STEELE TESTING THE WATERS
By: Leah B.
E-mail: Leahb100163@yahoo.comSummary: Steele, Murphy, Bernice, and Laura spend an evening together at play. This is my fourth attempt at RS Fanfic. The story takes place just prior to "Sting of Steele."
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 Holt walked purposefully through the doors of Remington Steele Investigations. She always felt a little thrill of pride as she arrived at her business. Her business. It wasn't her name on the door but it couldn't have been any more hers. She was the creator, the brains, the driving force behind the Remington Steele detective agency. She called the shots and everyone there answered to her and her alone. Well, that was a bit of an overstatement lately. Ever since the mystery man with the drop dead good looks and sultry blue eyes had walked into her life just over six months before, she'd been feeling a little out of control. Things were more exciting and more profitable, but Mr. Steele, or whatever his real name was, didn't hop to as Murphy Michaels had always done. Mr. Steele had an annoying habit of thinking for himself. Laura vowed to herself that today she'd make some progress toward bringing him into line.
"Good morning, Bernice," Laura greeted the agency receptionist, "what's on the schedule for today?"
"It's pretty light, Laura." As Laura smiled in response, Bernice went on, "but don't get too comfortable. He's been here for an hour, and I have a feeling something's going on. He's been on the phone the whole time."
Laura cringed. No doubt Mr. Steele was talking to one of his former associates. She didn't even want to imagine what they might be planning.
Just then Steele walked out of his office. "Laura, good morning. I thought I heard your lovely voice out here."
Keeping in mind her goal for the day, Laura decided to be direct. "Is that why you got off the phone so quickly? What's going on, Mr. Steele?" she asked with a frown.
Steele hesitated only very slightly as he walked toward her, then he was smooth as silk, "Laura, really, so suspicious for," he looked at his watch, "barely 9 a.m. My tailor sends his regards."
Bernice and Laura exchanged a look of skepticism. The phone rang and Steele turned back toward his office, thankful for the break in the conversation. He didn't want Laura to know that Daniel would be arriving in Los Angeles the next day.
"Okay," Bernice said to the caller, "just calm down. What's your name?" Laura reached out her hand for the phone but Bernice shook her head. "Yes," she went on, "Mr. Steele is right here." Steele took the receiver with a smirk.
"Steele here," he started. "Yes? Of course." His voice softened. "Are you alright? Yes. I'll be there shortly." Steele's expression was worried as he handed the phone back to Bernice. "I'm leaving for a while, Miss Wolf."
"It's Fox," Bernice said in an annoyed tone.
"Mr. Steele, where are you going?" Laura asked. "Was that a client?"
Steele barely looked at her as he walked out the door, "No, Laura, it's not agency business."
"Mr. Steele, it had better not . . ." she called after him, but he was already on his way to the elevator.
Murphy Michaels, Laura's old friend and partner, walked in with a quizzical expression. "Where's Steele rushing off to? Old accomplice come to retrieve his share? Scotland Yard hot on his trail?"
Laura ignored him and turned to Bernice. "Who was that on the phone?"
"I don't know. She never gave me a name. But she sounded very upset. Almost incoherent."
Laura flinched, "She?" then quickly decided on her course of action. "Murphy, give me your car keys."
"What?" Murphy looked as he was - left out of the picture. "Why don't I just drive? Where are we going?" At Laura's impatient expression, Murphy handed her his car keys and she strided out the door calling out, "I don't know how long I'll be," as she left. Luckily, Mr. Steele had to wait a few moments for Fred, so they were just pulling away from the building as Laura exited the garage. She didn't want to lose them and she figured Mr. Steele was less likely to notice Murphy's nondescript Ford. He'd spot the Rabbit in a minute.
In the limo, Fred, the agency's valued and very discreet driver, noticed Mr. Michaels' car behind them almost immediately. It was part of his job to note when he was being followed which, when Mr. Steele was involved, was fairly often. Fred slowed to get a better look. Mr. Steele was so distracted he didn't even notice. "What is Miss Holt doing following us in Mr. Michaels' car?" Fred wondered. He thought about telling Mr. Steele but decided against it, at least for now. They were probably working on a case that required them to arrive separately. Fred dropped Mr. Steele at a restaurant and waited as instructed. Miss Holt was now parked down the street.
Laura was furious. He was obviously meeting someone. No doubt to plan some jewel or art theft that she would be left to explain. She wasn't reassured by the someone she saw sit down at a table near the front window with Mr. Steele. Mr. Steele's "friend" was a tall, strikingly beautiful blond, dressed more for evening than mid-morning. The woman appeared upset and Mr. Steele seemed to be trying to calm her. Finally, Steele got up, gave the woman's shoulders a quick squeeze and left. The gesture was almost brotherly and, on a personal level, quite a relief to Laura. On a business level, she felt as anxious as ever. The limo pulled away from the curb with Laura not far behind.
Fred had noted Miss Holt's continued surveillance and was more than a little bothered. It didn't seem as if Miss Holt and Mr. Steele were on a case together at all. It didn't even seem as if they were together. He decided to come clean. "Ah . . Mr. Steele?"
"Yes, Fred?" Steele answered.
"Well," Fred began nervously, "I just thought you would want to know that Miss Holt has been following us in Mr. Michaels' car."
"What?" Steele practically yelled turning to look out the back window, "Why that . . . alright, if she wants to spy on me, I'll give her something to see. Sterling Jewelry, Fred, and be quick about it. Oh, and don't let Miss Holt lose us." Fred did as he was told, wondering if he would still have a job by the time the day was over. Steele spent what was left of the morning at Sterling Jewelry noting the security system, the placement of the "hidden"cameras, and the general layout. He stopped at his favorite Italian restaurant for a leisurely lunch, then spent the rest of the day assembling the supplies he would need if he were going to stage a heist. He had no intention of stealing anything but he would have a little fun with Laura before he let her figure that out. It would serve her right for being so bloody intrusive. By the time he returned to the agency, it was 5 p.m. Steele went into his office, sat down and waited for the walking time bomb he knew as Miss Holt to enter. He didn't have to wait long.
She was in full confrontation mode before the door was even entirely open. "Just what exactly do you think you're doing?" she started but didn't give him a chance to answer before she continued, "Never mind, I know what you're doing and if you think you're going to jeopardize my agency for the sake of a quick score, you are sadly mistaken."
"I have no idea what you're talking about, Laura," Steele answered with deadly calm, "but if you'd like to explain, I have a few free minutes."
"I'll tell you what I'm talking about," she hissed, "you are planning to rob Sterling Jewelry."
"What makes you think that?" Steele queried in a voice barely above a whisper.
Laura was a little thrown by his refusal to become upset. Usually, he was fairly emotional, but he seemed as if he'd expected her tirade. Whatever was going on, she couldn't let him get away with it. "I saw you," she accused. "You checked out the security at Sterling's, then you bought everything you'd need to rob them."
"Laura," Steele asked quietly, "how could you have seen me do those things?"
"I followed you," she said defiantly. "After your mysterious call, I knew you were up to something and you managed to live down to my expectations. So when exactly were you planning to pull it off?"
Steele was more than a little hurt. He'd thought she was just being curious about his call because it was from a woman. He assumed Bernice would fill in that bit of information as soon as he left. He'd hoped maybe she would even be a little jealous. But that wasn't it at all. She'd believed the whole time that he was backsliding into his old profession. "I wasn't planning to pull it off at all, Laura," he responded, the anger showing in his voice. "As I told you before I left, my errand was not of a business nature. When Fred told me you were following us, I decided to teach you a lesson."
Laura was furious. "You what?" she ground out. "You wasted my entire afternoon to teach Me a lesson?"
Both voices were raised now. "You followed me, Laura. What makes you think you have the right to invade my privacy that way?" Steele accused, his face very close to hers.
"You were in the agency limo on agency time and I have to protect my business," Laura yelled back. "I have the right to do whatever I need to do to make sure you don't put it at risk."
Steele's voice was quiet again. He literally could not believe what he was hearing. "Laura, it was a personal matter. Everything does not revolve around you and this damned agency."
"If you weren't planning something, then who was that . . ." Laura stopped herself before she got out her question. If he was out on a personal matter, then asking about the girl would seem like Laura cared whom he saw on his own time, which she didn't, or at least didn't want to admit to him. Laura stormed into her office, shaking her door on its hinges with a healthy slam. Once there, she sat down at her desk and fumed. He had wasted her entire day leading her around on a wild goose chase just for his own amusement. Laura looked up as the door to the reception area opened to admit Murphy Michaels.
"Hey partner," Murphy said with a sympathetic expression, "long day?"
"You have no idea," Laura answered with a grimace as she reached into her desk for some aspirin.
Back in his office, Steele was already over his anger. Laura had been jealous. That was some progress anyway, wasn't it? He moved toward her door but stopped with his hand on the knob when he heard Murphy Michaels inside.
"Well, I have just the solution then," Murphy was saying, "Bernice and I are going for a drink. Care to join us?" When Laura hesitated, Murphy put on his most charming smile, "C'mon Laura. It'll be like old times. When is the last time the three of us had a chance to just hang out?" They both knew it was before Mr. Steele had arrived. Somehow, since he'd been in the picture, Laura was either furious with him or mesmerized by him, but in either case, she didn't seem to have time for Murphy any more and it bothered him quite a lot.
Steele smiled to himself with the realization that since he'd arrived in Los Angeles, Laura seemed as if she couldn't care less what Murphy Michaels did in his spare time, or with whom. But she was driven to distraction by Steele's comings and goings. Steele was sure she would decline the offer.
"Okay Murph," Laura finally agreed. Her eyes drifted toward Steele's office and Murphy moved between her and the door so that she couldn't help but listen to him. "Laura, no. Don't force me to spend an evening with that fraud." Laura was still mad but it seemed just plain mean to leave Mr. Steele out. Murphy moaned and continued, "He probably has a date anyway."
Steele scowled at Michaels' strategy. It was simplistic and transparent, just like its author. Surely, Laura would see right through it and at least invite Steele to join them. She couldn't possibly prefer an evening with the personality challenged Murphy Michaels to an opportunity to sate herself with the wit, the humor, the passion of Remington Steele.
Murphy's final comment had the desired effect. Laura hesitated, remembering the mysterious call of that morning from the woman whom Steele had dropped everything to meet and still hadn't explained except to say it was personal. "You're on, Murph. Let's go."
They left Laura's office, collected Bernice, and headed for the door. "Johnny Malloy's, here we come," Murphy said loudly as they left. Laura glanced back at Steele's office, hoping he hadn't heard.
Steele gasped. By the time he had collected himself and walked through to Laura's office, he heard the three of them leaving. He'd be damned if he'd run after them. The whole scenario was just ridiculous. Steele returned to his office and made a few calls that he hoped would address the problem he'd learned about that morning. He tried not to think of Laura but he couldn't get out of his mind the image of Murphy Michaels using his time alone, or relatively alone, with her to get a foot in the door that Steele wanted to stay irrevocably closed. Finally, he couldn't stand it any longer. Fred must know where this pub, Johnny Malloy's, was.
At the bar, the three of them took a table in the back and laughed over old times. Bernice and Murphy couldn't help but notice that Laura seemed distracted. Laura couldn't stop thinking about Mr. Steele. She still couldn't believe he'd wasted her day, although he did have a point. If he had followed her, she would have been furious. It was just hard to imagine him having a normal friend; someone who wasn't also a thief. She got up from the table and walked to the pay phones in the back. Mr. Steele wasn't at the office so she left a message on his machine at home.
"Laura, let's play a game," Bernice said as Laura returned to the table.
"What kind of game?" Laura asked. "We're a little old for drinking games, aren't we?"
"It's not a drinking game," Bernice answered. "It's just a distraction. It's called "This or That." Each of us poses a choice in turn and directs the question to one of the others who answers by choosing one of the options. You aren't supposed to try to further define the choices or to justify your answer. It's simply meant to express your preference without explanation. Okay, I'll start with an easy one. Laura - Vacation at the beach or in the mountains?"
"What time of year is it?" Laura immediately asked.
"No questions, Laura. Just give your first reaction," Bernice admonished.
"Am I alone or with someone?" Laura again tried to clarify, "because if I'm alone, the solitude of the mountains sounds nice, but . . ."
"Laura," Bernice started.
Laura pictured Mr. Steele in swimming trunks or, alternatively, in a flannel shirt with a white thermal underneath and maybe some blue jeans. They were both pretty darned attractive images. "Okay, okay," Laura finally answered, "the beach." Easier access, she thought.
Steele entered Johnny Malloy's a bit warily. He wanted to get the lay of the land before he made his presence known. There they were in the back. Murphy was swaying a bit and Bernice was very loud and giggly. Laura was the picture of decorum as always. Steele went first to the bar. "Hello there, mate," he greeted the barman, "I'll be with that group in the back and I'll be drinking Manhattans. I want them extremely light. I can't emphasize that too much. Need to keep my wits about me tonight. Why don't you deliver another round of drinks over to the table now?"
"Whatever you say, buddy," the bartender agreed.
As Steele approached the table, they were all laughing at something about Marie Osmond versus Cher. As she saw him approach, Laura stopped abruptly. "Mr. Steele, I'm glad you could join us."
"How did he find us?" Murphy mumbled.
"Glad, Miss Holt?" Steele replied cooly, "I would have thought surprised."
"Are you sitting or whining?" Bernice asked with a fake smile.
"Very well, Miss Wolf," Steele replied, "I'll join you." He sat in the empty chair across from Laura. She couldn't help but notice that somewhere between the office and the bar, he had removed his tie and jacket and unbuttoned the first three, no four, buttons of his shirt. At some point, it made more sense to just take the damn thing off altogether. She smiled to herself. Maybe she'd suggest that. Later.
Laura struggled to regain focus as the drinks arrived. "We were just playing a silly game," she said, "You probably don't want to . . . "
"Nonsense, Laura," he interrupted. "I am most interested in your American social rituals."
Bernice quickly explained the game. It was Murphy's turn to pose the choice. He looked directly at Steele as he said, "Steele - Prison in France or in England?"
Steele answered quickly, "Really, Murphy, there's no comparison. Mother England all the way." He stole a glance at Laura, "I'm speaking historically, of course. Nothing surpasses the romance of the Tower of London."
It was Steele's turn next. He turned to face Murphy. "Murphy - Beige or tan?"
"Okay, you guys," Bernice interrupted. You're really not getting into the spirit of this. Let me try one." Bernice shot a knowing look at Laura. "Murphy - Socks or no socks?"
Laura rolled her eyes. "Pullease," she said with feeling, "no socks."
Murphy wore a dumbfounded expression. "I have no idea what you two are talking about," he said, "What do you mean? With sandals?"
Steele wore a similar expression. Then, ever so slowly, it began to dawn on the two men.
"Oh . . ." Murphy looked a little embarrassed. "You mean . . .should the guy? Well, why in the world would you even notice?"
Bernice and Laura burst out laughing as a point they had often debated was proven true once again. Men didn't have a clue.
Steele tugged at his ear looking a bit uncomfortable himself. Then he answered with the supreme confidence of one who can be all things to all women. "Why, Murphy," Steele said in a tone of dismay, "I'm shocked. We men are, after all, here merely for the enjoyment of our women." He smiled at Laura as he finished.
"Your women?" Laura said between clenched teeth.
"I always say," Steele continued, "give them what they want." His gaze seemed like sunlight through a magnifying glass that was directed at Laura. "There's no rush after all. We have all night."
As he so often did, Steele had turned the heat of her anger into heat of another kind with barely a few spoken words and a glance. Laura let her mind wander for a moment. "All night," she murmured as she felt her face flush, then looked quickly around to make sure no one had heard her. Steele's smirk indicated that he might have. Time for a quick change of pace.
Laura decided to go safe with a political query. "Mr. Steele - Thatcher or Reagan?"
"Aren't they really the same person?" Murphy slurred.
"Now that's an interesting question, Laura," Steele answered. "Margaret Hilda Thatcher, the complex, dedicated career woman. More than a little pent-up frustration to unleash there, I'll wager."
Bernice snorted with laughter. "Are you fantasizing about Margaret Thatcher now? Your love life must be worse than I thought."
"Not at all, Miss Wolf," Steele defended. "Merely commenting on a type that I find fascinating. I'll have to choose our extraordinary prime minister."
Steele looked at Murphy whose head was lolling. "I don't think Murphy will mind letting me catch up. All right then, it's my turn. Laura - Will it be Paris or Tahiti?" The way he said it with such confidence made it seem as if they'd already agreed to go away together and he was simply soliciting her preference so that he could make the travel arrangements. The nerve of the man!
"Isn't Paris cold this time of year?" Laura teased. "We'd need long sleeve shirts and loads of bulky sweaters. I think I'll go with Paris."
"Wonderful," Steele answered. "Miss Wolf, make the arrangements for Miss Holt and me, won't you? I know just the place on the Left Bank. Au Relais Saint-Jacques. Couldn't be more romantic. Roaring fire. Mulled wine. The pleasure of long overdue anticipation relieved as we remove each other's clothes, layer by painstaking layer."
Murphy was trying not to be dizzy as he shook his head in objection to the revolting turn of the conversation. "Nobody is impressed with your . . ." he couldn't think of a word, "your . . . your . . . with you, Steele."
"Wonderfully witty repartee, Murphy," Steele jabbed, "Are you available for the next Mel Torme roast?"
Even Bernice smiled at this as another round of drinks arrived. Miss Wolf was quite tipsy but still relatively in control. "Mr. Steele - Beatles or Rolling Stones?"
"Ah, Miss Wolf. The sweet innocence of the Fab Four or the raw sexuality of Mick and Keith? I suppose it depends on one's mood."
"Mr. Steele," Laura scolded, "you're supposed to just give an answer."
"Patience, Miss Holt, I'm getting to that," he said with a smile that could only be described as sexy. "Right here, right now, for the satisfaction of a desperate longing that you want to make last forever," his eyes never left Laura's, "I'd have to choose the Beatles." Laura took a big gulp of wine and once again lost her battle to avoid staring at his chest.
After a few more rounds of the game, it was Laura's turn again and both Murphy and Bernice were quite a bit worse for wear. The sexual overtones whenever Steele addressed Laura, hell whenever he so much as looked at her, were unmistakable but she couldn't quite get out of her mind the day's events. She still didn't know with whom Steele had been talking that morning, and she had no clue about the meeting with the blond. Still, it was an unusual opportunity for revelation. She decided to go for it. Carefully avoiding looking at him, Laura said quietly, "Mr. Steele - Now . . .or then?"
Their eyes met and locked for a long time as Steele pondered how to answer. This was an uncharacteristically direct approach for Miss Holt and he didn't want to let the moment pass without acknowledging that risk taken. He knew he couldn't say it in words so he tried to let his gaze communicate all that he was thinking. His intensity as he seemed to look right through her made Laura uncomfortable. So engrossed in each other were they that they barely flinched as Murphy sighed, "then," and let his head sink to the table. They couldn't help but notice, however, when his body slipped to the floor with a thud. The spell broken, Laura and Steele helped Murphy up.
"Seems it's time to call it a night, eh?" Steele said quietly, "why don't we let Fred take these two home? I don't think either of them can safely drive. Could I impose upon you for a lift, Miss Holt?"
"I suppose," she answered. The hand that he placed on the small of her back to guide her to her car was usually a welcome intimacy but tonight it just annoyed her. She had exposed a bit of herself with the question and he had managed to avoid an answer. Just like him. So facile. So slippery. The drive to Rossmore was quiet, each absorbed in his own thoughts. As they pulled into the drive, Steele turned toward her. "Laura, the woman I met today was someone I dated a few times when I first arrived in Los Angeles. I haven't seen her for ages, but she was having some trouble with an old beau and asked me to help. It's nothing serious, but she was a bit frightened. I've already taken care of it." He placed a finger under her chin to tilt her face upward, forcing her to look at him. "You see, it wasn't agency business at all." When her expression softened, he went on, "As for your question tonight . . ." He kissed her slowly and deeply. At first, she tried to maintain a certain distance. He hadn't answered yet. But she wasn't so strong that she could resist him for long and soon she gave herself up to the kiss. "You know the answer already," he whispered and covered her mouth again with his own. As they broke the kiss, he got out of the car and walked quickly inside. He knew it would only be a few moments before . . . he heard her as he stepped inside the door and flinched but kept moving.
"Wait a minute," she demanded loudly, "you still haven't answered." But he was gone.
Steele was distracted as he opened the door to his apartment. He might not be able to admit it to Laura yet but he needn't lie to himself. He saw the light on his answering machine blinking and pushed the "play" button. It was Laura from earlier that evening. "Mr. Steele, hi, it's me. . . Laura. I just wanted to tell you it might not have been the greatest idea to follow you today, I guess. Anyway, Murphy and Bernice and I are at a place called Johnny Malloy's. Fred will know where it is. Join us if you like." Steele smiled and sighed. The answer could not have been clearer. The next message was from Daniel. "Harry, my boy. I'm arriving tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. Meet me at the usual place for buying a modest jet." Steele smiled again, a little sheepishly this time. He didn't yet know what Daniel was up to but he knew it would be all he could do to keep Laura out of it. With that thought, he made his way to bed where he suspected he would dream of a certain romantic spot on the Left Bank and a maddeningly feisty detective he'd been spending quite a lot of time with lately.