Hath Not the Steele Power Over the Clay?
Romans 9:21 (sort of)
During a lull in the conversation, he took a small card from his inside jacket pocket and slid it across the table in front of Laura. “I want you to take a look at this.”
Laura finished chewing and dabbed the corner of her mouth with a napkin. She looked up at him quizzically, “Your business card?”
“Turn it over.” He motioned with his fork, “On the back. Starting salary. All the usual perks; vacations, medical, dental, etc are included, of course.”
“I told you on the phone I wasn’t interested.” The card remained in same spot.
“A bit more wine?” He charmed, filling her glass, not waiting for an answer.
“More wine is not going to make me change my mind.” Laura pushed his card back without looking at the amount.
“Did I mention the offer includes a car?” He reached into his pocket, pulled out a ring with two shiny new keys, laid it on top and pushed it back in front of Laura.
Laura once again pushed it away, “Clay, I appreciate the offer, but I’m perfectly happy where I’m at.”
“We’ve looked at your tax returns, Laura. We know what you gross in a year.” The card once again crossed the table to Laura‘s side.
“You’ve snooped through my tax returns?”
“We’re detectives, remember?” He raised his glass and took a sip, “Snooping is what we do. So Holt, if it isn‘t the money, what is it about Steele that keeps you there? Are you his fringe benefit? Or is he yours?”
“I enjoy working there, Clay. Mr. Steele allows me to take whatever cases I like. He entrusts me with a great amount of responsibility. You might even say I run the place." Laura began to push the business card in Clay’s direction when he put his hand on top of hers. He slipped his other hand underneath sandwiching the card in the palm of Laura’s hand.
“Just look at it.” He adopted a pleading, almost pouty expression, “Please, don’t make me go back there unless I can tell them that you at least considered their offer.” He stroked the back of her hand and lightly caressed her arm, trying to appeal to her on a sexual level. If he only knew that it didn’t help his cause in the least.
Conceding with a sigh, Laura withdrew her hand. She leaned back and slowly turned the card over to reveal a dollar amount. It took every ounce of self-control to conceal her astonishment. Playing poker face games with her Mr. Steele over the years kept her in practice. She impassively smiled and casually reached for her wine glass. Her beaming grin was effectively concealed by the crimson liquid. Once she felt her composure return, she set the glass down and gathered her purse. Laura stood and extended her hand, back in professional mode, “Clay, it was a pleasure to see you again. Thanks for lunch. Thanks for the offer, but I must decline.”
She handed him the business card back. Clay stood and tucked the card into an unzipped outer compartment of her purse. He rotated her hand and brought it up to his lips, “Perhaps I can make you another offer over dinner sometime?”
“How many ways can I tell you that I’m not interested in changing jobs?”
“Who’s talking about changing jobs?”
Laura shot him down with a simple, “Goodbye, Clay.”
If not for Fred waiting at the curb, Laura could have skipped back to the office. She could no longer repress the excitement, the giddiness of finally earning some respect in her career. Clay Platt, of all people, wasn’t the reason. Clay Platt was a clown. She really didn’t want to think about how he landed at such a reputable place as Hanley and Graham. But she was sure they would never offer that kind of money on his recommendation alone. Laura was still on cloud nine as she floated through the office doors. Mildred passed her a stack of messages and the afternoon mail. Laura stopped humming long enough to thank her before walking into her office.
Mr. Steele entered Suite 1157 shortly after Laura. His mood, however, was much the opposite of Laura’s. He shook free of his suit coat and loosened his tie. Mildred handed him a few messages as well. He grumbled a thank you with further instructions not to be disturbed. Laura saw him enter his office through her connecting door. He flung his jacket in a chair, tossed the message slips on top of his desk and flopped on the couch.
“Problems?” she asked from the doorway.
“Where have you been?” he chastised, more than asked.
“I had a lunch appointment.”
“Laura, you’re the one who went after the Twillman account. The least you could do is work on it. Twenty-two hotels don‘t upgrade their security measures magically by themselves.”
Laura sat next to him on the sofa in an effort to smooth the wrinkle in Mr. Steele’s mood. Maybe her good mood would be infectious. She leaned into him and pulled the tie completely loose, “Now, why don’t you just relax and calmly tell me what the problem is.”
“It’s those bloody security sensors he insisted on.” He sighed heavily.
“Hmmm mmm,” Laura ran her left hand down the center of his chest allowing her fingers to slip in the gaps between the buttons.
“First he wanted the magnetic.. . .” Remington glanced down to see Laura slip off her shoes and curl her legs up underneath. A fair amount of thigh came into view which made him momentarily forget what he was talking about.
“Magnetic? Magnetic what?” Laura asked when he went silent.
“Nevermind.” He moved his arm around her shoulder where his hand came to rest on her back. “No sense in allowing Mr. Twillman’s indecisiveness to affect company morale.” He lightly caressed the soft fabric of her blouse and his lips took advantage of an opportunity Laura seldom offered during office hours. They pulled back from the kiss, looked expectedly at the phone which remained silent, then checked the door which surprisingly remained closed. When it appeared they were safe from interruptions, they again turned to each other. Just before their lips touched once again, Remington inquired, “Is that a moderately-priced Pinot Noir I detect?”
“Ah you’re slipping, Mr. Steele.” Laura corrected, “Cabernet Sauvignon”.
“Wine at lunch? What kind of appointment was this anyway?” He pulled even farther away.
“It was work related.” Laura assured him, but otherwise remained vague.
“I hope you’re not out there drumming up more business when we are already racing the clock with the Twillman account.”
“Nothing like that. Just. . . a friendly lunch with a former business associate ”
Laura leaned forward to retrieve her shoes, “Oh for God’s sake is that all your worried about?”
“Should I be worried?”
“Certainly not about Clay and me.”
She tried to stand up, but he pulled her back by her sleeve “Clay? Clay Pot? That chap you fooled around with at Havenhurst. Are you still interested in him?”
“First of all, his name is Platt. And second of all, how can you even ask if I’m interested in him? I think you, of all people, know where my interests lie.” Laura wrestled her arm free of his grasp. She bent down to slip her shoes back on.
“Then why have lunch with him?”
Laura’s head popped up with shoes still in hand, she haughtily replied, “For your information, he offered me a job.”
“A job? Like a referral?”
“No a job; like an office, salary, medical, dental, three weeks of vacation, you know the stuff we ordinary folks have to work for.”
Remington scoffed. “What on earth would you do with three weeks of vacation?”
“I’ve got work to do.” Laura stomped off in the direction of her office in her stocking feet.
“I just don't see why you would even entertain a job offer from someone else." Remington chased after her.
"I had no intention of entertaining any offer. Clay's been dogging me for weeks. I agreed to lunch with the understanding that I would listen and he would back off.”
“Why would he offer you a job?” Remington asked, not quite ready to back off himself.
“Maybe because I have invaluable skills and experience as an investigator.”
Remington laughed, thinking that Mr. Platt wouldn‘t give a fig about any professional qualities Laura had, and commented, “I find that hard to believe.”
Laura missed the sarcasm in his voice and was angered by the insult, “You insensitive lout!” Laura swatted him with her shoe, “You’re not the least bit concerned that there is another agency out there that wants me and have offered me more money than I ever dreamed?"
"And who exactly is opening their vault to you?”
“Hanley and Graham are expanding. Clay was recruiting me on their behalf.”
“Hanley and Graham, you say?” He smiled and wagged his finger as if he figured it all out, “So that’s their game, eh?"
"What's their game?" Laura crossed her arms.
"Weren’t they in the running for the Twillman contract?”
“What does that have to do with it?”
“Can’t you see? They are trying to poach my staff so I can’t effectively service Twillman's security needs and default on the contract.”
“Your staff? You effectively service their needs? Maybe I should consider their generous offer since you have conveniently forgotten whose agency this is.”
"Precisely. You have an agency of your own. Why would you be interviewing?”
“But they don’t know that. To them I am a grossly overworked and grossly underpaid associate.”
“And whose fault is that?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” She was incensed that he somehow her turned this all around on her and put her on the defensive.
“That you are grossly overworked by your own design. As far as the underpaid thing, I can’t comment. I haven’t a clue what you make.”
Why are we talking about this? My agency and my bank account are really none of your concern. Now, I have work to do.” Moving behind her desk to distance herself from him, “Did you say there was some problem that Twillman had with the sensor system?" Laura pressed the intercom from her phone, "Mildred, could you get me Mr. Twillman please?"
Remington angrily paced into his office, his annoyance provoked by her insistence that her agency and her bank account were none of his business. They most certainly were his concern. Personal, business, anything and everything about Laura concerned him.
This time he pressed the intercom from his phone, “Mildred could you bring me the books, please?”
“The books boss?”
“Yes, the books, Miss Krebs. Thank you very much.”
A moment later Mildred came through his doors empty handed. “Sorry boss, the intercom must be on the fritz. I didn’t understand what book you wanted.”
“The agency books.”
“Yes, yes. The books, you know. . . ledgers, balance sheets.”
“You want to look at the books?” She asked, both shocked and amused.
“Is it asking too much for Remington Steele to review the financial accounts of the agency that bears his name?”
Mildred smirked, but obligingly retrieved an oversized leather book and brought it to him. She pointed to the tabs on the side which indicated a division of the months then pulled on a satin ribbon which opened the book to the most recent entries.
Remington had very little formal education when it came to accounting, but headings on the columns were self explanatory. “Just to be clear. . .”, he asked as he pointed to the line items, “So this is income?” Pointing to other entries, he asked, “These are deposits, expenses and the last column here is the balance?”
Mildred nodded and did some pointing of her own. “Expenses are categorized on the left. See; rent, insurance, salaries.”
“What are all these expenses with just the notation of ‘R’? Reimbursements? Receipted expenditures?”
“R is for Remington. Those are your expenses. It became too time consuming to keep up with individual categories. So we just lump them all together”
“Does Miss Holt see this?” He quickly asked, almost in a panic.
“And, does she say anything?”
“Only occasionally.” Mildred lied in a most cavalier tone.
Remington gave her a disbelieving look.
“Okay, she mentions something about you being a ‘necessary evil’ most of the time.”
“With charges like these, it makes you wonder why she puts up with me at all.” Remington muttered to himself, but loud enough for Mildred to hear.
“I have a few theories.” Mildred winked at him. “Besides, she calms down when clients like Platinum Air pay their bill.” She pointed to a recent entry.
Remington replaced the satin ribbon in the fold of the book, closed it and returned it, “Thank you Miss Krebs. Would you be so kind as to make a reservation for Miss Holt and I this evening at Renaissance?” He then was reminded of his spending by the book she still held in her hand and amended his restaurant choice to one with a more reasonably priced menu. “On second thought, make that Pietro’s.”
He waited for Mildred to close the door. Tapping on his desk with some indecision, he tried to take comfort in the Platinum Air entry, but was still troubled by the myriad of expenses attributed vaguely to ’R’. A terribly ineffective method, implemented by a pair of two women who, under normal circumstances, were thorough to the point of obsession. Even more distressing was the line item of Laura’s paltry salary. Why did he feel to blame when she was the one who made such decisions? While he couldn’t resolve what to do about that at the moment, there was one situation in which he felt compelled to intervene. He dialed his phone. “Yes, information? I need the number and address for Hanley and Graham Investigators please.”
Moments later, with his tie and suit coat impeccably back in place, Remington exited the offices. Mildred informed him of his seven-thirty dinner reservation on his way out the door.
Hanley and Graham occupied an old brick conversion building very similar to Laura’s loft. Despite its retro, urban chic appearance from the outside, the interior was quite modern with abstract, geometric designs and splashes of vivid color. The inner workings of the business were a contradiction as well. Office space abounding in computers and employees equipped all the modern conveniences seemed strangely out of place amid exposed pipes and old fans which had been slowly rotating since the building was first upgraded with electricity.
Remington announced himself to the receptionist who directed him personally to Clay Platt’s office. Clay stood and happily offered Mr. Steele his hand as if they were the best of chums. Remington grudgingly shook it, but let it be known, in no uncertain terms, that this was not a friendly visit. Although he knew that Laura would never leave her own agency, he had to make it clear that trying to lure her away did not sit well with Remington Steele. Also on a more personal level, he was outraged that someone would even try. They must hide their relationship well. Apparently too well.
“Mr. Platt, I won’t take much of your time.” Remington started in a low ominous tone.
“Whoa . . . .Now before you say anything, Mr. Steele, you can’t blame a competitor for trying.”
“You tell whoever sent you, that Laura is not available.”
“Not available?” Clay tested, “you mean the job offer?”
“Not available,” Remington warned, “For any offer.”
“Funny, that’s not the impression I got. In fact I was rather looking forward to late-night stakeouts with Laura again.”
He may have said stakeouts, but that’s not what he meant and certainly not what Remington heard. Remington turned away slightly as if to leave, but he quickly swung around and landed a blow to the jaw of Clay Platt. Clay stumbled back and tumbled over the top of his desk. Steele wanted to do that ever since Mr. Platt’s hand had taken certain liberties with Laura’s backside on another case where they crossed paths. Remington straightened his cuffs and tie and peered over the desk to the heap of Clay on the floor, “I trust I’ve made myself perfectly clear.”
Ten minutes sooner and Laura would have bumped into Remington leaving Hanley and Graham. Instead, she arrived just in time for Clay to return to his office with an ice bag covering the left side of his face.
“Good Lord! What happened to you?” Laura gasped and out of habit, crossed the room to check his injuries.
“I think that boss of yours is under the impression there is more to your work relationship than you acknowledge.”
“Mr. Steele hit you?”
“You’re about the last lady that needs her honor defended, but if this were a couple hundred years ago, I’m sure we’d be out in the parking lot right now with dueling pistols.”
Laura lifted the ice bag. She scoffed “My honor has nothing to do with it. He has this theory that your agency is trying to sabotage the Twillman contract by decimating his staff.”
“No. There was more behind his fist than that. Clay gingerly touched his injury and tested his jaw, “A lot more, believe me.”
“But was he right? I need to know if that job offer was legitimate, or just underhanded business tactics?”
“Are you kidding? Once Twillman told us we lost the account because they wanted to work with you. . .”
Laura interrupted, “You mean that Twillman wanted Mr. Steele.”
“No Twillman told Mr. Graham that it was you. After that, the partners insisted that we do whatever it takes to get you.”
“You wouldn’t lie to me, would you Clay?” Laura smiled, but still was unsure of the ever-slippery Clay Platt.
“Heavens no! I know you have a temper. I wouldn’t want you to hit me too.” He winked with his eye, and winced, momentarily forgetting its painful condition.
Since the restaurant was only a few blocks from Remington’s apartment, Laura sent Fred home after he dropped them off at Pietro’s. The way she said ‘We’ll walk back to Mr. Steele’s didn’t indicate an amorous, romantic stroll. Rather, it was in a tone was similar to an ordered hit in a mob movie; like, ‘Rocco, take him for a walk’ where the meaning of that threat is painfully clear. All through dinner Laura was being uncharacteristically civil. In light of their argument earlier in the day, Remington knew the shoe, or more likely, the ax was bound to fall before the evening was over. Once outside the restaurant, Remington offered Laura his right elbow, but she grabbed his hand instead. She squeezed it rather hard. Being on the giving end of a punch doesn’t mean you always remain uninjured. His knuckles were actually quite sore. Remington smiled and smoothly switched sides with Laura.
Laura asked, “Something wrong?” Even though she damn well knew the answer, she hoped he would admit to a few things.
“Laura, I’m afraid I’ve done something that you might find reprehensible,” Remington flinched. “Dare I say, even a tad chauvinistic?”
“Is this about you walloping Clay in his office this afternoon?”
“You knew? I must say, you’ve showed great restraint so far in not reprimanding me.”
“I know that it’s your way of saying that I’m important to you.” She smiled weakly then became a bit pensive. Letting go of his hand she stuffed her hands in her pockets. “The fact that you couldn’t say it to me, sticks in my crawl a bit. . . but,” Laura shrugged and walked a few steps ahead, “I’ve stopped holding my breath for such admissions.”
“Now wait a minute,” Remington pinched the sleeve of her coat to stop her from getting away, “I went over there to make it clear that you are an invaluable member of Remington Steele Investigations and it is completely unacceptable for them to think otherwise.”
“But why couldn’t you tell me that? You didn’t have to confront Clay, you know I could never go anywhere else.”
“Laura, if I were your boss and it was up to me, I would give you nothing but glowing praise, pay you what you are worth and throw in an obscene bonus, to boot.”
An amusing image of Remington in a boss-like posture, behind his desk, reviewing her personnel file, popped into Laura’s head. She started laughing, “What? Like a performance evaluation?”
“Well, is that what you want?”
“We don’t have that kind of ‘conventional boss-employee’ relationship.” Laura pointed out.
“And I thank God for that everyday.” Remington moved his arms around Laura’s waist. “I do think I could come up with a few. . .” He playfully wiggled his brows, “bonuses to reward my most valuable associate.” His body pressed closely against hers, “Then again, you‘re really the boss. Maybe you should be the one giving me a performance review.”
Laura eased into his embrace and into the conversation. “I’m sure your hard work and dedication to the job would be exemplary.”
“I would do whatever means necessary to please my superior.”
“Mmmm. Laura pondered with a playful gleam in her eye, “‘Superior’. . . I kinda like the sound of that.”
“Superior. . .(kiss) anterior. . .(kiss). . . posterior. . .(kiss) I can be quite thorough.”
Thorough indeed. His lips, tongue and hands, all in a coordinated effort, convinced Laura. The walking distance to his apartment now seemed far, too far. Laura impetuously grabbed his hand and yanked him to the edge of the street. She flailed her free hand toward oncoming traffic hoping to signal an in-service cab.
The next evening, Laura let herself into his apartment. Coming and going seemed a lot less formal now. Remington came from the kitchen with a small silver tray of crackers and cheeses. As Laura began to remove her coat, he quickly set the tray aside to assist her.
Remington ducked into the bedroom to hang up the coat. On the coffee table, in front of the sofa were a row of wine bottles with a filled glass in front of each one.
“What is all of that?” she asked pointing to his arrangement.
“The other day I made a most egregious error when I mistook Pinot Noir for a Cabernet, so I thought a refresher course was in order.”
“So you’re going to drink all this wine?”
“No, you are.”
“I don’t follow.”
“You are going to drink.” He sat down “And I am going to taste.” Remington patted the cushion for her to sit next to him.
Laura was completely lost, “Are you sure you haven’t been drinking already?”
“I get to sample the wine the way I tasted it the other day, in the office. Then I will try to determine the nuances of each vintages.”
“I don’t think it’s such a good idea for me to drink all this wine and have you kissing me.”
“I couldn’t think of a better way.” Remington produced a scarf that he fashioned into a blindfold. He relaxed into the cushions and spread his arms to rest against the back of the sofa. “Okay, whenever you’re ready, Laura.”
She momentarily entertained another thought but decided that blindfold could be put to use again later, so she reached forward and took a glass from the middle. She took a sip, set the glass down and scooted in close to gave him a brief kiss. He licked his lips and shook his head, “Not enough.”
He could feel Laura reposition away from him, “Oh sorry, I guess I didn’t take a big enough drink.”
“No,” he found her arm and pulled her back into him. “I was the one who didn’t get enough of a taste.” This time, instead of leaning back, he was the one who leaned into Laura. Long, passionate and of course, ‘thorough’ best described the kiss. He was drinking all of her. There must be some truth to the theory that other senses are heightened by the absence of another. Blindfolded, he became acutely aware of the curves of her body, the softness of her skin, her alluring fragrance; all combined with the sublime pleasure of her mouth blended with the wine. By the time the kiss ended, Laura was completely lying down with Remington virtually covering her. He pulled the blindfold off, and in a whisper, guessed, “Chardonnay?”