us."
"I think you're scared of Steele," Moody said. "And if you're yellow, maybe you're losing your grip on this organization." He was challenging Roberto, an older heavy-set man whose labored breathing belied a worsening case of emphysema.
"It appears the young lions are challenging the old lion once again," Remington murmured to Lauren Sanders.
"Nothing." Remington forgot that it was not Laura with him. Over the years they had been together they had developed an almost telepathic communication when they were in situations like this.
"Moody, I think that our partnership is about to come to an end. You've brought nothing but problems and I will not stand for any insubordination." The older man's hand reached for his gun in a drawer in his desk.
But Moody had anticipated Roberto. He drew first and fired, mortally wounding Roberto in the chest. The big man fell forward on his desk bleeding profusely.
"Sammy, get Steele and the broad. We're moving this schedule up. They give us the kid or we finish the job. It'll look like Roberto and he had it out."
"Sure, Moody," Sammy said nervously.
"It's 'Mr. Moody' now. I'm running the show. Benny, you go and secure that load of hashish that just came in."
The three men came out of the office and walked toward the room where Remington and Lauren Sanders had been as Remington and Lauren watched it all hidden behind some boxes that were stacked several feet high.
"Hey, they're not in there!"
Moody uttered an obscenity. "Find them!"
As the two men walked directly toward where Remington and Lauren were hiding, Remington shoved the boxes and they toppled in every direction, confusing Sammy and Benny in the semi-darkness of the building.
At the same moment, a group of men burst into the front of the warehouse and several others came into the back, brandishing automatic weapons, and backed Moody, Sammy, and Benny up against the wall.
"One question. Where is Lauren Sanders?" A tall gray-haired man in a finely tailored suit, overcoat draped over his shoulders, whom Remington recognized as Anthony Torrance had stepped forward through his men to raise the question.
Moody and the men with him melted in fear.
"We . . . we wasn't going to do nothin' but scare her, Mr. Torrance."
"I have asked you a question."
"Oh, my God, it's Uncle Tony," Lauren Sanders murmured.
"Yes, it is, isn't it? He's . . ."
"He's in the produce business . . . isn't he?" Lauren Sanders was putting two and two together.
"Let's just say he's 'in business,' Miss Sanders," Remington said sanguinely.
Torrance was livid, but spoke quietly.
"You have interfered in my business out here and I have ignored it but this is it. Where is Roberto? I will speak to him about this."
"He's dead, boss, in his office. Looks like they just did it. Body is still warm."
"Where is Lauren? Where is my niece?" It was the only time Torrance raised his voice.
"We didn't know she was your niece, Mr. Torrance. We didn't know. She . . . she's here . . . in the building."
Lauren Sanders stepped from behind the boxes where they had been concealed.
"I'm here, Uncle Tony."
She ran to her uncle who embraced her with one arm, and with a swift nod gave the signal for his men to dispense with Moody, Sammy, and Benny. They were led to the back of the building begging and pleading for their lives and all the while knowing it was to no avail.
"I'm sorry you had to see this, Lauren dear."
"Oh, Uncle, I was so frightened. You . . . are you somehow involved in this business?"
"You don't want to know. All you want to know is that your Uncle Tony loves you very much. Some questions are not to be asked or answered."
Remington thought about easing out of the building at that point, but realized that he could easily be shot, if only by accident, so he simply stepped forth into view.
"This is the man that saved me, Remington Steele. They had me tied up in that room and were coming back to kill me. He set me free. He's a private investigator. I hired him because these men were threatening to take over the club . . . to launder money." Lauren stopped, exhausted. "It's a very long story."
Torrance surveyed Remington Steele.
"I've seen you before. I never forget a face."
"I saw you a couple years ago at a boxing match."
"Yes, the Joseph Barber affair. A necessarily unpleasant situation. You seem to turn up at the most interesting times, Mr. Steele."
"I have no interest in your affairs, Mr. Torrance. I was simply doing a job for your . . . niece, and things escalated out of hand it seems."
"Things will be taken care of. Order will be restored, Mr. Steele. Is there somewhere I can take you?"
"I am sure that my partner is quite worried. She was to meet me at Mario's. I was on my way there when Moody and his men broke into my apartment and brought me here."
"Well, perhaps she is there. Gino, call Mario's for Mr. Steele. Who are we looking for?"
"Yeah, boss. She's there."
"Have them tell her that Mr. Steele will be right along. And take my niece to the car. I want to speak with Mr. Steele for a moment."
Torrance lit an expensive cigar and drew on it.
"You intrigue me, Mr. Steele. I thank you for tipping me off that my niece was in danger."
"Sir, I had no idea that you were related to Miss Sanders when I called you. I thought your concerns would have been solely of a business nature."
"But somehow things worked out. I will admit that that Todd character was a brilliant idea . . . for someone who has no interest in my business."
"I have no interest in your business, sir."
"I respect you. I would say that I would give you my number to call if you are ever in trouble . . . but you always seem to be able to get it, don't you?"
Remington Steele smiled slightly.
"I get what I have to get, sir."
"You should know that I do have no interest in drug trafficking, none whatsoever."
"I know that that has not been your forte. I did not know that it was a matter of principle with you. Your niece was started using weed by a fellow from this gang named Graziano. He was killed in the street yesterday. She needs help before the problem becomes more serious."
"I will see that she gets it. That's why I hate drugs. Such a dirty business. So destructive to the body. It is so much simpler to go to the racetrack or casino or to a boxing match and wager on the outcome. We all have our scruples, you see, Mr. Steele. That load of hashish out back will never see the streets."
The two men walked out of the warehouse into the street and got into the waiting Lincoln town car together.
* * * * * *
When Remington Steele and Anthony Torrance arrived at Mario's, it was after midnight and the midweek crowd had thinned somewhat as they made their way to a table at the back where Mario himself sat with Laura. She jumped to her feet and came to Remington.
"Are you all right? I was so frightened."
"Yes, darling." Remington appeared to be quite cool and collected as he took Laura's arm and led her back to the table where Torrance had seated himself beside Mario Sanders.
"This is my brother-in-law, Mr. Steele, from Jersey. He's just recently moved out west. He's in the produce business up in Las Vegas and is moving some of his business to LA now."
"Yes. We got acquainted, Mr. Sanders."
Lauren hugged her father and kissed him.
"You shouldn't be up, Papa. You haven't been well."
"Not to worry, baby. Everything is going to be just fine now that you are back home."
"Mr. Torrance, this is my partner . . . and . . . special . . . person in my life, Laura Holt."
Laura greeted Torrance.
"I see and I remember. Like I said, I never forget a face. You got a good man here, Miss Holt. Hold on to him." He turned to his brother-in-law. "Mario, I got pressing business. I got to get back to Vegas tonight. Everything seems to be settled here, so I'll say good night."
Torrance excused himself and Lauren escorted him from the club.
"Mr. Steele, I cannot tell you how grateful I am to you and Miss Holt for helping us with our problem. As you probably realize, my daughter had no idea of the business of her uncle. My late wife insisted that I leave the 'family' as a requirement for marrying her and I did it. I don't regret that decision. It has made my life immeasurably happier. She knew what it was like to grow up in a family in the crime business and didn't want that for her child. I just hope that Lauren's ideals are not completely destroyed."
"She's a big girl, Mr. Sanders. I think that she can take all of this in stride."
"I hope one day she finds a good man. It's a beautiful thing between the two of you. She told me about it and I see it too."
Laura and Remington tried vainly to maintain their composure but they blushed like teenagers when they looked at each other, belying their true feelings. Remington finally took Laura's hand and pressed it to his lips. Mario smiled knowingly at them as he rose stiffly from the table to leave.
"I think that you young people do not need an old man like me to sit here with you. I will say 'good night.' "
Remington and Laura turned to each other, about to become totally involved with one another when they saw Lauren Sanders go to the microphone.
"There are two people here tonight that I would like to dedicate this special song to-Remington Steele and Laura Holt. I wish you both happiness always."
Lauren began to sing a slow seductive arrangement of "I Wish I Were in Love Again" and Remington led Laura to the dance floor.
"Oh, God, Laura, I don't know what I would do without you. That was such a close call tonight," Remington said as he kissed her forehead.
"I gather Moody and company are out of business?"
"Roberto, Moody, and company-the whole lot of them. All very smooth, but when Torrance's men walked those blokes out, you knew they would never be seen again. Very scary business that. I'll fill you in later."
"Umm," Laura said and embraced him more tightly.
Remington winced in pain.
"Moody and his boys worked me over to a fair-thee-well at my apartment. I am sure that he thoroughly enjoyed getting a few of his own licks in while they held me."
"Oh, Mr. Steele, I'm so sorry. You're hurt. I didn't realize."
"I would be surprised if I don't have a couple of cracked ribs from when Moody kicked me in the chest. Hopefully you will give me some needed first aid. You won't have to fight off my advances this evening, darling. I am barely standing on my feet. I suppose we have something happening tomorrow morning?"
"Yes . . . at ten. You are invited to UCLA to talk about crime-solving."
"Then I'll need to try to pull myself together, darling . . . with the help of your tender ministrations."
"I'll have Mildred cancel. I have to take care of you."
Remington smiled shyly, kissed her cheek and then bent his head so that their cheeks could touch as they slowly danced.
"Rem, I'm sorry. I knew this case was trouble."
"Well, it's over now, darling. Torrance didn't even try to recruit me. He said that he knew it would be useless. I guess I looked too honest. See, you've made me over, Laura."
"I guess that I have, haven't I?"
"You are quite lovely in this dress. It's one of my favorites, you know." Remington's nostrils flared slightly as he inhaled the scent of her.
"This song . . . is one of my favorites. The line about 'the quick toboggan when you reach the heights?' " Laura winked up at Remington and he felt his heart skip a beat.
"I like the part about 'the fine mismating of a him and her,' " Remington said as he kissed her lips tenderly and then led her from the dance floor and from the club.