STEELE 'O MY HEART, PART XIX: STEELE SHAKING, PART II
By: Susan Deborah Smith
Summary: Remington, Laura and their family deal with the aftermath of 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.
The next morning, they drove to the office.
"This doesn't look so bad," said Laura, looking around the reception area.
"Nah," Mildred agreed. "Just everything discombobulated a little. Maintenance'll have those ceiling tiles back in place in no time."
Remington stood in the doorway to Laura's office. Hands in his pockets, he just stood and looked. "Tracy," he said. "Take Auntie Mildred next door and see if anyone's there."
"Place is deserted, chief."
"Tracy, take Auntie Mildred for a nice walk and stretch your legs, eh?"
"What is it?" said Laura, detecting a shift in mood. She waited until Mildred and Tracy were safely out the door. "What?"
Remington stood aside so she could look.
The door joining her office to his was blocked by a filing cabinet that had tipped over. The rest of the cabinets were in a similar jumble, those still standing having had their drawers shaken out. Across the room, a bookcase had fallen over, halted midway in its descent to the floor by Laura's chair. Books and knickknacks were spilled over the desk and the chair and onto the carpet.
"Mildred was right," he said at last. "A few hours later, and you would've been killed. Sitting at your desk. Doing paperwork."
Laura carefully shoved some broken glass aside - a lovely and valuable lamp, just smithereens now - and ran her hand over the wall where the bookcase had stood. There were gaping holes in the plaster.
"I had this secured," she said.
"And I suppose you thought a couple of little hooks and some wire would do the job?" he exclaimed.
She was really surprised. "I had this hooked to the wall."
"You could have been killed!"
"Well, I'm sorry!" she snapped. "We could've all been killed, asleep in our beds, like those people - " Her voice caught in her throat.
Remington turned away, rubbing his forehead. Laura, her arms folded tightly against her chest, leaned back against the wall.
"That hasn't happened in a while," she muttered.
He flung his hand up, his back to her. "No, it hasn't."
For a long moment, there was silence between them, and not a companionable silence.
"I'm sorry," she repeated, in a carefully measured tone of voice. "I'm sorry. But it's not like we don't know we're in a dangerous line of work. Before you ever met me, you were doing things that still make my hair stand on end when I think about it. Think of all we've been through together. This is just one more close shave."
"This has nothing to do with the work, Laura," he told her, swinging around to face her. "This has to do with being in an office in a stupid, high-rise building that sways like a tree in the wind every time the Richter scale reaches three."
"I don't even notice."
"That's right," he agreed. "I forgot. You're Earthquake Girl, ready with your bag full of tools and emergency rations. Well, what good's it going to do, when you're crushed under the furniture?" He aimed a vicious kick at the filing cabinet. "Look! I mean, look at this! Blocking the door. I could never have gotten to you in time!"
When he was angry or upset, her husband's voice tended to travel in the direction of Eire, and "time" came to Laura's ears as "tame."
"Look. We're safe," she said gently. "We're fine. We've got some cleaning up to do, some repairs to make, but we are fine. Aren't we?"
He came to her, then, wrapped his arms tight around her. "Remember when we were dead?" he whispered. "With a million dollars right in our grasp? And I said, let's chuck it all and just be dead in some lovely place, together ... "
He was shaking. Laura, a bit slow on the uptake, realized it at last. The accent was thickening by the second, and he shivered uncontrollably in her arms. She held him for a long time, pressing herself tight against him, offering warmth and strength.
"What do you regret, Mr. Steele?" she asked after a while.
Raising his head, he released her and dragged his sleeve across his eyes. "Not being able to keep you safe, every day, every moment."
"But I am safe," she told him. "We're safe. All of us." With a shrug, she glanced around the demolished office. "We'll just have to - remodel. Get some real earthquake experts to tie everything down. Be smarter next time."
"Next time." Kicking some files out of the way, he went out and around to his own office.
The pictures were slung at crazy angles on the walls, the lamps were broken, and his desk had crept a few inches closer to the window, but that was the extent of the damage to the palatial office of Remington Steele.
Laura, following, watched him pace nervously up and down.
Feeling the pressure of her eyes, he said, "You must admit, it's been a banner year in the City of Angels. Riots, fires, and now this. What's next, then? Locusts? Floods?"
A banner two years, was what she thought, but who's counting? "Floods, probably," she admitted. "El Nino. We're about due."
There was a steady rattling sound and the room swayed, exactly as he'd said, like a tree in a light breeze. He put his hand out to the desk, frozen, yet ready to bolt and gather his family if it didn't subside. It did, and they caught their breaths.
"Where's Tracy?" he said.
"She's with Mildred," she reminded him. As she went to him, he turned away; undaunted, she slipped her arms around his waist and pressed her cheek against his back. "All I want to do right now is hold you, or jump you, or whatever would make us feel like everything's okay," she murmured, listening to his heart. "But I don't think we should stay around here. Do you? Let's go home and see if we can get a handle on our nerves."
He was very tense, and then a little of the tension went away. "You're right, of course."
"Hey, chief," said Mildred. The Steeles broke apart. "Feel that last shaker? Little Miss Steele and I think maybe it's time to be heading for home."
"Right, as usual, Mildred," he agreed, with believable good cheer. "Home is a good place for us, right now. Leave the files, dear," he added, bussing her on the cheek. "Leave the computer. But believe you me, you'll be getting an upgrade. Yes, Mildred, your dream of a paperless office is about to become a reality."
On their way down the echoing stairway, they met somebody coming up. The young woman was neatly dressed and well turned out, only slightly flushed from the exertion of climbing eight flights of stairs.
"Only three more to go," she said cheerfully, sliding past them with her briefcase.
The Steeles kept going, but Mildred hesitated. She looked up at the number painted on the wall of the landing, did some quick arithmetic, and turned back. "Miss Reyes?" she said.
The girl stopped and leaned over the railing. "Yes."
Miss Reyes stepped down to meet them. "Oh! Miss Krebs! I'm sorry I'm late."
"Our eleven thirty interview," Mildred explained.
"You're here about the job?" said Laura, amazed.
"Gabriella Reyes," she smiled, putting out her hand.
"Laura Steele," Laura explained, shaking it. "My husband, Remington Steele. And future investigator, Tracy Steele."
Miss Reyes shook hands all around.
"My phone is still out, and I guess yours is, too, but I thought I'd take a chance ... "
"Ah, look, Miss Reyes," said Remington. "The office is a bit of a shambles, right now, and frankly, given the situation, we - well, we forgot all about our appointment today."
"As I said, Mr. Steele," she returned pleasantly, "I thought I'd take a chance."
"Let's get out of this stairwell," Laura suggested. "We can talk outside."
The Cherokee was parked next to Mildred's sedan at the curb of the carriage entrance, along with a few other cars; no one was taking a chance of parking underground, and no one was handing out tickets, either.
Rummaging around in her purse, Laura came up with her Filofax. There, clearly marked on January 18, at 11:30, was the appointment for Ms. Reyes's job interview. And the next day, one for Mr. Johnson. And so on through the week.
Laura studied the calendar, then squinted up at the twin towers. It was going to be hard enough, being open for business amid the debris, let alone interviewing potential employees. She was tempted to write the whole week off as a loss, and start fresh next week - provided there was a next week, provided the worst was over.
Shaking off that thought, she said, "I'm sorry I don't have a copy of your resume, Miss Reyes, or we could - "
To her amazement, Miss Reyes propped her briefcase on her knee, snapped it open, and immediately produced another copy.
"Ah," said Laura, running her eyes over it. "Well ... " She remembered why she'd scheduled this one first, but took an extra minute to mull over a couple of items. Finally, she shrugged. "If you can stand it, we could do the interview here."
"Whatever's convenient for you, Mrs. Steele."
Laura took another glance at the buildings that loomed over them.
"Just let us move the car, and then we can try to be businesslike," she suggested. Unstrapping Tracy's car seat, Laura shoved it at Mildred. "That offer of lunch still good?" she asked.
"You bet," Mildred replied.
"Then maybe you and Tracy can get a head start on us."
"You got it, boss!"
"We'll see you in a little while, sweetheart," said Remington. "After we talk to this lady."
Tracy seemed suspicious, but she agreed to explain to Auntie Mildred how to fix the seat in the car. As if Auntie Mildred didn't already know, but the youngest Steele had yet to add "conniving" to her expanding vocabulary. Her mother used it a little less these days.
As Laura pulled out of the carriage area and made U-turn, Remington said, "Just hire her."
"We can't just hire her," she replied, setting the brake. "We have to interview her; we have to interview the other candidates."
"That's how we got Mildred."
"This is not the same thing."
"Mildred proved her mettle in Acapulco," he countered. "Miss Reyes proves hers by getting up, getting dressed, and being almost on time to an appointment in the middle of a natural disaster. And being cheerful into the bargain."
Miss Reyes jaywalked across the deserted Century Park East and met them at the car.
"Let's sit on this side," said Laura. The January sun was hot. "In the shade."
Mr. Steele opened the door for Miss Reyes, who managed to look businesslike while sitting in a back seat strewn with picture books, boxes of crayons and toys.
"My life used to be so tidy," Laura sighed, sitting sideways in the front seat with one foot braced against the open door.
Her husband leaned down to smile at her. "It certainly did. What happened to that tidy life, eh?"
"I kissed it goodbye," she replied. "Sometime in the eighties. I forget when exactly." His eyes were so blue, and when she looked into them she saw everything in life she'd been afraid of, that he'd made safe for her.
"Autumn of eighty two," he told her. "As I recall." Her dark eyes gazed back at him, wide windows on a view he never wanted to travel far from, windows on a life he'd never thought possible, nor even, for that matter, thought of much at all.
Then, shattering the reverie, Laura turned to Miss Reyes and began, from memory, asking all her standard interview questions.
Reviewing her notes a few minutes later, she asked, "With your experience, and your interest in law enforcement, why aren't you at the FBI? Or the LAPD?"
Miss Reyes mulled this question over. "They asked me some questions," she explained obliquely. "And the answers were enough to kill off those career possibilities."
Laura didn't quite understand, and this was reflected in her expression.
"It was just a couple of joints," Miss Reyes added, defensively. "In college. But they asked, and -- "
"You told them?" asked Steele.
"Yes. Of course."
Peering in at her, he said, "That shows where honesty'll get you in this life, doesn't it?"
"Mr. Steele will have his little joke," Laura said smoothly. Somehow her foot slipped down from the car door and caught Remington in the shin. "So your ultimate goal now would be to obtain a private investigator's license?"
"Sure. If that's possible."
"That's the way it went with our last three office managers," Laura admitted. "We need an extra pair of hands on a case, and next thing you know, we're providing on the job training, and then we pay the price."
"Not that we're complaining," Steele explained.
"Oh, no. That's just the way it goes. People decide they'd like to have their own agency, or they relocate, or somebody woos them away ... " She smiled, ready to wrap things up. "Did you have any questions for Miss Reyes, Mr. Steele?"
Promptly, he said, "When can you start?"
Again, Laura's foot made unexpected contact with his shin.
"That is, if you were the most suitable candidate," he went on blandly, barely grimacing at all, "and we were to offer you the position, hypothetically, when could you ... "
"Two weeks," said Miss Reyes. "I'd want to give my boss two weeks."
"Great." Steele offered a hand to steady Laura as she stood up.
Miss Reyes clambered out of the back.
Laura smiled. "Thanks very much for coming, and for being ready to talk to us under these conditions."
"Indeed," Remington agreed, with a glance up at the towers, which he half-expected to find in motion.
"Thank you for seeing me. Things are in such a mess."
"You'll hear from us for sure, one way or the other, by next Friday," Laura told her.
In the middle of the standard pleasantries, Miss Reyes suddenly looked past them and said, "There's my bus! I'd better catch it now, while I can."
With a wave, she dashed off down the street.
"Hire her," Steele said again, as they started in the direction of Mildred's. "Get one thing back to normal."
"I appreciate how much you dislike the process," Laura told him. "Certainly sitting around interviewing prospects isn't the way I'd prefer to spend my time."
"It's a bloody awful way to spend time. All these hopeful people, who knows where they go after we turn them back out onto the streets ... "
Laura cast a sidelong glance at her husband. "Back to their old jobs usually, or some other new one."
"That's easy for you to say," he replied. "We're where we want to be."
"I know it's hard to believe," said Laura, "but even an interview that doesn't produce a job can be a good interview. It gives people a chance to practice their skills, to polish their image, to - "
" - raise false hopes."
"Tell me again the last time you applied for a job."
"I agree, she seems to have all the skills we need to keep the office running. And terrific qualifications to be an apprentice ... "
"Mildred might want to retire someday."
"Bilingual doesn't hurt in this town."
"Not easily daunted. Observant. Clearly flexible."
"A trait we can't live without. But we really should ... "
"Of course we should."
" ... interview some other candidates ... "
" ... just so we don't punish ourselves later. If we're wrong."
They drove in silence, then, and sat in silence at intersections where the power was still out and drivers inched carefully and politely into the street when it was mutually agreed that their turn had come.
"Isn't that just like life," he said suddenly. "Someone like her - probably make an excellent cop - tells the truth and is shown the door, while numerous, less suitable candidates, who've probably done worse, tell bald-faced lies and get right in, and even now, are out there, patrolling the streets - "
"Mr. Steele - "
" - shaking down innocent motorists - "
"Mr. Steele - "
" - eating doughnuts whilst crimes are committed left and right - "
"Mr. Steele - "
" - giving good cops a bad name - "
He glanced at her. "What?"
"She's over it," Laura explained. "Why aren't you?"
"It's hideously unfair."
She twisted around to look as she backed into a parking space. No one was trusting their cars under cover in garages and carports, and Mildred's street, normally sporting lots of empty curb, now looked like a parking lot.
"Life is unfair, Mr. Steele," she told him, getting out of the car. "Let's be grateful ours is as good as it is."
He slammed the door. "As good as it is?" he repeated. "With you, just hours away from death in either direction, if Mother Nature had been late, or early, with this disaster?"
"We're back to that?" she asked.
"How am I supposed to keep you and Tracy safe in this place? My God, we're not safe in our beds, in our offices - the ceiling comes crashing down, books become missiles - "
Laura grabbed him by the elbow and steered him away from Mildred's front walk.
"Icy calm, my love," she said. "Icy calm. Right? The last thing we need is for Tracy to get a glimpse of a completely irrational father."
He jerked away from her. "Irrational?" he repeated.
Her husband was white with rage; startled, Laura backtracked and said, "No. I mean - Just calm down, all right? Let's both be calm, so we can all focus on the fact that we're okay."
"Irrational," he said again.
"It's not productive to dwell on some crazy might-have-been that probably never would have happened in the first place. How much time do I have to sit at my desk, anyway?"
"What about you?" he demanded.
"Yes, you. You and your irrational fears."
"Oh, yes. Same old story. I know what you're afraid of."
"A free show for Mildred's neighbors?" she suggested, facetiously. She stepped to the curb and, shading her eyes, looked down the street.
"Tell me you didn't think I'd left you!" Steele challenged.
"Yesterday. Tell me that when you woke up and found I wasn't there, you didn't think I'd taken off and left you in the middle of this crisis!"
"I didn't," said Laura reproachfully. "I never thought that."
She shook her head. "I just figured you were in the bathroom."
He stared at her a moment while he took this in, then he turned and smacked his hand against a light pole. "Fine!" he exclaimed. "The bathroom! So I'm the only one who's irrational!"
"Not irrational," she soothed. "Not irrational." She took his arm and sat him down on somebody's stone wall. "I'll admit that somewhere, deep in my brain, is a knee jerk reaction, and when you're not where I expect you to be, maybe there's a twinge. Just a little one. But it's not the same one that kept me out of your hands all those years." With a frown, she added, "Well, maybe it is. But right on top of it is another one, the one that I think everybody gets: Where is he? Is he safe? That's what I thought."
What was irrational was the disappointment, the wanting her to have felt that fear; ashamed, he tried to shove it aside.
Laura stood closer and clasped her hands behind his neck. "You've saved me from all kinds of things," she reminded him. "Bombs and mad slashers and loneliness and who knows what else. I'm sure you could've saved me from this."
"Well," he admitted, locking his ankles behind her heels. "I do have fairly quick reflexes."
She ran her hands back through his hair and held his face against her chest.
"Everything okay?" asked Mildred, ladling out hot soup.
"Fine, thank you, Mildred," Laura replied, unfolding her napkin.
"Chicken noodle," Remington observed. "Somebody's favorite, eh?"
Tracy slurped up a noodle and grinned.
Laura glanced around the kitchen. "You'd never know anything had happened," she said.
"Yeah, you would," Mildred told her. "Couple of plants took a dive. And there are cracks in the plaster like you wouldn't believe."
"We spent all yesterday afternoon cleaning up the mess in the kitchen."
"Remind me never to leave a five pound sack of sugar on the counter, Mildred," Mr. Steele ordered.
"Especially next to a bottle of balsamic vinegar," Laura put in.
Mildred chuckled. "Sounds like a mess."
"It would've been worse, except Mrs. Steele had all the kitchen cabinets wired shut."
"I'm batting five hundred, earthquake preparedness-wise," Laura explained. "Wired the cabinets shut, forgot to tie other cabinets to the wall."
"It'll take months to get an appointment with those experts."
"Get on it, Mildred," Remington told her. "Don't rest until we're on the schedule."
Seeing Tracy's glass was empty, Mildred got up to get more milk. Laura, quick on her feet, cornered her by the refrigerator.
"Mildred," she said, sotto voce, "Mr. Steele and I have an errand to run. Couple of hours. It would be easier if we didn't have to take Tracy with us."
Mildred pushed the refrigerator door shut with her hip. "She can spend the afternoon with me!"
"It wouldn't be too much trouble?"
"Nah. Are you kidding? She'll be perfectly safe here."
Laura beamed. "Tracy, sweetheart," she said, pouring more milk for her daughter. "Daddy and I have some business to take care of. You're going to play at Auntie Mildred's till we get back."
Torn between delight at the prospect of an afternoon with Auntie Mildred and fear of letting her parents out of her sight, Tracy said, "Where are you going?"
"Business," her mother replied. "We'll be back around five. See?" She pointed to the kitchen clock. "It's almost one thirty, and we'll be back around five."
"Can't I come?"
"Why can't she come?" said Remington, who was torn in similar ways.
"Business, Mr. Steele. Business, Tracy. We'll be back, and in the meantime, you can tell Auntie Mildred all about the earthquake at our house. Maybe she has some damage you could help her clean up!"
A mile, and worlds, away from Mildred's neat little house was a motel that was, to put the best possible face on it, clean.
"Business?" said Remington, as Laura jumped out of the car. "L.A.'s a disaster area, and we're working a case? What case?" He glanced around and found that Laura was already in the office. He followed.
"Got cash?" the manager was saying. "'Cause the phones are still out, and I'm not taking a chance with no plastic."
Laura handed him a twenty.
"We're only going to be here a couple of hours."
The man eyed them narrowly. "Still gotta provide maid service."
Laura shrugged. "Cash discount."
Slamming the money into the till, he handed over a key.
"Business?" Remington repeated, as they walked to the room.
"Pleasure, Mr. Steele," she replied, with a coquettish glance over her shoulder. She closed the door and locked it. The room was plain, but not as seedy as one might have expected. A quick inspection revealed that the sheets were clean. "A hot shower would be such a pleasure right now."
He scrambled ahead of her into the bathroom. "Allow me," he said, adjusting the taps with one hand, and tearing off his shirt with the other. Laura kicked her shoes and socks into a corner. By the time she got her sweater over her head, Remington was already in the shower and hogging the soap.
"Wait for me," she said, stepping out of her slacks.
"I'm way ahead of you, Laura."
He welcomed her in with a handful of shampoo. "All right," he said, lathering her hair with one hand and his own with the other. "We'll almost feel civilized in a minute."
Laura closed her eyes and let the water stream over her. "Hot water," she sighed. "Who would have thought that could be such a luxury?"
"You have a short memory," he told her. "Remember when we were dead?"
"You keep reminding me."
"It had a certain charm."
While Laura wrapped her hair in a towel, Remington went out to turn down the bed. "Alone at last," he smiled, when she came out of the bathroom.
Falling down on her back beside him, she agreed, "At last."
It was hard work, being twenty-four hour parents to a smart little girl in the middle of a natural disaster. Exhaustion might have gotten the better of desire, but Laura turned suddenly and reached for him.
Remington didn't need to be asked twice, and by the clock, they beat a record set on a winter flight to Paris on the occasion of their first anniversary. Then, they'd had a sudden whim to join the Mile High club, and time seemed of the essence, even on the mostly empty flight, with its soundly sleeping passengers and dozing attendants. Now, it was the rapidly, irrationally and mutually formulated thought that they might never get another chance which prompted nerves, already stretched thin, to fire quickly into anxious pleasure.
"Okay," said Laura, breathless, rolling away.
Her husband turned his head on the pillow and gazed at her for a long time. "No reason to rush," he suggested.
She covered her face with her hands. "I know. Sorry." Pushing her hair back, she turned to smile at him. "Got carried away."
"Me, too," he admitted.
"There's really plenty of time."
"Promised Tracy five o'clock." He reached for her hand, and turned her wrist so he could read the time on the watch she hadn't bothered to remove. "Two - two and a half hours."
They lay quietly side by side, catching their breath. Then Steele got up.
Laura, never tiring of the view, watched him cross the room. He came back with her purse and dumped its contents on the bed. Finding what he sought, he swept everything back into the bag and dropped it on the floor.
"Turn over," he said.
Shaking her head, she reached for the tube of lotion. "Let me." When he refused, she got up on her knees and put her arms around his waist. "Let me," she repeated, wresting the hand lotion from him.
He did as she asked, and Laura squirted lotion in squiggly lines up and down his back. Shivering pleasurably, he said, "It's your turn, you know."
"Mmm, no," she replied. "You need it more than I do."
"What do you mean, need it more?"
"You're the one trying to protect the wife and child. You're the one who sees all the possible outcomes of this situation. You're the one who needs a good massage to make you forget all your worries, and remember who cares for you and how much."
Acquiescing to her logic, he lowered his head to his arms. There was a pause while Laura determined her plan of action. Straddling his hips, she spread the lotion out evenly; a little was daubed on rough elbows, hers and his. Then she leaned forward and put some real effort into her work. Pressing down with the heels of her hands, she described ever-increasing circles up his back. She worked her fingers down each arm and into each hand, and back up again to soothe his shoulders and neck and scalp. His thick, glossy hair was plastered down where her lotiony fingers had touched it. Reversing position, she worked down from his waist. Her hands passed over skin that was tan and over skin that was milk white and then tan again to the pale soles of his feet.
Squeezing and kneading and smoothing, she worked out her own tensions while easing his. When he was thoroughly relaxed, she began to get creative with the lotion and woke him up again.
Laura was skillful, her fingers nimble and knowing. Her husband moaned, then yelped and turned over.
"Come here," he said, pulling her down to him with a grin.