First printed: More Red Holt Steele #11
Summary: Laura and Remington are hired by a girl’s parents to check out the man their daughter is dating.
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.
Laura Steele carefully opened the large box. MugShot for Windows, 1997 Beta Test Version, said the terse documentation. The box contained a slim manual, license paperwork, and 100 CD-ROMs. She loaded the discs into the towering “jukebox” hardware that would access the disks. Mildred loaded the application onto the hard drive of her computer.
“We have just enough memory; I’ll have to be cautious about using anything else at the same time.”
Laura said, “If it performs as advertised, it should revolutionize police and detective work. It holds thousands of pictures of criminals from around the world. It can match photos of suspects to known criminals even if they disguise themselves with beards, haircuts, and glasses, and can correct for age...it can take a child’s picture and estimate what he would look like as an adult.”
“How far back does it go?” asked Mildred with a hint of concern.
“Twenty years... Oh-oh. Mildred, would you test it on a picture of Mr. Steele? If his photo is in here under one of his old names, I’d rather we find out about it now, before this thing goes on sale to every police force and government agency.”
Mildred scanned in a photo of Remington taken in the agency’s early days. She gasped when the machine brought up 10 possible matches. “I thought he only had five passports,” she said. “Did he ever have one from Russia?”
Laura tapped the intercom. “Mr Steele, could we see you at Mildred’s desk?”
Mildred popped open the record, which displayed a grim military man who looked much like Remington. “ ‘Valery Petrofsky, KGB agent, died in the line of duty, 1987.’ They list a Web link to get into the old KGB archives to check his records, but I think we’d be happier not knowing. At least this one couldn’t be you...could it?” she asked Remington uneasily.
“Of course not,” Remington said, defensively. “He doesn’t look that much like me. It’s a coincidence. Out of thousands of pictures, one or two are bound to look a little like me.”
“More like 10,” Mildred said. “Let’s eliminate the dead ones. Here’s Patrick Brody, who committed a particularly sleazy kidnapping, and died for it in 1994. Here’s one listed as ‘missing and presumed dead.’ It’s a fuzzy photo of an IRA gunman.”
Remington seemed to be uncomfortable that so many violent criminals shared his face. Laura reassured him that these pictures were not him. “They’re just a bunch of bits, scanned from photos that might not have been good to start with, then compressed, decompressed, and translated from one format to another; perhaps the men didn’t really look that much like you. And for all we know, if there were a database of good guys, you might look like several of them too.”
As they reflected on this possibility, Mildred received a call from a prospective client. Mr. and Mrs. Lee, wealthy immigrants from Hong Kong, asked the Steeles to discreetly investigate the man who was romancing their 19 year old daughter Anna (an American name she had recently chosen for herself, rather than her Chinese name).
Anna, they said, had two passions in her life: the horse Rembrandt which her father gave her to cheer her up after the move and an English professor named Paul Tomlinson, who recited the poetry of Poe to her. He had been her English teacher, but she dropped his class so she could date him without getting him into trouble. He had a good job, and was very attractive, but he was more than twice her age. Her parents found it slightly creepy that his favorite poem, “Annabelle Lee,” was about a dead girl. Anna had invited Tomlinson to meet her parents tonight, at a racetrack where Rembrandt was running in an amateur race. The Steeles were invited to join the Lees.
Intrigued, Laura agreed to take the case, She verified the professor’s name and college. After a brief search, Laura found Tomlinson’s University web page. It seemed quite straightforward, the curriculum vitae of a gentleman and scholar. It included a photo of him, which was unsettlingly similar to Remington Steele.
She ran Tomlinson through the new crime database, and discovered that he had been questioned in connection with two accidental deaths—that of his wife in 1990, and that of a female friend a year later. Both had apparently fallen off the same cliff near his cabin. Despite the suspicions of a psychologist who witnessed the second death, no charges were brought.
As Remington developed a case file on Tomlinson in his office, an old Irish priest, Father McGregor, arrived and greeted Mildred and Laura in the outer office. He explained that he used to run a home for troubled boys. He had kept track of most of them, but one ran away at about the age of thirteen, and the priest had searched morgues and jails for him for years. The boy had loved to sneak out to the movies, and the priest hoped that he might have come to Hollywood--of course, it was all 30 years ago. He showed Mildred a picture of a freckled, dark-haired lad. She ran the photo through the age-adjusting software, and gasped at how much the mature version resembled Remington. The priest looked at the screen, and at Mr. Steele’s wall of photos of himself.
Mildred explained, “I’m sorry, Father, I was using Mr. Steele’s picture as a test, and must have accidentally pulled up the wrong file,” then hit a few more keys, and “accidentally” turned off the computer. She apologized again, took down his hotel and telephone number, and offered to call back tomorrow, after she talked to the technical support hotline. “We just got this software today, and I haven’t got the hang of it yet. Do you have more information on the boy? His name, birth date, last address?”
“He went by Harry. The only last name we could get out of him was Bogart, but I think he made that up. He didn’t seem to know his birthday. Here’s the address of the home in Kilkenny.”
Remington popped his head out of the office, saw the priest, the photo, and turned pale. He closed the door quickly.
The priest looked puzzled at the detective’s lack of interest in a client, and left the office.
Laura turned the computer on again, and pulled up the most recent file viewed.
“Nice save, Mildred. This is the age-adjusted picture of the boy, isn’t it?” she asked softly. Mildred nodded. It did not look quite like the adult Remington. The computer’s prediction was not perfect, but the similarity was eerie.
“May I have a printout of that, and of the boy’s picture?” asked Laura.
“So, is this really him?” Mildred asked, handing her the prints. Laura tucked them in her handbag.
“I’ve been wheedling him for details for years. From the look he gave the priest, this was a time in his life he really doesn’t want to talk about, and I can respect his wishes. We’ll work on the Lee case for now, and decide whether we want to deal with the priest tomorrow. Keep looking at those criminal mug shots. We may have to come up with explanations for them.”
Laura knocked gently, and went into her husband’s office. He smiled, but there was a look in his eyes that said, “Please don’t ask me what you want to ask me.”
“Do you think we should change clothes before we go to the racetrack?” she asked.
Remington grinned with relief. “ ‘A racetrack? What am I doing here?’ Groucho Marx, A Day at the Races, 1937. Business clothes are fine. I’ll just call home to the nanny and let her know that we’re on a case tonight, and to kiss the kids for us.”
The Steeles went downstairs to the parking garage, not far behind the priest.As the priest settled into his car, he saw the Steeles enter their limo. The shadows in the parking area softened the adult lines of Remington’s face, and the priest realized that Remington must be the lost boy. The priest followed them in his rental car.
At the racetrack, the Steeles were directed to the exercise yard where Anna Lee, in a smart riding habit, put her white horse Rembrandt through a warm-up routine. Her parents, a well-dressed oriental couple, were pleased to see the Steeles. Anna called out, “Paul!” when she saw Remington.
Remington introduced himself and explained that he was no relation to Paul Tomlinson, but was a friend of the Lees. Mrs. Lee murmured something in Chinese to her husband. Laura suspected, from their looks, that the translation would have been, “These foreigners do look alike.”
Standing near the Lees was Manuel, the young jockey. Track safety rules required that Rembrandt have a professional jockey for the race. Manuel was obviously attracted to Anna.
The Steeles stepped back as Tomlinson arrived, and Anna introduced him to Mr. and Mrs. Lee, and to Rembrandt. He patted the horse on the flank, then patted Anna’s leg, just out of her parents’ sight. Rembrandt’s big yellow teeth snapped dangerously close to Tomlinson’s hand. Anna restrained Rembrandt, and scolded him. Embarrassed, she said, “He’s never tried to bite before, but he’s probably nervous about the race.”
Tomlinson, Anna and her parents, and the Steeles all took seats together for the race. The Steeles introduced themselves to Tomlinson as friends of the Lees. Tomlinson seemed uneasy at the sight of Remington.
At the race, Rembrandt seemed slower than the other horses at first. But Remington bellowed, “Frau Blucher!”, and got their whole little cheering section to shout this running gag from Young Frankenstein, which spooked Rembrandt into running for his life, so he won the race.
While celebrating in the track’s party room, the Steeles questioned Tomlinson, who became nervous, and left abruptly in his sports car. Tomlinson’s car radio played a snatch of “Werewolves of London, “His hair was perfect...I’d like to meet his tailor.”
The Steeles followed him at a cautious distance. The priest, who had seen the resemblance between Tomlinson and Remington, followed the Steeles. It was an early summer evening, with plenty of late afternoon light.
Tomlinson’s car reached to a construction area where a highway overpass was being modified, with many confusing signs and orange barrels. He took a left under the overpass. The Steeles followed, but suddenly, on their right, a motorcyclist in black leather, chains and studs, roared alongside them. He looked in at the Steeles and gave them a chill. He resembled a younger Remington, except for his black beard and biker’s gear. Then he gunned the engine to pull alongside Tomlinson, forcing him to swerve.
Tomlinson, already spooked, tried a bootlegger’s turn across three lanes under the bridge to change direction, and ran head-on into the priest’s car. The priest had become confused in the construction, and startled by the biker, and drove the wrong way into Tomlinson’s new lane. Being from Ireland, the priest was used to driving on the left.
The motorcyclist sped away.
The Steeles pulled up to the dreadful accident. Tomlinson’s radio was still playing, “Little... lady got mutilated late last night, Werewolves of London again.”
Laura ran to Tomlinson’s car, and saw him, hanging against the seat belt, apparently dead in spite of the car’s air bag, and looking horribly like Remington. She screamed. Remington tried to calm her She pulled herself together, explaining that she’s seen dead men before, but never one who looked so much like her husband.
The priest slowly stepped out of his solidly built rental car, which was not as badly damaged as Tomlinson’s. Laura asked him to sit still, and let her check him for injuries, but he insisted on seeing whether the other driver needed last rites.
Remington reached through the broken window and checked Tomlinson’s wrist pulse. “He’s not dead, but his watch has stopped,” he said, slipping in a Groucho Marx paraphrase.
Tomlinson mumbled, “A low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton.” In spite of herself, Laura yelped a bit in surprise when he spoke. The priest approached, and looked in the window. Tomlinson’s eyes opened, and met those of the priest. “Do you have anything to confess, my son?” he asked. An ambulance siren cut through the traffic sounds around them.
Tomlinson, dazed, spoke again, as if reciting. “... ‘a long, loud, and continuous scream...a wailing shriek.’ I hear it constantly, that continuous scream, just barely audible, but it never goes away. I had my hearing checked to see if it could be a medical problem, but my ears are fine... I heard all things in heaven and earth, and many things in hell... I tried to tell myself it was the whine of electrical equipment, or the wind. I try to drown it out with the radio, or my own voice, but I can’t. That scream has been with me for seven years...since my wife went off a cliff. ‘The years of love have been forgot in the hatred of a minute.’ ‘But she has gone above, with young Hope at her side, and I am drunk with love of the dead who is my bride.’”
Construction workers and other drivers had surrounded Tomlinson’s car as he spoke, sparing the Steeles from the moral dilemma of repeating an overheard confession to a priest. A police car and ambulance arrived, and took Tomlinson and the priest away, after taking statements from other witnesses. “Did anyone get a good look at the guy on the motorcycle?” the policeman asked.
A construction engineer with a Polaroid camera, to photograph the work in progress, complained that he was sure he had the motorcyclist in the photos, but the man didn’t show up. He looked at Remington.
“He looked like trouble, in black leather and chains. In general build and the shape of his face,” he pointed to like Steele, “but he had a black beard, and was much younger.”
Remington gave the engineer a sharp look at that last bit, but confirmed the description to the officer. Laura suggested a witness from an earlier investigation of Tomlinson whom the police should talk to again.
The Steeles returned to the race track and broke the news to Anna and her parents. Anna was frantic, and rushed to the hospital, where Tomlinson was being examined under guard. The Steeles followed Anna and her parents.
Anna asked, “Paul, what happened?”
Tomlinson beamed at her, and said,
“ ‘And neither the angels in heaven above, nor demons down under the sea, can ever dissever my soul from the soul of the beautiful Annabel Lee.’”
Anna snapped at the police, “He has no idea what he’s saying! He’s in shock. He didn’t kill anyone, he was just reciting from Edgar Allen Poe, who wrote a lot of horror stories over a hundred years ago. He’s an expert on Poe. He’s innocent!”
“He will have time to recover before we re-investigate his wife’s death, Miss. The doctors will let you know when he can have visitors.”
In the waiting room, a redheaded woman, slim and attractive in her forties, approached Anna. “I’m Dr. Tess Palmer. Did he give you a ring made in the shape of a broken heart?” she asked quietly. Startled, Anna nodded. “We have to talk,” the older woman said. “The police asked me to come here both as a psychologist, and as someone who knew Paul very well. This time, they listened to me.” They found a quiet corner.
Mr. Lee said, “I think you may have saved my daughter’s life, Mr. Steele.”
“I can’t take all the credit,” Remington said. Laura smiled. Remington continued, “The motorcyclist who caused the accident triggered a deathbed confession, and we were fortunate to have a priest on the scene.”
At that reminder, Laura checked with the floor nurse, and determined that Father McGregor was physically well, but so dazed that he remembered very little of what he had done in the past few days. A local priest had volunteered to see that he got on a plane back for Ireland as soon as he was fit to travel.
Anna and the redhead joined the Lees. Anna had been crying, but she firmly handed her ring to Tess. The girl had kept the ring on a thin chain around her neck, near her heart, and out of her parents’ sight. “Evidence,” she said shakily. “We should go back to the track, and get Rembrandt home.”
They all returned to the track. Manuel was trying to coax Rembrandt into the horse trailer, but the horse strained to return to the racetrack.
“He was trained for hundred mile endurance races,” the jockey explained. “That mile and a half race was a warm-up exercise for him. He needs a few more laps to settle down. Want me to ride him, Miss?”
“Oh, Manuel, you’ve already been up since five this morning.”
“Anything for you, Anna,” he said, blushing under his tan.
“I’d enjoy a ride,” said Remington. “I don’t get many opportunities these days. Laura, would you like to ride with me? He looks energetic enough to take two people.”
“That sounds lovely. I always wanted to ride off into the sunset.”
The horse eagerly took them around the track as the sun set. Rembrandt slowed as the moon rose.
“’The moon was a ghostly galleon, tossed upon cloudy seas,’” said Remington.
“That’s beautiful! But I hope it isn’t Poe,” said Laura.
“It’s ‘The Highwayman,’ by Alfred Noyes. A favorite of mine, for some reason.”
They rode onward, quoting poetry on a white horse in the moonlight.
At length, Laura said, “This is wonderful, but Anna will want her horse back.”
Remington said. “I won’t add horse theft to my list of sins. But I’ll be at your bedside tonight. ‘Watch for me by moonlight, I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way. One kiss, my bonny sweetheart.’”
They shared a kiss that reflected the passion of lovers who would not allow laws or death to separate them.
STEELE BIT “CRIB SHEET”
Valery Petrofsky was Pierce’s character in “Fourth Protocol.”
Patrick Brody was his character in “Don’t Talk to Strangers.”
The IRA gunman is from “The Long Good Friday.”
Paul Tomlinson and Tess are from “Victim of Love.”
The motorcycle rider was him from “Nomads.”
Various Edgar Allen Poe quotations are from the stories, “The Black Cat,” “The Telltale Heart,” the poem “Annabelle Lee,” and other poems.