A STEELE'S GOT TO DO WHAT A STEELE'S GOT TO DO
Summary: Laura and Remington try to locate a stolen ring. In response to the Written in Steele Springboard "Lab Results."
Author's Note: Thanks to my betas, especially BillA1...who kindly betas my work even though he's not really into RS.
"To two years," Remington said, lifting his flute of champagne.
Laura clinked her glass to his. "Two wonderful years."
"About that," Remington said as she sipped. "Here." He reached into his jacket pocket.
Laura's breath caught.
He pulled out an envelope.
"What's this?" she asked, swallowing her disappointment.
"If you'd get those signed by Monday..."
"Immigration?" She unfolded the documents and her heart sank. "Divorce papers?"
"Yes," he answered. "We've accomplished what we needed to accomplish. No sense in dragging this thing out any longer than necessary."
Her eyes stung. "I don't understand."
"Come now, Laura. Clarissa was a scam. What made you think you were any different?"
"I thought that we...that you...I know I certainly..."
He handed her a pen.
"But I love you!" she blurted.
"Feelings," he said, "nothing more than feelings."
Laura's perception tilted. "What?"
"Try to forget your feelings of love."
"No. Don't." The papers slipped from Laura's fingers. "Stop!"
Laura sprang upright, gasping for air. She looked around the darkened room, taking a moment for the disorientation to subside and her heart to slow.
Beside her Remington still slumbered. At least she hadn't actually cried out.
She raked her fingers through her hair and glanced at the clock. Four-fifteen. She sighed and slid from under the covers. At least this time she'd managed to almost get a full night's rest. Going back to sleep, she knew, would be impossible.
Laura got to her feet and fumbled in the moonlight toward the bathroom. As silently as she could, so as not to disturb Remington, she clicked the door shut and began her morning routine.
In the shower she sighed as the hot water loosened her shoulder muscles.
Less than three months into the bogus marriage and she'd had nightmares the whole time. Sometimes Norman Keyes would chase her or that damned tuna in a tux would make an appearance. The most frequent and most disturbing ones, though, were like tonight's -- where Remington simply walked away.
Admittedly, there were still plenty of issues for them to work out. Crossing the line into the bedroom, while highly enjoyable, hadn't changed their mutually cautious natures. The two-year countdown on their relationship forced Laura to live in the "now," to ignore the uncertain future.
Uninhibited Laura had absolutely no problem enjoying the sex while saying to hell with the future. It was liberating to finally be able to let their after-dinner kisses progress to their long-denied conclusion. It was comfortable to slide into bed next to Remington after a hard day's work and let him massage her neck. It was wonderful to roll over on a Saturday morning, leisurely explore his body, and then go out for brunch.
For Practical Laura, though, the entire situation was a complete mess. Emotionally, she was in way too deep. She acknowledged that the first morning she'd woken up in his arms at Ashford Castle. There was no way they could ever go back, yet thus far there'd been no talk of the future beyond their post-wedding quasi-agreement to divorce once INS was satisfied. So, Practical Laura buried her feelings, just as she had for the past four years.
After dressing, she went to Remington's bedside and placed a hand on his head.
"I'll see you at work," she whispered then kissed his cheek.
He mumbled, shifted and settled back into his pillow.
Just before eleven, Laura exited her office, a file folder in hand. "Mildred, any word on that Arizona license plate we were having Allen check into?"
"Nothing yet, hon," her secretary-slash-apprentice reported. "I'm betting it's a fake."
Laura nodded. "Probably. But that's why we have our contact at the DMV to check these things." She smiled and handed Mildred the file. "Keep me updated, but you handle the Fisher case from here on out."
Mildred's face lit up. "Really?"
The Fisher skip-trace wasn't something Laura would normally accept as a case. However, with Mildred needing to get her teeth into some legitimate cases for her apprenticeship, Laura had taken a few "simple" investigations that she could hand off.
"I have full confidence in you, Mildred."
Mildred snatched up the file and started reading. "Terrible thing for a man to do. Don't you think? To up and leave, to not take responsibility for his child."
Laura shrugged. "According to the ex-Mrs. Fisher, her husband never knew she was pregnant. He just wanted to get out of alimony payments."
"Once we find him, maybe he'll want to do right by his daughter."
"We can only hope," Laura said.
"Good morning, ladies."
Laura's head snapped up.
"Boss?" Mildred gasped.
"Something wrong, Mildred?" He stepped over to Laura and deposited a quick kiss to her parted lips. "Mrs. Steele."
Laura's eyes widened. "What are you doing here?"
"I work here. Though that appears to have taken you both by surprise."
"You should already be at the mayor's symposium and luncheon," Laura snapped.
Remington adjusted his tie. "That was today?"
Laura rolled her eyes. "Mildred, have Fred bring the car around." She took Remington's arm and led him back through the office doors. "I told you about this last week."
"You said it was next Wednesday."
"It was next Wednesday. Last Wednesday."
They arrived at the elevator and Remington punched the down button as Laura straightened his collar and dusted his jacket.
"I hate going to these things," he grumbled as he turned a cufflink.
"All for the good of the agency, Mr. Steele," she said. "You look good."
"Thank you." Remington smiled. He put his hands on her hips and drew her close. "You look lovely." He moved to kiss her, but he pulled back. His eyes scanned her face. "Are you feeling okay?"
"I'm fine." Laura stretched up and completed the kiss.
He pulled away again and frowned. "You look exhausted."
The elevator doors slid open.
"We'll discuss it later," she said, shoving him toward the elevator.
"Mr. Steele! Business!"
His cheek muscles flexed. "Of course, Miss Holt," he growled. "Business comes first. As always."
He stepped in the elevator.
The doors slid shut, but not before Laura heard him hiss, "Damn it!"
Laura sat at her desk doing some preliminary checking on another skip-trace she'd eventually give to Mildred. It wasn't that she was particularly interested in dong the set-up on the case; rather, she just didn't want to think about how she was going to explain her lack of sleep to Remington.
He was already angry. He'd called her "Miss Holt" and that only happened when she was too "business" for his liking.
Of course, as far as clients were concerned, "Miss Holt" was her name. There'd been too many smarmy looks from male clients who thought she'd screwed the boss to get her job, too many sympathetic-yet-insulting comments from female clients who didn't respect her abilities. She'd quickly grown tired of defending herself to strangers -- defending something that wasn't legitimate to begin with. Besides, stumbling over the Holt-Steele hyphenization got old quick. It was more sensible to go back to "Miss Holt" while at work.
The intercom buzzed, jarring her. She picked up the handset.
"There's a Mr. Alec Hamm here. He doesn't have an appointment, but he says it's an emergency."
"Show him in to Mr. Steele's office, Mildred."
"You got it."
"You join us, too."
"Absolutely," Mildred said. Laura could hear the pride in her voice.
A few moments later, Laura stepped through the connecting door. She spotted a tall, red-haired man studying the photos on the office wall.
The man turned and smiled. He was young, but his beard made his exact age difficult to judge.
"Hello, my lovely," he said, a thick Irish accent coloring his words.
Laura shook off a feeling of déjà vu. Too many Irish accents from Ashford Castle still rang in her ears. "I'm Laura Holt and this is Mildred Krebs."
"Mildred Krebs," he said, taking Mildred's hand and kissing it.
"Oh, my," Mildred chuckled.
Hamm approached Laura and took her hand, kissing it also. "Laura Holt. A pleasure to meet you." He glanced up. His eyes were so blue as to be distracting. Laura blinked.
"I have come to you with a problem," he said, without letting go of her hand.
Laura blinked again, coming back to herself. She extracted her hand. "How can we help you, Mr. Hamm?" She indicated for him to sit.
Hamm sank onto the couch, while Laura and Mildred each took a chair.
"Will Mr. Steele be joining us?"
Laura ground her teeth and forced a smile. "Not presently. He's out of the office on business."
"Very well. I'm quite certain you're both more than qualified to handle the job, Miss Holt, Miss Krebs."
He gave her a look that told her he meant what he'd said. Laura tried very hard to not look stunned.
Hamm leaned forward. "The Ascot-Winston Museum was broken into last night. My ring was stolen."
"I see," Laura said.
"Are the police looking into this?" Mildred questioned.
Laura smiled at her enthusiasm.
Hamm wrinkled his nose and swiped his hand through the air. "Worthless! They have investigated the scene and reported that the thief left numerous items, but no fingerprints, no real clues. To quote the investigating officer, 'we have little to go on.' Is this the way the American system works? Police who give up so easily?"
Laura nodded sympathetically.
"That ring has been in my family for generations. Instead of having it sit in a bank vault, I thought it should be on display. To earn its keep, as it were. That's why I am holding myself responsible for its loss, Miss Holt. I should have made certain the museum was properly secured. I was lax and my family has paid the price."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Hamm."
"I would very much like for you to locate the ring and return it to me. I can't have my mother knowing of its loss. I would be disowned."
"I understand." Laura smiled, "The Remington Steele Agency will be happy to take the case."
"We'll get on the investigation immediately," Mildred assured.
"Thank you, Miss Holt, Miss Krebs."
Laura stood up and Hamm followed.
"We'll need a photo of the ring," Mildred said, further impressing Laura.
"Certainly. I can have one for you later today."
"Good." Laura extended her hand.
Again, Hamm took it and kissed it instead of shaking it. "Forgive me for being forward, Miss Holt, but I'm a visitor to this country and I don't know many people." He pinned her with his clear blue eyes and crooked grin. "I would be honored if you'd join me for dinner this evening."
"Thank you, Mr. Hamm," Laura said as politely as she could, "but, no, I can't."
Hamm nodded. "Another time, perhaps." He exited the office.
Mildred closed the door behind him then turned to Laura. "Did you see those eyes?" She fanned herself. "Oh, my!"
"If you don't want to have dinner with him, I'm free!"
"A girl can dream, can't she?"
Laura's stomach twisted. Another blue-eyed man sprang to mind. "Yeah, Mildred, a girl can dream."
An hour later, Laura and Mildred met with Richard Adams, curator of the Ascot-Winston Museum.
"The police are already investigating. I don't know why Hamm thinks he needed to hire his own detectives," Adams complained.
"I'm not at liberty to discuss our client's motivations, Mr. Adams," Laura said. "Our only interest is recovering the ring."
Adams blotted his brow with a handkerchief. "I don't need this stress. Do you know what kind of negative publicity this can generate for the museum? We spent millions on that last ad campaign. We can't afford to have bad press."
"At the Remington Steele Agency discretion is our watchword," Mildred assured.
Laura smirked. Mildred had spent entirely too much time listening to Remington.
"Well, I certainly hope so!" Adams snapped. "I don't want the entire world knowing we were broken into."
He led them to the room where the ring had been on display. A couple police officers were still poking around. Laura noticed the damaged vent and the perfect circle cut from the glass case.
"No other clues?" Laura asked.
"You're kidding, right?" Adams snorted. "The idiot left all his tools. Police have already picked them up, but they were all over the place. There was still a rope dangling down from the roof of the building until about thirty minutes ago."
"What kind of security does this place have?" Mildred asked.
Adams puffed his chest out. "I can't disclose that kind of information."
"Of course not," Laura said, "but was anybody here during the break-in? Security officers? Do you have cameras with video tape copies?"
"The police already have our only copies of the tapes," said Adams. "As for security officers, that'd be Billy and Walter. They'll be back on duty tonight at eight. Right after I discuss this incident with them."
"I assume the museum has insurance for theft?" Mildred probed.
"Certainly. There's really nothing to worry about. The ring was insured for ten million. Hamm will get his money, if that's what he's worried about."
"Ten million?" Laura questioned.
"Ten million," Adams confirmed.
Mildred blew out a breath. "That's got to be one hell of a nice ring."
Laura had sent Mildred home for the day at five. She could handle the interviews with the security guards herself and there was no need for them both to sit around waiting until eight.
She wrote the case notes, highlighting the ten million dollar insurance claim. Mildred was right; it had to be one hell of a ring. She was very curious now to see it, to have Remington's "professional" assessment.
She heard a tap on the outer office door.
"Forget your key?" she asked as she exited her office.
Her eyebrows raised the sight of Alec Hamm instead of Remington on the other side of the glass door. She bent to unlock the door.
"Mr. Hamm. I didn't expect to see you again today."
"I brought that photo you requested." He handed her a glossy 8x10.
"Thank you." She stood aside and waved him in. "I spoke with the museum curator this afternoon. I'll be talking with the security guards later tonight."
"Excellent work, Miss Holt. You are very diligent. I see why Mr. Steele puts his trust in you."
"Thank you, Mr. Hamm."
"I realize you turned me down earlier, but perhaps you'd reconsider having dinner with me?"
Laura shook her head. "I appreciate the offer, but it's inappropriate for me to socialize with a client."
"I don't mind," he smiled.
Hamm's eyes widened. "I'm sorry. I didn't know. You don't wear a ring..."
Laura held up her left hand and looked at the empty ring finger. "It's at the jeweler's," she lied. "Had a bit of an accident with the garbage disposal."
At that moment, Remington entered the office. She noted his curious, if slightly suspicious, glance at Hamm.
"Mr. Steele," she said, "this is Alec Hamm. A new client."
Remington extended his hand. "Hamm."
Hamm took his hand. "Steele."
As they regarded one another, Laura felt a stab of familiarity. Probably because the scene was a bit too much like how Remington and Tony used to eye one another.
"Thank you for the photo, Mr. Hamm," she said to her client. "He was just leaving," she said to Remington.
Hamm dropped Remington's hand and took Laura's. He again kissed it. "Until we again meet, Mrs. Holt."
She watched Remington watch Hamm leave. When he was out of sight, Remington turned to her. "What was that all about, Mrs. Holt."
Laura shrugged. "He's a new client."
"So you've said." Remington tilted his head, waiting.
Laura rolled her eyes. "I have work to do." She turned to go back to her office.
Remington caught her elbow. "It's after seven."
His expression softened. "Leave the work for tomorrow. Come home. I'll cook dinner. We'll talk."
Laura felt a pang in her chest when he said "home." As much as she wanted it to be home, his apartment was just that: his apartment. Even the unused loft, which she just couldn't bring herself to let go, didn't feel like home anymore. "I have to interview a couple of security guards at eight."
Remington sighed. "Fine. We'll go interview security guards."
The drive to the museum was filled with Remington's report on the symposium. He tried to discuss Laura's sleep habits, but she kept steering the conversation back to his interactions with the mayor, council members and other business owners. He dutifully recounted his hobnobbing with the city bigwigs. She was surprised he didn't mention the multiple hours he'd no doubt spent doodling on his napkins.
Once at the museum, they met with Adams.
"Miss Holt, again," Adams muttered. He looked at Remington. "I'm Richard Adams, curator. And you are...?"
"Steele. Remington Steele."
Adams paled. "I didn't realize you were personally overseeing the case, Mr. Steele."
Remington grinned. "My most capable associate is in charge, Mr. Adams. But I do like to keep tabs on what goes on with an investigation."
"Of course." He cleared his throat. "Billy and Walter are in the security office."
"Thank you, Mr. Adams," Laura said.
"I...uh...I have some phone calls to make. Excuse me." Adams scurried back up the hall and disappeared into his office.
Laura looked up at Remington. "My main suspect," she said.
Remington nodded. "Clearly."
They entered the security office to find two men in uniform arguing with each other.
"I don't give a rat's patoot what you think, you young punk!"
"Yeah? Well, you were the one outside with the rope hanging over your head. You too blind, old man, to notice something like that?"
"You must be Billy and Walter," Laura interrupted. "I'm Laura Holt and this is Remington Steele."
The men stopped arguing long enough to glance in her direction before going right back at it.
"You're just lucky we weren't fired," the older man snapped. "Or maybe you want to collect unemployment? That way you wouldn't have to work for a living!"
"I don't need to collect unemployment, but you certainly would, you old fart!"
"Watch yourself, sonny. I've served my country!"
"Here we go. 'I was at Normandy. I took a bullet.' Blah, blah, blah. You know what? I'm sick of hearing it!"
"Gentlemen!" Remington barked.
Both men's jaws snapped shut.
"The lady introduced herself," Remington said. "It's polite to return the favor."
The older man pointed at himself then his coworker. "Walter Brooke. Billy Snyder. Just who the hell are you, anyway?"
"We're private detectives investigating the theft of Mr. Hamm's ring last night," Laura said.
"Great." Billy rolled his eyes. "More people to get on our case. Look, lady, we already told the cops and Mr. Adams that we don't know nothing."
"No ideas about who would have cause to steal from this museum?" Laura probed.
"Does anybody even know about the 'Smithsonian of the West Coast?'" Billy asked.
"That's this museum?" Remington inquired.
"Yeah," Billy confirmed. "The Ascot-Winston Museum: The Smithsonian of the West Coast."
"Bunch of boloney, if you ask me," Walter said. "I've seen the Smithsonian. This place isn't anything like it."
Laura's brow crinkled. "I remember that ad campaign. It was huge. Must have cost a fortune."
"Didn't bring either of you in the door, though, did it?" Walter asked.
"No," Laura admitted.
"Didn't bring anybody else in, either," Walter said. "I heard some of the muckety-mucks talking about the money they lost on those ads. Sounded like somebody -- or lots of somebodies -- could be fired over it."
Laura glanced at Remington. "Anybody in particular?"
Walter scratched his cheek. "I would suppose Mr. Adams's neck would be on the block. Probably a board member or two."
"Thank you, Walter," Laura said. "You, too, Billy. You've both been very helpful."
"We'll have to look into that advertising campaign tomorrow morning," Laura said on the drive back to Remington's apartment. "See just how much red ink they were swimming in because of it."
She glanced at Remington, who nodded, though he didn't look like he was paying attention.
"Adams told me he'd insured the ring for ten million. Seems excessive. I want you to have a look at the photo Mr. Hamm provided. Tell me if you think the ring is worth that much."
He made a noise in his throat.
Laura forged ahead, convinced he had tuned out long ago. "It's possible that Adams is planning to recover his advertising losses with insurance money."
Again, Remington nodded, but continued to stare out the side window.
She pulled the Rabbit to a stop in the parking garage. Neither moved.
"Tomorrow I was thinking of climbing to the top of the office building and jumping off to see if I'd bounce," she said.
Laura frowned. "Have you paid attention to anything I've said?" she snapped.
He blinked. "I'm sorry. What?"
Laura shook her head. "Forget it."
"Did you say the thief left his equipment at the scene?" he asked.
Laura turned to him. "Yes, I did. Thirty minutes ago. We were now talking about Adams and his possible insurance scam."
"I know. It's just..." Remington chewed on his thumbnail. "There's something strange about that."
Laura chuckled. "Why? Would you have done it differently?"
He looked at her and arched an eyebrow.
While Remington brushed his teeth, Laura threw on her nightgown and climbed into bed. She turned on her side, pulled the covers tight around her shoulder and closed her eyes. With any luck, unconsciousness would claim her quickly and her sleep would be dreamless.
The bedside lamp clicked off and she felt the bed dip. Remington tugged at the blanket.
"Cold?" he asked.
"Then how about sharing the covers?"
She loosened her grip on the sheet.
"Thank you." He snuggled in behind her. His hand slid down her arm, over her hip, to rest on her thigh. He nuzzled his nose against her neck and kissed her ear. "Laura..." he breathed.
A shuddering thrill ran from her ear right down to her toes.
His fingers tightened, inching her nightgown up ever so slightly. He nipped her ear then shifted, gently rolling her onto her back. His hand moved to her other thigh where he pushed the fabric up and rested his palm warmly against her flesh. Their lips touched, but not for long. "Want to tell me why you look like you haven't slept in a month?"
Laura swallowed. Even in the dim moonlight she could see the concern in his eyes.
"I sleep just fine." She forced the smile that didn't seem to reassure him. A tactical change was in order. "Except for when I don't..." She raised her hands to his bare back, dragged her fingernails lightly downward and didn't stop at the waistband of his pajamas.
His eyelids drooped. "You're changing the subject," he said, though he pressed his hips forward.
She moved her legs and he settled between them. Her hands slid back up, she tangled her fingers through his hair. "To a much more interesting subject, I think."
Remington's head lowered. "Considerably more interesting."
They kissed and Laura concentrated on the moment, pushing sleepless nights and questions about their future to the back of her mind.
Remington barged into her office at the unlikely hour of nine and slammed down a cardboard drink caddy on her desk. Coffee sloshed over the files.
"Hey!" Laura snagged as much paperwork as she could rescue. "Careful!"
"You left before five a.m. Again.," Remington snapped.
She sopped the mess with a handful of tissues. "I'm working."
"We need to talk."
"Isn't that usually my line?" She tossed the soaked tissues in the trash. "Why are you here so early?"
He dropped a paper bag on her desk and bagels spilled out. "I thought we could go out for breakfast, spend some time together before work. But you were gone."
Laura reopened the Hamm file. "We've got a case with one hell of a suspect." She took the photo out and held it up. "As long as you're here, have a look at this and tell me if you think it's worth ten million."
Remington's eyes narrowed. "What is your problem, Laura? Why are you avoiding me?"
"I'm not avoiding you."
"I woke up alone yesterday because you ran off before the crack of dawn. You did it again today. You've been doing the same thing for weeks now. I'm tired of it."
Laura frowned. "You're getting plenty of sex."
"That's not the issue." He put his hands on his hips. "I'm concerned about you."
Laura sighed. "I've not been sleeping well. I don't want to disturb you. It's no big deal."
Remington knelt down beside her. "No big deal?" He touched her face; his thumbs traced the dark circles under her eyes. "We're going home. Now. I'm putting you to bed."
"Mr. Steele!" Laura pulled away from him. "I'm fine. Will you just look at this ring so we can get on with this case?" She shoved the photo at him.
Remington took the picture, but didn't take his eyes off her as he sat in a chair across from her. "Why aren't you sleeping, Laura?"
"I have a lot on my mind," she retorted.
"Just look at the ring," she sighed, putting her head in her hands. "Please."
Remington pursed his lips, but did as she asked. His eyes widened. "This is the ring that was stolen?"
Laura nodded. "Mr. Hamm said it's been in his family for generations."
Laura's head snapped up. "What?"
"The emerald is from Columbia. It's large at ten carats, but it's not got the deep green color most desired in an emerald. It also has numerous flaws and inclusions in the stone. Therefore the clarity is poor. There's 25 carats' worth of diamonds. But even those aren't especially valuable because of their sub-par quality.
"It's the history of the ring that interests most collectors. It was created almost one hundred years ago by a Russian artisan in Crimea named Dimitri Popov. The ring was presented to Czar Nicholas Romanov as a gift during one of the Czar's frequent visits to Crimea. Romanov later gave the ring to his daughter Anastasia. When the family was executed during the Russian Revolution, Anastasia reportedly survived. She -- or someone claiming to be her -- sold the ring to get money for passage out of the country.
"From there, the ring passed through various minor collectors, until a man recognized his grandfather's work. Suddenly, the ring was valuable. It went on tour. It was last seen in London in 1969."
Remington looked up at Laura. She knew the expression on her face was one of suspicion.
"First the thief's abandoned equipment at the museum. Now this..." He glanced away. "We've been set up."
"More specifically, I've been set up."
"What do you mean?"
"I stole this."
"In London, almost twenty years ago, I stole this ring."
"You've got to be kidding." She met his eyes. "You're not kidding." She closed her eyes and rubbed her temples. She didn't want to know, but she asked anyway. "What happened?"
"It...didn't go well." He sat back in his chair. Laura could see the memories wash over him. "There were three of us. We thought we'd made it, thought we'd pulled off the job. We each took different paths back to the flat. When I arrived the police were already there. The ring...and my accomplices...never showed up."
"You took the fall for everyone?"
Remington smirked and held up his hands. "I wore gloves. It was the one smart thing I did. No fingerprints. No evidence against me. But we'd left our equipment at the scene. We were sloppy. The police held me a few weeks but couldn't make anything stick. I was released. I learned my lesson."
Laura arched an eyebrow. "The straight and narrow path for you from then on?" she said sarcastically.
"Never trust your partner," Remington corrected.
His single sentence gave Laura absolute clarity.
He had never trusted anyone. A wise move in most cases, given the caliber of many of his former "associates."
Over four years gone and he still didn't trust her. No wonder he'd never said the words. Love required trust, yet he could never fully trust her, no matter how close they got. The thought skewered her.
The brief drive to Hamm's hotel gave Laura enough time to compose herself, to clamp down her emotions.
"Are you sure it's the same ring?" she asked, just to take her mind off her inner turmoil.
Remington gave her a look.
"Right. So, you're being set up. Do you think Alec Hamm is behind it?" She shook her head. "He's too young to have been part of your heist."
"I've never seen him before," Remington said. "But since he's made up a family history for the ring, he's a good place to start asking questions."
Hamm didn't answer the knock on his door, so Remington picked the lock. Laura pawed through Hamm's suitcases as Remington went to the closet.
"Nothing here," she reported. She turned to find Remington crouched on the floor, his ear to a safe.
A moment later he opened the lock and grinned at her. "Still got it."
From the safe he pulled a bulky envelope. He reached inside and extracted the ring in question. He handed the envelope and its remaining contents to Laura as he examined the ring under a lamp.
Laura removed some photos. Most were shots of a red-haired child of varying age. Sometimes he appeared with a redheaded woman.
There was one black-and-white photo of the same redheaded woman with two men at a bar. The slightly older man, with long dark hair and a beard, toasted the camera with his half-full mug. The other man had his arm casually draped across the woman's shoulders. He was young, with dark shaggy hair and unkempt clothes.
Laura gasped. "Mr. Steele?"
Remington looked up. "Yes?"
"No," she said, holding the photo out for him. "It's you."
"Hardly likely, Laura." Remington took the picture from her trembling fingers. "My God."
Hamm entered the room before Laura could comment.
"Ah, Mrs. Holt, Mr. Steele," he said, seemingly nonplused at the sight of them raiding his hotel room. "I didn't expect you quite so soon."
"Mr. Hamm," Laura began, "care to explain what you're doing with the ring you hired us to find?"
Hamm smiled and looked directly at Remington. "You should know, Mr. O'Leary."
Laura's stomach clenched. Michael O'Leary. One of Remington's many aliases. Suddenly it snapped into place.
"Dark Victory. Bette Davis. Humphrey Bogart. Ronald Reagan. First National Pictures. 1939," Laura quoted. "Alec Hamm is Reagan's character."
"Excellent," Hamm complimented.
"What are you playing at, mate?" Remington growled. "Where'd you get the ring and this picture?"
"I got them from my mother's belongings after her death."
"You can't be Gael O'Donnell's son," Remington countered. "She didn't have any children in 1969."
"No, she didn't," Hamm agreed. "I wasn't born until 1970."
"You're too old."
"Appearances can be deceiving." Hamm raised his hands to his cheeks and pulled off his beard, revealing a very boyish face. "I'm eighteen, Mr. O'Leary, and my name is not Alec Hamm. It's Kevan O'Donnell. You, Mr. O'Leary, are my father."
Laura's mind spun back to Ireland, to another confession and confrontation about parentage. Not again.
She looked to Remington. His fist was clenched around the photo; his breathing was harsh. It was the fury in his eyes that caused her to jump in.
"Do you have proof?" she questioned.
"My mother told me about the heist," Kevan began. "About how her lover had been caught by the police. About how she was afraid and ran away with the ring.
"By the time she discovered she was pregnant, it was too late. Her lover had already been released from jail and had left the country. She never knew where he was or how to find him. She raised me on her own.
"After her accident, I found the box with those photos and the ring. There were also newspaper clippings. Most were about the robbery. There were mentions of Michael O'Leary being in jail and then being released. Articles about how the ring was never recovered. But there were also some newer clippings with pictures of Remington Steele in England, foiling an assassination plot against an earl.
"A little checking in the right places, and I knew that Michael O'Leary was now Remington Steele."
"Quite the con you've got there," Remington spat. "Quite the con, indeed." He flung the photo to the floor as he stormed out of the room.
Kevan knelt down to retrieve the picture. As he smoothed out the wrinkles, Laura studied him, trying to decide if he looked at all like Remington.
Kevan looked up at her; their eyes met.
A lump caught in her throat.
"I'm sorry to have deceived you, Mrs. Holt."
"It's actually Mrs. Steele," she admitted.
"I didn't know that." Kevan stood, a rueful smile twisting his lips. "I suppose that makes you my step mother."
Kevan chuckled, but it wasn't joyful. Tears sprang to his eyes. "I just wanted to meet my father."
Laura found Remington at his apartment. He sat on the couch, his chin on his fists, staring at the balcony doors.
"Mr. Steele?" She placed a hand on his shoulder.
He didn't respond.
"I'll make some tea."
When she returned, he still hadn't moved. She sat his steaming cup on the table before him then took a seat next to him.
She looked at Remington.
His son the jewel thief.
She couldn't suppress the upturn of her lip. Figures.
"Gael was my first," he finally said, breaking the silence.
Laura's cup jittered against the saucer.
"She was nineteen. The most beautiful woman I'd ever seen. And she wanted me." There was amazement in his tone. "I met her and Victor through mutual acquaintances. Victor was the oldest at twenty-two. His plan to knock over the museum was brilliant." Remington chuckled. "Or so I thought at the time."
He rubbed a hand over his face. "All this time I thought it was Victor's idea to throw me to the wolves. But it was Gael. She had the ring."
Laura cleared her throat. "Was Gael... involved...with Victor?" She knew she was grasping for anything to disprove Kevan's claim.
Remington shook his head. "I don't think so. At least, I never saw them together like that. But I was young and stupid. So incredibly stupid."
Laura placed her hand on his knee.
"My, God, Laura. I was sixteen. Seventeen maybe. Kevan's barely older than that now."
Her fingers tightened. "He told me he just wanted to meet his father."
Remington's eyes turned glassy. "I spent my whole life looking for my father, yet I just walked away from my own son." He buried his face in his hands.
Laura slid her arm around his shoulders. She kissed his hair.
"He may not be..." she hesitated, "...he may not be your son. We'll have to get some tests done to find that out for certain." Though it pained her, she added, "In the meantime, you should go talk with him. Get to know him."
Remington raised his head and looked at her. She wiped away the tears from his cheeks and kissed his lips gently.
"Thank you," he whispered.
"I found Robert Fisher," Mildred reported.
Laura looked up from her paperwork. "So soon?"
Mildred handed her the file. "He's been staying at the Lazy Days Inn just outside Cuchillo, New Mexico. He's been working as a day laborer for the past year under the name Fisher Roberts."
"Not terribly original," Laura said. Simply switching placement of the first and last name seemed uncreative, especially given Remington's penchant for borrowing names from old movies -- something that seemed to be a genetic trait. Laura pursed her lips.
"Something wrong, hon?"
Laura shook her head. "No. Nothing. Excellent work, Mildred."
"Thanks." Mildred turned toward the door, but stopped. "Where's the boss today? It's late, even for him."
Honestly, Laura didn't know where he was. He hadn't returned last night, nor had he reported in all day. "He had meeting," she said, "with Mr. Hamm."
"The boss isn't actually doing legwork on a case, is he?" Mildred chuckled.
"He's got..." Laura considered her words, "a responsibility to take care of."
The phone rang just after six that evening.
"Remington Steele Investigations," Laura answered.
"Mrs. Steele," a familiar Irish-accented voice said, "My father and I would be honored if you'd join us for dinner this evening."
"The honor would be mine," she said, though she didn't feel honored at all.
Dinner was awkward for Laura. She felt as though she'd intruded on a meeting of two old friends. It was like watching one of Daniel and Remington's conversations.
The men reminisced about a woman she'd never met. Gael, much to Laura's dismay, had continued to make a living on the wrong side of the law. She'd taught her son to pick a pocket before he was old enough to spell wallet.
"Didn't your mother teach you better than to leave your tools laying around at the scene?" Laura asked, unable to keep the sarcasm from her voice.
The young man grinned despite her tone. "She did. But I wanted my father to take notice."
"Lucky for you the police didn't find any other clues," she said.
Kevan raised his hand. "I wore gloves. No fingerprints."
Remington beamed. Laura cringed.
"You do realize," she said, "you need return the ring to the museum."
"She's right," Remington agreed. "We can't have an unsolved case."
"Besides, it looks like Adams planned to scam his insurance company," Laura said.
"Really?" Remington asked.
Since he hadn't been around to follow the progress on the case, Laura filled him in. "According to the insurance agent I talked with, the Ascot-Winston Museum has had three very substantial claims over the past two years. And Mildred got a look at the museum's tax records today. They're in the black, even though they out-spend what they earn by hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even Adams seems to live beyond his modest income. We can't let Adams continue to get away with insurance fraud."
"I suppose not," Kevan said. A crooked smile melted over his features. "We could return the ring."
"Wonderful idea, Kevan."
"Kidding, Laura." Remington turned to his potential son. "So, about our trip to Paris..."
Kevan lit up. "Yes! Paris was like a second home to me. Ah, the museums there! The treasures. The art. Amazing! And nothing like the lowly security of the Ascot-Winston. A real challenge."
Laura's eyes bulged.
"I jest, Mrs. Steele, I jest," Kevan assured.
She wasn't so positive.
"It's called Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism," Milton said. "We fragment the genomic DNA by using a restriction enzyme. We then separate the segments via agarose gel electrophoresis..."
Laura noted the bulging eyes on both Remington and Kevan. "In English, Milton," Laura pleaded.
"It's a DNA test," he simplified. "We draw some blood and compare the DNA patterns."
Laura hadn't seen Milton in several months, but she still considered him a good friend and her best source for the latest scientific wizardry.
"It's pretty new, but a hell of a lot more accurate than the old blood typing tests," he said as he prepared two hypodermic needles. "It'll take awhile, though. Probably two weeks or more." He wiped a cotton swab over Remington's arm. "I'll run it personally, so it won't wait in the backlog of other samples." He stuck the needle in and Remington winced. "But the actual rif-lip process is lengthy."
Laura looked away as Remington's blood flowed from his arm.
Milton then drew Kevan's blood.
"All done," he announced.
"I owe you lunch, Milton," Laura said, kissing his cheek.
"I'll hold you to that, Binky."
Laura groaned at his use of her old nickname.
"You will explain that to me someday, won't you, Laura?" Remington said in her ear as they exited the lab.
"Mr. Adams," Laura said as she approached the curator. "We have good news."
"Unless you've found the ring, I seriously doubt you have any good news," Adams grumped.
"As a matter of fact..." Remington said, reaching into his pocket and extracting the ring. "We have found it."
The color drained from Adams's face. "Wh...where did you find it?"
"It had been pawned," Laura lied. "Unfortunately, any leads as to the actual suspect have dried up."
"But even lacking a culprit, your insurance company is happy that the museum has the ring back in-hand," Remington said, transferring the property over to the curator.
"Yes, of course," Adams stuttered, "the insurance company." Remington's words apparently sunk in. "What?"
"We called your insurance company to let them know we were bringing the ring back to the museum," Laura said. "So, barring another theft of the ring...they won't have to pay on the ten million dollar claim."
Adams's hands visibly shook as he held the ring.
"Good day, Mr. Adams," Remington said.
Just after three in the morning, the security guards at the Ascot-Winston Museum heard a loud crash. They ran toward the noise, flashlights in hand. What they found was not unexpected.
Dangling upside down four feet above the floor, hopelessly tangled in a rope that extended down from the overhead vent, was a man in black.
Laura, dressed in the official uniform of the Ascot-Winston Museum's security force, shined her light on the thief as he struggled against his self-inflicted restraints.
Remington and Kevan, also in uniforms, stepped up.
"Now who do we have here?" Remington asked. He pulled off the thief's mask.
"He's not the curator," Kevan said.
Laura shined her light on the thief's face. "Billy Snyder?"
"I don't get it," Kevan said. "I thought the curator did it."
Remington looked to Laura. She was just as stunned as they were. Clearly, Billy had been caught red-handed. They had a thief, but not the one they'd anticipated. The pieces fit perfectly for an insurance scam by Adams. So what the hell was Billy doing breaking in to the museum?
She thought back to her meeting with the two security guards.
"I don't need to collect unemployment, but you certainly would, you old fart!"
"You're his accomplice," she said. "You do the dirty work and Adams pays you off."
Billy twisted against the ropes.
Remington poked him. "The lady asked you a question."
"I don't have to answer nothing!"
"No, you don't," Remington agreed. "And we don't have to cut you down, either."
Billy struggled awhile longer. Eventually he gave up. "Fine! Okay!" he panted. "Adams tells me what to steal. I hawk it and keep the money. He collects the insurance."
"All right, Billy boy, time to come down." Remington pulled out his pocketknife and cut the rope. Billy dropped to the ground with a thud. Remington yanked him to his feet.
"Plausible deniability for Adams," Laura said.
"Keeps his hands clean," Kevan said. "Neat trick."
"Neat until you come along and steal your own ring," Laura muttered to him.
Kevan smiled as he looked at Remington. "Is it always this rewarding being the good guy?"
Remington glanced at Laura. "Yes. It is."
The letter came to the office via courier three weeks later.
Remington was, as usual, out with Kevan. The two had become nearly inseparable. No matter what the DNA would eventually reveal, Laura knew Remington felt a strong bond with the boy. They were so very much alike.
Laura sat on the sofa in his office, her eyes riveted to the thin envelope sitting on the table before her.
She was torn.
If Kevan was Remington's son, everything would change.
She'd never pictured herself as a stepmother, let alone one to an eighteen-year-old. And -- as delightful as Kevan was -- in the dark hours of the morning, when her nightmares resurfaced and her emotions were the most raw, she admitted to herself that she didn't want an eighteen-year-old stepson.
Her already tenuous relationship with Remington had lost even more ground over the past few weeks as he spent more and more time with Kevan and less and less time with her.
It was one thing for her to pull back, to spare her own feelings, to prepare for the inevitable. But seeing Remington drift away, slowly -- and rightfully -- replacing his fake wife with his flesh-and-blood son, it cut her heart out.
Tears clouded her eyes.
But if Kevan wasn't Remington's son, everything could still change. Would he bother with another year and a half of their bogus marriage? Daniel had wanted to pull Remington back into his world from day one. Where Daniel had failed, Kevan had strong potential to succeed. Remington could easily take up his former profession, complete with a new protégé to train. Son or not, Kevan was already walking in Remington's footsteps.
The office door opened. Remington entered with Kevan in tow.
Laura quickly swiped at her eyes.
"Kevan and I are headed to a Carey Grant double-feature at the Hilltop," Remington announced. "Care to join us, Mrs. Steele?"
She didn't answer.
"It's here," she said.
The men came closer, both staring at the envelope as though it would attack at any moment.
"Open it," she said.
At the same time they spoke. "I can't." "No."
They looked to her. Laura felt her face scrunch up.
"Please," Remington asked.
She sighed. "Okay."
She picked up the envelope, broke the seal with her fingernail, and pulled out the single sheet of paper. Before unfolding it, she looked at the man who wasn't really her husband and the boy who wasn't really her son.
She read, "With ninety-nine point nine-eight percent assurance, Kevan O'Donnell is not related to Remington Steele."
Evening found Laura, once again, alone.
She'd left Remington and Kevan hours before to sort out their feelings and their futures. On her drive to Remington's apartment, Laura had shed tears. She was loath to admit they were tears of relief.
The dinner dishes cleaned, Laura poured herself a glass of wine and moved to the sofa.
She raised her glass and toasted herself. "Here's to the future, to whatever the hell comes next."
She drank, tempted to down the entire amount. Instead, she exchanged her glass for a book and reclined against the cushions, settling in to read.
Remington walking through the door five minutes later surprised her.
"Work everything out with Kevan?" she asked, lowering her book.
"I believe so," he said. "He's disappointed."
"How are you?"
"Disappointed," he admitted. "But also relieved."
He nodded. "We've agreed to remain friends. I'll be his...mentor...instead of his father."
Laura wasn't impressed with that idea. "He's already knocked over one museum that we know of. Rather successfully, I might add. I'm not sure he needs much mentoring."
"I do have other talents, Laura." He waggled his eyebrows at her.
She rolled her eyes.
"The boy's never had a father figure. I've never been a father figure." He shrugged, as though that answered everything.
He sat down on the couch, glancing at the book as she put it on the table. "I offered to help him locate Victor. He turned me down."
"The trip to Paris is still on," he said.
Laura shook her head. You, me and the son you never had, she thought bitterly. Out loud she said, "It should just be you two. Third wheel..."
She'd been a third wheel for almost a month now. She wasn't thrilled with the idea of continuing in the role.
He took her hand. "You're not a third wheel, Laura."
She pulled away. "Wine?"
Remington removed the glass from her hand and brought her back to the sofa. He kissed her soundly. She pushed him away.
"Really, Mr. Steele, I'm not..." She looked at him, deflated. "This isn't working for me."
"I know the past few weeks have been a strain..."
"It's not just that."
She turned, clasping her hands together between her knees. "It's us. Our relationship."
"Is it that bad?"
She could tell by his expression that she'd blindsided him. It was the same baffled look he gave her when she'd suggested that the agency was the only thing keeping them together.
"Don't get me wrong. The sex is good...great. But this fake marriage. I just..." Against her wishes, her eyes started to sting and blur. "Oh, hell..." She swiped away the tears. "I just want it to end."
He gripped the cushion; his breathing became harsh. "Laura, please..."
"My life is based on a series of lies and I can't handle it anymore."
He opened his mouth, but she stood up and paced, continuing before the dam rebuilt itself.
"I lie about my name because small-minded people get the wrong idea about 'Mrs. Steele.' Not to mention the fact that I'm not really 'Mrs. Steele' because my husband isn't really my husband, nor is he really 'Mr. Steele.'
"I lie to my family about an intimate wedding in Vegas that I didn't have, wearing a nice, clean white dress that I don't own. I lie about my non-existent wedding ring being repaired. I lie to Mildred about sub-letting my loft."
She stopped and faced him. "But the worst part of it all?"
Remington swallowed visibly.
"I lie to myself about you."
She barreled on. "I tell myself that I don't love you. That it doesn't matter that at the end of two years I'll be back where I started.
"But the truth is, I fell in love with you years ago. I want nothing more than to be Mrs. Steele to your Mr. Steele. To have an honest-to-God wedding with actual rings and clean clothes. To find a place to call 'ours.'" She looked at him through tear-filled eyes, choking on her words. "To be the one to give you that son you've never had."
Remington had her in a tight embrace before she could catch her breath. "Oh, Laura." He kissed the top of her head then leaned his cheek against her hair.
Her arms went around his waist.
"I love you," he said. "So very much."
She tightened her grip, relief washing over her.
Remington raised his hands to her face, brushing away her tears with his thumbs. "But I need to tell you..." He kissed her lips, her cheeks, her nose. "...a daughter would be just as good."