The Alternate Link of Steele 7
The Alternate link of Steele 7
Smolenskoye Cemetery, South Corner. 7.36 PM.
Kira Bulbakov raised his eyes to the faraway window of the house his immediate future would be decided in. He lit a cigarette and exhaled playfully, seeing the smoke forming expanding circles in the early night air.
He wondered for the tenth time if he had done the right thing. Truth be told, deep down in his soul he knew he should have ended this the minute the Holt woman had arrived, but his former friendship with Misha had persuaded him otherwise. *Funny,* Bulbakov thought. *I've never made such concessions for anyone else before. *
Bulbakov smiled. *That lucky bastard!* he thought warmly as he leaned back on the unidentified tombstone feeling quite pleased with his newfound benevolence.
"Now all you have to do, mon
brave, is bring Miss Holt to your side," he muttered as he
waved the rings of smoke away.
* But if you fail to do that, however, I will naturally be forced to kill her.*
If he had measured Miss Holt correctly, he knew she'd make a formidable enemy. She would likely be able to pursue Misha and bring him down anywhere in the world. So it would be better things got straightened out right here, where he could bend the scale to his side.
* Well, old friend, * he thought again as he lit a second cigarette with the butt of the first one. *You said you'd deal with her in your own terms. So deal with her now. *
*************** ******************** ***************
House on Maly Prospekt. 7.38 PM
Steele lifted a shaking hand to his eyes and tried to rub the growing headache away. He let out a small sigh and rested his tired eyes on Laura. Feeling weak with anguish, his were nerves completely shattered. His legs almost failed him when he began to move awkwardly to where she was.
He saw Laura's chest go up and down rhythmically; her eyes were closed and her face peaceful. She was sill wearing the rough, blue vatnik she had worn to the interrogation, but to Steele's eyes, she looked more beautiful than he could remember. He knelt down at her side and held his breath, not wishing to wake her.
*She looks so fragile,* he thought as his hand moved towards the lovely face on its own accord, his long fingers seeking contact with the smooth surface of her skin. However, he stopped in time and pulled his hand away, unconsciously chewing on his thumbnail. He let out a small breath, totally lost in thought.
The weak gush of air stirred Laura a bit, and suddenly she shifted in her sleep.
Steele instantly backed away a few inches, petrified under the prospect of being caught red handed in her private space. Adrenaline rushed through his veins as it had never done before and his heart pounded in his chest like a wild drum. Still, he couldn't take his eyes from her.
Laura's face was now right opposite his own, and Steele frowned slightly as his determination gave way to desire and he bent forward to bring his lips down to hers, but he didn't kiss her. Using every ounce of self-control he had in him, he avoided her tempting mouth and directed his lips north, gently brushing them against her clear forehead and soft brown hair before standing up and turning away.
All of a sudden, he heard the door shut with a loud bang and the lock being set. He hurried down to it and jiggled the knob unsuccessfully.
"Damn!" he cursed as he retrieved his lock picks from his pocket.
He knelt down and saw that the keyhole had been filled from the outside with some kind of plaster. He heard the heavy footsteps and the scorning laughter of the KGB man as he began to walk away.
"Come back, God curse you to hell! Open this bloody door!" Steele yelled in Russian to the man on the other room.
"I'll come back at 9, and you'd better have solved whatever Major Trashkin wants you to solve before that or I'll kill you both!" came the muffled response.
The footsteps died away as quickly as they had begun and Steele leaned heavily on the door.
"Yeb vas, commarade!" he said in barely more that a whisper, beside of himself with anger, frustration, and fear, the foul curse relieving him of some of his stress.
Still facing the door, and not willing to turn around to face Laura, Steele felt her eyes boring into him like cold daggers
"Turn around, Mr. Steele. 'm tired of people ignoring me in this country," Laura said, icily.
She saw him turn slowly, with his eyes cast on the hardwood floor.
"Hello, Laura," he said, simply.
Laura was still feeling a little drowsy and she remained silent, waiting for him to continue. Steele didn't say another word, but raised his eyes enough to see that the peace and quiet he had seen in her face not minutes ago had been replaced by a mask of fear, hurt and distrust. Then silently, he walked past her over to the windows.
"'Hello, Laura?' That's all you're going to say?" she asked, her tone unbelieving.
Steele didn't reply, as he was busily trying to move the heavy curtains aside and peer down at the street. Suddenly, he felt his arm being jerked away from the expensive fabric.
"Answer me, damn it! What's going on?" Laura said, her voice stern but her eyes pleading him to give her some kind of an answer.
Steele looked into her eyes and made a gesture with his head, indicating that she should look outside the window.
"Igor down there locked us in," he said, looking down outside the pane.
The KGB man was driving away, but he had left two armed sentries posted on the door.
Laura looked outside and saw the two men and the automatic weapons they were holding, and again she wished she knew what was happening. What had Steele got himself into this time?
She then looked at him, a plan beginning to form in her mind. "We have to get out of here and reach the Consulate. Maybe if we-"
She couldn't even finish before Steele broke out a bitter laugh.
He shook his head sadly. *That wouldn't help much,* he thought. *It wouldn't help at all!*
"What?" Laura demanded to know.
Steele looked at her with knowing eyes. She looked beautiful when she was upset. "Do you even know where the American Consulate is?" he asked, hiding a smile.
Laura hated to admit that she didn't. "No, I haven't had any time to look around the city," she said, sarcastically. "But it seems that you know your way around pretty well, don't you?" she asked pointedly. "Since when do you speak Russian, Mr. Steele? Or should I call you Chalmers?"
"Since I was nineteen, actually," he replied casually. And then seeing her questioning look, he smiled and added, "Remington Steele will do."
Laura nodded. There was no point in pressing that issue; it didn't really matter anymore. She had to smile at that. She had finally reached the point where she was so desperate that his name, which ever that might be, was completely inconsequential.
Steele leaned back against the window, facing Laura and looking at her straight in the eyes. "Why should I help you reach the Consulate, Laura? That's not going to help me at all, is it? Quite the contrary, I imagine," he said, his blue eyes penetrating the depths of her soul, hoping for at least one sign that she might give him a chance.
"You know you will have to give that book back sooner or later," she said "The only way I can help you is if you turn yourself in," she finished, not too convincingly.
Steele smiled. "You don't even believe that more than I do, Laura," he said, knowing he was right. "And besides, I no longer have the book," he added as his eyes traveled to the leather bag that was on the floor near the opposite wall.
Laura's eyes followed his and she frowned. "Is that your payoff?" she asked.
Steele nodded shortly, not liking at all the tone she had used. "You make it sound dirty."
"It is dirty. Four, no, five men died because of it," she reminded him, grimly.
Steele flinched under the accusation. "I didn't kill anyone," he replied, darkly.
He then sighed and moved away from the window. *This is never going to work. But it has to! Bulbakov will kill us otherwise.*
Laura merely looked at him, as she refrained from answering, her heart sinking with the pain she saw in his face. She couldn't ease his pain even if she wanted to, and her words were just hurting him further. Laura thought she'd rather die before hurting him like that again.
"I think maybe I can get Sergeant Grechko to help us," Laura finally said, attempting a new approach.
"Yes, he's with the Saint Petersb-"
"I know who he is. Why would he help you?" he interrupted curtly, still greatly perturbed by her last remark.
Laura looked at him uneasily. She felt at a disadvantage and she hated that fact, but if they were to get out of this, she'd have to contribute, even if he didn't do the same.
"I don't think he's happy with the current arrangement," she replied enigmatically, baiting him to give her more information. Ordinarily, Laura would enjoy these little give-and-take games, but this time; this time it was not enjoyable at all.
Steele, however, saw right through her and smiled, letting her know he was onto her. "Grechko couldn't even help himself, Laura," he said, suddenly tired of playing around. "Listen, I appreciate your trying to help, but you're way out of your depth here," he told her.
Laura felt her temperature rise with anger. "Fine!" she exploded. "Fine! Be as smart-ass as you want to be, Mr. Steele, but that won't get us out of here. Now, if you know so much about what's going on, why don't you come up with a plan?" he yelled, her frustration and humiliation driving her to tears.
Steele watched her turn her back on him and cursed himself in silence. "I'm sorry, Laura. I didn't mean it to sound like that," he said as he approached her from the back and put a hand on her shoulder, trying to comfort her.
"Get your hands off of me!" she told him, shaking his hand away with a jerk of her shoulder.
Steele stepped back and lifted his hands in the air. "I'm sorry," he repeated.
A tense silence hung between them for a couple of minutes. Neither of them knew what to say or do, and Steele was increasingly aware that time was running out.
Finally Laura broke the silence and spoke up. "Do you realize this is always the same?" she asked him, still facing the wall. "Do you know how it hurts to be always left out of the game?" she finished, her voice almost cracking under the pressure of tears.
"As you might recall, Laura, I spent years at your side in that very position," he said, evenly.
She turned around and the fire in her eyes seemed to reach him straight in the heart. "But not when it really mattered. Not when it came to our lives or our relationship." She stopped, unsure if she should go on.
His eyes were focused on her as she continued, saying, "And now I have the lives of Mildred and Murphy also pending on something I don't have a clue about. Don't you understand?"
Steele nodded. He understood completely, but he couldn't help-- not the way she wanted him to help. "I'm sorry, Laura. But things will have to be done my way this time."
"What is that supposed to mean?" she asked, feeling insulted that he felt she always had things her way or no way.
"It means that if you want us and Mildred and Murphy to walk out of this with our heads on our shoulders..." He paused for effect. "...then you will have to forget about your damned case!"
Laura's shoulder's sagged as she heard his words. That would be against everything she had ever believed in. "You know I could never do that," she told him, feeling betrayed.
"Then we will die," he said honestly and painfully, as hard truths always were. *We will both die, because if they try to kill you, Laura, they'll have to kill me first, * he thought, realizing he wouldn't care to live another day if she wasn't safe as well.
Laura stared at the floor for a few seconds, felling really tired. "I suppose it's not necessary to ask you--"
"Wait, Laura," he interrupted again, aware they didn't have much time left, and knowing the only way she'd consider his angle was if she knew what she was involved in. "I think it'd be better if I filled you in. You're right; you deserve to know," he said, and her grateful look told him he had been right.
Fifteen minutes later, Steele had told Laura about Bulbakov and the bookmark, and about how he had become involved with the Russian in the first place. He had also told her about Daniel's plan of so many years before, and about the reasons why he believed they had a chance as long as she swore she wouldn't endanger him or Bulbakov further.
Laura was amazed at the turns and twists she had never even considered. *The KGB... my God!* she thought as a chill traveled down her spine. Still, there were too many questions that assaulted her mind.
"Why is that bookmark so important?" Laura asked, ssaying the first thing she had thought of.
Steele sighed, exasperated. *Does she ever stop?* he wondered. "I don't know, Laura," he said, warily. "I didn't ask. I don't want to know."
But he had asked. He had wanted to know, also, but had been afraid of what the answer to that question would lead them.
"But what about the third?" she began again, the inquisitive thirst of her mind never to be quenched so easily.
"Laura, Laura. Please. We don't have much time. Bulbakov will be here in any minute. I need to know we are in this together," he pleaded.
Laura looked at him strangely. Even though she saw his point, she was still not sure she could do this. "We are not in anything together, Mr. Steele. You are there, and I am here, and there is a world between us," she told him.
Steele thought about that for one second and then decided he had to try and convince her, whatever it took. He wasn't proud of what he was about to do, but he knew he was being truthful, and that thought eased his discomfort.
He closed the gap between them with one long stride. "It doesn't have to be that way" he said, his voice gentle but firm as his hand reached out to cup her face and his head bent down to kiss her hard.
Laura's first instinct was to fight him, so she tried to push him away with her hands against his chest. When he loosened his grip and allowed her some space, she looked into the bottomless depth of his ocean blue eyes, hoping she could manage to escape his magnetic gaze.
"Don't," she said, faintly.
But he didn't let go. He bent his knees a fraction to level their eyes, one hand still in the back of her long neck and the other clasping her side firmly.
"This... Us... It has to be, Laura," he said without allowing her to look away. He narrowed his eyes, sharpening his sight. "Do you trust me?" he asked.
"I can't," she replied. *Us?* she thought miserably. *Us is not a possibility.* Her mind told her what her heart refused to believe.
They stared at each other, both willing to bend the other's determination. Desire and fear; longing and uncertainty, pooled together in a disconcerting maze of shared feelings. But his will was rapidly overpowering hers.
Steele bent his head down again and claimed her lips, this time with such passion and love that Laura couldn't help but surrender to him. Just like it had happened that night in Spain, both of them lost any ability to think as their lips hungrily met and their tongues dueled, feverous heat burning their bodies.
After what seemed like an eternity, Steele's lips unhappily left Laura's to travel down her neck and finally rest on her shoulder. Laura held him there as their hearts pounded in unison.
"Do you trust me, Laura?" asked again into her neck, holding to her like there was no tomorrow. His hands were buried in the blue fabric of the vatnik, knowing that if she weren't there to support him, he'd surely fall to the ground.
Without being able to help it, Laura began to sob softly. She caressed the top of his head with her wet cheek and nodded silently, not really knowing why. She just knew she was ready to trust him with her life, because her life would be meaningless without him.
When Laura felt him moving away, she tried to hold him back. He lifted his head just enough so he could see her face. Behind the mist of his watery eyes, he could see her tears of joy, sadness, acceptance and agreement, tricking down her soft cheeks. Steele smiled weakly as he wiped her tears away with his thumb and gently followed his action by brushing his lips on the salty wake he had left behind.
"Do you?" he asked one final time, wanting to be completely sure.
Laura merely nodded and was buried again in a close, tight hug.