STEELE 'O MY HEART VI: INTERVIEW WITH THE STEELES
By: Susan Deborah Smith
First printed: More Red Holt Steele #13/14
Summary: INS is still interested in the newly-weds.
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.
"Mr. and Mrs. Steele!" said the friendly and jovial Immigration and Naturalization Service agent. "Good to see you. Sorry you had to come all the way down here." He shook hands with each of them. "We tried all morning to reach you."
"Car phone," said Remington. "Been on the blink all week."
"I know what you mean." The agent nodded sympathetically. "We just wanted to spare you a trip. Our preliminary investigation is complete, and we've found that there is absolutely no reason to prolong the agony. Just sign this form, Mr. Steele, and your residency status in the United States is officially -- "
Laura sat perfectly still, perfectly straight in her chair. She didn't fidget; she didn't worry aloud; she was oblivious to everything. For her, these were signs of extreme agitation. All her energy settled within her to a complete lack of motion as she visualized the perfect outcome to the day's ordeal.
Her hands were clasped tightly in her lap. Remington put his over them.
"This is just the first one," he said. "Couple of months, we'll be old pros."
She knew how self-conscious he was about it, knew also that he felt more than a twinge of guilt for involving her in such a predicament. She wondered how Immigration would have dealt with them if they'd been engaged for a couple of months before fleeing onto a fishing trawler headed past the two mile limit. She wondered how Immigration would have dealt with them if he hadn't involved Clarissa the Hooker, and if she, Laura, had at least had the time to change her clothes and comb her hair. Things could have been very different, she thought, as she waited, and struggled to regain that happy image of everything turning out all right.
"Remington Steele?" called a voice.
He stood up.
"Laura Holt," said another.
A muscle twitched, but she held her position.
She smiled and rose composedly.
They had to walk in two different directions, to two separate offices. Laura hesitated, then reached up to kiss him.
"Good luck," she said, then turned and followed her examiner.
It was not Miss Lynch, whom she'd expected. It was Investigator Walker, according to the sign on his desk. She took a seat as directed.
"Laura Holt," said Mr. Walker, consulting his file.
"Steele," said Laura.
"Ah, yes." Papers rustled. "We have copies of court documents. Change of name."
"I wanted a new passport picture."
"Mrs. Steele," said the examiner. "Flip answers aren't helpful in this proceeding." He looked at her over the file. "Most people aren't aware of the formal name change procedures in this state. Lots of people think that a woman's name is automatically changed when she marries. Why did you spend over three hundred dollars in court costs and legal fees to change your name, officially, to Laura Steele?"
"Because Immigration is giving my husband a rough time," she replied, looking back at him fearlessly.
After a moment, he looked away and made a note in the file.
"How did you meet your husband?" he asked.
"When I was hired as the principal investigator for Remington Steele Investigations."
"And when was that?"
"1980." Her throat felt dry suddenly; she swallowed. "October of 1980."
"That was," he said, turning over a page, "about a month after your own business folded."
"According to papers filed in October of 1980, you are the owner of Remington Steele Investigations."
"Yes." This was not the turn she'd expected the interview to take.
"How is that?" he asked, intrigued. "You say you were 'hired', yet the papers say you're the owner."
"It's -- complicated," she said.
"Like so much of what involves Mr. Steele."
Laura wondered how many cards she could lay on the table. She and Remington had memorized a scenario, but neither of them especially wanted to use it if it could be avoided.
"I own the business," she stated. "And he fronts it. We're partners."
"It's been a good arrangement. It satisfies both of us." She shrugged. "Remington's not very good with the mundane, day to day aspects of running a business."
"So he lent his name and expertise to what, essentially, is your firm."
"He lent his name," Laura agreed.
"And of course, in those early years, I acted best in a purely advisory capacity," Remington explained with bland confidence and nostalgia.
His investigator was somewhat skeptical. "So you allowed the former Miss Holt to use your name and your reputation to build her own business."
"I think we can safely say that Mrs. Steele built my reputation, as well as the business," said Remington.
"How many pairs of shoes does your husband have?"
"How many what?"
"Pairs of shoes."
She thought she'd managed to make it through the worst part. She thought that the most they could do was try to tear down the foundations of the relationship. No doubt any couple in a real phony marriage couldn't have withstood the onslaught of questions about their day to day adventures. Not merely how they met, but what they did, what restaurants they favored, who tuned the cars. They'd known each other too long to fluff any of that.
For this part of the interview, she'd carefully watched him dress. From the distant reaches of her memory, she recalled a long ago news item about how couples in civil marriages were often tripped up by a question about the color of undergarments.
But this was a curve ball. "I don't know," she said.
Was that glee she detected in Mr. Walker? "Ballpark figure."
Completely at a loss, she stared helplessly at the Immigration agent. Her reaction in any other circumstances would have been swift. "Shoes?" she would've said. "Who cares about shoes?" But Immigration apparently did.
"Really, I haven't the foggiest."
"You realize that if your answers fail to tally with your husband's, he can be deported."
"Oh, for God's sake!" she exclaimed. "Who knows how many shoes he has? I don't even know how many pairs I have!"
"Mrs. Steele -- "
"What about your wife, Mr. Walker? Does she count the shoes you've got in your closet?"
"More than me," said Laura. "He has more than me."
"Thirty five," said Remington. "Three pairs of black pumps, five brown, two bone. Six pairs of espedrilles, assorted colors, two pairs of huaraches, five brown slingbacks--"
"Thank you, Mr. Steele." The agent made a note in the file. "And yourself?"
"Forty one. Forty two," he corrected, thinking of his cowboy boots.
"Pack a suitcase," said Laura, when she met her husband in the waiting area.
She pressed her lips together. "I think I blew it."
Glancing back over her shoulder, she saw the two agents meet, files in hand, and go off together. "You may wish you'd filed for amnestia." He put his arm around her and hugged her close against him.
A diet Pepsi and two aspirins had failed to revive her spirits. A brief stroll around Olvera Street did more to depress her than the interview. She was almost glad to be back within the sorry confines of the INS offices.
"Mrs. Steele," said Mr. Walker. "Some of your answers simply did not match your husband's."
The corner of her mouth twitched. She took a deep breath.
"So what happens?" she asked. "I have to sell my business? Liquidate all assets? Sell off our property? That's asking a lot, isn't it?"
"Deportation orders apply only to foreign nationals," he replied. "We have no jurisdiction over U.S. citizens, except in clear-cut cases of fraud."
"Then what do you call this?"
"We hesitate to press charges against Americans. Very often a young or naive person is made use of by unscrupulous--"
"I'm neither young nor naive, Mr. Walker," snapped Laura. "At least, not that young."
"As I said, we have no jurisdiction."
"Sure you do!" she cried. "He's not leaving the country alone. I'm going with him. You deport him, and I go on the next plane. It's that simple." She paced up and down. "Now, I'm not sure how we can support ourselves abroad. So I'll have to make use of all quick-cash assets. I'll have to sell at a loss, uproot myself, and all because of you." Leaning on the desk, she knocked over a book. "Isn't there something in your operations manual about creating hardships for U.S. citizens?"
He looked up at her.
"Because I'll go. I'll go with him. And from wherever we end up, I'll sue you and your department for every dime I've lost because of this."
"You can't fight city hall, Mrs. Steele."
He eyed her shrewdly. She stared back, fury building a nice sense of warmth deep inside her, comforting her in an odd way.
"This is merely the first interview, Mrs. Steele," he said finally. "There is enough evidence to suggest that some relationship exists; and there is certainly not enough counter evidence for us to contend, at this time, that this is merely a marriage of convenience. Your husband will continue under voluntary departure status, and we'll schedule another interview."
His demeanor softened a bit. "Trouble is," he added, "we have too much information about you, most of it conflicting."
"Then it seems part of it is false."
"The most damaging is a statement made by Norman Keyes."
"Naturally. I didn't know anyone could hate me that much."
"Seems it's your husband he was after."
"Same thing," said Laura. "Next time, I'll bring in some witnesses. Because you know what? After the wedding, that creep came over to our flat and swore to us held see to it that I lost my license, and that my husband went to prison. That doesn't sound like a concerned citizen, does it? That's a vendetta."
Walker was making notes; Laura wasn't sure if that was good or bad.
"Well?" said Remington.
"Sixty day reprieve." Laura offered a wry smile. "I have sixty days to count your shoes."
"Can I get you something?" asked Mildred.
Laura shook her bead, which was a big mistake.
"Come on, honey," said Mildred. "Take your shoes off."
"No, I'm fine, Mildred. Really."
"Some more aspirin?"
"It's eaten a hole in my stomach already."
"You know," said Mildred, sitting on the coffee table. "You've gotten over bigger hurdles than this. You've gotten past Daniel Chalmers. You've gotten past all those shady ladies and Descoine and Keyes -- "
"Oh, no," said Laura. "I haven't gotten past Keyes yet."
Mildred took the towel Laura held to her forehead, folded it inside out, and replaced it gently.
"Hey, listen," she said brightly. "You got through this one. You passed."
"No, I didn't. I didn't know how many shoes he has."
Mildred gazed at her a moment. "You know what, honey? He's happy as a lark."
"Why shouldn't he be? It's not his business that's going for a loss."
"And it's not yours, either. Don't you see? Things are going to be just fine. So you don't know how many shoes he's got. You've got two months. In two months, they could forget about you. In two months, who knows what could happen? Don't get yourself worked up over nothing."
"This isn't nothing, Mildred."
"You think you got problems?" Mildred demanded. "You think you got more problems than your average bride? How about the girl whose husband's in the service? She only sees him once in six months. Maybe. And what about the girl who's pregnant already, huh? Husband doesn't have a job, the rent's due. From where I sit, you've got no problems."
Laura took a deep breath and looked out at Mildred from under the towel.
"Right?" said Mildred.
"Right," said Laura. She sat up slowly. "No problems at all."
And of course, Mildred was right. Remington was as happy as a lark. He was off with the client, feeding her cheesecake, gallantly explaining in gory detail the myriad ways in which they would dig up all the assets her no-good spouse was hiding. It was not a glamorous case, but it paid the rent, and it was the kind of case Mildred could wind up with a few computer queries, and a couple of visits to yacht clubs and real estate brokers. Laura balanced the books and put money in the bank every month with six such cases.Somehow she couldn't keep her mind off facts and figures. As Mrs. Gillespie described the depleted bank account and her estranged husband's suspicious behavior, Laura was wondering how much she could raise from the sale of Remington Steele Investigations, how long it would last in a farmhouse in Ireland or going from hotel to hotel across the Continent. She wondered if it might not be better to sell the loft and the flat, and keep the agency in business, leaving Mildred to the skip tracing and accounts searches that kept the money coming. The intrepid Miss Krebs could certainly handle the number of cases necessary to pay her own salary and the overhead, and there would be enough leftover to send to the Steeles abroad.
Yes, she thought. That might be the best plan. Leave everything to Mildred while she struggled to get Remington back into the country.
"Mrs. Steele and I will have this sorted out in no time," he was saying. "When is your court date?"
No, he wasn't worried. A sixty day reprieve, the threat of deportation lifted (all he had to do was let her put him on a plane with Immigration's forty eight hour notice), and all was right with the world, as far as he was concerned.
Always she was the practical one, he the one with the grandiose schemes, and for nearly five years, it had worked out just fine. They were a team, the abilities of each complimenting the other. If they did have to leave the country, she could trust everything to him: held keep them going; he knew how to land on his feet, and he could catch her if she fell. For now, though, she was in charge of the crisis. She'd nearly fumbled the ball, but "nearly" was the key word. She'd also managed to make the save.
It took effort, it took concentration, but at last she was able to let go of her anxieties.
After they'd accepted Mrs. Gillespie's retainer, she divided the funds equally between the operations account, the office safe, and her coffee pot at home. If worse came to worse -- not, of course, that she was expecting it to she wanted to be able to lay her hands on some fast cash.
Remington could sense her mood, and knew that at least part of her concern was founded on the rocky shore of their past. For that he felt entirely guilty, and the only way he knew to absolve that guilt was to be more dedicated and more faithful, if such a thing were possible.
"What's this?" she asked, as breakfast was handed her on a tray.
"It's Saturday," he replied.
"And I thought after a hard week pursuing cases, solving crimes, you deserved a little pampering."
He sat down on the bed. "What was that nightmare about, then, eh?"
"Nightmare?" She shook her head.
"Middle of the night. Found you all curled up way over there. Kept saying 'I hate you, I hate you, I hate you' over and over."
She closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the wall. "It's a dream I have sometimes. It's nothing."
"Doesn't sound like nothing to me. Recurring nightmares? Talking in your sleep? Laura, I had no idea!"
"It's okay. Forget it."
He sipped his tea. "Not something you want to share, apparently."
Laura couldn't believe she was still talking in her sleep. "You really want to hear it?"
He shrugged. "It's up to you."
"It's very silly, really." She took a deep breath. "Okay. I'm in a cathedral. It's completely empty, but it's decked out for the most beautiful wedding imaginable. All right? And I have this wonderful dress on, like a princess or something. So I walk miles and miles down the aisle, and when I join you at the altar, the archbishop or somebody begins the service."
"We rate a bishop, do we?"
She smiled. "But then," she went on, "just when we get to the vows, I turn to you, and you're a fish."
"A fish?" he exclaimed.
"Well, you're still in your tux, but you've got this big glossy head, like a giant trout."
She didn't notice his dismay. "Naturally, I'm stunned, and when I turn back to the minister, it's Norman Keyes, and he accuses us of being frauds. And then Juan is there, playing that God-awful song on his concertina."
"And then what happens?"
"That's the dream?"
He hesitated. "So who do you hate?"
"Keyes, of course."
"Not the fellow with the fish head?"
"Of course not."
"He has been putting you to a lot of trouble lately."
She reached forward carefully and put her arms around his neck. "It's a kind of trouble I like," she told him. "Most of the time."
"Most of the time?" he asked.
She let him go. "Strawberry jam," she said. "Our favorite!"
The idea that Laura should repeatedly have this disturbing dream gnawed at Remington. He understood perfectly how a girl's wedding fantasy could be crushed under the weight of the fishing trawler adventure, but this business about the trout He wondered what deep psychological meaning that could have.
"How often do you have this dream?" he asked, as casually as he could.
"What dream?" Laura was paging through the Thomas Guide, trying to find the client's house.
"The dream in which I'm a trout."
"Left at the next signal," she told him. She hesitated. "Sometimes, I guess."
He made the turn. "Remember how in Ireland, you told me you never had a fantasy in which we were married?"
"But all this -- This nightmare business--"
"Turn right, and then straight, two miles," she said, and closed the book. She turned to him, holding her hair out of her face. "I've only had this dream since we got married," she said. "And since we are married, maybe a little part of me wonders what it would've been like to have five hundred guests and maybe a designer gown and a huge cascading bouquet like Princess Di."
"But it's not anything I miss. It's not anything I wish for. I loved our Irish wedding. And, all things considered, I guess the fishing trawler extravaganza just helps to boost the Remington Steele mystique."
Consciously, then, Laura was reconciled, but subconsciously was apparently another matter. "How many times?" he asked presently.
"Have I had it? Maybe four or five. Or six. You know, sometimes I have this other dream where we're trying to get to the airport and -- "
He wasn't interested in an attempt to jolly him out of his mood.
"Perhaps after we've sorted out this Immigration business--"
" -- it'll stop. You're probably right."
He kept his eyes on the road. "It's just taking a bit of getting used to, being a trout."
Laura sat back in her seat. "Maybe it's a dream about my mother," she suggested.
"It's her idea that you catch a man and reel him in."
"And all these years, you've just been playing out the line."
Putting her hand over his on the stick, she smiled. "Exactly."
When they returned to the agency, a message was waiting. Laura's sister had been after them to come over for dinner ever since the Steeles had confessed their news, and Laura had been able to avoid the drive to Tarzana every time. Much as Laura loved her sister, she dreaded family gatherings of any sort; Frances had to be satisfied with a long lunch and an afternoon's shopping.
This latest invitation, however, caught Laura in a favorable mood: what positive information Immigration had on them had come largely from Frances. When the agent called, Frances had given a glowing report of the Steeles' relationship. They certainly looked like love birds to her; she had long ago predicted that her baby sister would end up as Mrs. Remington Steele.
Without prompting, she had described the two adventures in which she and Donald had been involved, and she'd gone so far as to mention that Laura and Remington had once stayed at the house with the children, so that she and Donald could go out and enjoy a night of total privacy.
Then she'd thought better of it. "I hope you don't think we're lax in any way," she'd told him. "I didn't discuss the sleeping arrangements with Laura at all. But these are modern times, aren't they, and I'm sure complete decorum was observed. Discretion is really one of Laura's virtues; that's why she makes such a good detective..."
Since her sister had turned out to be quite garrulous on their behalf, Laura thought it best to give her something new to talk about, and so the invitation was accepted.
The Steeles made their way deep into the heart of the Valley.
For reasons Laura couldn't fathom, Remington and Donald seemed to be old buddies. Donald greeted them, beer in hand, as they got out of the car, and proceeded to get Remington a "brew." They exchanged chit-chat about the game, Remington bluffing his way, and retired to the den to check the progress.
Aunt Laura was politely greeted by her two nieces; Danny was off practicing with his baseball team.
"Little League," said Frances. "He's the shortstop."
"Takes after his aunt," said Laura.
As they retreated to the kitchen, Laura was closely followed by her younger niece. The child said nothing, only stared.
"I've promised them a cousin," Frances explained, setting out two glasses and uncorking some Chablis.
"Really?" said Laura. "And where are you going to get it? FAO Schwartz?"
"Oh, Laura," Frances laughed.
"Sorry, sweetie," said Laura, bending down. "Aunt Laura won't have a cousin for you for ages."
The child shot a disgusted look at her mother, and went out.
"Laura, Laura," said Frances. "I know you must be thinking about it."
"Not a bit," Laura replied. "I've only been married two months
"Ten weeks. February seventeenth to May second is ten weeks."
Laura smiled and set down her glass. "All right. Fine. Ten weeks," she agreed. "After ten weeks of marriage, I'm not ready to even contemplate the idea of children."
"Even to contemplate," said Frances.
"'To even contemplate' is a split infinitive. You should know that."
At first Laura couldn't imagine what this petty persecution was about. Then the light dawned, and she said, "You're really enjoying college, aren't you?"
Frances pulled her down into a chair. "It's wonderful," she said. "Oh, Laura, I never knew what I was missing! In five or six years, I should have a degree, just like you!"
The natural snobbishness of the Stanford graduate, the snobbishness that urged the tongue to say that a degree from a state school was nowhere near "just like" a degree from The Farm, was drowned by Laura's sense of filial devotion.
"I'm really proud of you," she said.
Frances beamed; she was so excited. She got her class schedule and her student I.D. out of her purse.
"I thought I'd really be out of place -- I mean, at my age, and starting in the middle of the year but everyone's been friendly and helpful."
"I'm so glad, Frances," said Laura.
Frances put the documents away. "And I can tell you're happy," she said.
"Did you bring the pictures?"
"Mr. Steele is in charge of the wedding album," Laura explained.
"That's so cute, how you call him Mr. Steele."
Laura shrugged. "It works around the office, and sometimes we get home and we forget."
The door swung open, and Remington poked his head around it. "Mrs. Steele," he said. "Donald and I are going to pick up the ball player. Back shortly."
"Okay," she replied.
He winked at Frances and went out.
"He is just so darling," said Frances.
Laura had to agree.
"So what have you kids been up to?" Frances asked, rising to check something in the oven.
"The usual," said Laura. "Work, mostly."
"That's it? Work?"
"The honeymoon lasted more than a month. It's time we got back to normal."
Frances dipped the basting brush into the pan. "Redecorating his apartment?"
"Our apartment," Laura corrected. "A little. Mostly in the area of linens, and trying to squeeze my stuff in."
"Where'd you put the piano?"
"In the alcove in the dining room. Barely."
"That's what I meant to tell them!" said Frances. "How when your house blew up, with Grandma's piano and everything, he went out and bought you a new one. A Steinway. I was going to tell them that."
"Tell them next time."
"Why? How'd it go?"
Determined as she was to be upbeat, Laura couldn't hold the mood in front of her sister. "Not good," she said, slumping.
"Oh, honey, what happened?"
"I blew it," said Laura. "They asked me how many shoes he has, and I didn't know."
Frances took off the oven mitts and put an arm around her. "How important can that be?" she asked, giving her a squeeze.
"Very important," said Laura. "They don't ask normal questions, like Does he snore? or What did he get you for your last birthday? They ask questions like what color underwear has he got on, and how many shoes does he have?"
"I don't think I could answer either one of those. About Donald, I mean."
"I know! Nobody could! It's stupid, it's unfair, it's--"
Laura was surprised to feel tears running down her face. She rubbed atthem blindly, feeling angry and childish.
Frances performed her job of big sister with the skill born of years of experience. She sat and took both Laura's hands and held them. She looked at Laura with eyes full of kindness and sympathy, until Laura at last decided that she was being self-pitying and gloomy, and stood up.
"So what's for dinner?" she asked brightly.
"You gonna be okay?" asked Frances.
"Yeah," said Laura. She took a deep breath. "We're going to be fine."
"I only told them good things."
"I couldn't think of anything bad."
"The only thing they have on us that's bad is -- false. Completely untrue. It's a bunch of lies that this guy Norman Keyes fed them. He had it in for us, that's all."
"They told me your wedding was highly suspicious. I said it sounded highly romantic to me."
"So tell me."
"All about it. All about this Keyes and whatever else it is that's making you miserable."
"It's a long story, Frances."
"You've listened to a few of mine. The roast has another half hour."
"Well," said Laura, sitting down at the counter. "Keyes was this insurance investigator, and we aced him out of a few good cases, so he decided to investigate Remington's background. You know, to see if he could dig up any dirt to compromise him, and apparently the last time he entered the country, his visa status wasn't entered correctly. Or something."
"So Keyes tipped Immigration, and they threatened to deport him. We got married right away, and Mildred -- our secretary -- sent us off on this Mexican honeymoon. But Keyes had gotten hold of the itinerary, and he changed it, to make it look like Remington was chasing him across Mexico."
"To kill him. He also wrote some letters saying our marriage was a fake and that he was worried that Mr. Steele would try to shut him up."
"Honey, I know I'm not a genius like you. I don't get it."
"See, Keyes wanted two for the price of one. He wanted to see Remington in jail, which would have been a nice revenge, and he also had an insurance scam going. He wanted it to look like Remington had killed him, then he planned to come back to life with a new identity and reap the rewards of a two million dollar policy."
"You meet a lot of that sort of person in your line of work."
"A few. Anyway, in the hopes of staging a public brawl, he...well," Laura got up and began to pace a little. The story was nerve-wracking, even to tell.
"He came into the restaurant at the resort and asked Remington if it was strictly business with me, or if he was, you know, getting any on the side."
"Oh, you're kidding!"
"I'm not kidding."
Frances tingled with anticipation. "So what'd he do?"
"He belted the guy." Laura actually enjoyed this part. "Right off a terrace and into a swimming pool. It was pretty good."
"Chivalry is not dead!" said Frances.
"It sure isn't."
"It's a wonderful story." Frances poured more wine. "But I guess, if you had a suspicious mind, and were paid for thinking along those lines -- I mean, he is your boss--"
"He's not my boss."
"Well, not now, but he was.."
"Frances," said Laura. She sat down again and took her sister's hands. "Listen to me. Remington Steele was never my boss."
"He wasn't? But he --"
"No. He's my partner. We're partners. We've been partners since the beginning."
Frances was not going to be fooled. "I'm sure you told me that you worked for Remington Steele. Now, you're great at your job, and I can certainly see why held promote you, but--"
"Listen to me! Listen to me. Remember how I used to have Laura Holt Investigations?"
"Nobody hired me because they didn't think a woman could do the job. So I cooked up Remington Steele Investigations."
"Using his name!"
"Right! Looks good, sounds distinguished
"And you just pretended he was your boss?"
"This is just between us," said Laura, leaning closer. "I trained him from the ground up."
"No!" Frances turned her eyes to heaven and shook her head. "My baby sister is so clever! A little duplicitous, maybe -- "
Laura leaned back. "Girl's gotta earn a living."
Frances smiled at her. "My advice still stands," she told her. "Don't worry."
Suddenly, it sounded like good advice.
Mutual admiration was at the heart of the bond between Donald and Remington. As he prodded Steele for ever more amazing stories of their exploits, Donald could escape the mundane realities of home life and dental practice. He could imagine himself daringly thwarting villains and ordering the best champagne in the most expensive restaurants, and driving up the coast in an antique convertible.
Remington, on the other, felt strong admiration for the stability that Laura's brother-in-law represented. A father home every night for dinner with his kids, a dad who could pitch a few for batting practice, a husband who saw through the veneer of dizzy matronliness to the girl held fallen in love with: this was another way of life to Steele, one he had never known, one held wondered about.
Although he could never fit himself and Laura into this suburban box, Remington could see that happiness existed there, could see that it wasn't all repression and soon-to-be broken homes. Sixteen years down the road there could still be joy; held never seen it so clearly before.
Laura's dread proved ill-founded. Conversation never dragged, centering as it did on honeymoon adventures and whether or not the Steeles planned to move in the near future. There was a brief discussion of the real estate market; Frances bad something to say about good schools; Laura heard herself remarking that she liked Hancock Park very much, but wouldn't mind being nearer the office and the beach.
"Did you sell the loft?" asked Frances.
Laura shook her head. "Rented it. Couple of girls from SC."
"Donald and I have some very fond memories of that loft."
"Do you?" said Remington.
Donald gazed across at his wife, looking, to Remington's eye, like a lovesick puppy.
Frances broke the moment first. "So now you have income property," she said, passing the butter to Remington. "Laura was always wonderful at business. She could turn a profit from a lemonade stand on a rainy day."
"She certainly made the agency a going concern," he agreed.
Frances, with her newly acquired secret knowledge, nodded sagely.
As they sat over dessert, there was a clamor for wedding pictures, which Remington obligingly fetched from the car.
Frances was astonished that they were still in their little packets from the finishers.
"Well," said Laura. "We've been busy."
"Actually, we don't even have an album," said Remington.
Unaware that this was such a serious lack, he shrugged helplessly.
"Tomorrow," said Frances, "I'll take the children to the Galleria, and we'll pick one out for you. That can be their wedding present."
"Oh, no, Frances, really Laura began.
"I know your taste, Laura," said Frances. "She's so conservative! You'll love it, I promise. Now what's this?"
"The airport at Manzanillo," Laura explained. "From the Mexican part of the honeymoon."
"Ah. And how long were you there?"
"Three days," said Remington.
"That's it?" said Donald. "Just a weekend?"
"We sort of..." Laura groped for a reply. "Well, as I was telling Frances earlier..."
"We got involved in a case," said Remington, leaping in with both feet. "Yes, an old enemy of ours followed us down there. Tried to frame me for murder. Spent the night in jail. Yes, a memorable trip."
"You spent your wedding night in jail?" Donald was incredulous.
"Oh, it gets worse," said Laura. "We spent the whole time proving his innocence, and then we had to come home."
"You spent the whole time," said Donald to Remington.
"Every minute," Remington agreed.
"And then back at the office, there was a big case waiting for us, huge retainer offered, so naturally we couldn't pass it up."
"Between that and the Immigration investigator, we didn't have a minute to ourselves, and then we had to fly to London."
"A honeymoon in London," sighed Frances.
"But as soon as we arrived, the case blew up in our faces, and we spent the night in a police station, being questioned about a jewel heist."
"Don't you kids ever sleep?"
"We slept on the plane," said Laura.
That's not what Donald meant.
"We went to Hawaii," said Frances, and suddenly that didn't sound very interesting.
"At least we got to spend some time together," said Donald. "You poor kids!"
Frances was sorting through the pictures. She found an interesting one, this of the Steeles, arm in arm before Ashford Castle, the faithful staff lined up behind them.
"What hotel is that?"
"Ah," said Laura. "Ireland.
"Ireland," agreed Remington, the hint of a smile on his lips.
"Ireland," said Donald, with a sigh of relief.
"That's Mr. Steele's castle." said Laura.
"Long story," said Remington.
"Unexpected legacy," she added.
Donald grinned. "What a life!" he exclaimed.
There were more snapshots of the Steeles in Ireland, and, a favorite of Laura's, one of Remington struggling to push the car out of the bog held driven it into.
"A lot of people think of Remington as a sort of flashy front man," she explained. "You know, looks good in a suit, glad hands the clients. This shows that he also knows how to put in a good day's work."
"Right you are, darling. And good it is to show around at Solidarity meetings, eh?"
The official portrait was next, an exquisite photo of Laura and Remington, she in a little veiled hat and cream suit with pearls, he in a good blue suit and tie. A gold watch chain glittered across the front of his vest.
"Oh, Laura," breathed Frances. "Oh, you're beautiful! Donald, look at this! This is in Ireland?"
"After our second wedding, yes."
Frances shook her head. "It's lovely. Did you send one to Mother?"
"Of course," said Laura.
"Funny she hasn't mentioned it. I talked to her yesterday, and she was complaining about how -- "
"I just sent it," said Laura. "Today. This morning."
"I thought you said we'd pick out a nice frame and send the picture to Abigail for her birthday."
"Then why'd you tell your sister..."
"To get her to shut up, all right!"
Baffled once again by the Byzantine nature of Laura's family relations, he said, "Everything went quite well, I thought. No lapses round the dinner table -- "
"Everything went just fine!" Laura crossed her arms on her chest and stared out the window.
They drove in silence for nearly fifteen miles. "I must say I don't understand the least bit of this," he told her. I mean, why do you think you have to give the required answer? Why didn't you just tell her we haven't sent it yet?"
"That would look suspicious, wouldn't it?"
"Why? She must know that you and Abigail aren't the closest mother-daughter team in history."
"Just forget it, all right?"
"But I mean, why do you have to lie to..."
"Why do you?"
"When do you ever tell the truth? It's become a tradition in our household. A relationship entirely wrapped up in lies."
She let her seat belt snap back and jumped out of the car.
He got out and slammed the door. She didn't wait for him.
"That may be," he said. His voice echoed in the subterranean garage. "But we don't lie to each other, do we? Do we?"
She stabbed the elevator button again.
The doors opened and she stepped inside.
"Coming?" she asked.
He unlocked the car. "No," he said.
The doors slid shut.
He sat in the car for two minutes. Then he got out in a fury and climbed the stairs to the fifth floor.
"Tell me why we're fighting!" he yelled.
She turned from the mirror, her face and hands covered with soapsuds.
"I'm not fighting," she said. She bent over the sink and rinsed her face carefully.
"It certainly looks like it to me. I mean, what is the problem?"
"I don't think there's a problem."
"You don't think there's a problem?"
"No, I don't."
"Well, I do."
Ignoring him completely, she soaked a cotton ball with lotion and brushed it over her face.
He waited; she continued her ritual unhurried.
"Don't you think that the more strictly we adhere to the truth, the better off we'll be?"
"I was adhering very strictly to the truth while you were out at Little League."
His face was ashen. Laura's sister was good-hearted, but ultimately unreliable."What'd you tell her?"
"That they're after us, trying to prove we're a fake. That this isn't your average Immigration investigation." She turned to face him. "Why, Mr. Steele. How pale you are!"
He took a deep breath. "It just seems to me that the less we have to remember --"
"Now we can get down to it. You are a little ticked about the interview."
"This has nothing to do with it."
"Doesn't it? Doesn't it? Then what difference could it possibly make what I tell my sister!"
"It makes a hell of a lot of difference! You're too good of a person to go around making up convenient little lies!"
"Am I?" she exclaimed. "That's up to me, isn't it?"
He looked at her, and something registered for the first time. He grabbed a towel off the rack. "Put this on," he said. "I can't fight with someone who's stripped to the waist."
"Then don't fight." She pushed her way past him.
His fingers closed on her arm, and he jerked her back.
"Just explain it to me," he said calmly. "Explain why you couldn't tell your sister that we were going to send the picture as a gift."
She shook him off and went into the bedroom. "I don't know," she said finally. "I don't know." Wriggling out of her pantyhose, she tossed them into a corner and sat down on the bed. She didn't move.
Remington shrugged out of his jacket and crossed the room. When he held it out to her, she automatically raised her arm; he slipped it on her, buttoned it in front and sat down beside her.
"Now, why are we fighting, eh?"
"Every little thing doesn't have a cause," she said with even deliberation. "I almost never tell Frances or my mother the truth. Not since I went away to school. The truth," she added, "isn't something I tell them."
An intriguing response. "So you wouldn't have told her about the present, even if Immigration wasn't hanging over our heads?"
"Well, that's good to hear." He stared out the window into the night. "Why don't you tell them the truth?"
"They hear what they want to hear," she shrugged. "Especially my mother. True, false, it doesn't matter."
"You know, I think you underestimate your mother. She's always come through in a pinch."
"For you maybe," she snapped. Abruptly, she got up and went out.
"Oh, now, Laura, come on." He tried to catch her hand, but missed, so he hauled himself to his feet and followed her to the kitchen.
He watched as she slammed a bowl down on the counter and yanked the freezer open.
"Laura, I like a good fight as well as anyone, but let's choose a topic and stay with it, shall we?"
"Look, just leave me alone, all right? I'll be fine." She dropped a scoop of ice cream into the dish and dug the spoon back into the carton.
"You'll be fine?" he repeated.
"I'll be fine."
"Just leave me alone!" she yelled.
He made a strategic retreat.
Much later, after dozing only fitfully, he got up and opened the bedroom door. A light burned in the dining room; the rest of the flat was dark. Laura sat slumped over the dining room table, a heavy paperback fallen from her hand.
He put the ice cream dish in the sink and came back to watch her for a moment.
"Laura," he said, shaking her gently.
She screwed her eyes more tightly shut and turned her head on her arm. "Come on, darling," he said. He lifted her to her feet. "Come to bed, and we'll fight some more tomorrow."
"What time is it?"
"Half past two."
She let him put her to bed; once he was settled in, she turned to him and snuggled in close. He put his arms around her and listened for a long time to the gentle sound of her breathing.