STEELE 'O MY HEART, PART XIV: STEELE AROUND
By: Susan Deborah Smith
First printed: More Red Holt Steele #13/14
Summary: Laura's father makes his appearance.
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.
Remington had no suspicions about the distinguished, middle-aged gentleman whom Mildred showed into his office. He rose and offered his hand.
"Remington Steele," he said. "Mister...?"
"Smith," supplied Mildred.
"John Smith," said Mr. Smith.
This was not the sort of name Remington would have chosen as an alias, and so he did not think it odd.
"Boss," said Mildred, gesturing toward the door. "Back at ten," she added, sotto voce.
"Of course, Mildred. Won't you sit down, Mr. Smith," he added. "What can I do for you?"
The gentleman glanced around. "Actually, I'm here to see Miss Holt."
"Miss Holt," Remington repeated. "Yes, well, actually the former Miss Holt isn't in the office yet this morning. Perhaps we can go over the preliminaries of your case while --"
"Former Miss Holt?" the client interrupted. "I see." He glanced at his watch. "Do you expect her soon?"
"Any minute, actually. But as I was saying, are there perhaps some preliminaries to your case that we can get started on while we--"
A voice came to them as the door was thrown open. "They were fresh out of jelly," Laura was saying, "so I got you the lemon cream -- " Seeing the other chair occupied, she pulled up short. "Oh. I'm sorry. I didn't realize you -- "
Remington rose. "Ah, Mrs. Steele. Mr. Smith here was waiting to see you."
Mr. Smith also rose, and turned to her. "Laura?" he said.
Laura's face drained of color, and the bag of doughnuts fell to the floor with a thud. Chalk white, she backed out of the office and pulled the door shut after her.
"That was her just now," said Remington, staring at the visitor.
"Excuse me." He scrambled for the door.
He found Laura standing in the deserted outer office, back pressed against the wall, arms folded tight against her chest.
"What's all this about then, eh?" he asked.
She was hyperventilating, struggling for air. "Paper sack," she said.
"I can't -- breathe --"
He dumped the doughnuts out onto Mildred's desk and handed her the sack. While she breathed into it, he put one hand on her chest, the other against her back, and held her. The quick shuddering soon eased, and she let the bag fall from her hands.
"Better?" he asked.
She nodded, taking in air in deep, gasping breaths. Closing her eyes, she struggled for control.
"It's all right. I'm all right."
"Laura, what's the matter?"
"Nothing. Nothing at all." She pushed past him and went out the door.
After one puzzled moment, Remington was after her. He caught up with her quickly and blocked her path; she tried to go around. Finally, he corralled her and held her caged between his arms and the wall.
"This is not nothing, Laura."
"I said I'm all right!"
"And sometimes I pay no attention. Give us a clue, eh?" he said. "Who is he? Former client? Former case? Not another Descoine!"
She looked at him, undecided. Then she made up her mind and took a quick breath. "That's my father."
Her words rang in his ears. He remembered all the little bits and pieces she'd told him, and how what had happened when her parents divorced was a story he had put together himself from the clues and fragments that slipped away from her in unguarded moments. How like his entire past was this trauma she guarded so closely, and how it had colored her life.
His arms fell to his sides. "Your father," he said. He couldn't think of anything to say. "He said his name was John Smith."
She gave a little snort of contempt. "Original."
He looked at her through narrowed eyes. "That man is your father?"
"I'm going home," she told him, pushing him aside.
"Ah, no. Wait a minute." He caught her wrist. "That's your father in there. You haven't seen him in how many years, and you're not even going to speak to him?"
"You're not even curious about what he wants? Why he's here to see you?"
"After twenty years," she answered, "I don't care."
She was firm, she was resolute, and he could see she was about to cry. He put an arm around her shoulders and walked with her down the corridor.
"Now, I agree," he said, "that this is a bloody awful thing to do. Showing up at your business under an assumed name." They turned the corner and walked past the elevators. "Why don't we do this then? You come back and sit in your office. Have a cup of coffee, eat a doughnut, listen to the radio. Eh? And I'll find out what the bugger wants. Then, if you want to talk to him, you can. Or I'll give him the boot. Okay?"
They had made the circuit of the corridor and arrived again at the agency. She hesitated in front of the door, leaning against him, then suddenly straightened.
"Okay," she said. "I'll wait. You talk to him; I won't. That's it."
"Okay. Good girl." He sat her down behind her desk and poured out a cup of coffee. "There we are. Put your feet up. Look out the window. Be back straightaway with a full report."
Mr. Smith -- that is, Mr. Holt -- was pacing nervously. Remington offered a cool smile and closed the door.
"I'm afraid Mrs. Steele isn't seeing any clients this morning -- Mr. Smith."
"I see." Her father looked up. "I didn't know she was married."
"There's probably a bloody lot you don't know," said Remington. "Magna cum laude, Stanford, Class of '78. Fell from a fifth floor balcony once, and survived with hardly a scratch. Put away any number of psychopathic criminals, solved innumerable crimes. Met a young man once, shady past." His eyes were intense, his gaze unyielding. "Set him back on the straight and narrow with nothing more than her example and her friendship. The moral backbone of her family."
"All right," said Mr. Holt. "You've got me. I don't know anything except she works here. A friend told me."
"What sort of friend is that, eh? Sending you here with no warning."
"Friend of mine," Holt corrected. "Saw her picture in the paper and sent it to me."
"That's too bad. Apparently, she doesn't want to be seen."
"Tell her I want to talk to her," said Laura's father. "That's all I ask."
"What about when she wanted to talk to you, eh?" Remington demanded, just warming up. "All those years, growing up, wondering why you didn't come back. That sort of thing has a real effect on a girl. She starts looking at everybody: Is he going to leave? Will he vanish without a trace? Is he going to walk out that door? You set an example, mate, and not a good one. 'Tisn't a pretty thing, being left."
"I didn't leave her," protested Mr. Holt. "I left her mother."
"A pretty fine distinction for a 16 year old to make, especially when it's the father she worshipped, adored, who disappears."
"Disappeared is a harsh word," said Mr. Holt. "I said good-bye."
"Most people know the difference between a Saturday afternoon good-bye, and one that lasts twenty years."
"Her mother and I - It was better this way."
Contempt rose in Steele until it threatened to blind him. "I'm not interested in your troubles with Abigail. That's none of my affair. What concerns me is Laura, and why you've come crashing in on her after all these years. What's your motive, eh? Flat broke, are you? Need a few dollars? Fine. Name your price." He took out his wallet. "Couple hundred to crawl back into your hole? But there's a string attached. You tell me what made you leave your children. You tell me why you couldn't send a card or a letter or make a phone call to your daughters in all these years."
Mr. Holt stared at him, flushed.
"I can't," he said finally.
"You can't," Remington repeated, his patience at an end. "Well, then--"
The door from Laura's office swung open. Her husband turn, startled.
She walked up to her father. "I don't want to see you. I don't want to talk to you," she said. "Is that clear enough?"
"Laura--" he pleaded.
She looked at him, remembered from babyhood the sound of his voice, and realized with shock that she felt nothing: not hate, not love, not anger, not anything in particular anymore. The yearning for him to come back, she knew in her heart all of a sudden, was the yearning of a 16 year old for the father she had known. This man, after twenty years, had no place in her life. She was uninterested in him; he was a stranger.
"You're just not anyone that I want to know," she went on. "But if you're--" She recognized the coldness in her voice and struggled to find some shred of compassion within herself. " -- you know, sick, or if you need-- " She made a little fluttering gesture with her hand. "My husband will write you a check. All right?"
With a curt smile, she nodded to him and turned away. She met Steele's eyes with a clear gaze and went back into her office.
A wave of relief washed over him. She was all right; everything was fine, or close to it. How often she had stood by him in such moments, on the brink of some discovery about his past, some secret that was hidden even from him; how often she'd borne him up under some crushing loss or disappointment. He was glad to return the favor.
"Amazing woman, my wife," he said. He sat down at his desk and pulled out a checkbook. "I believe we were talking price."
"Forget it," said Laura's father. "That's not why I came. I was hoping -- I was actually hoping I could do something for her."
"No need," said Remington, slamming shut the drawer. "She built this agency up from nothing. She's not accustomed to handouts."
"But your name's on the door."
"Treacherous world out there, Mr. Holt. Seems people would rather hire me, even though she's the one doing the work. Sad business, this male chauvinism."
Mr. Holt handed him a business card. "I'd like you to keep this," he said. "If she ever needs -- or wants -- to contact me, you can give it to her."
Remington glanced at the card, which gave the address of a company in Texas, and tucked it away. "I can do that much."
"I know what you must think--"
"I don't think you do."
"But I owe you no apology, and no explanation."
Remington's eyes were like cold steel. "I have private reasons for despising a man who abandons his family. Reasons apart from Laura. Good day, Mr. Holt."
He showed the man to the door. Then, on second thought, he called him back.
"You don't happen to have any connection to a circus, do you?" he asked.
Mr. Holt looked genuinely puzzled. "Circus?" he said.
Remington dismissed him. "Whimsical question. Good-bye."
Mildred, back at her desk, looked up curiously. The man went out without looking at her, and Mr. Steele offered no explanation.
"Did he call you?" Laura was saying to the telephone. "Me, either. I just wanted to warn you." She looked up as Steele leaned in. "Well, call me back, okay? Right. Bye."
"Let's call it a day, shall we?" he suggested.
"We just got here."
"All the more reason." He pulled her from her chair, handed her her hat and handbag. In a rush, he hustled her past Mildred, into the elevator and the car.
"I know what you're thinking," said Laura as they drove up the coast.
"And I don't want to talk about it."
She ran a hand through her hair. "You think I should've listened to his story."
"I admit curiosity would have gotten the better of me. But I think you did the best thing: what you needed to do."
"You don't think he was dying, do you?"
"Seemed hale enough to me."
"Probably had some kind of religious experience and wants to go around and beg forgiveness. Damn him!" she exclaimed, and turned away.
He pulled off the road and made her face him. "You've gone ten rounds with me and my past," he said. "I'm willing to do the same for you."
"Thanks." She smiled and took a deep breath. "Want me to drive?"
He got out; she slid over.
"Where are we going?"
"Biltmore?" she asked, pointing the car towards Santa Barbara.
"Biltmore," he agreed. He knew how easily the demons of the past could be exercised by the joy of the present, and how much safety there was, when they were together.