STEELE 'O MY HEART: PART XVIII: STEELE SHAKING, PART I
By: Susan Deborah Smith
Summary: Remington, Laura and their family deal with an earthquake.
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.
Something brought Laura Steele unexpectedly out of a sound sleep. The clock on the nightstand read 4:29; the house was silent. Then the noise came again: a neighbor's dog barking. The dogs of several neighbors, actually, barked agitatedly for a moment and fell quiet before starting their chorus again. The thought of prowlers entered Laura's mind, but considering that she and Remington had only, finally, gotten to sleep sometime after two, somehow it didn't seem very urgent, and she drifted off again.
A moment later, there was a roar like a freight train coming through and the house shook and kept on shaking. Laura tried to sit up and couldn't; it was as if she were pinned to the bed. The clock winked over to 4:31 and went out.
"Remington!" she said into the darkness, but the bed beside her was empty. Then, yelling above the din, "Mr. Steele!"
His voice came to her over the sound of glass breaking. "I have the baby, Laura!"
Car alarms began to go off all over the neighborhood. More glass fell to the floor, downstairs somewhere. Adjusting herself to the shaking, Laura pulled herself out of bed, jammed her feet into the running shoes she kept underneath it, and made her way across the bucking and jumping carpet.
The baby, who would be five years old in another week, clung to her father's neck as he hauled himself, practically hand over hand, across the room. In the pitch dark, the drawers of one dresser had been shaken mostly out, while a debris of fallen toys littered the floor. He swore under his breath as his shins collided with something.
They crashed into Laura in the hall.
"Are you all right?" he demanded, his hands patting over her lightly like a blind man's.
"Get in the doorway!" she shouted, dragging them back the way she came.
Remington leaned against the jamb, his hands braced forward against the opposite side. Laura, her arms around his waist, pressed their daughter between them and held hard to the molding.
"All right," he said, as more glass broke. "We're all right."
A faint whiff of vinegar drifted up from the kitchen.
"We're all right," Laura repeated, as much to herself as to her husband and her child. "Everything's going to be all right." Then she began to recite the earthquake prayer. "Make it stop, make it stop, make it stop," she chanted in a whisper.
Suddenly, it did.
The rumbling stopped. The shaking stopped. Car alarms continued to shriek, dogs to bark, but at least the groaning of the house and the earth and the shattering of glass had ended.
For a moment, eyes wide in the dark, they just stood and breathed. Tracy let go of her father long enough to reach around and touch her mother. Laura took the offered hand and squeezed it.
"Earthquake," said Remington at last.
"Breaking news," Laura snapped in reply.
"No. Earthquake," he insisted. "Ava Gardner, Charlton Heston, Genevieve Bujold. Universal. 1974. Sensurround didn't quite capture the reality. If that wasn't the Big One," he added, "I'd like to know what is."
"No, you don't," said Laura. Feeling her way in the pitch dark, she untied a heavy backpack from the hook behind the door and rummaged around inside. "Ah ha!" Then she flashed the light around.
"Good lord," muttered Tracy's father.
"Wow," said Tracy.
Dressers had moved away from walls; lamps had fallen to the floor; stuff had jumped off horizontal surfaces and littered the carpet all over the room.
"We'd better get dressed," Laura told him. "There'll be another."
"Aftershocks, Mr. Steele," said the California girl. "Maybe worse than this." She aimed the light at the closet. "Go ahead."
There was no broken glass at this end of the room, at least; Remington set their daughter down in the middle of the bed.
"We're fine," he said. "Take the light and find her some shoes. And be careful!" he added, as Laura and the light went down the hall. "Of course there couldn't be two flashlights in the earthquake kit, could there?" he grumbled to himself.
"I have a flashlight, Daddy," said Tracy.
"Have you?" he answered, deciding after testing several hangers that he'd found a pair of jeans. He pulled them on over his pajamas and squatted to find some shoes.
"Under my bed."
"Let's hope Mommy can find it," he said. Feeling his way tentatively across the carpet, he sat down next to her on the bed. Immediately, she snuggled closer, and he smoothed her hair reassuringly before bending to put his shoes on.
Before he could tie the laces, the house began to shake.
"Laura!" he yelled, swinging his daughter up in his arms.
As he got to the door, he could see his wife and the flashlight, already braced in the doorway to Tracy's bedroom.
To one of the Steeles, the aftershock, perhaps from familiarity, didn't seem quite so bad; to another, it seemed worse than the first.
"All right," said Laura matter of factly, when it seemed safe to move. "Shoes, socks, underwear, pants, shirt, sweater -- You, Miss Steele," she smiled at Tracy in the weird glow of the flashlight, "will at least be presentable." Then, handing the light to her husband, she asked, "Can you get her dressed? I've got to find something to put on ... "
Steele aimed the flashlight at Laura, slowly illuminating her from head to foot. "Not," he replied with a kiss that lingered, "that you don't look entirely lovely, my dear, but I admit I didn't have practicality in mind when I gave that to you."
He took charge of the backpack, and the clothes, and skinned Tracy out of her nightgown. Laura fumbled in the dark while he buttoned, zipped and tied and set the child on her feet.
"Just about." Her hands were shaking suddenly, so hard she couldn't fit a button through a buttonhole; she didn't notice her voice. "Damn!" she whispered.
"Steady, love," her husband told her, at her side. "Icy calm, eh?" He turned her to face him and deftly finished buttoning her jeans. "Not bad, considering I'm usually doing the opposite."
Her arms went around his waist, and they stood together a moment.
"Okay," Laura said at last.
Reaching out in the dark, he took Tracy by the hand and lifted her up. With a quick tug, he dragged the quilt off the bed and wrapped her up in it. "Three Steeles, ready to face anything," he announced. "Downstairs?"
"Downstairs," Laura agreed, shouldering the backpack.
An emergency light in the kitchen cast a dim flicker into the hall as the Steeles started down the staircase. Laura bumped into them as Remington and Tracy came to a halt at the foot of the stairs. Tracy craned first one way, then the other, to see.
"Oh, my God," said Laura.
Forces of nature had rearranged the furniture in the living room. Books had flown off shelves, not a lamp was left standing, and a tall cabinet had fallen face down onto the piano.
Remington repossessed the flashlight and concentrated on their path to the front door. "It'll look better by daylight, eh?" he said hopefully.
"It's only furniture, Laura."
"You gave me that piano, Mr. Steele."
"Yes, and I'm still here to give you another one. Right? Okay?"
He heard her take a deep breath. "Right."
A stop at the coat closet delayed them only a moment, and then they were outside. They were the only ones, although somebody must have been stirring because fewer alarms were blaring. Putting her hand on her husband's wrist, Laura flashed the light around.
"Chimney's okay," she announced. "Still, we'd better move the cars."
Her partner in life was ready to follow orders. "Right."
Laura rolled the Cherokee down the driveway to the gate and set the brake. The Rabbit came out of the garage first, then the Auburn. Tracy sat in the Rabbit with her finger hard on the button that brought the top down; her father folded back the roof on the roadster.
"What are you doing?"
"Standard earthquake drill, Laura," he replied. "A tile falls off the roof, a branch comes crashing down - well, a quick trip to Tijuana will do for the upholstery. But something comes tearing through the ragtop - that's serious damage!"
Rolling her eyes, Laura suddenly noticed something. She tipped her head way back and made a slow pirouette. "Look at the stars!" she exclaimed.
Remington looked up. Tracy stood on the driver's seat and looked up, too.
The Milky Way, normally lost in the glow of the city lights, spread across the dark sky.
His arm around her waist, he pulled Laura against him. "The moon and the stars for you, my love, eh?" he smiled.
They stood a long time, looking up. Everything was so bright. Laura identified various constellations for Tracy. They could really see the Archer, and not just Orion's belt, and the Plaiedes were more than just a fuzzy blur. Since they were standing outside on concrete, they felt the next aftershock only because they were leaning against the car.
With a sudden thought, Remington reached in and turned the key. The radio, along with static, brought some news. Somewhere nearby, a freeway had fallen down, the city was mostly without power, and the epicenter was thought to be in the Valley.
"Northridge?" Remington repeated. "I'd have thought it was right here."
Northridge was next door to Tarzana.
"Frances!" said Laura, running back to the Cherokee. It was no surprise that with power totally out all over the city, the phones were down, too, but it was worth a try.
"All right," he offered soothingly as she punched re-dial. "She's a California girl, too. She knows what to do."
"Twenty miles away," she said. "We're twenty miles away, and it shook like that. Do you know what it must be like in the Valley?"
"Call your mother," he suggested.
"Call your mother," he insisted. "Tell her you're all right. Cut her worries in half."
Being the mother of her mother's youngest and most darling granddaughter had not smoothed Laura's relationship with Abigail Holt. She handed the phone to her husband. "You call her."
His mother-in-law was more than relieved to hear that the Steeles, at least, were all right. No, she hadn't heard from the Pipers. She had turned on the Today show and learned that there had been a Big One in Southern California, and was nearly frantic when she couldn't connect with either of her daughters.
Remington reminded her of the number of the cell phone, and asked her to call when Frances checked in.
"Sometimes outgoing works when incoming doesn't, eh, Abigail?"
"She didn't ask about me?" Laura wondered, after admiring his finesse in dealing with her mother.
"I told her we're all fine. She probably thinks you're off shutting down the gas or something similarly resourceful."
"The gas!" Laura exclaimed.
The backpack, repository of all earthquake essentials, yielded up a wrench, and Remington set off to take care of the source of potential danger. He was back a minute later.
"This may be one of those situations in which I function best in an advisory capacity," he explained.
Taking Tracy by the hand, Laura stood up. "All right. I'll take a shot," she agreed. The family trooped around the back of the house.
Remington held the light while Laura fitted the special wrench to the gas line. Half a turn, and the likelihood of the house blowing up was considerably reduced. "The wonders of a university education," he said admiringly.
"Division of labor, Mr. Steele," she replied. "For disaster preparedness, talk to me. On the other hand, whenever we need to steal a painting or some jewels - "
"Laura!" he exclaimed, clapping his hands over Tracy's ears.
Laura stood up and planted a sloppy kiss on her husband. "Sorry. Don't know what came over me."
Next door, there was a bang and a rattle and someone swore. Shining the light in that direction, they saw their neighbor struggling with his garage door. Remington stepped carefully through the rose hedge and a flowerbed.
"Let me give you a hand, mate," he said.
"Thanks," puffed the neighbor. "Damned power's out, damned manual lever's more trouble than it's worth, but Lorraine heard you moving the cars so ... "
They pulled together and the door gave way. Probably Mr. McDonald would have preferred not to see the shambles illuminated by the Steeles' flashlight. The two men went in to wrestle a variety of tools and junk off the cars.
"You kids all right over there?" he asked as they worked.
Remington kicked a laundry basket out of the way. "Oh, yes," he replied. "Thank God. Earthquake preparedness: That's the Steele motto."
"Plumbing works," Laura reported. "But don't even think of drinking, or brushing your teeth, or shaving with that water."
"Words to live by," he agreed. When he came back outside, Laura and Tracy were spitting toothpaste into the flowerbed.
"Here," said his wife, handing him a toothbrush. She poured distilled water over it from a gallon jug.
"Toothbrushes," he said, squeezing out Colgate. "Who thinks of toothbrushes at a time like this?"
"I lived through the Sylmar quake, remember?"
"Ah, Tracy," he sighed, rinsing his mouth. "You're lucky to have such a smart girl for a mother."
Remington sat on the front porch with their daughter, huddled under a quilt while they waited for dawn to break over the darkened city. "This brings back some memories," he remarked. "Dublin, London, Hong Kong ... " With a sigh, he added, "The bad old days ... "
"What bad old days, Daddy?" Tracy asked, eagerly offering her part in the recitation.
With a smile, he tousled her hair. "The bad old days before I met your mother, of course," he explained. "My misspent youth. Oh, yes." He warmed to the topic, painting a picture for his child. "Sleeping rough, on the run, never knowing where my next meal was coming from. Your mother saved me from all that. That's not to say, of course, that your mother and I haven't had one or two adventures that this reminds me of, as well," he winked. "Remember, Laura? On the streets, not a penny to our names, reported dead -- Oh, yes, those were the days."
Laura folded up the cell phone and jammed it into a pocket. "Why did we give Mildred the damned thing, if she's not going to use it?"
Hearing the fear- who knew what kind of rubble Mildred's neighborhood might be in? - and not the anger in Laura's voice, he replied, "It's probably in her car."
"And Frances - they've got all those kids - why doesn't she have a beeper?"
Silently, he raised his arm and beckoned. With apparent reluctance, Laura slid into his embrace. As he enfolded her in the quilt, he said, "A little earlier, we were looking at the stars. Let's watch the sun come up, eh?"
There wasn't much else to do. Tracy's head was nodding, and Laura leaned against her husband.
"You realize, Mr. Steele," said Laura, "that if this had happened seven hours earlier, we would have been sitting in a crowded movie theater watching something called Tombstone."
Remington glanced at the sky. "The potential irony isn't lost on me, Mrs. Steele."
Especially, he thought, given the strange prescience Laura had displayed all week. The Sunday before, a series of little quakes had shaken their Santa Monica neighborhood, and Laura had joked all week about being in high rises, knowing their exits, stocking up on water. She had resisted, also jokingly, going to the movies, saying that if those little quakes were foreshocks, the last place she wanted to be in for the Big One was a cinema.
Only last night, after a week, had she given in, and a high schooler from down the street was recruited to give Tracy her dinner and put her to bed. A rather tedious case had sapped their energy during the week, and suddenly the Steeles found themselves wanting to make up for lost time. When they returned from the movie, it was all they could do to pay Tiffany for her time and get upstairs and close the door.
"Of course," he went on, "if this had happened two hours earlier, we could really have said the earth moved."
This brought a real smile to Laura's lips. "Would we have noticed?"
Remington, too, smiled in the dark. "Probably not. Tracy would've had to move the cars, and turn off the gas, all on her own."
They were running now on two hours' sleep and sheer adrenaline.
"Why'd you get up?" she asked idly, as the sky turned from gray to pink in the east.
He shook his head. "I thought I heard something. I wanted to be sure she was okay."
Tracy, sound asleep in his arms, snuffled and rubbed her nose. Her mother took her hand and held it.
"Mildred?" said Laura, into the phone. "Thank God! Are you all right?"
"Just shaken up a little, hon. How about you?"
"We're fine. We're all fine." She glanced across at her husband, who was shaking a skillet of scrambled eggs over the burner of the camp stove.
"Glad to hear it. Any damage?"
"Some. Not too bad."
"I've gotta warn you, honey, you're not going to like the looks of the office."
"You're in the office? Mildred!"
"What a trouper," Remington said, taking the phone. "Mr. Steele, here, Mildred. How bad is it?"
"The filing cabinets took a walk, chief. Then they decided to lie down and have a rest."
There was a pause while Mildred either surveyed the damage or chose her words carefully. "Top notch cleaning service could have the place spic and span inside of a week."
"Same here. That doesn't sound so bad."
"Computer seems okay, if there was power to boot it up."
"I see. Yes."
"And the cell phone's okay."
"Mildred, it was really our intention that you carry it with you at all times."
He could see her wince, right through the phone. "I know, boss. But I was in such a hurry Friday. Hot date."
"Ah, yes. A social life. We stay at home married people have almost forgotten what that's like."
"The thing is -- " Mildred lowered her voice. " - if Mrs. Steele had been at her desk, well, I think she would've been killed."
Laura and Tracy looked up from their breakfast. Remington shook his head and made little deprecating gestures with his hand.
"I'm not kidding, chief," Mildred went on. "I can barely see her chair under the books. And one of the cabinets came down on her chair, wham! and - "
"Thank you, Mildred. I'm getting the picture." He moved the phone to his other shoulder. "Listen, Mildred, Mrs. Steele's worried about after shocks, so don't stay there alone, all right? The office can wait."
"Thanks for the report. And keep that phone handy, eh?"
"You got it."
Remington snapped the phone shut. "Well, at least she's all right."
"What's wrong with the office?"
"Same thing as here. Stuff all over the floor, big clean up job looming."
"Can I come to work with you?" Tracy asked.
"Sweetheart, we're not going to work today," Laura told her.
"Nah, Mommy and Daddy have to stay home and make sure everything's okay. Auntie Mildred can take care of the office."
"Besides," Laura added. "Today's a holiday."
"Earthquake Holiday!" Tracy exclaimed.
"No, Martin Luther King Day holiday."
Her husband spread jam on bread. "Which the Remington Steele agency, not being a bank, a school or the government, hasn't really observed until now."
"Crime doesn't take a holiday, Mr. Steele."
"No, but crime fighting does. Christmas, New Year's, assorted birthdays and anniversaries related to the founders of the firm ... "
"Easter!" said Tracy.
"Yes, my love," he smiled. "Easter. Definitely a crime fighting holiday. And," he added with a wink, "a certain weekend in August, when there's a big race down in Del Mar - "
"We had a case in Del Mar!" Laura protested.
"And by the merest coincidence managed to wind up the whole thing just in time to get to the betting window."
"Somehow, I remember that while one of us was getting to the betting window, another of us was laying everything out for the police."
"Priorities, Laura. Priorities. Can't let a hot tip go to waste." He slid his eggs out onto a plate. "Ah, yes," he said, taking a deep, appreciative breath. "This is the life. Breakfast on the patio in January ... "
"The house a shambles, the office a wreck ... " his wife put in.
"The loveliest woman in the world by my side, the most delightful little girl in all creation, playing with her food instead of eating it ... " He leaned over and tucked the napkin more securely under Tracy's chin. "Take care, my love, who knows when we'll be able to get the washing done."
"Esta es Senora Steele," said Laura into the phone. "Donde esta Margarita?" After a pause, she repeated, "Steele. Laura Steele." Then, shaking her head, she handed the phone over to her husband. "All in Spanish. Fast Spanish."
"Hola!" he said cheerfully. "Steele, aqui. Si. Margarita, donde esta?" He listened, nodding his head at intervals. Then, at last able to get a word in edgewise, he explained something slowly and carefully, punctuating each statement with sweeping gestures. "Okay, si. Si, manana. Okay, bye bye."
"Everything's okay at casa Margarita, but nobody wants to get on the roads because they're either in a million pieces or on fire."
"It's that trailer park we heard about on the news. Apparently the electricity's fine now over in Montebello, and the entire disaster's being displayed in living color on her brother-in-law's big screen. Streets ablaze, gas lines totally on fire. Not to mention that the Ten's collapsed, and how is she supposed to get over here with the main freeway out of commission?"
"You told her not to even try."
"I told them to tell her we're at home today and probably tomorrow, and to take care of herself."
"I can help clean up, Daddy," said Tracy.
"Yes, indeed, my little pigeon. We'll give you a broom, and all will be well."
The more they heard, the worse it sounded, and it occurred to Remington that a disaster of this magnitude in a famous place was likely to hit the news worldwide.
He knocked over a chair in his haste. Some of the neighbors looked up in alarm, while others remained riveted to the tiny TV.
"Daddy!" said Tracy. "Where are you going, Daddy?"
"To call Granny Riordan, sweetheart," he called back. "Stay with your mother!"
"Is he okay?" asked the owner of the TV and the RV it came from.
"Fine," Laura replied. "We're fine."
Holding Tracy by the hand, Laura trailed him slowly up the street. She was giving him plenty of time, plenty of room, knowing it was still new to him, this realization that there were other people, in other places, who cared what happened to him. It was easy for him to imagine Laura's mother, fretting in Connecticut over her daughters; it took some getting used to, even now, to think of a large family in Ireland, worrying about Remington Steele. It was taking some time for Laura to get used to it, too, to the thought that she and Mildred, and now Tracy, weren't the only ones who cared about him.
His Aunt Christine answered the phone.
"God in Heaven!" she exclaimed. "We've been that worried about you! Are you all right then? Is the family safe? Is the whole house down around your ears?"
"Not quite, Christine. We're all safe - Laura's fine, Tracy's fine - and the house is still standing."
"Ma!" she shouted. "Bill! They're all right. My God, lad," she added, returning to her nephew, "we've had quite a fright. Is it as bad as they say?"
Remington shrugged. "It's hard to tell. There's no power, so we've only seen it on a mini-telly, on batteries. And we've got a radio."
"We've seen pictures - everything's on fire, or fallen down, people crushed to death in their flats - "
"We're okay," he repeated. "Just a lot of broken glass and - "
"Remington!" said a much older voice. "Are you there, lad?"
"Yes, Gran. I'm here, and we're fine. We're all fine." He gazed at Laura and Tracy, coming up the front walk. "We're fine."
No sooner had he pressed the disconnect button than the phone rang, and it was Frances. "Frances!" he said, still full of family feeling. "Are you all right?"
"Oh, Remington!" Frances replied. "We haven't been able to find a phone till now."
"Are you all all right?" he repeated.
"Yes, yes, we're fine," she admitted. "The house is a wreck, but we're fine."
"Frances," he mouthed to Laura, offering the phone.
"Remington? Mr. Steele!" came Frances' voice faintly as he handed it over.
"It's me, Frances," Laura explained. "Are you all right?"
"I was telling Remington that we're fine. Thank God. We're going to have to have the carpets replaced - there's no way we'll ever get the glass out - and the drapes, and I lost some of Grandma's china, but at least the crystal we got for our wedding is safe."
"And you're safe. And the children. And Donald."
"Yes. Yes. We're all fine."
"Laura, what about you? Obviously you and Mr. Steele are all right. Is Tracy okay?"
"Tracy is fine. We're all fine. Pretty shook up, but no bodily harm."
"Luckily, you were far enough away - "
"Actually, Frances, Santa Monica seems to have taken a pretty big hit - "
"Not like this. We're practically on top of the epicenter! We heard it on the radio. Northridge. A six point six. Just a couple of miles from here."
"I'm no geologist, Frances, but it traveled straight here. It was like we were right on top of it."
Frances said, "No, Laura, it was here. In the Valley."
"Yes, Frances," Laura agreed, her expression hardening, "but last Sunday we had a swarm of quakes right near here, in the bay. Maybe there were two big quakes."
"Laura. At the same time? Come on. You just don't know what it's like here."
"You don't know what it's like here, Frances - "
Sensing trouble, Remington took the phone away from his wife. "Ah, Frances," he smiled, "Remington here. Yes. Look, they're telling everyone to stay close to home today where possible - keep off the roads, don't mob the shops, you know - but if you need us to come out there and help with - "
"Oh, Remington, you are so good to think of us! But we're fine. Donald has most of it under control. We can sleep in the den - that window didn't break, and the kids have been great. Really great."
"All right then."
"But one thing you could do," she added, "is call Mother. This isn't our phone - we don't have one of these modern portable ones - our neighbor is letting us use his, so if you could ... "
"Of course, Frances. Happy to. Okay. Bye bye." Without missing a beat, he punched in his mother-in-law's number. "Ah, Abigail," he said when she answered. "Steele here. Yes. We've talked to Frances, and the Pipers are all fine. Lots of broken glass, but nobody hurt, and the house still livable apparently."
"If any house is livable with Frances in it," Laura muttered.
Remington switched the phone to his other ear. "What was that, Abigail?"
He listened politely as Laura's mother described in great detail the news coverage of the disaster.
"It probably is as bad as that, Abigail," he told her. "I mean, we're okay here, but some of our neighbors had their chimneys collapse, and the gas is out, no electricity, that sort of thing. Yes. Laura?"
Laura shook her head vehemently, but he put the phone in her hand. "Mother?" she said.
"Laura," said Abigail Holt. "I hope you're all right."
"Yes," Laura replied, surprised to be asked about. "I'm fine, Mother. We're all okay, thank God."
"I think you should all think very seriously about coming home to Connecticut."
"Mother, I've never lived in Connecticut."
"Well, it's lovely here. The winters are not that bad, and there are so many lovely, lovely people here, and no earthquakes."
"But we live here, Mother. Our work is here."
"Oh, I'm sure there's all kinds of adultery and unpleasant divorces around here. I don't hear about them, of course, but no doubt there's more than enough to keep you busy."
"Mother, Remington and I do considerably more than investigate adultery and unpleasant divorce cases."
"Though not lately," Remington remarked.
"I just want you to think about it. And your sister. She should move her family back here at once."
"Frances move back to Connecticut." Laura considered this prospect with a brightening expression. "I'll be sure to mention it to her."
"You do that. And mention it to your husband. I'm sure he'd be glad to have his family in safer surroundings."
"All right, Mother. Oh!" she said suddenly. "Here's Tracy!" Bending down to give her daughter the phone, Laura said, "Talk to grandma, sweetheart."
Like her father, Tracy was a talker and enjoyed making conversation with everybody. She didn't notice her mother taking deep breaths and counting to ten, over and over.
The afternoon was spent securing what wasn't broken and clearing away what was. The kitchen floor required a shovel to scrape up broken glass mired in syrup; some of what didn't fall out of the cupboards had fallen over inside and smashed there. Tracy had firm orders not to touch anything.
"But I can help!" she protested.
"You can help," said her mother, lifting her onto a barstool, "by sitting here and supervising. Right?"
Tracy held very tight onto Paddington Bear, who had been rescued from under a dresser and was only a little bit squashed. "Right," she agreed.
The kitchen was on the north side of the house, so not much of the January sun came in to illumine it. Laura and Steele worked in the half-light until most of the job was done.
"You gave up your life on the Riviera for this," Laura remarked.
"Never for one minute regretted it."
"One minute," he agreed. "All right. One minute. But I'd've taken you with me."
"Where?" said Tracy.
"To the Riviera, sweetie."
"Are we moving to France?"
"We're not moving, Tracy," Laura told her, sweeping some glass out of a corner. "Daddy and I are just reminiscing."
Remington fired up the barbecue, and they had steak for lunch, since who knew how long the power would be out and the refrigerator could only be expected to do its job for another few hours. They spent the rest of the day picking up and cleaning and boarding up the one broken window with pieces of plywood.
They heard from Fred, who had good news and bad news. "The good news," Steele reported, "is the limo is fine. The bad news is it needs a new paint job."
"Some kind of shelf came apart and fell on the hood."
"Why don't we just get rid of the damned thing?"
"Image, Laura," her husband told her. "Image."
They reinforced the windows with heavy tape so they wouldn't shatter in an aftershock.
"We could shine a light through here," said Laura, as Remington made another X with the tape. "Deep Throat could come and help us solve a case."
"You watch too much television, Laura," he told her.
Laura smiled and winked at her daughter. Then, with a big stretch, she lay down on the bed and pulled Tracy down with her. "I'm ready for a nap," she announced, putting her hands behind her head.
Steele kicked off his shoes and curled up beside them. "Me, too," he answered.
"Me, three," said Tracy.
It had been a long day, and it wasn't even dinner time.