DEATH OF STEELE
First printed: More Red Holt Steele #8, #9, & #10
Summary: Laura tries to solve the mystery behind Remington’s death, only to be hampered by Detective Jarvis and the LAPD.
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.
In the dim light of the car, Remington Steele glanced at his watch again. Less than ten minutes before the meeting.
He shouldn't have been there, and he knew it. If--no, *when*--Laura found out, she'd have his head. Mildred probably would, too, now that she knew the truth about him. But Mildred's lack of faith in him didn't trouble him anywhere near as much as the thought of losing Laura's trust.
It had taken so many years for her to learn to trust him. Now he was holding a secret meeting. Exchanging *her* information for a bit of security. He moved his hand slowly to the thick manila envelope in the center of the front seat.
Detective Jimmy Jarvis saw Steele's hand come to a firm rest on the envelope.
"Hey," he jostled. "Everything has been worked out. You'll get that stuff back in a short time."
Steele, a look of genuine sadness on his face, turned to the man in the passenger seat. "Laura is going to kill me when she finds out what I've done."
Jarvis stared back at Steele. "She won't find out."
"She will. I should have been honest with her to begin with. She deserves it."
"Does she deserve to be killed?" Jarvis questioned. "The less your associate knows, the safer she is."
Steele nodded slowly, hanging his head. *But she already knows practically everything. It's her case.*
"We'll get Chapman right here and now. Nothing will go wrong," Jarvis assured him.
Remington was silent for a long time. Finally, he drew a breath. "Promise me something, Detective," he said quietly.
Jarvis was taken aback. Never had he expected Steele to grow so serious. "What?"
"If something does go wrong," Remington began, "promise me you'll keep Laura safe until Chapman is apprehended."
Jarvis looked at him, but Remington didn't look up. There was definitely something more to Steele's request than mere worry about his employee. "I'll do everything in my power to see that Miss Holt is unharmed," he said definitively.
"Thank you," Remington said in a whisper.
Jarvis let the conversation drop for the final few minutes before the meeting.
With a check of his watch, the police detective reached for the door handle. "Well, this is it," he said. "You know what to do. We'll be in right after the information has been exchanged." He opened the car door. "Oh, and Mr. Steele?"
Remington looked up.
"Try not to get my car dirty." He smiled broadly.
His pathetic attempt at humor managed to drag a slight smile out of Remington.
Jarvis got out of the car and trotted off into the rainy night to meet the other officers positioned nearby.
Remington waited in the darkness alone for a few minutes more. Then, two sets of headlights appeared in his rear-view mirror, approaching from down the hill.
Steele hated being locked in. There was no place to run if things turned sour. To one side of the road was a cliff face where rock had been blasted away to make way for the remote highway. The other side was a sheer drop into the valley below.
As Chapman's group drove up behind Jarvis' red Chevrolet, Steele's feeling of claustrophobia increased. The only way out was to take the road up the mountain, attempting to navigate some rather nasty curves.
Taking a deep breath, Steele picked up the envelope and got out of the car. He turned the collar up on his trench coat to stay the rain, but it didn't help much.
Chapman and his men emerged from their two vehicles. Two of the men stepped from a green Ford, and they looked for all the world to be ex-pro wrestlers. The man that stepped from behind the steering wheel of Chapman's black Mercedes was muscular, but looked considerably more intelligent than the other two slugs.
Chapman himself wore a tan trench coat over a dark suit. He wore a hat slightly cocked on his head against the pelting rain.
The four men slowly approached Steele.
As they got closer, Remington could feel his heart start to race. He used to be so good a situations like this. Calm, direct, even a little cruel. But back then, he didn't have much to lose. Sure, he may have been killed by any of the thugs he had dealt with over the years, but no one would have cared. He, in fact, wouldn't have cared.
But that was then. Before he had found a purpose in life. Before he had found someone to share his life with.
Now, he was literally trembling with fear. He quietly thanked God for the darkness, so Chapman couldn't see him shaking.
Chapman stopped a few feet from him and leisurely lit a cigarette. He took a long drag, then exhaled slowly. "You bring the files?" He asked casually.
Remington forced himself to tuck away his feelings and to bring out the armor. "Yes," he answered strongly.
"Good," Chapman said, the cigarette hanging from his lips. He slapped the man next to him on the arm.
The henchman immediately walked up to Steele and held out his hand. Steele placed the envelope in the man's clutches. The package was quickly taken back to Chapman, who broke the seal and pulled out the papers.
"Wonderful, Mr. Steele. Very good work." Chapman looked up, slipping the papers back into the envelope. He stared at Steele, his brown eyes piercing through the night. He held Steele's eyes locked as he slowly finished his cigarette, then flicked the remnants to the ground. Without ever moving his eyes, Chapman instructed his men. "Grab him."
Steele didn't have a chance to run because the two biggest toadies were on him instantly, one on each arm. The pressure of their grips as they yanked his shoulders back made Steele's fingers start to pound.
Chapman strolled over to him. "Take this as both a little warning and a reminder, Mr. Steele." Chapman drove a blow into Steele's abdomen, knocking the breath out of the detective. Steele tried to double over, but the two men held him up. Chapman hit him again, even harder. Then again.
He stepped back slightly and signaled his men. They simultaneously loosened their grip on Steele's arms, allowing him to fall to the wet pavement.
"Don't cross me, Mr. Steele. Stay off the case, and you and your associates won't be harmed." Chapman gave Steele a swift kick to his ribs before turning to leave.
Remington laid on the cold ground, unmoving. He was sure the last blow had cracked a few ribs. Slowly, he drew his arms around his mid-section, trying to force the pain away. *Where's Jarvis?*
Steele's watery eyes followed Chapman to his car. At that instant, police officers poured in behind them.
Chapman whipped his head around. "You bastard!" He screamed. "You set me up!"
Steele pulled himself to his knees.
"You're a dead man!" Chapman yelled, jumping into the passenger seat of his Mercedes.
A few seconds later, Steele saw the headlights coming directly at him. He scrambled out of the way of Chapman's car, feeling his coat whipped by the bumper. Remington drug himself to his feet, staggering a bit. He made his way to Jarvis' Chevrolet, as Chapman's car came back for a second try. Again, Steele dodged.
Jarvis, who had been busy helping to disarm the two largest accomplices, turned his attention to the sound of squealing tires.
"Steele!" He yelled as he saw him dive out of the way of the oncoming car. Jarvis started to run toward the scene, his gun drawn.
Steele grabbed the handle of the car and flung the door open. Chapman's vehicle was fast approaching for another pass. Steele heard the shot, then saw the glass on the driver's side door shatter. Had he been two inches closer to the car's interior, the bullet would have hit him. He turned to see Chapman hanging out of the window of the Mercedes, brandishing a gun. A second shot struck the door, just above the arm rest.
Without further hesitation, Steele dove into the car and stepped on the gas. The tires sprayed gravel into the air in its wake as it skidded onto the road, barely ahead of Chapman's car.
Steele pressed his foot hard against the accelerator, pushing the car to go faster up the hill. *Damn, Jarvis, too cheap to buy a six-cylinder.*
Chapman's car impacted with the back bumper, jarring Steele's neck between his shoulders. The hit came again as the two cars sped up the mountainside.
Chapman leaned out of the passenger window again, squeezing off several shots, most missing Steele and his car. Two, however, impacted. One took out a tail light, another ruptured the fuel tank.
Out of bullets, Chapman slid back into his seat to reload.
The two cars navigated sharp turns at speeds well exceeding the recommended 55 miles per hour. As another hairpin corner approached, Steele turned the steering wheel sharply, cutting in front of Chapman's vehicle. The driver slapped on the breaks, causing Chapman to fly into the dashboard.
"Sorry, Mr. Chapman. I'm sorry. I'm sorry," the man said repeatedly.
Chapman seethed. "Shut up!" He slugged the driver across the face with the muzzle of his gun. "Keep after him!"
The driver, his cheek instantly starting to swell, squealed the tires as he took off again. The two men caught up with Steele's car within seconds, on a relatively flat, straight stretch of road.
Chapman again leaned out the window and squeezed off several more shots. One shattered the rear driver's side window of the Chevrolet. Chapman's eyes grew wide in anticipation as he watched Steele's car rapidly approach a curve. There was no sign of the car slowing, or turning.
"I got him," Chapman exhaled to himself.
The Chevrolet broke through the metal railing guarding the side of the road. The car appeared to hang in the air before gravity decided to take over.
"I got him!" Chapman screamed as he watched the car plummet out of sight.
The driver brought the Mercedes to a screeching halt, nearly going over the cliff, too. Chapman barely waited for the car to stop before he jumped out.
He heard the crashing and rumbling as Steele's car impacted and rolled down the hillside, but he made it to the overlook just in time to see the Chevrolet burst into a ball of flames. There was a split-second delay before the sound of the explosion ripped through the valley.
Chapman started to titter, giggling mostly to himself. Then, he burst out laughing in a slightly crazed cackle. His driver, his cheek bloody and swollen, stood beside him, staring down at the wreckage.
"I GOT HIM!" Chapman screeched at the top of his lungs.
It was only a matter of seconds before the driver heard the sound of sirens cutting through the night. "Mr. Chapman? Mr. Chapman, we've got to go."
Chapman couldn't stop laughing. "You're right. Cops don't like stuff like this." He burst out with another bout of laughter. Then, he instantly sobered. "Let's go." He turned and headed for the car.
The driver hesitated, taking one last look at the burning mass of metal at the bottom of the hill.
"Get your ass in here!" Chapman yelled.
The driver pulled himself back to reality and ran to the car. The two disappeared into the darkness.
Police cars sped into the area, sirens blaring and flashing lights illuminating the cliff side.
"Hold it!" Jarvis told the officer driving. The car was stopped, the headlights shining on the broken guard rail. Jarvis scrambled out of the car and ran to the edge, nearly slipping on the loose gravel. He looked down and saw his car. Or, what remained of his car.
"Oh, my God," Jarvis whispered. He closed his eyes in a silent prayer. "Steele," he sighed.
Laura Holt, generally aggravated, exited her office with an empty file folder in her hand. "Mildred, what happened to my research on Marie and Jack Chapman?"
Mildred was busily inputting data into her computer. Quickly she finished typing a word, then looked to Laura. "It was in the folder. I finished transcribing your notes yesterday."
"Well, it's not here today. Did Mr. Steele take it?"
"I wouldn't know why. I'm not even sure he knows about the Chapman case," she said, rolling her chair from the computer terminal to her desk. "It's no problem, though. I can just run you out another copy." She turned in her seat to reach for the disk caddie, "Let me find...."
Laura, who had been absorbed in the fact that her papers were missing, looked up to see why Mildred had stopped so abruptly.
A man was standing outside the glass doors, checking the name against a piece of paper he held in his hands. Not just any man, but a very young, very unsure-looking police officer.
Laura and Mildred exchanged glances, as the officer slowly opened the door. Belatedly, he realized two people were staring at him. He instantly reached up and pulled off his cap.
"Um...I'm Officer Toby Swanson," he said in a shaky voice.
"I'm Laura Holt," she said automatically, and extremely pleasantly, though her mind was racing with possibilities of what kind of trouble Remington had gotten himself into this time. "Is there something I can help you with?"
Toby was holding his cap so close to his chest, it was very nearly crushed beyond use. "Oh, God," he muttered. "I've never done this before."
Mildred eyeballed him, as she stood up. "Never done what before?"
"Uh..." He swallowed and adjusted his feet. It seemed to take him a great deal of effort to look Laura in the eye. "Do you know a Mister Remington Steele?"
"Yes..." Laura responded, not at all liking Toby’s approach. "Is there a problem? Is he in some sort of trouble?"
"Well..." Toby paused for several seconds. "There's been an accident."
Instantly, Laura's attitude changed. She felt the acid start to churn in her stomach. "Is he okay?"
Toby seemed nearly on the verge of tears. "No, ma'am. He's not." Toby had to stop to pull himself together. "He's dead."
In that second, something squeezed the life out of Laura's heart. She tightened her grip on the file folder. It was all she could do to not sink to her knees. Her mind screamed out what her voice wouldn’t, No!
At her desk, Mildred had already slipped quietly back into her chair, sheer disbelief covering her face. She looked to Laura, trying to gauge her reaction to the news. Wondering who would have to be the strong one in the situation.
"I'm terribly sorry," Toby whispered.
Concentrating very hard on an undefined point in space, Laura asked, "What happened?"
"I don't have all the details, ma'am. But, apparently he was run off the road. The car broke through a barricade and rolled down a hill."
Laura felt a knot growing in her throat.
"The coroner thinks he died before the fire, though."
"Fire?" Mildred nearly squeaked, her attention turning from Laura to Toby.
"Apparently the fuel tank was damaged. There was gas everywhere. The car must have just burst into flames when it hit the bottom."
"Dear, God," Laura sighed. "No."
Toby stood silently for a few minutes. Mildred got up from her desk and approached Laura. When she put her hand on her shoulder, Laura jumped.
Shaken for only a second, Laura looked back to Toby. "Where is he?"
"L.A. General's morgue," he answered. "Actually, we need to have his next of kin identify the body. But, this was the only address we could recover. Where can I find his family?"
"He doesn't...have any family," Laura choked out.
"Oh." Toby was clearly confused. "Well, perhaps one of you can do it. I'll have to check with the officer in charge of the case. I'll get back to you in just a little bit. I have to run down to my car and radio headquarters."
Apparently thankful for the excuse to leave, Officer Swanson placed his smashed cap on his head and swiftly exited the office.
Mildred, who still had her hand on Laura's shoulder, turned to her boss. "Oh, Miss Holt...he can't be..."
Laura stared off into the distance, her mind awash with a mix of grief and total denial. "I've got some filing to do," was all she said.
She released herself from Mildred's grip and walked to her office. The door was closed, and Mildred was left with tears starting to roll down her cheeks.
In her office, Laura leaned her back against the door. *This isn't happening. It can't be happening.* She noticed her hands were trembling, and the empty folder for the Chapman case was crumpled in her fists. Laura looked around the room, confused. Even trying to find a place to discard the folder was too much for her mind at the moment.
*There’s got to be some sort of mistake,* she assured herself. *I’ll get to the morgue, and it won’t be him. He’s not dead.* A part of her wanted to start crying, wailing with grief, but the concept of Remington’s death was too abstract to fully grasp so quickly. Remington couldn’t be dead. Not so quickly, not like that. *He can’t be. He just can’t be...*
Laura sat in the back seat of the limo, unmoving; Mildred at her side. Fred didn't speak, he just drove to the morgue.
Mildred watched Laura's lack of emotion intently, but she didn't say a word, not that she would have known what to say anyway. Instead, she fought to contain her own tears that had been falling off and on since Toby the cop came into the office.
Fred pulled the limo to a stop in front of the hospital. Laura got out before he could open the door for her. Mildred was quickly on her heels, following Laura through the automatic sliding doors, past the reception area, directly to the elevator. The two rode it down to the basement and stepped out into a well-lit, white hallway.
Laura made a right turn and kept walking. The fact that Laura knew the exact way to the morgue without asking directions troubled Mildred more than a little bit.
Laura stopped outside a small glass-enclosed office and tapped on the sliding window to get the attendant’s attention. A young man with short, blonde hair looked up from his paperwork, then stood up, grabbing the keys. He stuffed the pen he was using into his white lab coat, followed by the reading glasses he was wearing. He slid the window open. “Can I help you?”
“I’m Laura Holt. I’m here to...” she paused on that to gather her composure. “...I’m here for Remington Steele.”
“Oh. Right. Just a second.” The man closed the window and exited out a back door, out of sight of Laura and Mildred. A few minutes later he emerged from a door next to the two, holding it open for them to pass.
Mildred followed Laura into the cold, sterile room. Three of the four walls had small stainless steel doors from floor to ceiling, each with little name tags. Plenty of room for L.A.’s newly-dead, and Mildred looked around quickly, trying to locate Steele’s door.
“You need to sign here,” the man told Laura, holding out a clipboard and a pen to her. “Once you see the body, you’ll have to sign here if it’s him, there if it’s not.” He pointed to the various blank lines. “And you gotta sign there to collect the belongings.”
Laura put her name on the first line and handed the board and pen back to the man. He checked the signature, double-checked the information on the page, then started to hunt up the right door.
On the back wall, square in the center of the room was where he stopped. He checked the papers again, then opened up the cooler, pulling out a stainless steel slab that held a sheet-covered body. *I can’t do this...* Laura’s mind screamed at her.
The man turned to Laura and wagged his head to indicate that she should join him. Mildred looked to Laura. Her boss’ eyebrows were practically knotted together and her down-turned mouth twitched a little. Laura swallowed and took a step forward. Mildred followed.
*This won’t be him. It can’t be him,* Laura kept repeating to herself. She stood beside the sheet-covered form and glanced at the attendant.
“You ready?” he asked.
She nodded, though she knew she could never be ready for anything like what she was about to do. Unconsciously, Laura closed her eyes just before the sheet was removed.
The man took a moment to gauge Laura’s mental state, he then pulled the sheet back, revealing the body from the head down to mid-torso. Without looking, Laura knew it was him...she’d heard Mildred gasp sharply behind her. But, it was still her responsibility to identify the body. Opening just her left eye, she avoided looking at the face...she just couldn’t bare to start there. In all honesty, she didn’t need to even look past the chest.
The trim waist line extended up to a hair-covered chest...a chest she instantly recognized; one she’d rested her head against more than once for comfort and support. Now the warm flesh was badly bruised and scraped.
Laura’s one open eye traveled upward a bit, taking in the sight of a few deeper cuts on the left shoulder area that had some dried blood around them. If Remington were alive, she’d strongly suggest stitches in those wounds.
Finally, she could no longer avoid what had to be done. Laura opened her other eye and looked squarely down at the face. Tears welled up in her eyes. “No...” she mouthed, her breath halted somewhere between her lungs and the outside world. “No...Mr. Steele...” Unconsciously, her left hand raised to almost touch his face. She stopped short, unable to bring herself to feel his lifelessness.
The attendant apparently noticed that she seemed on the verge of an asthma attack, and quickly covered the body back up. He shoved the slab back into the cooler and shut the door. Laura watched his every move, her heart pounding loudly in her ears and her breathing being managed in short spurts. She wanted to cry. Oh, God, how she wanted to cry. But it just wasn’t happening. Instead her brain was actively still trying to deny what had happened.
“Sign here and here and you can go, ma’am,” the man said, holding out the pen and clipboard again.
Laura took the board from him and scribbled her name out twice, not seeing or feeling anything she was doing. The attendant gave her a small Zip-loc baggy with some jewelry and a wallet in it and lead her and Mildred, who had retreated to the door quite some time ago, out to the hall.
The two women left the hospital. For once, Mildred, anxious to leave the scene behind, was actually walking faster than Laura. Laura, however, had retreated into her own head, a vacant look clouding her brown eyes.
*Why?* Laura kept repeating in her mind. *Why, Mr. Steele? You can’t leave me now! Damn, you! You can’t leave me!* The tears just wouldn’t fall. She had left the man she loved lying dead in an ice box, yet she still couldn’t get the plumbing to work right. What the hell was wrong?
One look at the women exiting the hospital and Fred knew it wasn’t good news. He opened the car door for Mildred. She passed him a red-eyed look, then glanced back at Laura who wasn’t paying much attention to anything.
Fred went over and put a supportive hand on Laura’s shoulder and lead her to the limo. “I’m really sorry, Miss Holt,” he said.
“Me, too, Fred,” she said as she sat in the back seat. “Me, too.”
It was barely after eleven in the morning, but Laura sat at Remington’s desk as though she’d just put in a 48-hour day. She stared at nothing, her mind unable to sort things out. *What happened?* was all she could think. *What happened? I have to find out.*
Her heart, however, wasn’t having much trouble comprehending what happened. Remington was gone. She’d seen him blue, lifeless and cold. Well, lifeless at any rate. He hadn’t really turned blue that she could tell, and she didn’t touch him to know that he was cold. But, all that generally came with being dead, and that fact stabbed her heart. It gripped her whole chest, in fact. Her heart felt as though it was being wrung by a hot fist of pain every time she would breathe.
As was often her problem, Laura couldn’t seem to convince her mind and body to merge. She desperately wanted to let it all out, to make the weight on her shoulders a little lighter. Her brain just kept cranking, though, not willing to let go of the notion that she should look into the matter...to be a detective, not a pathetic excuse for a grieving widow.
Bringing her focus back to the room, Laura turned to the wall of photos. Shot after shot of Remington. All had been hastily taken and framed soon after he strolled into the office that fateful day in October of ‘82. Now she had only a plastic baggy full of his personal belongings to go with the photos. She reached for the bag she had dropped on the edge of the desk hours earlier.
Laura opened the bag and dumped the items onto the desk. Oddly, the objects seemed to be much worse off than Remington’s body looked. The wallet was blackened, the credit cards melted inside to make one solid mass. The two pieces of jewelry were also badly charred. Clinically, Laura decided the burns Remington’s body must have sustained were somewhere below his upper chest, since that was about all of him she managed to see. Judging from the damage to the ring, bracelet and wallet, Laura was quite glad she hadn’t been shown the rest of him.
Sighing, she replaced the items in the baggy and dropped it into her purse.
*Wait...* She pulled the bag out again and looked for it. But it wasn’t there. She replaced the bag into her purse, then thought again. *Perhaps it’s still at the morgue. On the other hand, what happened to his clothes?*
That was the spark Laura needed. A place to start her investigation. Her brain kicked in, pushing aside any pain she may have felt. She grabbed the phone book and thumbed through looking for the number for L.A. General’s morgue.
She found the number, dialed it and waited. After several rings a woman picked up the phone. “Yes, this is Laura Holt. I was there earlier today to identify the body of Remington Steele. And I have some more questions I need answered.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, who did you say you were looking for?”
“I have some questions about Remington Steele’s body,” she repeated. The term “Remington Steele’s body” just didn’t want to come out of Laura’s mouth too many more times, and she seriously hoped the woman would get her act together very soon.
“Remington Steele?” the woman repeated.
“Uh...just a minute.” Before Laura could respond she was put on hold.
A few minutes later the phone was answered again. “Can I help you?” It was a man this time.
“Yes. I certainly hope you can. My name is Laura Holt. I was there earlier today and I have some questions about...Remington Steele’s body.” Lord, that wasn’t getting any easier.
“What’s your question?”
“Well, first off...where are his clothes? And his watch is missing. And, perhaps most importantly, when can I arrange to have his body taken to a funeral home?” They all seemed to be reasonable questions, things she should have asked when she was there the first time, but didn’t have the cognitive skills to actually do it.
“His clothes?” the man repeated. “They were burned so badly we didn’t have much to give back. At least, nothing resembling clothing, ma’am. As for when the body will be released...I don’t know. The police are looking into the matter. You’ll have to take it up with the investigating officer.”
“And just who would that be?” Laura questioned.
“I don’t know, ma’am.”
Laura groaned and rolled her eyes. This guy wasn’t much of a help.
“Again, I’m sorry about your loss, ma’am. Good bye.”
“Wait! What about his watch?”
“His watch?” the man repeated.
“That’s what I said.”
Laura could hear him rifle through some papers. “Uh...well...I don’t...it’s not listed here on his papers. Perhaps he wasn’t wearing one.”
That didn’t seem too likely, but for the moment, Laura had other things to find out...like who the officer in charge of the case was. “Okay. Well, thank you.” She hung up.
Without so much as a pause, she was on her feet and out the door heading for the police department.
Laura sat in a plastic chair in the lobby of the police department. She had gone around with the officer at the desk for several minutes before she was told to “have a seat and I’ll see what I can do.” She didn’t think it should be *that* much bother to find out the name of the officer in charge of Remington’s case. What troubled her the most was that a couple other people had stopped in and asked to talk to various officers in charge of this or that and they were admitted immediately.
Laura watched as a grimy young man with orange hair was drug past her, his hands cuffed behind his back as a uniformed officer forced him toward the booking area to her left. The officer and orange-haired man disappeared behind a heavy door. It was the fourth time in less than twenty minutes an officer had drug a wildly-dressed youth past Laura’s view. One thing was for certain, she wouldn’t get too bored while waiting with all the unusual people-watching potential there was at the station.
Another door opened up the hall on Laura’s right. A tall man came through the door, trying not to make eye contact with anyone in the lobby as he went out the front doors. One side of his face was covered in a white bandage and his eye was slightly swollen.
“Miss Holt,” a voice called to her.
She snapped her head back to see who had called her. “Detective Jarvis,” she said, rising to her feet.
He approached her, exiting the same door the man with the bandage had come out of. “I’m so sorry about Mr. Steele,” he said, extending his hand to hers. “I know you two were very close.” He took her hand in his briefly to offer a bit of support, then gestured for her to walk with him.
“I have some questions, Detective,” she told him flatly.
“I imagine you do.”
“Are you the one in charge of the investigation?”
“Yes, I am.” He lead her through the station to his office. He pulled out a seat for her on one side of his desk, then took his seat.
Atomic Man suddenly sprang to Laura’s mind. The thought was quickly squelched. “I want to know everything you know about this case.”
“Miss Holt,” Jarvis began, “you know full well that I can’t give you all the details of this case.”
“Then give me *some* details, Detective.”
Jarvis looked at her, his hand suddenly on the back of his head, rubbing at his neck. He dropped his eyes to his desk, his expression changing slightly. Quickly, he looked up at Laura again. “What do you want to know?” He casually leaned forward, pulling a few papers from the top of his desk out of Laura’s view.
Naturally, Laura attempted to read them upside-down as quickly as she could before they were out of sight. *Wouldn’t even have noticed them, Jarvis, if you hadn’t brought my attention to them. How’d you ever become a detective, anyway?* She smiled pleasantly at him, covering the fact that she’d managed to read something she thought had a lot of bearing on her situation: a hand-scribbled note that said “find the watch.”
“What happened to Mr. Steele?” she asked plainly.
“From our preliminary investigation, it looks as though he was run off the road and the car went down the cliff. It exploded on impact. We believe Mr. Steele died before the fire.”
“Thank you for the recap, Detective. I’ve already heard that much from Officer Swanson this morning. I need something more substantial. Who ran him off the road? Why? What kind of trouble was he in?”
“Perhaps you could tell us what kind of trouble he was in, Miss Holt.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Well, it’s entirely possible that you have details on this case that we could use.”
“But I don’t know anything. He went home after work last night and never showed up to work today. That’s all I know.”
“Ah, but what did he do after work? Who did he see?”
“I don’t know.” In fact, she didn’t know. Remington had left the office at about 5 p.m. the day before, barely saying good-bye. She hadn’t seen him since.
“Did he have a girlfriend?” Jarvis continued. “One with a jealous boyfriend, perhaps?”
Laura looked at Jarvis. Since her relationship with Remington wasn’t public knowledge, she shouldn’t have been offended by Jarvis’ questions, but she was. It took a bit more control than she had anticipated to keep from snapping back at the detective. “No, he didn’t have a girlfriend,” she finally told him as calmly as she could.
“How about you? You have a boyfriend who might be jealous of your relationship with your boss?”
“No!” Laura snapped back. That was it. Why was he suddenly posing the questions? That was her job. “Look, Detective, I didn’t come here to discuss Mr. Steele’s love life. I came to find out what happened. Why he’s dead!”
“He was run off the road by an as-yet-unknown person. That’s it.”
“I want a copy of the accident report.”
“You’ll have to see our records person at the front counter,” Jarvis told her.
Laura stood up. Her conversation was over with Jarvis. He wasn’t giving her any information, so she’d have to dig it up on her own. “Thank you, Detective,” Laura said as she turned to leave. “You’ve been less than helpful.”
The first thing Laura noticed on the accident report was that Remington wasn’t driving his Auburn. He was apparently driving some sort of Chevrolet. Where he got that, she didn’t know. She also learned the location of the accident. Laura decided to start with investigating the car.
The impound lot was near-by, so she walked over. An older man sat in a small booth by the gate. He was busy reading “Cycle World” when Laura approached the booth. Her tap on the glass window startled the balding man right out of his seat onto the floor. He quickly picked himself up and wiped his greasy hands on his even greasier coveralls.
“Wha’da ya want?” he asked, opening the door to the booth.
“I’m here to collect my car,” Laura lied.
“Yeah? Okay, what one is it?” He moved to the file cabinet on the other side of the booth.
“It’s the red Chevrolet. License A684BGN. They brought it in last night. It was in a little accident.”
The man rummaged through the files and found the right folder. He pulled it out and spread the contents across his desk.
Laura managed to read over his shoulder to find the lot location of the car. That was about all she got before the man slapped the folder shut and turned on her. “Can’t release that car, lady.”
“It’s part of an on-going investigation. It stays here.”
“Well...” Laura searched for something quickly. “I need to get some stuff out of the backseat.”
“Tough luck, lady. Nobody gets near the car. It’s under investigation. Can’t have you lifting valuable evidence out of it, now, can we?” he smiled. It was very obvious to Laura that this man loved this aspect of his career.
Laura forced a smile. “Of course, couldn’t have that.” She turned her head slightly, glancing toward the fenced lot. “When can I have my car?” she inquired, still surveying the gate and chain-link fence.
“Don’t know. Maybe never.” With that, the man shoved the folder back into the drawer and slammed the cabinet shut. “Bye.” He picked up his magazine, sat his hefty body back into his chair and continued to ignore Laura.
Taking the hint, Laura turned and walked away from the main gate. Rather than going back to her car, she took a detour around to the back of the impound lot. Through the fence she could see the various rows of cars, all in different degrees of ruin. Conveniently, each car had a small white marker beside it indicating the row and slot number. The red Chevrolet Laura was looking for was in Row F, Slot 17, at least, that’s what she’d managed to read off the file. Unfortunately, she couldn’t see past Slot 4 in Row F from her vantage point.
So, like any good detective would, Laura scaled the chain-link, fortunate that there was no barbed-wire around the top. She crawled over the top of the 10-foot fence, and started her way down, rattling the metal only slightly. There was no way the man in the front booth could possibly hear her movements.
Once on the ground, she made her way up Row F to Slot 17. The car was covered in a large brown tarp. With a quick look to make sure the coast was clear, Laura lifted the tarp next to the driver’s side door. Nothing was too unusual. Well, too unusual for a burned-out, totally smashed vehicle, at any rate. Windows were smashed, metal was crushed and plastic was melted both inside and outside the car.
Laura poked her head through the missing door window to survey the interior. Nothing stood out and said “hey, I’m a clue!” Nothing, that was, until Laura turned her head downward and looked at the driver’s side door just above the arm rest. Though the fabric was burned and the rubber was melted, something very distinctive caught Laura’s attention. A hole, about the size of a nickel, was punched through the metal. Pulling her head out of the car, Laura checked the outside of the door. Indeed, a small dimple was on the other side. A bullet hole.
Quickly, Laura worked her way around the car, looking for more punctures. She found one near the trunk, where the tail-light used to be. Mr. Steele had been in some serious trouble, she concluded, dropping the tarp back over the burned shell.
Off in the distance, the sound of whistling broke through the air. Not a tune, per se, but a call. Then the voice, the voice of the man Laura had “chatted” with earlier, called, “C’mon, Fluffy! Here boy! Chow time!”
*Fluffy?* Laura thought, crouching down low beside the car so as not to be seen. A couple rows over, Laura saw a large Rottweiler trotting toward the sound of the man’s voice. She raised her eyebrows, *Fluffy...that’s really bad.* Not taking her eyes off the dog, Laura slowly inched her way back the way she entered, trying desperately not to make a disturbance. Unfortunately, Fluffy tuned in to the sound of gravel being crunched under foot, he started growling then took off in a dead run. Had she bothered to take time to think about it, Laura would have been amazed at exactly how wide her eyes got and just how fast she scampered the final yards to the fence.
With a barking and snarling Rottweiler snapping at her heels, Laura all but leapt over the fence, barely taking more than two toe-holds in the chain-link on her way over the top.
She didn’t climb down, just dropped to the dirt on the opposite side of the fence. Laura was nothing more than a dark figure running through the shadows of the alley by the time the lot attendant made his way to Fluffy, who was very anxious to be set free to continue the chase.
"I need you to call Allen over at the D.M.V., Mildred," Laura said without preamble as she entered the office.
Mildred stood up from her desk. "I was worried sick about you! Where have you been?"
Laura looked at her, a slight crinkle in her brow. "I've got a murder to investigate, Mildred," she stated flatly. "And I need this license plate traced." She produced a slip of torn paper.
Mildred took it from her. "It's after six-thirty. The D.M.V. is closed."
Laura checked her watch. "Damn!" She threw her purse on Mildred's desk and leaned forward, palms flat on the desktop. Her concentration visibly turned inward. "Okay...okay...call tomorrow. No problem. Get the plate traced then. Jarvis was about worthless...can't use anything there. I could stop by the accident scene. No...too dark by the time I get there..."
"What am I missing? My files on the Chapman case. No...that's not relevant here...is it? Maybe. But why? Maria Chapman killed herself Monday. It doesn't fit..."
"Miss Holt!" Mildred restated forcefully.
Laura snapped her head up, a frown plastered on her face. "What?!"
"It's been a horrible day," Mildred began softly. "Why don't you go home?"
Laura straightened. "I've got a case to work on," she stated emphatically.
"Mr. Steele's murder!"
"But there's nothing more you can do tonight," Mildred said, hoping to appeal to her reasonable side.
"I've got business to attend to, Mildred."
"The boss is not business, Miss Holt! He was our friend!"
"Well, he's business now," Laura said through clenched teeth.
Mildred stared at Laura, her jaw hanging open slightly. "How can you be so cold?" She asked pointedly. Then, the tears started to well up in her eyes. "Mr. Steele is dead, and you treat him like just another routine murder case. He's *not* just a case!"
Uncontrolled emotions burned in Laura's brown eyes. She was ready to fire Mildred on the spot. Slowly, deliberately, Laura spat out her words. "Why don't you go home, Miss Krebs?" It was not a request.
Mildred pursed her lips, biting back the retort Laura was daring her to give.
"All right," she finally said. She reached into the bottom drawer of her desk, pulled out her purse, and turned to leave. "Good night, Miss Holt."
Laura watched as Mildred exited the agency. As the older woman turned down the hall, Laura's shoulders sank. Her eyes closed in regret. *You're beating up the wrong person, Holt.*
A long moment later, she shook her head slightly to remove the feeling.
It was eight-thirty. Laura sat at the computer, scanning through the information she had gathered. On Mildred's desk, an open folder contained a printout of the data. Short notes about her conversation with Jarvis. A detailed description of the mangled car. A registry of things she had noticed about Steele's corpse and personal belongings.
When she had first started working on creating the file marked "Steele, Remington. Murder Investigation," Laura had found it very difficult to type the words into the computer. Her hands trembled on the keyboard, causing more than a fair share of typos. But as she progressed, the detachment finally started to set in. The lump in her throat slowly dissipated, and the warmth returned to her fingertips. Steele, Remington was becoming a case number. She could deal with that.
By nine o'clock, Laura had given up any hope of figuring out the circumstances with such little evidence. She popped out the computer disk, tagged it the same as the manila folder, and deposited it in the caddie.
As she closed the lid on the plastic box, she shuddered. Steele had hated computers. He just couldn't figure them out. It was a rather funny sight to observe, though. He would input data, then curse the bloody machine for not coughing up the information. Of course, he would never remember to hit the "enter" key. Ironic how he would now be forever kept on a single floppy disk in Laura's files.
Slowly leaning back in her chair, Laura yawned and stretched. At nearly the same instant she closed her eyes, the gnawing in her heart began. She had been angry earlier in the day, but it had subsided. And Laura knew what would come next. She had lost enough people in her life to know, after the anger comes the pain.
"Keep busy," she told herself, opening her eyes. As long as she had things to do, the crushing ache would stay away. If she didn't stop to think, the barrier of determination would hold.
She opened up the disk caddie again and pulled out the disk marked "Chapman, Marie and Jack." She inserted it into the computer and made another printout of the information it contained. *May as well get the file back together.* She had every intention of gathering the photos and negatives out of her desk to put with the printout, but she didn't get that far.
A timid knock on the glass door behind her brought her back from her white-out state. Laura turned to see Mildred in the hallway holding up a bag with a Burger King logo on it.
Turning a corner of her mouth up into a half-smile, Laura rose from the chair and let Mildred in.
"I don't suppose you've had anything for dinner," Mildred commented as she stepped inside.
"No," Laura responded quietly. She ran her fingers through her hair, finally noticing the headache she had developed. "No, I haven't."
Mildred placed the sack on her desk, taking note of the mess of papers strewn across it. "Been busy?" She asked rhetorically.
Laura moved to the desk and started shoving the files together haphazardly to clear a space for the food. Mildred disappeared into the storage room briefly, returning with a folding chair, which she sat up on the opposite side of her desk. She sat down and reached for the sack of food. Laura deposited herself in the desk chair, still trying to make the area presentable.
"I know it's not exactly gourmet food, but at least it's something," Mildred said, pulling out two Whoppers and two bags of fries. She also produced two cans of cola which she had gotten from a vending machine in the lobby.
"It's fine, Mildred," Laura responded. She gingerly took a fry from the pack and started chewing on it. She became very much aware of the fact that she wasn't hungry, even though she hadn't eaten since breakfast. She wasn't really feeling anything. Not her headache, not hunger pangs, not the horrible loss of Remington.
Mildred smiled and started to eat her dinner. She observed Laura picking at her food, not getting much down. "Come on, Miss Holt, you've got to eat."
Laura glanced up, but couldn't make eye contact with Mildred. "I'm not really hungry."
"I had some time to think this evening, Miss Holt, and I know what you're trying to do. But, believe me, starving yourself is not a necessary part of your plan." Laura didn't respond. She just sat, her eyes lowered to the edge of the desk, seeing nothing. "If you're determined to work yourself until you drop, you at least have to eat."
Laura felt her heart wrench. Mildred knew. Laura raised her eyes to her, the look on her face asking how she knew.
"Did I ever tell you about when my mother died?"
Laura shook her head.
"We were very close. She and I used to go shopping on the weekends. She taught me how to knit, although I still can't do it worth a damn. She used to listen to my troubles with my marriage. We were really close. I loved her a lot.
"Then, one afternoon I got a call from the hospital. My mother had collapsed at the senior citizen's center. By the time I got to the hospital, she had already died from the stroke. I never got to see her again. I never again got to tell her that I loved her."
Laura swallowed hard. She observed that Mildred's eyes were glassy with the memories. It was all Laura could do to keep her body from trembling.
Mildred took a shaky breath. "Needless to say, I was in shock. It had all happened so fast. One minute she was there, the next she wasn't. You know what I did?" She looked directly at Laura.
Laura shrugged slightly.
"Exactly what you're doing now. I denied myself my feelings. I went for at least a week without crying about my loss. I put together the funeral arrangements without a tear. I sat *through* the funeral without crying. I suffered through all the visits from the family and friends. I even started packing up her worldly possessions to give away before I finally broke down."
"I was determined that I wouldn't cry. I wasn't going to hurt. So, I kept myself busy. I worked hard all day long, came home and worked until I couldn't possibly stay awake. Then, I would literally be asleep by the time I hit the pillow. I didn't think about it. I *wouldn't* think about it.
"But it happened. I couldn't fight it forever. One afternoon at work, I simply lost it. I couldn't stop shaking. My friend had to drive me home because I was crying so hard. I cried for hours. Cried for all the things I wouldn't get to do with my mother. Cried for all the things I couldn't say. Cried for all the things I didn't say."
Laura bit her lower lip hard, nearly drawing blood. Her breathing had started to come in staggered form. But she wasn't sure if it was because of Mildred opening herself up so much, or if it was because it hit too close to home.
"It ended, though, Miss Holt. I felt like hell while I was crying, but after it was over, I could go on. I actually felt better."
Laura stared at Mildred. The older woman had regained her composure and was actually smiling slightly.
"You have to take your own course through this, Miss Holt. But, I just want you to know, that I'm here to help you. Whether it's calling the D.M.V. first thing tomorrow morning, or whether it's someone to hear your feelings." Mildred reached out and patted Laura's hand. "Whatever you need."
Laura opened her mouth to speak, but couldn't force any words out. There were tears in her eyes, but they didn't fall. She tried to work her jaw around to form the words.
"You're welcome," Mildred responded, smiling.
Laura managed to return the smile, in a small way.
The phone rang eight times, and Laura, whose mind was unable to exactly figure out what the time difference should be, was nearly ready to hang up when a woman finally picked up the receiver.
"'ello?" she said, with an accent that would rival Eliza Doolittle.
"May I speak with Daniel Charlmers, please?" Laura asked, hating to be the one to tell him that his protégée was dead.
"’haf a mo," the woman responded.
Laura could hear her put the phone down on the table and walk away. A few moments later she heard a bout of coughing, then the receiver was picked up.
"Yes?" Daniel asked, slightly hoarse.
"Mr. Charlmers, this is Laura Holt."
"Ah! Linda! This is a surprise," he said, his usual glib attitude now shining through.
"Yes, well, not a very pleasant surprise, I'm afraid," Laura preambled, still reluctant to have to tell him.
"Let me guess. Harry's finally flown the coop, and you're wondering if I know where he is. Correct?"
"No...Daniel." Laura stopped. She didn't want to say it. "Mr. Steele...Harry...was killed in a car accident."
There was a silence at the other end of the line, then a small, "My, God."
"I'm sorry, Daniel," Laura said softly.
The silence that followed racked up at least three dollars in long distance charges.
Laura finally had to continue. "The police haven't given the approval to release the body yet, so I can't say when the funeral will be."
"He was run off the road, down a cliff. The police are still investigating...and so am I."
"When you find out who did this, you'll let me know?"
"Certainly. I know you were very close to him."
Daniel was quiet for a long moment. "Closer than he ever knew." Another long pause. "Well...Laura...thank you for telling me. And for what it's worth coming from me, I know you meant a great deal to Harry."
Laura felt tears starting to form. "He meant a lot to me, too, Daniel." She took a shaky breath, forcing the tears back. "I'll keep you informed."
"I'd appreciate it. Good day, Miss Holt."
"Good bye, Mr. Charlmers."
After her call to Daniel, Laura finally gave in to Mildred’s suggestion to go leave the office. The two women left the office sometime after midnight. Mildred was convinced Laura had agreed to go home and get some rest, so the ever-faithful assistant left her boss and went to her own house.
Instead, Laura pulled her Rabbit into a parking space in the underground garage at Steele's apartment building. The Auburn was still sitting in its usual spot, giving her the surreal feeling that Remington was actually upstairs. But, she knew better. And the Auburn was just one of the myriad of questions she had to answer. Why was Steele driving a different car that night? And whose car was it?
As she approached the classic car, Laura couldn't suppress the wave of depression that overtook her. She slid her palm across the curve of the front fender as she passed.
As a teen, she had never been one for making out in the backseat of a car. But the thought of making love to Remington in the Auburn had kept her warm on many cold nights.
"So much for keeping with tradition," she muttered, continuing on to the building.
She rode the elevator to the top floor and got out, rummaging through her purse for the apartment's key. Instead, she pulled out the plastic bag which contained Remington's charred belongings.
*This isn't how I wanted to spend my evening, Mr. Steele.*
She finally found the key and inserted it into the lock. Putting her purse, the bag and the key on the coffee table, Laura looked the apartment over.
*Where to begin? And what am I looking for?*
She didn't know the answer to either question. So, she started in the bedroom. She found nothing of any consequence. Even the small lock-box Steele kept in the back of his closet didn't reveal much. All it managed to do was confirm that he was, indeed, dead. He wouldn't have left his extra cash in the box had he run off.
Laura rummaged through every drawer in the apartment, but she couldn't even find any papers or other evidence to prove that Remington had been in trouble. She couldn’t even find so much as a cuff-link missing. All was in order.
Dejectedly, she sat on the edge of Steele’s bed, sighing at her lack of progress. It was then that she finally began to notice the fact that skipping both lunch and the dinner Mildred had brought her had left her stomach complaining. Surely the Galloping Gourmet would have something left in the fridge, so she went into the kitchen.
Pulling open the refrigerator door, Laura found some meat and vegetables set apart from the other food, as if waiting to be prepared. Her appetite suddenly disappeared when she realized the food was meant for the dinner Steele had planned to make the night before.
*We were going to eat here before the movie, weren't we?*
She shut the refrigerator, but only after she pulled out a bottle of white wine. Getting smashed seemed like a viable option. Laura searched for the corkscrew.
She took the open bottle and a glass into the living room and plopped herself down on the couch. As she poured the wine, she looked at the blackened objects in the plastic bag that sat next to the glass.
Her anger had melted away much earlier, leaving a void in the center of her soul. She couldn't even cry about it. It just didn't seem real. And getting drunk wasn't the answer.
She left the untouched glass of wine on the coffee table and went into Steele's bathroom. Under the sink she found everything she needed.
Laura returned to the living room, flipped on the table lamp and cleared a space on the table. She opened up the baggie and dumped its contents out.
The wallet was ruined, the plastic credit cards having melted the whole thing into a solid blob. As she set the item aside, she wondered again what had happened to his watch. The gold ring and bracelet could be saved.
She opened up the jar of jewelry cleaner and the new toothbrush. The handle on the brush was pink, and Laura assumed that Remington had intended it to be hers, providing the morning ever came where she would arise from his bed in need of a good teeth-scrubbing.
She spent the next two hours scraping and cleaning the jewelry. When every last bit of charring was cleaned away, she sat the two pieces down on the towel.
The room was getting chilly. So, with her task complete, Laura went to the fireplace. She turned on the gas and lit a fire. As she returned to the couch, she turned off the lamp.
She sat back, admiring the way the firelight sparkled on the ring and bracelet. But instead of making her feel better, the sight of the items widened the emptiness in her.
*I wonder how long it will be before the clients quit coming in?*
The newspapers would grab hold of the fantastic story about the great detective's death, and it would be all over. Laura wasn't sure how Detective Jarvis had been able to keep the press at bay on this one, but it had bought her at least one extra day before her business would completely fall apart.
She needed him. The man she called "Mr. Steele;" she needed him desperately. In the agency, he was the flesh that covered her bones. Without her flashy front-man, Laura and the agency faced a dilemma. She was back where she started so many years ago. The difference this time was she could no longer tell prospective clients "Mr. Steele is out of town." Somehow, "Mr. Steele is in the Great Beyond," just didn't cut it.
Laura picked up the glass of wine and drained it, wincing at the taste of the now-warm liquid. She replaced the glass on the table, deciding to definitely forego the idea of getting sloshed. She curled up on the corner of Steele's couch and clutched a pillow to her chest.
She felt afraid...afraid of being alone. While it had hurt when her father had abandoned the family, and it hurt when Wilson moved out, and it hurt when Murphy had left...it was different. At least the others were alive. If she were so inclined, she could look them up and talk to them.
But Remington was gone. The man she had created and a stranger had molded, would never return. She would never get to hear another one of his seemingly pointless movie notations. She would never get to goad him into doing leg-work again. She would never get to pretend that his sexual advances didn't stimulate her. She would never get her teeth rattled.
Perhaps it was better that they weren't lovers. She wouldn't have to go to bed at night knowing his place beside her was empty and cold.
Laura closed her eyes, trying to force the pain away.
How many times had they nearly given in to one another? How many times had she pulled away?
It couldn't have been more than a week earlier that they sat on the floor in front of the fireplace pitching copies of "Bedside Babes" into the flames. She was elated to have him back home. That, along with the twinkle in his eyes he got when he thought of her picture in the magazine combined to where she actually let her emotions take over. She had literally thrown herself at him, flattening him against the floor.
He had been caught off guard by her actions, but he quickly recovered, tightening his arms around her.
She lost herself in the kiss, taking his lips possessively. Remington had laid beneath her for several minutes, taking all she would give, but acting slightly restrained. He kissed her back, but her fever was contrasted by his coolness.
Eventually, though, Laura felt the tension release from his body. Apparently, he decided she meant business. At that point, he pressed his lips against hers with so much desire, Laura felt her heart skip a beat. Remington rolled over, pinning her beneath him, his mouth hot against hers.
Laura's breathing rate increased, and she was forced to turn away to catch a breath. Remington took the opportunity to sit up and remove his sport coat.
As he straddled her body, Laura looked up. His desire was more than apparent in his eyes, but a glimmer of uncertainty also showed through. She couldn't blame him for his feelings, because in the pit of her stomach, doubt was already starting to creep in.
Remington must have sensed the slight change, as he quickly returned to kissing her, his lips slightly parted, coaxing her to do the same.
Even as the doubt grew within her, Laura slid her arms around his neck, pulling him closer.
Remington left her lips and looked deeply into her brown eyes. He caressed her cheek with his fingertips. "Laura..."
She stared at him, running her fingers through his hair. She didn't answer. She couldn't. Not without backing out. Instead, she lowered his head to her chest. Her heart was beating so hard, she was sure it was all he could hear. She closed her eyes tightly.
*Why am I so scared? He's Remington Steele. I gave him a passport attesting to that fact. His past doesn't matter anymore. He's a new man. My man. He wouldn't leave if we made love.*
Laura snapped out of her reverie with a gasp when Remington gently slid his hands down the form of her body, lightly brushing against the sides of her breasts. She looked at him, slightly shaken. In immediate response to her reaction, Remington moved his hands to the floor and pushed himself up, away from her.
Laura exhaled, upset with herself for reacting so negatively.
"You don't want this," he said, moving off her.
She sat up. "I do. Honestly, I do. It's just..." She couldn't find the words. She shook her head, completely disgusted with herself.
Remington put his arm around her shoulders. "It's okay, Laura. I've waited this long. A little while longer won't make that much difference."
She rested her head against his chest. "I just wish..."
"Someday, Laura, someday. But not tonight."
She put her arms around him, and they sat for a very long time, not saying anything.
It was the last time they were alone together.
*I screwed it up.*
Laura drug herself back into the reality of Remington's death.
*You're gone, and I'll never get the chance to tell you...or show you...how much I really do care.*
Laura's body shook and the tears started to well up. "Why didn't I ever tell you?" She reached out and picked up his bracelet. "Why didn't you ever tell me?" She held the piece of jewelry tightly in her hand.
Her breath hitched in her throat and she clutched the pillow tightly to her chest. But she refused to let the fall. She couldn’t. Not yet.
It was just past 5:30 a.m. Laura stood out in the breeze, the morning sun barely turning the night sky to a pink-purple. She had left Steele’s apartment an hour earlier and was at the spot where the mystery car had broken through the guard rail. The darkness kept the valley veiled, but Laura knew that Remington had died just a few feet below where she was. At that thought, her still-blurry eyes clouded over again.
*No...come on. You’ve got work to do, Laura,* she tried to to convince herself, *no crying yet.* She placed her left hand over her right wrist and the piece of jewelry she now wore there. One of the only things she had left of Remington dangled loosely from her wrist: his bracelet. It didn’t fit very well, and it had taken her several minutes to get it adjusted to where it wouldn’t simply slide off over her hand. But as strange as it would have sounded to her only hours before, the bracelet made her feel closer to Remington, like she had a piece of him still with her.
As the time passed and the sun brought more light to the highway, Laura’s emotional state stabilized and her grip on the bracelet relaxed. Finally, she started to look around, wiping the dampness from her eyes for a clearer view. The gravel under her feet still held the tire tracks of the doomed vehicle. It was a straight shot off the edge to the Pearly Gates. Remington had made no attempt to swerve or break that she could tell. Perhaps he was dead before he arrived at the corner. The bullet holes in the rest of the car easily pointed to that conclusion.
Slowly, she started for the edge of the cliff. She didn’t want to look, but something inside her had to see the spot. Her eyes were forward, she saw only the trees across the valley and a single hawk circling in the air. As the hawk dove to snag its prey, Laura’s eyes followed it down. The hawk swooped back up, flying off with a small rodent in its talons, but Laura’s view was fixed. Below her was a blackened area, charred from the intense heat caused by a gasoline fire.
The police had apparently used some sort of dirt road at the bottom of the valley to get the car out, since there were plenty of tire tracks leading to and from the burned area. Grass was beaten down, and puddles of mud still remained from water used to put out the fire.
*It’s probably not enough of a fall to kill me, too,* Laura found herself musing. She paused on the thought, only mildly surprised she had contemplated it, before she decided to back away from the edge.
With a sigh, she looked to the sky. If she were a more religious person she would have hoped for some divine guidance. As it was, she silently vowed to find the killer before she considered anything more permanent with her life.
As she returned to her Rabbit, something on the pavement caught her eye. Skid marks. The chase had ended on almost the exact location where she had parked. Squatting down, she examined the pattern of the marks. Someone had nearly followed Remington off the cliff, from the looks of it. The tire marks ended somewhat sideways near the broken guard rail, but they didn’t begin until well up the road. *High speeds. A chase. He was into something he shouldn’t have been into...but what?*
As Laura followed the tracks up the highway, she saw something else. More skid marks. Not from just one car, either. There had to have been at least three, maybe four, more cars out there, all coming to a sudden stop at the same place.
Laura scanned the area. Something wasn’t right with this. Steele had never gotten himself into trouble *this* big before. Five cars chasing after him?
She continued up the highway on foot, leaving the broken guard rail and the skid marks behind her. She walked on the shoulder, checking the gravel beneath her feet for any clues and examining the pavement for any more tire marks. The rising sun caught on a piece of metal in her path, and Laura stooped to pick it up. A bullet casing. A bullet from a hand gun. It was the first real clue she had found. It was very possible it was one of many that had been fired and impacted in the car. However, it was also possible that it was the one that killed Remington. She gripped the tiny piece of metal. *Hard evidence.* Ballistics tests would be on the agenda for the day. *Track down who owns the type of gun this bullet fits into, then I’ll have him...*
Laura continued on, her emotional side clinging to the notion that she had just broken the case, her detective side insisting that it wasn’t that easy, that more needed to be found. She rounded a sharp corner, then another, then another, then found herself only a few feet from a police officer. The man was out of his vehicle, searching the ground with a flashlight.
Laura was about to speak to him when she remembered the piece of evidence she clutched. Quickly, she shoved it into a jacket pocket, with just enough time to spare to put on a fake smile before the startled officer noticed her.
Visibly shaken by the interruption, the officer shook it off and put on his air of authority. “What are you doing out here alone, ma’am?”
“Just enjoying the mountain air and the sunrise,” Laura smiled back. “What are you doing out here, officer? Kind of a long way from downtown.”
The officer scrutinized her for a long while. Laura could see his mind working on something, then the dawning came into his eyes. She saw his attitude immediately change, and she took that as her cue to leave.
“Ma’am, this isn’t the safest place for a young woman to be all by herself. Why don’t you let me take you back into town?”
“Oh...I’m fine. My car is parked just up the road.” Laura circled around behind the officer, continuing up the road as if this were a common morning walk for her, all the while trying to figure what he knew and what he was looking for.
The officer turned and followed her. “This isn’t a public park, you know. This is a highway. The shoulder is intended for stalled vehicles, not for parking while you take a stroll.”
Laura didn’t think she could push it much further, though she wasn’t exactly sure what he could possibly arrest her for. She kept walking casually. “You know, officer, you’re right. Know of any parks close by?”
“No. Ma’am...you need to be on your way,” he said firmly as he came up and blocked her path.
It was then Laura realized just how tall and muscular the man was. He wasn’t one she could toy with much longer. She swallowed, then cordially said, “Good idea.”
Efficiently, she crossed to the other side of the road...always good to walk against traffic...and headed back the way she came, passing glances back to the officer periodically. Both kept an eye on each other until the curvature of the road separated them.
Laura let out a sigh, relieved to be away from him. For some reason, he gave her the creeps. There was something about him. The way he looked at her, it was disturbing. She didn’t feel threatened exactly...rather...suspected. A chill shot down Laura’s spine. As a person in the law enforcement business, she knew that when a person was murdered, most often it’s done by a relative or close friend. Laura stopped in her tracks. *They don’t think I killed him, do they?* She looked back to see if the officer had followed her. He hadn’t. She turned her thoughts inward. *You’re making things up, Laura. You’re not a suspect. There’s something else here. There’s something you haven’t found yet. There’s... her focus returned to the ground in front of her ...something on the ground.*
She bent and picked up another piece of metal that had glittered in the morning sun. This time, it wasn’t a brass bullet casing. It was a watch. A watch with a black wrist band that had broken from the timepiece, but was still buckled. A watch that had gold trim and a black face and a broken crystal. A watch Jarvis was looking for. A watch Laura had given to Remington a couple years ago.
Granted, he didn’t wear it very often anymore, but it was definitely his watch. With her heart pounding, Laura shoved the mangled timepiece into her pocket with the bullet casing and took off for her car.
As she hurried back to the Rabbit, her mind shot a signal to deep inside her heart. Suddenly, she no longer felt a crushing loss, though she wasn’t exactly sure why. She felt more like she was the victim of a very vicious joke. Her pace slowed as she tried to come up with the thought that was completely eluding her. Something screamed *familiar* to her, but she didn’t know what it was. Something else was screaming at her even louder: *he can’t be dead.*
Mildred looked up to see Laura enter the office. The detective was obviously deep in thought as she pushed open the glass door, she didn’t even notice Mildred was there.
“Morning, Miss Holt,” Mildred said, her ear attached to the phone.
Laura stopped in front of Mildred’s desk, stared into space for a few seconds longer, finally cocked her head toward Mildred and grunted a little, not actually looking at her. Her thoughts turned back inward.
Mildred sized up her boss’ reaction. She didn’t appear to be depressed or distraught, but it was definitely a strange mood. “I’m on hold. Your friend at the D.M.V. is checking on that license plate for you,” she offered.
Laura didn’t immediately respond. Then, she only slightly grunted.
Mildred frowned. “You okay, Miss Holt?”
Laura didn’t answer.
Still no response.
“Are you listening?”
Mildred’s frown deepened. “Hello?”
Laura continued to ignore her.
Out of desperation, Mildred said, “Norman Keyes called. He said he’s buying out the agency.”
Even that didn’t garner a response. Mildred’s eyebrows shot up. Using the words “Norman” and “Keyes” in the same sentence not causing so much as a flinch must mean something big was running around in Laura’s mind. About to try again to get Laura’s attention with another outrageous statement, Mildred was cut off when Allen came back on the line.
“Yes, I’m still here.” She snatched up her pen and prepared to write down the information. “Uh-huh.” Suddenly, Mildred’s eyes widened. “Are you sure that’s the right owner? No, no. Nothing’s wrong. Thanks a lot. Bye.” Mildred hung up the phone and looked up to Laura. “Miss Holt?” She stood up and went around her desk to stand in front of Laura. “You need to come out of it and listen to me. I think this is important.”
Laura’s focus turned outward finally, her eyes meeting Mildred’s. “What is it?”
“You’re never going to believe whose car it was the boss was driving.”
Laura raised her eyebrows signaling Mildred to continue.
“James Jarvis,” Mildred said, giving Laura a look of *what do you think of those apples?*
Laura returned with a look of astonishment. “Detective Jarvis’ car?” She let the information sink into her brain for a few seconds. “What the hell was he doing driving his car?”
Mildred shrugged helpfully.
“So, there’s a police connection to all of this?” Laura turned away and started to pace, thinking out loud. “Does that mean all those skid marks were police cars? Or were they someone else’s? And the bullet casing...is it police-issue or is it from someone else’s gun?”
Mildred, who was intently listening to Laura’s thoughts to that point, sputtered, “Bullet? What bullet?”
Laura turned back around. “The bullet casing I found at the scene of the accident.” She pulled it out of her pocket. “We need ballistics tests on this.”
“You went to the scene? When?”
“This morning. And apparently there was a major car chase out there. There’s skid marks everywhere...from multiple vehicles.”
“And you found a bullet case?”
“Yes. And from the look of...Jarvis’...car yesterday, there were plenty to go around.”
“The morgue attendant didn’t say anything about the boss being shot,” Mildred protested. “I thought he died by going over the cliff.”
“I doubt it,” Laura said. In fact, her doubt was growing. “Given the bullet holes in the car I examined yesterday, the skid marks on the road and the look of the accident scene, I’m lead to believe Mr. Steele wasn’t killed by the impact.” She stopped pacing, looked Mildred square in the eye and paused. *Should I tell her what I really think?* She blinked a couple times, then finally said, “I don’t think he’s dead at all.”
Mildred backed up, completely shocked. She opened her mouth to say something, but it halted in her throat, only a little squeak slipping out.
“I’m serious, Mildred,” Laura assured her.
Finally, Mildred closed her mouth, a frown seeping into her features. “How much sleep did you get last night, Miss Holt?”
Laura pulled back. “None. But that’s not the point here, Mildred. Look.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out the mangled watch. “See? I found this around the corner...at least a hundred yards...from the place where the car went over the cliff!”
Mildred squinted at the watch, unimpressed. She shifted her view back to Laura. “We saw him, Miss Holt. Saw him dead. What’s that watch got to do with anything?”
“It’s his watch!”
Mildred shook her head. “I don’t know, Miss Holt...”
“What’s to know? He can’t be dead!”
Normally a patient and understanding woman, Mildred had heard about enough. Denial was one thing, but Laura was entering the realm of crazy. “We see him on a slab in the morgue,” she began, “he’s stone-cold dead, and you go out and find a watch that may or may not be his and suddenly he’s alive!? Do you realize it has been over twenty-four hours since you got any sleep? You’ve been under unbelievable stress. Maybe you should take awhile to catch your breath before you go chasing after a wild goose.”
“No!” Mildred wouldn’t stand for it anymore. “If you want to help Mr. Steele, find his killer. Don’t start trying to re-create him.”
If Mildred was going to turn on her, Laura’s only option was to confront the only other person she knew had a stake in the case. She stormed into police headquarters.
Jarvis saw her coming and nearly choked on his coffee. He had dealt with Laura Holt enough times to recognize the fact that she was planning to rip his head off.
"Jarvis!" Laura yelled at him.
He put his mug down and stood up, forcing a smile to his face. "Miss Holt...This is a surprise."
Laura stopped when she reached Jarvis' desk. She put her hands on her hips and scowled at him. Jarvis noticed the usually neat-as-a-pin Laura was slightly mussed, and dark circles had formed under her eyes.
"Uh....huh....yes," he said as he stepped back, putting his hand behind his head. "....Uh....Got Mr. Steele’s funeral all arranged?"
"One usually needs a dead person for a funeral," Laura spat.
"Now, Miss Holt, I know this has been hard on you, but..."
Laura burst forward. "Where is he, Jarvis!?!"
"I don't know what you're talking about. This is...."
Laura made a move to lunge for Jarvis. He jumped back, surprised. "I know it was your car involved in the accident!”
“There must be some mistake,” he assured her.
“Don’t hand me that, Detective! I want to know exactly what’s going on here! Where is Mr. Steele!”
“You identified his body, Miss Holt,” Jarvis said calmly. “You saw for yourself he wasn’t among the living anymore.”
Angered, Laura pulled out the broken watch and threw it at Jarvis, hitting him in the chest. “I found his watch, Jarvis! I found it at least 100 yards away from the accident site!”
“That doesn’t mean anything...”
“You were looking for it, too!” Laura interrupted. “I know you were! I saw your notes! The only other person who knew about his missing watch was the morgue attendant...who called you and told you about it!”
“I think you’re jumping to conclusions, here, Miss Holt,” Jarvis said. “You need to calm down and think about this once you’ve had some rest. Obviously Mr. Steele’s death has hit you pretty hard and you’re not thinking clearly.”
“I’m thinking plenty clearly, thank you,” Laura gritted, the scowl on her face looking even more menacing due to her exhaustion. “Where is he?” She restated, punching out each word.
Jarvis shook his head.
"Where is he!?" She yelled.
Jarvis looked her square in the eyes. "Dead."
"No! He’s not!"
"Look, Miss Holt, I think you need to go home and get some sleep. And I strongly suggest you forget everything you think you know."
"Your threats won't work on me, Jarvis."
"Then how's this?" He offered. "You keep pursuing this and you'll end up just like Mr. Steele."
"What has he gotten into, Detective?"
"Something bigger than either of you can handle."
"I can handle just about anything," Laura stated.
"Miss Holt, does the name Jack Chapman mean anything to you?"
"How about the word 'kingpin?'"
"You don't expect me to believe..."
"Exactly. Now, for your own safety, put the dead to rest."
Laura drummed her fingers on the steering wheel of her car. Behind her sunglasses, her sleep-deprived eyes squinted at nothing. She attempted to recall everything she knew about Jack Chapman. Much to her chagrin, her mind was slow to respond.
Pieces of her case would filter in through a mental cloud, battling her lack of sleep, confusion and depression.
She had, in fact, no first-hand knowledge of Jack Chapman. It was his wife, Marie, who had hired her less than a week earlier to find her husband’s assets. Marie had hoped to divorce her husband because she was certain he was involved in something illegal. Marie didn’t have any leads to offer Laura except that Jack was out at all hours, received phone calls constantly and seemed to have more money than God, though he had no actual job that Marie knew of.
Laura had made an initial report and had Mildred transcribe some jotted notes. She then proceeded to stake-out Chapman’s house. She sat in her Rabbit up the street that first night. She managed to get some photos of Chapman when he left the house at 1 a.m. She half-heartedly attempted to follow after his car, but she lost the tail after twenty minutes. At the time, it hadn’t seemed too terribly important to follow him that night alone. She planned to return the next night with Remington and try again.
The next morning, Marie called her. It was a very business-like call and nothing sounded amiss. However, Marie had asked Laura to drop the case. Marie said she had talked with Jack and the two had worked everything out. She no longer planned to divorce him.
While Laura never liked to be dismissed from a case, she accepted the fact that Marie had changed her mind. After all, the woman didn’t sound distraught or coerced.
The next day, Marie Chapman was found dead, locked in her bathroom with an empty bottle of vodka in one hand and an empty bottle of sedatives in the other hand. The police ruled it a suicide. Laura had been inclined to agree, though she had planned to do some investigating on her own to be sure. Unfortunately, her Chapman file came up missing, to be closely followed by the news of Remington’s death.
*Geeze,* Laura mentally chastised herself, *you totally missed that connection, didn’t you?*
She continued to think, trying to piece things together. *Marie...Jack...suicide...Mr. Steele...murder...missing case files...police...bullets...his watch...* Laura closed her eyes and leaned her head on the steering wheel. Things weren’t clicking. It shouldn’t be this hard... Her thoughts, normally clear and precise, were sticking in her head in fragments. The obvious connections were difficult to see.
*So, let’s say Mr. Steele took my file on Chapman,* she finally decided. *Why? How did he even know about Chapman? And what about Marie? She didn’t really kill herself, did she?* Laura opened her eyes and sighed.
There were more questions than answers. *The police know all about this, don’t they?* She looked up from her parking space to the backside of the police station. *Jarvis...* She scowled a little. *What are you hiding from me? What did you get Mr. Steele into?* There was a sinking feeling in her stomach. *And can I get him out of it?* The sinking feeling bottomed out somewhere below her feet. *If it’s not already too late...*
It was against her better judgment to attempt to break and enter during the mid-morning, but Laura was prepared for the risks. She knew Jarvis was involved, and that was her starting point. Without Remington to help her, she didn’t think an attempt to break into Jarvis’ office was a wise idea. So, she settled on the next best thing...his house.
Laura pulled her Rabbit to a stop in the street outside of Jarvis’ home. She stepped out of her car and made her way to the house. Jarvis lived in a rather non-descript white house on Wallace Ave. In a dark way, it reminded Laura of her house, before it had been blown into a zillion pieces.
She approached the front door, carrying a clipboard and wearing a uniform for a nonexistent delivery company. Before she reached the door, she scanned the neighborhood. No one was around. As she climbed the two steps to the porch, she pulled out her lock-pick.
Within minutes, she was inside. The living room was darkened, as the drapes were closed tightly. Laura put her clipboard and cap down on a nearby chair and made her way to the kitchen. It, too, was darkened. There was no sign of anything unusual.
Laura headed for Jarvis' bedroom. It was exceptionally dark, with both the shades and curtains closed. The effect was like something out of the 60s--reddish-orange light and strange shadows.
She went to the closet and slid the door open to the left. For a moment, she stood, surveying the items. Nothing seemed too unusual.
There was, however, a lock-box on the top shelf. Laura stepped in and raised on her toes to retrieve it.
That was when she heard the click of a gun being cocked next to her left temple.
She froze, slowly raising her hands away from the box. Whoever it was, was standing in the closet, hiding between Jarvis' shirts.
The arm with the gun waved her back into the room. Laura couldn't see who it was, she could only tell it was a man's hand gripping a rather large, black gun, which just happened to be aimed right between her eyes.
Slowly, she moved back into the bedroom, keeping a close eye on the gun.
The man stepped from the blackness of the closet into the odd orange light of the bedroom.
"Laura?" Remington said, instantly lowering the gun.
Laura's eyes got wide, but her hands remained in the air for a few more seconds. "Mr. Steele?" She blinked. "Mr. Steele!"
She was in his arms faster than she had ever moved in her life.
"Oh, thank God," she said, hugging him tightly. "Thank God."
He put his arms around her, trying to deal with the gun in his hand.
Laura rested her head against his chest, partly in utter relief to see him, and partly to hear his heartbeat--just to be sure. She held him for a long while. "I thought I'd lost you forever," she whispered.
Remington didn't say a word, he just returned her hug.
"You owe me a big explanation," she said, looking up to him.
Remington didn't speak. He just lowered his head to hers, meeting her lips gently.
Laura had to fight inside to remain in control of her situation. After all she had been though, she was nearly willing to drop her guard and let the moment happen. Even if it did mean borrowing Jarvis' bed. But, eventually, her mind took over. She broke the kiss. "Come on, we've got to get out of here," she said breathlessly to Remington. She moved from his embrace and started toward the living room. Remington hesitated. "Aren't you coming?" She asked.
"Uh, yes," he said, pulling himself back with a shake of his head. "Just let me put this away." He flashed the gun in the air.
Laura smiled and exited the room. She was bending over the chair to retrieve her hat and clipboard when Remington appeared behind her. He slipped his left arm around her body, gently pulling her to him.
Laura stepped back willingly. She raised her eyes to his.
"Please forgive me, Laura," he said.
She let out a small sigh and raised her hand to his forearm.
"It's going to be tough," she said.
Slowly, a pained look crossed Remington's face.
"What is it?" Laura asked.
"I'm very sorry, Laura," he said.
Suddenly, Remington tightened his arm around her, pinning her arms to her sides. He covered her mouth and nose with a dampened cloth.
Laura hadn't expected an assault, and she found herself unable to respond for split second. "What are you doing?" She attempted to scream through the cloth Remington held tight against her face. Her eyes widened as she tried to struggle against his force.
In a matter of moments, Laura was fighting for consciousness. The room was growing darker, and her body started to shut itself down. Laura slipped into blackness, still being held tightly in Remington's arms.
Laura slowly became aware of the fact that she was lying face-down on a very lumpy mattress. Her body felt like a sand bag, and it took a great deal of effort to even open her eyes. The first thing she saw was a gray cinder block wall.
"Where the hell am I?" She groaned.
Forcing herself to a sitting position, Laura tried to focus her eyes on the room. Things were a blur for a few seconds, then it became clear. She was in a jail cell.
With a lot of effort, she got to her feet. She was dizzy, but able to make her way to the bars.
"Hey!" She called. "Somebody!"
Moments later, a female officer strolled in. "Finally sleep it off?" She stated. "You certainly tied one on. We don't often get thieves who pass out on the job."
Laura just looked at her. "What are you talking about?"
"You've been charged with breaking and entering. We were waiting to process you until you woke up."
It all flooded back to her. Laura gripped the bars.
"I've got to speak with Detective Jarvis in homicide."
"Lady, I seriously doubt he wants to speak with you."
"Just get him!" Laura demanded.
The officer shrugged. "I'll go see if he's still here. But don't expect much." She strolled off.
Laura wandered back to the cot and sat down. She rested her head in her hands and closed her eyes briefly...
Laura snapped awake when Jarvis yelled her name for the fifth time.
"Geeze, Holt, you've really screwed up this time," he said, looking at her and shaking his head.
Laura just stared at him. "I saw him, Jarvis. In your house. I know he's alive."
"Miss Holt, you were found flat on your back in my living room smelling like a vineyard. Whatever, or whoever, you think you saw is just a bit of your over-active, alcohol-soaked imagination."
"I'm not drunk, Detective. Mr. Steele knocked me out."
Jarvis looked at her. "You want me to believe a dead man slipped you a mickey?"
"He's not dead!" Laura yelled at him.
"Miss Holt, I checked the morgue myself just a couple hours ago. And I assure you, there is a body there. Mr. Steele is gone."
Laura scowled at him. "No, he's not. And I'm getting really tired of whatever it is you two are pulling."
"Miss Holt...Laura...I know different people deal with grief in different ways, but all this denial isn't healthy." He paused a moment. "You know, I really feel sorry for Mildred. She’s absolutely hysterical over all of this. I hated to be the one to inform her that you were arrested for breaking into my house."
"How long have I been here?"
"About six hours."
'Tell you what," Jarvis started, "I'll drop the charges. Just, please, accept the facts. Steele is gone. Get yourself some professional help."
Mildred arrived at the police station within an hour. She lead Laura out to the Rabbit, and closed the door behind her.
"I saw him, Mildred," Laura said, staring off into space. "Mr. Steele was the one who did this to me."
Mildred passed a concerned glance at her, then returned to watching the road.
"He's not dead, Mildred. I'm not going crazy."
Mildred licked her lips and prepared to speak. "Miss Holt...I don't exactly know how to tell you this."
"Tell me what?"
Mildred paused for a long moment. "After Jarvis called about you, I went back to the morgue this afternoon...just to be sure," she said.
Laura looked at her.
"Mr. Steele’s body was in there."
Laura's eyes filled with tears. "It's not him, I tell you! He's alive!"
"Miss Holt," she began, putting her hand on Laura's, "I want to believe you. I really do. I love the boss almost as much as you do. But...maybe...you're wrong. From what I've seen, he's dead."
"Then how do you explain what happened to me, huh?"
Mildred gave her a pitiful look.
"I wasn't drunk! And I'm not cracking up!" She looked at Mildred, the tears welling up again. She paused for a long moment. *I’m not crazy. I know what I saw, damnit! At least...* she mentally cringed. Maybe she was too tired, maybe the stress was getting to her. Maybe Mildred was right and she was wrong. *Maybe I am going nuts.* When she finally spoke again, there was a new distance in her voice. "Do you think I've completely lost it, Mildred?"
"I think you need some rest," Mildred responded. "I can count on one hand the number of hours of sleep you've had in the last couple days."
Laura nodded. Indeed, she was completely exhausted. Even the nap at the police station didn't help. "Okay," she finally said. "I'll go to bed." She forced a smile to her face. "Maybe I can get my head screwed back on straight."
Mildred patted her hand. "Good for you, hon. If you need anything, give me a call."
The two sat in silence the rest of the way to Laura's loft.
Laura stood in front of her bathroom mirror. "Laura, you look like hell," she told her image.
Her image just looked back at her with tired eyes.
She took a very long, very hot shower. After sufficiently scrubbing away the grime of the jail, she dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. It wasn't exactly high fashion, but she didn't particularly care at the moment.
It suddenly occurred to her that she was extremely hungry. She went to the kitchen and brewed up a cup of tea, and proceeded to scrounge through the fridge for something to eat.
She returned to the living room with her tea and a sandwich. As she ate, she struggled to get a grip on reality.
“What the hell is going on with you, Laura?” she asked herself. “Do you believe Mildred or do you believe what you saw?”
She raised the sandwich to take a bite and noticed Remington’s bracelet slide up her arm. “I saw you,” she said to the bracelet, mentally transposing the metal for Remington. “It *had* to be you.”
*But Mildred...* Laura closed her eyes and they started to burn from the lack of sleep and from the forming tears. *What did you really see, Mildred?* She opened her eyes, though she could see nothing but a blur. “What did *I* really see?”
She took a bite of the sandwich, forcing herself to eat, though her stomach was protesting. She managed to swallow the bite before the lump in her throat got too big.
Though she didn’t want to admit it to herself, things had gotten to her—gotten past her full-body armor and into her mental strong-hold. She desperately tried to make things fit, but in her current state, nothing made sense. Even her sanity was in question. And that was the one thing Laura couldn’t handle.
Laura's body shuddered at that knowledge and the tears started to flow uncontrollably. She pulled her legs up to her chest and huddled in the corner of her couch.
“He can’t be dead...” she said to herself. *But what about Mildred?* “He can’t be dead...” *But what about Mildred?* “He can’t be dead. He can’t be dead.”
It became a mantra. She repeated it over and over out loud, trying to convince herself it was true, while the detective in her did nothing but remind her of what Mildred had told her.
Laura cried herself into a fitful sleep that night.
* Laura stood, gazing down at the pile of freshly-turned soil. Several bouquets of flowers lay against the small mound, and the leaves on the stems blew gently in the breeze. The grave was without a headstone, but the wooden stake in the ground read Lot #12767, Remington Steele.
*The breeze blew her hair gently, and the silence of the graveyard pressed hard against her. For a very long time, Laura just stood, her eyes clouding over. With a sniff, she eventually lifted her head. "This makes no sense, Mr. Steele," she said out loud, wanting to express her confusion about the case, about his death -- or the cover-up -- to someone. "What have we gotten into?"*
*That strange, sinking feeling crept into her stomach once again. "Rather..." She stared at the grave. "What have I gotten into?"*
*The silence of the surroundings trapped her again, the emptiness hollowing her soul. "I think I've just had a realization, Mr. Steele," she began. "You're gone. Not necessarily dead, but you are gone -- out of my life, at any rate." She paused to wipe a tear that had managed to escape. "Excuse me. I didn't plan on starting this again." She collected herself and continued. "Whatever your motives, I'm not going to question them. Because I get the point. I chased you once before, I'm not going to do it again."*
*It was becoming difficult for her to talk, her words were pinched, and her throat just didn't seem to want to work. "I can't force you to stay with me. Although I had hoped..." Her voice cut itself off with a sharp whimper.*
*Laura took a deep breath and started again. "I don't suppose it matters that you mean more to me that anything else in this world." She stopped, the tears needed wiping away again.*
*Laura dried her eyes for what she hoped would be the last time, straightened her back and squared her shoulders. "Well, Mr. Steele, I guess this is good-bye." She took a tentative step away from the grave. "I just want you to know that I do lov..." Laura closed her eyes and bit her lower lip. "No... never mind. It doesn't matter. Because you're gone. And I'm here...talking to a pile of dirt."*
The absurdity of it all struck her. Laura felt herself start to frown as she was yanked back to consciousness. She sat up with a sudden jolt.
Once she grabbed hold of reality, Laura exhaled, assured that she was still on the couch in her loft. Running a hand through her hair, she shifted into a sitting position. It made absolutely no sense to her. She knew what had happened to her at Jarvis' house. She knew the Chapman case was the root of the problem. She knew Remington was alive...no matter what Mildred claimed to have seen.
*He's in danger and needs my help. But how can I help him while he’s hiding?*
Then, even though the images from her dream had vanished the instant she opened her eyes, the gist of the message hit her. *I'm going about it all wrong, aren't I?* She smiled, rising to her feet. She checked her watch. It was just after midnight.
Laura raced to her bedroom closet to grab a jacket. "Chapman is what I need!" She picked up her purse and made a run for the front door, digging out her keys in the process.
She was half-way down the first flight of stairs before she remembered Mildred had her car. Her spirits were only dampened for a few minutes before she decided to call a cab to retrieve the Rabbit.
Laura made one stop after "borrowing" her Rabbit from Mildred. She dashed into her office and picked up the reconstituted file on the Marie Chapman case and the photos of Jack Chapman she had taken a week earlier. She then drove to Chapman's house and waited.
With the dim light of the nearby street lamp, Laura reviewed her limited file and jotted a few more notes on the folder.
"So, Mr. Chapman," Laura muttered, studying one of her photos of the man, "Jarvis seems to think you're a drug kingpin." She wrote *drugs/kingpin* on the folder. "If that's true, it seems to fit what Marie told me." She wrote *murdered wife.* "You killed her. I can probably prove that, you know."
Suddenly, Laura's breath caught in her throat. "That's what this is about." She stared at the photo. "You knew Marie hired us, didn't you? You wanted my files because I could prove you killed her." Laura looked out to Chapman's house. "Only it wasn't me...you thought it was Mr. Steele." She frowned, angry with Chapman, Remington, Jarvis and especially herself. She slammed her fist against the steering wheel. "Damn! How could I have missed this? Stupid..."
Before she had time to further punish herself, a set of headlights came on in front of Chapman's house. The car moved down the driveway and turned onto the street, heading away from Laura. Instantly, she threw the photos and case file into the passenger seat and started her engine. "I'm not losing you this time, Chapman," she vowed, falling in a marginal distance behind.
Almost 45 minutes later, Chapman's Mercedes halted outside a warehouse somewhere north of Pasadena. Laura pulled to a stop up the road and switched off her headlights. From her vantage point, she could see Chapman emerge from the passenger side of the car and a taller, more muscular man get out from the driver's side. The two went into an office that adjoined the building.
Laura gave the two men a few minutes to get to business before she gathered her lock-pick kit and flashlight and approached the building. Light poured out the single window, and Laura could see the men as they paced. Ducking, she crept up next to the wall, just below the glass. For several minutes she attempted to pick up what they were saying, but she could hear nothing.
Giving up on learning anything that way, Laura made her way to the rear of the structure, wincing as he feet crunched on the gravel. Once there, she surveyed her situation. She was alone in almost total darkness. A single, dim light hung over a back door. Next to her was a trash dumpster, above that a row of windows.
Laura pulled herself up on the bin, balancing on the rim. She edged her way to the wall and stood on her toes to peek inside the building. All was dark.
Stumped, she pushed away from the window to again study the outside of the building. No obvious means of entry was available. She resigned herself to picking the lock. It wasn't her favorite thing to do. Getting into Jarvis' place so fast had been something of a fluke. For a cop, he had a pretty pathetic security system. Laura suspected Chapman wouldn't be as sloppy.
Laura jumped down from the dumpster. At the door she dropped to her knees and pulled out her pick. *One more time...* She inserted the tool and started to move it around. *Please don't let there be an alarm... please don't let there be an alarm...* She repeated the phrase in her head the entire time it took her to get the lock to give. With her eyes closed, she turned the knob. Cautiously, she nudged the door open, ready to run at the first sound of a siren.
Laura sighed then slipped inside.
Though the warehouse was dark, she could make out the metal shelving units that made several aisles in front of her. Laura clicked on her flashlight. The shelves contained plastic boxes. She approached the nearest shelf and opened the first box she came to.
*Doesn't look much like cocaine.* She dipped her hand into the container and came up with a fistful of computer chips. Laura studied the tiny processors, a frown crinkling her brow. She worked her jaw around a little as she thought.
Dropping the chips back, she lifted the lid off another. This time she came up with an assortment of memory boards. Laura peered around the warehouse, counting the other shelving units. There must have been twenty different rows of them. The ones closest to her had plastic boxes, but the ones further in held larger components. Through her search, Laura found modems, printers, monitors, software, keyboards, cords, wires and mice. And many of the processing units stored on the shelves were in various stages of being either torn apart or put together...Laura couldn't really tell which it was.
"Well, you're definitely not into drugs, are you Mr. Chapman?" Laura whispered to herself.
She was about to continue her search when the chain on the garage door sprang to life. Laura dove for cover behind the nearest shelf. A man stepped in, clicking on a bank of overhead lights. Shortly after, a black van pulled slowly into the warehouse. The door was closed once the vehicle pulled to a stop.
The area where Laura hid remained shadowed. She crouched low in the darkened corner, but strained to maintain a clear view of the van.
A second man emerged and joined the other at the back of the vehicle. They started to unload what appeared to be central processing units. As they worked, Chapman and his associate joined them.
Laura inched forward for a better look. She noticed Chapman's right-hand-man had a large, white bandage on his cheek and his eyes darted around the warehouse nervously. She watched as he scanned the area, his eyes slowly traveling over each shelving unit, closer to where Laura crouched.
To her horror, the man squinted in her direction. Laura's breath stuck. *He didn't see me. He couldn't have seen me. It's dark... he didn't actually see me.* Laura held her breath, watching the man intently.
Eventually, he continued his visual search, his eyes never coming back to Laura.
Gratefully, she exhaled.
"Hey, Boss," the man said to Chapman. Again, Laura tensed. "I gotta go to the can."
Chapman waved him off and he turned, heading back into the office.
Laura closed her eyes briefly. *Thank you, God.*
"How'd it go tonight, gentlemen?" Chapman inquired, his lit cigarette bouncing on his lips.
"Without a hitch, Boss," one of the men reported.
"Excellent." Chapman went over to the table where the CPUs were being stacked. He ran his hand over the top of one of the machines. "Get these processed by tomorrow. We've got orders to fill."
"Yes, sir," the other said as he set another unit on the table.
Laura's mind raced. *No...this one is just a bit too big for me alone,* Laura decided. A call to Jarvis was probably in order, even though she wasn't keen on talking to him at the moment. Part of her was seething at the detective and at Mr. Steele for keeping her in the dark, yet there was a small part of her that understood the motives. Still... She grit her teeth determinedly. When this was all over she had a few things to set straight with a couple of overly-protective males.
Slowly, quietly, Laura rose to her feet and inched her way to the end of the unit. She would have to cross some open space to reach the door.
She waited, her body pressed tightly against a shelf. Cautiously, she peered out. Chapman and his two men had their backs to her. Laura darted for the exit. Scrambling into the alley, she didn't bother to shut the door behind her.
Laura's first running stride was immediately broken when she was grabbed from behind. A hand clamped over her mouth and a gunpressed into her temple.
"Shut up and don't move!" the man ordered in a hushed tone. He pulled her close to his body, dragging her into what little light there was. His hand still covering her mouth, he yanked her head around so he could get a look at her.
Laura saw the bandage on the man's face and knew it was Chapman's main man. She also noted the surprise on his face when their eyes met. It was the exact same look the police officer at the accident site had given her. Suddenly, he shoved her away.
"Get the hell out of here!" he ordered in a loud whisper. He reholstered his gun.
"Who are you?" Laura demanded. "How do you know me?"
"Shhhhhhhh!" The man waved his hands for her to keep quiet. "He'll hear you. Just get out of here while you're still alive."
"How do you know me?" Laura restated, lowering her voice a fraction.
"I don't! Consider yourself lucky I didn't blow your head off and get out of here." He turned away.
Then, it came to her. She'd seen him before...at the police station the first time Laura went to see Jarvis. He was the man leaving as she was going in.
"You're a cop!" she blurted out before she could stop herself. Of course he was a cop...and he was undercover. She'd blundered into the whole setup.
The man turned on her, grabbed her shoulders very firmly and walked her backwards out of the alley. A mixture of fear and anger filled his features. "I saw what Chapman did to your boss, Holt. Shot him in cold blood. He wouldn't hesitate to do the same to you. Jarvis warned you off, now I'm telling you. Stay away from Chapman or I'll personally put you so far out of commission that this'll all be a bad memory by the time yourecover." He shoved her onto the sidewalk.
In her head Laura knew the safest thing would be to do as he said, but there were still so many unanswered questions. She took a step toward him and the man yanked his gun out of its holster and cocked it.
"Last warning, Holt."
Laura backed away reluctantly.
"Good girl." He tucked his gun away again. "Now, go home." He turned around.
Laura turned too, only to come nose to nose with Chapman. "Not such a good girl," he stated, a gun wedged nicely into her ribs.
The officer swung back around, reaching for his gun. The butt of a semi-automatic rifle sent him face-first into the dirt.
Chapman chuckled with obvious satisfaction, then waved his two henchmen into action, while he reached into his pocket for a cigarette.
One of Chapman's goons removed the infiltrator's gun and bound his hands. The other grabbed Laura roughly. She and the unconscious officer were taken back inside the warehouse.
The smaller of Chapman's two men secured Laura's wrists tightly behind her and thrust her roughly to the cement floor. "Stay put," he growled, cocking his gun next to her temple for emphasis.
Laura sat perfectly still until he lowered the barrel away from her, though he didn't leave her side. A few feet in front of her, face down on the cement floor, was the unconscious policeman. Chapman stood over him, lighting another cigarette. The larger of Chapman's men joined his boss' side, a bucket of water in his hands.
"You ready for him, Boss?" the man asked.
Chapman made a smoke ring and nodded.
The man dumped water over the officer. "Time to wake up, Frankie," he laughed.
Sputtering, Frank regained consciousness. He opened his eyes a crack. Laura met his confused gaze. She could tell he realized what had happened as his eyes slipped back shut and he shook his head against the floor.
"I said, time to get up, Frankie." The man dropped the bucket and hoisted Frank up by his belt like a rag doll.
Frank's feet dangled below him momentarily before the man forced him to a standing position. Frank was shoved forward, his head bobbing up and down.
"Well, Mr. Moore," Chapman began, his ever-present cigarette bouncing on his lips once again, "or should I say Officer Moore?" He smiled broadly. "That wasn't a very nice thing to do. I trusted you."
Frank said nothing. Laura noted that his breathing had increased dramatically. She tried to pull against her restraints, receiving a slap upside her head from her guard in response. She scowled at him, then focused on the exchange between Chapman and Moore.
"Whatever shall I do with you?" Chapman continued, still smiling. "Oh...I know." He slammed his fist into Frank's stomach. The officer crumpled into the henchman's arms. Chapman flung his cigarette from his mouth. "Hold him up!"
Frank was dragged upright, only to be knocked back again by another blow, this time to his already-injured cheek. Chapman repeated this performance three more times before pulling his fist away in pain. "I seem to have cut my knuckle on your tooth, Mr. Moore," Chapman laughed. He patted Frank's bloody cheek tenderly. "You need to be more careful about things like that when you're getting a beating."
Laura had watched the exchange, trying unsuccessfully to free her hands the entire time. It didn't take a genius to figure exactly where Chapman was leading. She struggled against her bonds, her fingers tingling, her wrists aching.
"Let him loose," Chapman ordered.
Frank's captor released his grip, causing him to collapse against the cold cement again. His eyelids fluttered before his eyes rolled back, his body going limp. Laura felt a stab of guilt that her own rashness had brought the man to this fate.
Chapman stepped over the fallen man. He frowned. "This won't do." He poked at Frank with the toe of his shoe. Reaching into his coat, Chapman drew his gun. "How am I supposed to find any sport in this, Mr. Moore?" He cocked the trigger and pointed the weapon at Frank's head. Chapman hesitated, surveying the body on the floor in front of him. "Nope. Can't do it like this." He spun around. "You..."
Laura quit trying to free her wrists and stared at Chapman, hoping she didn't look as petrified as she felt.
Chapman waved his man away from Laura, a wide grin plastered on his face. "I should wait until he wakes up before I kill him, don't you think, Miss Holt?"
At the use of her name, Laura swallowed.
"It's only fair," he reasoned. "And much more sporting." Chapman bent down next to Laura, placing his pistol gently next to her left ear. "I had a hell of a good time chasing Mr. Steele. He gave me an excellent game." His gun was drawn slowly from Laura's ear to under her chin. She shuddered. "You really should have let this case go." Chapman pushed the muzzle into the soft flesh under her chin.
Laura stared defiantly at her captor, unwilling to give him the satisfaction of seeing the fear he'd generated. Chapman obviously hadn't been expecting this reaction and his face grew agitated. His finger shifted on the trigger and Laura finally closed her eyes.
She heard the gun fire and her body tensed. A second later, a heavy weight came crushing down on her. Realizing at once that she wasn't dead, her eyes snapped opened at the sound of more gun fire. Momentarily dumbfounded, she tried to sit up, totally unaware that Jack Chapman was lying dead in her lap or that his two toadies were taking cover from police bullets.
"Get down, Holt!"
That was Jarvis' voice yelling at her from somewhere in the warehouse. Laura shook her head. Behind her were Chapman's men firing at the police pouring in from both the office door and the garage door.
She slid distastefully out from under Chapman and managed to scoot over to the scant cover of a box. When the gunplay finally ended, Chapman and one of his men were dead, the other had surrendered. One officer was shot in the arm, two others had minor injuries from flying glass. Frank Moore would require several days in the hospital and hundreds of stitches to recover from his beating.
Jarvis approached Laura as she sat up. He squatted down beside her and quickly released her hands. His face was stony, and for the first time since Laura had met him, looked his age.
"You just couldn't stay out of it, could you?"
Laura knew most of his anger was justified. After all, she had botched his sting and nearly caused the death of one of his officers, but she wasn't willing to let go of her own anger yet. She shook her hands, trying to restore blood to her fingertips. "You knew about Chapman's 'business' long before all this."
"Yes," Jarvis answered. "That's why Frank was here. He's been on the inside for months."
Laura rubbed her wrists. "And you knew Chapman killed his wife."
"Yeah, but we couldn't prove it." Jarvis rose to his feet and helped Laura up. "You threw a big wrench into our operation. We had Frank start wearing a wire right after the incident with Mr. Steele. Things weren't supposed to go down like this. Chapman was in charge, but there were more of his men we were planning to nab. They're getting away now."
Laura turned away from Jarvis. She watched as two paramedics lifted Frank onto a gurney. He had his neck in a brace, blood-soaked bandages on his face and an I.V. in his arm. She swallowed back a lump in her throat. "If you had just told me..." she whispered.
"I couldn't," Jarvis insisted. He regarded her intently. "I’d made a promise."
Laura entered Remington Steele Investigations with the morning paper in hand. Since it was after 9 a.m., she had gone directly to the office as soon as she finished at the police station, stopping only to pick up a newspaper.
"Did you read this?" she asked, dropping the paper to Mildred's desk.
Mildred glanced up from her computer. "Haven't had a chance yet. Why?" Mildred noticed Laura's attire and obvious lack of sleep. "What happened to you?"
"I'll tell you later, just read the headline." Laura pointed to a story just below the fold on page one.
"Computer theft ring cracked by police," Mildred read. She looked up to Laura again. "Chapman?"
"Chapman. And guess who is quoted in the article."
"Your friend and mine," Laura grumbled.
It was then that both women heard the office door open.
"Speak of the devil," Mildred whispered.
Laura pulled herself away from Mildred's desk and folded her arms across her chest. "Well, Detective," she began, "quite the disappearing act you pulled on me last night. Just couldn't wait to spill it all to the press, I see."
Jarvis shook his head. "Miss Holt..." he started, but apparently thought better of it. "...Uh... I came here to offer my apologies for what you -- and Miss Krebs -- have gone through the last few days."
"Wonderful. We really appreciate the sentiment. But, if you don't mind, Mildred and I have an office to run."
Jarvis looked her square in the eyes. "You were extremely lucky you didn't wind up dead, Laura."
She stared back at him. "You've pretty much taken my life away, Detective," she said coldly. She had been confident Remington would show up at the station last night, or that Jarvis would explain the whole story to her. But, there had been no word from either man; a fact that completely frustrated her. Laura knew Remington wasn't dead, but after not seeing him, she feared he had taken an easy escape route. Killing off her "Remington Steele" would be the perfect way to slip out of her life permanently and very publicly. She felt her eyes start to sting. "If you'll excuse me, I have work to do." She turned and fled into her office, shutting the door tightly.
Jarvis stood gazing at the closed door. He blinked, then turned to Mildred, whose sorrow was obvious. Jarvis pivoted and headed for the exit. He opened the door. But instead of leaving, he held it wider.
Remington Steele walked in.
Mildred sprang to her feet. "Oh, my, God," she gasped, her eyes wide. "Boss!"
"Hello, Mildred," he said, his familiar smirk on his face.
"Oh...Mr. Steele..." Her voice cracked. "...How? I saw you. Twice!"
Remington approached her and took her in his arms. "It's complicated, Mildred," he said, releasing her from the hug. "Suffice to say, I did what had to be done."
A tear rolled down Mildred's cheek. "You're going to be in some serious trouble with Miss Holt," she advised him, smiling. "You might have been better off dead."
Remington gripped Mildred's shoulder. "You're probably right."
Mildred looked at Jarvis. "You knew about this the entire time." Jarvis nodded guiltily and Mildred returned to Remington. "Did you really knock Miss Holt out?"
Remington lowered his eyes and nodded slightly. Mildred was about to respond when the click of Laura's office door stopped her. Remington released Mildred's shoulder and turned to face the opening door.
Laura stood several feet away from Remington, staring at him. She didn't move.
Remington extended his arms slightly, offering himself to her.
Laura wiped her eyes with her index finger, then stepped toward him.
"Laura," he began quietly, "I'm sorry about all of this."
Laura stood silently in front of him for a long while, scrutinizing him thoroughly. *So, you're back from the dead. And now I'm just supposed to melt in your arms like I did before. Well, to hell with that!*
"You bastard," she stated evenly, her voice cold and accusing. Without another word, Laura shoved past him and out of the lobby.
Laura heard the knock, but chose to ignore it. It would be him.
He would try to win his way back into her heart with roses and a fancy dinner, or lunch, as the hour dictated. But she was angry with him, damn it. No, furious was the word. And a bottle of Dom Peringnon would not fix it.
The knock came again. Laura raised her eyes to the door and stared at it. With a large sigh, she rose to her feet and left her corner of the couch.
She gave the door a heave, and slid it to the right. In the hall stood Remington. No flowers, no champagne. Somewhat surprised, Laura raised her eyebrows.
"Hi," he greeted, a worried smile on his face.
Laura tilted her head slightly to acknowledge his greeting.
Remington's smile faded. "May I come in?"
"Why not," Laura muttered. Turning, she shuffled to the couch.
Remington stepped in and slid the door shut. "Laura, I owe you an explanation," he began, taking the chair nearest to her.
"You're damn straight, you do," she shot back.
"Honestly, I didn't want to hurt you. I only did it to save your life."
"Oh, sure. Fine job of that," she grumbled.
"Jack Chapman found out that his wife was having us...you...look into his past. When his wife turned up dead, and he called to threaten me..."
Laura snapped her eyes up to meet his. "Chapman called you?"
"And you didn't tell me?"
"Laura, please." He took her hand in his own. She pulled it from him. Remington worked his jaw around a bit. He knew he was in trouble. "He wanted our files," he finally started again. "And he wanted me to drop the case. I called Jarvis because he was the one investigating Mrs. Chapman's death."
"We decided to hand over the files. Jarvis was going to arrests him then." He stopped to take a breath. "Well, things didn't exactly go according to plan. Because of the rain that night, the police got hung up on the back roads...mud and allthat. They tipped Chapman off to their presence. He wasn't very pleased that I tried to cross him. He was shooting at me as we drove up the mountain. I got ahead of him just a little bit, and..." Remington's mouth quirked slightly. "I didn't realize I lost my watch when I jumped out of the car. My main priority was hiding. When he saw the car go over the cliff, he assumed -- as did everyone else -- that he'd killed me. Since I didn't have a lot of time to plan, I talked Jarvis into keeping me dead."
Laura looked at him, a frown wrinkling her brow. "You did all of this without telling me?" She wasn't yelling, but she may well have been, for the words chilled Remington's heart.
"Laura, Chapman was ready to take out the entire office, not to mention half the police department to get me off his tail."
"You weren't even on his tail!" She got up and paced back and forth a bit. She stopped and looked down at him. "What the hell were you thinking? We're a team! Your troubles are mine, too!"
Remington stood up to face her. "Laura, I didn't want you to be killed! And I didn't have time to come up with a better scenario. As long as everyone thought I was dead, you'd be safe."
"And just how did you manage to show up in the morgue--dead?" Laura asked. "Not once, but twice?!"
"Well..." Remington began, wincing a little, "remember the Devil's Playgound?"
"The first time. When you were there. And believe me, that stuff gives you one hell of a headache when you wake up."
"And the second time?"
"After I...well, after I turned you over to Jarvis, I went back to the morgue. Jarvis then suggested to Mildred that she make sure I was still there. I wasn't drugged that time. Mildred barely spent five seconds looking at me."
Laura shook her head. "All of this to throw me off the trail? Confuse me? Why? I saw you at Jarvis' house, for crying out loud!"
"I had hoped Jarvis would keep you locked up for awhile. Unfortunately, he didn't. So, yes, I suppose it was meant to confuse you and throw you off the trail. But, no. You can't give up on anything. You have to keep digging. If Jarvis had arrived at that warehouse two seconds later, Chapman would have killed you in cold blood." Remington looked deeply into her eyes for a long time. "I couldn't live with that."
Laura was silenced for a few seconds. Finally, she spoke. "But it's okay for me to live with the fact that you're gone?" She continued to gaze into his eyes, but was soon unable to maintain her posture. "Do you realize what I went through?" She stepped away and returned to the couch. "To be told you died in a car wreck," she went on quietly. "To not want to believe it. And when I finally do accept the fact you're gone, I figure out it's all a big hoax. But do you think I can convince anyone? No! Hell, even Mildred thought I was losing my mind." Laura couldn't look at him. "Maybe I was losing it."
Remington winced slightly at her confession. He walked to the couch and sat down beside her. Laura trembled at his touch when he put his arm around her shoulders. "You're not losing your mind, Laura. And I'm sorry if I made you feel that way."
She leaned her head against his chest, listening to his breathing and the reverberation of his voice as he spoke.
"When you walked into Jarvis' house, I was ready to give it all up. Even at that point I was tired of hiding. And to have you there in my arms...well...taking you out of the picture was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. I know there's no way I can make up for what I've put you through, Laura. I'm not even sure where to start. Just, please, realize I only did it tosave the most important thing in my life."
Laura blinked, her eyes glistening with unshed tears.
Remington put his index finger under her chin and tilted her head back gently so he could look at her. "I'm so very sorry, Laura."
"If you ever pull another stunt like this," Laura said, forcing a weak smile to her face, "I'll kill you myself."
Remington smiled back. "I promise I won't ever die without telling you first."
Laura chuckled softly, and snuggled her head against his chest again. For a few moments, they sat, arms around one another, not saying a word.
It was Laura who finally moved, drawing herself up the length of Remington's body until their faces were scant inches apart. She hovered there, and could feel the warmth of his breath on her face.
He moved his chin, coaxing her to come to him. It didn't take much encouragement for Laura to grant his request. She met his lips willingly, lingering over the softness.
Remington wrapped his arms around her tightly, reclining himself into the cushions of the couch, taking Laura with him. They settled in together, drowning in a deep kiss, both hoping Mildred wouldn't call.