The Alternate Link of Steele Part 10
Date: Monday, August 28, 2000
Adriana <>

Hello all,

Ok, so a bit delayed but here at last...

Many, many thanks to Debra who beta read TWICE for me this time!


Part 10

Center for Social Research. Administration Office. 5.53 AM

Crouched beside the desk in the profound darkness of the room, Steele had to wait five rings before the phone was answered.  The minute he heard the click of the receiver being picked up, he felt an immense relief. He shot a quick glance at Laura, who was still sitting on the floor on the opposite end of the room, and smiled.

"Hello, Daniel. It’s Harry," he said in a whisper. No answer came from the other end for a few seconds, but then Steele heard a relieved sigh. "Daniel, I don’t have much time, mate. You there?" he asked urgently, a small frown crossing his darkened features.

"Harry, my boy, are you alright?" the older man man asked, his voice filled with genuine concern.

"Yes," he answered his oldest friend darkly. He was extremely upset with the man.  Although Steele knew this wasn’t directly his fault, he felt Daniel was in a great way responsible for what had happened. After all, he would have never gotten involved with Bulbakov or Freddy, if it weren’t for the older man.

"I’m sorry about all this mess, Harry," Daniel said, struggling to maintain his composure. In actuality, the joy of hearing that his son was safe and sound made him want to jump up and down.

*Of course, I wouldn’t have met Felicia-- or Laura, either-- if it weren’t for him,* Steele reasoned, as the voice of his mentor managed to quench his fury. "It’s alright, Daniel. Not much we can do about it now, is there?" Steele said, his voice under control. Then, fighting to keep his fear in check, he asked, "Is Felicia there?"

On the other end of the room, Laura flinched on the mention of the name. She tried to keep cool and collected, but she felt she was failing miserably. She could feel Steele’s eyes trying to establish contact with hers, but she just couldn’t look at him. The mere sound of his voice was shattering her soul into tiny pieces.

"She arrived yesterday; she’s fine," Daniel replied. Hearing the sigh of relief that escaped the younger man’s mouth, he felt terrible about what he was about to say. "Harry, I’m afraid I have bad news; Felicia is not safe yet. Freddy Hawks was CIA; he was the third young man I recruited, along with you and Kira Bulbakov…" he explained, his voice steady and calm in spite of the fact that he was waiting for the explosion that was sure to follow.

"I know. Listen, mate, I need you to take care of her," Steele said with a heavy heart,  catching a quick glance of Laura’s eyes as she lifted them momentarily and immediately lowered them again.  He could only imagine how she must be suffering.

"You know? How did you-"

Daniel couldn’t finish his sentence since a very nervous Steele interrupted him in mid-speech, declaring, "Never mind how! Listen to me!"

"Alright, my boy. No need to be rude," Daniel said, somewhat offended.

"Listen, Daniel, and listen carefully, because I won’t say this again," Steele explained with ice in his voice. "Our mutual *friend* Kira Bulbakov will have the KGB after Felicia if he merely catches a whiff of the CIA around her. That’s why he got her out of the Spanish prison, so he could keep tabs on her and finish her off if need be. You will see to it that such a thing will not happen under any circumstance, will you not?"

That last statement took Laura by surprise. She had never imagined how deep Bulbakov was involved with the KGB. But if the man had been able to pull a stunt like that, his connections must be stronger than the Golden Gate Bridge itself.

"Of course, Harry. Of course," Daniel said, knowing by the tone of voice of the younger man that he was not in a playing mood. *As a matter of fact,* Daniel thought, *he sounds more serious and deadly that I have ever heard him before.*

"If someone as much as touches one hair on her head, Daniel…" Steele said, not wavering for a minute.

The implied threat sent shivers down Daniel’s spine. He had never thought there’d come a day when he’d be threatened by his own flesh and blood. "She’ll be fine, Harry. We’ll both will be here waiting for you when you return," he said, forcing the words out with a confidence he didn’t feel.

"I don’t think I will be coming back any time soon, mate," Steele confessed sadly, his spirit warming again at the reassuring words of his friend. He again looked at Laura, who was frowning in spite of herself.

Daniel’s heart missed a few beats. He had feared this would happen, but hadn’t wanted to believe it. "What happened? It’s not because of the CIA, is it?" he asked coolly while cursing violently on the inside.

"It’s a combination of problems, Daniel; I can’t even begin to tell you," he explained, not wanting to elaborate further in front of Laura.
"She found you, didn’t she? Did she get you into trouble again?" Daniel inquired, a gut feeling that Laura Holt was somehow involved in this making him sick to his stomach.
*Couldn’t the woman take a hint? She was not stupid. Quite the contrary, she was damn intelligent!*

"Is Felicia around, Daniel? I need to speak with her," Steele instructed, as if his mentor’s last words had not registered at all.

"Laura Holt is trouble, Harry, whichever way you want to look at it," Daniel said, meaning it.

"Don’t you think you’re a bit unqualified to talk about who or what is trouble for me, old man?" Steele replied evenly. He was not only tired of Daniel playing him like a puppet, but of him acting like he was his goddamned father. "I’m sorry, my boy. I never meant…"

"Never mind what you meant. Just stop patronizing me like I’m a bloody teenager, for God’s sake!" Steele exploded. Realizing his tone of voice was much louder than was advisable, he took a hand to his tired eyes and forced himself to cool off. "Just… just do as I asked. Ok, mate?  I’ll keep in touch as often as I can. Now please, put Felicia on the line"

Steele put the phone down for a second as he waited for Felicia to answer it and glanced at Laura again. "Laura, are you alright?" he asked in a whisper.

Laura was sitting there like a forlorn child, her head between her knees. He saw her nod quietly, a gesture that clearly showed how exhausted she felt.
"Michael, are you alright?" Felicia’s voice said, coming out of the receiver. "Where are you?"

Steele went blank for a minute. The shock of hearing his wife’s voice filled him with a strange blend of delight and uneasiness; uneasiness that seemed to grow every second that passed, every second that Laura’s eyes bore deeply in his very soul.

With studied calm, he searched Laura’s eyes and carefully answered, "Yes. I’m alright, luv. How are you?" he asked, no longer able to hide his own concern over Felicia’s safety.

In the other end of the room, Laura’s blood froze. Steele was still trying to hold her gaze, but she felt him drift away. When his eyes left hers and he concentrated on the phone, Laura feared her small dream had been nothing but that. Somehow, she managed to miss the pain in his eyes as he unsuccessfully tried to make her understand nothing had changed; likewise, she missed his wordless assurance that all he had said during the previous hours of the most wonderful night she had ever had was still true.

She just saw the love and tenderness he was showing towards his wife. *His wife!* Laura reminded herself, as she sunk farther and deeper into a pit of endless sorrow. She could only hear his words and the loving manner in which they were spoken.  Out of the blue, all Laura wished was to get out of the room, to be where she would not intrude. She wished the earth would swallow her right there and then.

"How did you get me out of prison?" Felicia asked.

Steele tried to focus on what Felicia was saying, but again his eyes traveled against his wish to the sitting form of Laura. Her face didn’t give too much away, but deep down Steele knew she was crushed. He watched as she shifted uncomfortably on the floor and looked away.

"A friend of mine got you out," he answered at length. "I’m sorry you had to go through that, luv. I can’t tell you how sorry I am."

Laura was now looking at him, but he seemed to have forgotten she was still there. *You still love her; I know you do,* she thought bitterly.

"I never meant to kill Freddy, but that was the only way I…" Felicia said sadly. "I’m sorry."

Steele’s heart sank with the realization that she thought it was all her fault. As much as he hated what she’d done, he didn’t believe for one second all this mess was her fault. "I know why you did it, luv.  I… I know." His voice trailed into silence for a beat and then he added, "It was not your fault… I shouldn’t have left you alone there. I shouldn’t have left…"

As his words left his mouth, Steele looked at Laura. His eyes were pleading, his shoulders sinking under the stress he was feeling. Steele felt torn, lost between two worlds again--One world where he was comfortable, where he knew the odds and could tip the scales the way he wanted, and another world which held the promise of something better.

When Laura finally raised her eyes and met his gaze, Steele almost dropped the phone, the intensity of the look making his knees falter. The brown eyes were calm and resolute, but not distant. He couldn’t know, however, that the serenity of those eyes hid the shattering knowledge that the two of them would never be together. Steele couldn’t know his partner had silently decided he was better off without her.

"But you’ll be safe there; Daniel will handle it… I… I’ll keep in touch as often as I can," he assured her, repeating the promise he had made to Daniel, even though he was not sure he would be able to keep.

"Don’t try to shut me away, Michael; I am your wife," Felicia said in a controlled voice the belied her inner turmoil. "And I love you…" she finished, almost in spite of herself.

Steele sighed deeply before answering. How could he say he didn’t love her anymore? How could he do such a thing, after all she’d done for him?  "I’m trying to do what’s best for everyone.  I just…"  He paused wearily, feeling like the lowest scum ever to disgrace the face of earth.  "Just let Daniel handle this, Felicia."

"She did catch up with you, didn’t she?" Felicia asked without asking. She just wanted to confirm what her instincts were telling her. She could feel his distant manner and she knew he was avoiding her.  She could almost scent the danger of Laura Holt near him, the fear and grief so oppressive it made Felicia feel like retching.

"Yes. And I’m so sorry, luv," he said with infinite tenderness and watery eyes.

Laura stood up, her head in a whirlwind; this was too much for her to bear. She didn’t know what to make of his conversation with Felicia, but she sure had recognized the tone he’d used when talking to the other woman. It was the same earnest, loving tone he had used with her not fifteen minutes earlier.

*I have to get out of here!* she thought desperately. Peering out the door into the hallway and seeing that the path was clear, she turned towards him. "I’ll meet you back in the room, Mr. Steele," she told him-- and without waiting for an answer, she disappeared behind the door.

"Laura, wait!" he exclaimed in a loud whisper as he covered the speaker with the palm of his sweaty hand. But she was gone before he had even time to disengage himself from the phone.

Realizing Felicia must have heard them, he went hastily back to their conversation, saying, "I’m sorry about that; she must have…"

"Did you ever love me, Michael?" Felicia asked with a strangled voice, no longer able to hide her pain, no longer caring if she did or not.

Steele closed his eyes as a solitary tear traveled slowly down his grief stricken face. "Of course, I did. I still do," he said, knowing it was only half a lie. *I do care about you a great deal, but never as much as I... *

"But never as much as you love her?" Felicia said, finishing his thought for him.

His silence was all the answer she needed.

 "I hope that woman knows what she’s getting, Michael," Felicia said finally, her voice and powerful emotions again under control. "It would be a terrible shame for  both of us to lose the person we love."

"You are an amazing woman, Felicia," he told her, deeply touched by her understanding and love, and meaning it with all his heart.

"I love you," she replied as a final goodbye. Then without bothering to wait for an answer she didn’t expect anymore, she put the phone down.

Steele sighed deeply as the line went dead, his soul heavy and his mind aching. But he knew he must press on; there was still one more thing left to do.

Moving rapidly in the shadows, he sped out of the room, passing corridors and hallways, all of his fine tuned senses focused on warning him of the slightest sign of danger. Luckily, no such warning was necessary. At the last corridor before their room, Steele saw the still unconscious guard he’d knocked out earlier, his gun laid carefully by his side; he showed no signs of waking up too soon.  Steele bent over the man and felt his pulse; it was faint but steady. *You’ll live, tovarich, but you’ll have a hell of a headache when you wake up.*

Steele pressed forward to the relative safety of their room and reached sanctuary within seconds.

******************        ******************          ***********************
Outskirts of Saint Petersburg. Farm-house.  6:02 AM

Murphy turned around the corner of the empty, cold, back yard, rubbing his hands together to prevent them from going numb. Even in summer, the early morning air was quite chilly. *Especially if you haven’t rested or slept properly,* Murphy mused. Even though his manner seemed relaxed, every nerve of his body was on edge.

*Where the hell is Grechko?* he wondered as he looked at his wrist watch for the tenth time in the last two minutes.

Murphy turned around the second corner of the house. He had circled the place twice already and was beginning to feel like a damn cop on his early round. *Well, I could use a donut right now. Or even a cold slice of pizza.* Thinking of food wasn’t doing him any good, however. Besides, his stomach had begun to protest at the lack of nourishment.

Murphy sighed deeply as he turned yet another corner. He was sure he wouldn’t like it, but it seemed as if though he would have to share the breakfast table with Mildred and his other commarades today. His stomach grumbled once more.  He tried to silence it by pressing his hand over it, but found the movement hampered by the firm grip of another hand.

That other hand was connected to the strong arm and body of Sergeant Grechko, who yanked Murphy’s elbow painfully.

"Let’s go," Grechko said. "We haven’t much time."

Murphy followed the police officer to the front of the farmhouse, where the familiar black chaika was waiting, its engine purring like a contented cat.

"You have the ugliest police cars I’ve ever seen, Grechko," Murphy commented, looking at the squared hood and complete disregard for aerodynamics the vehicle in front of him presented.

"Yes, well… They perform very well in the snow, you know," Grechko replied dryly, looking at the car with almost as much distaste as the American had. "But they sure are ugly…"

Both men got into the offensive automobile, which much to Grechko’s delight displayed amazing speed and got them out of range of the possible KGB monitors in a matter of minutes. Moments later, they were driving along a narrow country lane in the bor  -the Russian forest.

Inside the car, Grechko was fumbling with the wheel, a cigarette and his matches, all at the same time.

"Here," Murphy said taking the matches from the cop and lighting the cigarette for him. "Keep your hands on the wheel, for Christ’s sakes!"

Grechko merely smiled, pleased to see the American so scared at nothing. *It’s not as if I couldn’t drive this thing with no hands,* he was thinking.

A few miles later, the black Chaika pulled over a curb. Grechko got out of the car and examined the surroundings carefully. Once he was satisfied no one had followed them, he put out his cigarette with the tip of his shoe and climbed inside the car again. He sat back expansively on the driver’s seat, pulling his neck forward as if to relieve the pain that had been punishing him since the early hours of the previous night.

" It’s been quite a night, hasn’t it?" he asked, almost to himself, as he pulled yet another cigarette from the pack, lit it expertly, and puffed tiredly.

"Marlboros?" Murphy asked, surprised.

Grechko looked at him with amusement. "A colleague of mine in the customs service manages to get me some every now and then. They are way too expensive to buy on the black market, you see.  And illegal, of course," he explained as he offered Murphy one of his precious cigarettes.

"Thanks," Murphy said, shaking his head in denial. "But I don’t smoke."

"Oh," Grechko replied, puffing lengthily once again and not bothering to even crack one of the windows open to allow the thick smoke out.

"Are we here for a reason, Grechko? Or did you just want to go for a drive?" Murphy asked.

Grechko let out a bellow of laughter and almost choked on his smoke. "I’m sorry," the policeman replied, getting serious as well. "I guess the lovely atmosphere of this place made me lose focus."

Murphy looked out the window. Grechko was right; the place was so beautiful, it almost looked like a picture from a fairy tale book. But he would have been much more perceptive to the beautiful surroundings if he were there with Laura safely at his side, rather than sitting in an old, creaking, can of sardines trying to get information about her whereabouts from a Soviet police officer.

"So?" he asked, almost out of patience. "What do you know about Laura Holt?"

Grechko frowned and puffed again. "I last saw her the same day you did, the day of the interrogation. I was in charge of getting both of you there, but during the course of the interrogation an order was issued by the Komitet to keep her in confinement at police HQ for another half day. A second interrogation was supposed to take place."

"Why?" Murphy asked, afraid of what the answer might be.

Grechko looked at him and smiled. "I don’t know their reasons," he said, eyeing Murphy skeptically. "If it had been me, I would have held you both. Your story about what happened in Spain was less believable than Little Red Hood." Grechko laughed inwardly at Murphy’s evident discomfort and then added, "But it wasn’t me. Her stay had been requested even before I briefed the KGB about what you two had said."

"I didn’t know the KGB had any interest in us. Why should they?" Murphy asked defensively.

"The KGB always has interests in everything, Mr. Michaels," Grechko replied distastefully.

"So who ordered her detention, then?" Murphy wanted to know.

"Do you know Mikhail Anatoli Novikov, Mr. Michaels?" Grechko replied with a question of his own.

"I told you before, I don’t know that name. And why would I know anyone from the KGB anyway?" Murphy said irritably. "He was the one who requested her detention… Is that it?"

Grechko nodded silently to himself, satisfied for now that the American was telling the truth. At least, Grechko thought he was. "No; Major Trashkin, KGB, ordered her detention," he said, eyeing Murphy to see if that name brought any reaction in the man.

"I don’t know him, either, if that’s what you’re wondering," Murphy said, icily.

"I have reason to believe this Novikov is somehow involved, but I’m not sure how or why," Grechko said carefully. "You see, Mr. Michaels, Mikhail Anatoli Novikov was pronounced dead ten years ago, but yet I have witnesses in the police department that say he was seen in the Saint Petersburg Police HQ the same day of your interrogation. As a matter of fact, the clerk at the front desk swears Major Trashkin arrested the man…. Brought him in ten minutes before we arrived."

"I’m afraid I don’t follow you, Grechko. What does that have to do with Laura and me?" Murphy asked.

Seeing that Murphy was at a loss of words and ideas, Grechko began his explanation. "Almost fifteen years ago, when I was still a junior officer in the Police force, I helped to uncover information about the disappearance of various works of art from Ztarist times which had been stolen from a private residence in Warsaw.

"Warsaw?" Murphy asked.

"I was born in Warsaw, Mr. Micheals. Anything wrong with that?"

Murphy shook his head and motioned for the Sergeant to continue. Grechko lit another cigarette and cracked the window open an inch. The smoke was getting so thick, they could hardly see each other.

 "One of the suspects was a 19 year old student from Warsaw College by the name of…"

"…Mikhail Anatoli Novikov," Murphy concluded. "But I still don’t see where you’re going with this."

"Well, this man Novikov managed to elude the police. The works of art were never recovered and all of the other suspects we had turned out to be innocent. He must have been the thief, but we couldn’t prove it--and we certainly couldn’t find him. The case was finally closed, unsolved, but I felt terrible. It had been my job to uncover information about the suspects, but I had failed to find anything about this man. It was the first time I had failed in anything. My first real razebaistvo… Er…How do you say it?"

Murphy’s face was blank.

"Never mind," Grechko said as he shifted uncomfortably in his seat. The uneasiness, however, was more related to the memories than to the cramped space.  "After another year, I moved to Saint Petersburg, and there I…. fuck-up!" Grechko said with a huge silly grin on his face. "Yes, that’s the word…"

Murphy looked at the police officer as if he couldn’t believe what he had heard.

Seeing the American’s embarrassment, Grechko hastily continued. "I tried to find some information when I arrived here, but it was useless. There were no police records, no civil records of any kind that certified Novikov’s existence. Not even the KGB knew anything about him. With time, I let it go. That is, until I was given this," Grechko explained.

He reached over to the glove compartment on Murphy’s side of the car and removed an envelope. Then taking a color photograph from it, he handed it over to Murphy.

Murphy studied the photograph carefully. It was a standard profile photo of a middle-aged man with a receding hairline and thick white beard. Murphy had no idea who the man was. The only strange thing about the photograph was that instead of having been taken against a white background, it had been taken in a corridor. And judging from the blur of the picture, it had been taken in a hurry.

Murphy shook his head. "I don’t know him; sorry," he said, giving the photo back to its owner.

"No, wait," Grechko exclaimed, interrupting him and pointing at the picture. "See, there… in the background…"

Murphy examined the photo closer. In the background, almost at the end of the corridor, a man with hat and cane, wearing a light brown old-fashioned three-piece suit, was apparently pushing another man forward. Both figures had their backs to the lens, but upon seeing the lean frame of the second man, who was almost hidden behind the heavier set figure who was pushing him, Murphy frowned.

"The man with the hat is Major Trashkin; the other man fits the description of Navikov: Caucasian male, over six feet tall, lean frame, black hair, blue eyes, and quite handsome features."

Murphy’s blood froze in his veins as the lean figure in the photograph seemed to grow clearer each second.

"Of course, I cannot see his face from this picture, but I did cross check the witnesses accounts with an old photo of Novikov I had saved as a souvenir all those years ago. Almost everyone says it could very well be the same man," Grechko continued, unaware of the shock he had caused the man beside him.

Grechko produced a second photograph from the envelope and handed it over to Murphy, who took it with shaky hands.

"If it is him, and I strongly suspect it is," Grechko explained in a threatening tone, "why is a former art thief, with no confirmable past or present, arrested on the same day and time as you and Miss Holt, by the same KGB officer who ordered her following detention? And to make matters worse, why is he no longer in prison? And why are there are no records whatsoever of his arrest?"

Murphy wasn’t listening; his mind and eyes were intently focused on the old, black and white photo he had in his hands. It was a yearbook picture: Warsaw College, 1972.  There was a red circle made with a marker around one of the faces in a sea of faces. He was very young, but the same impish smile danced merrily in his face. He carried the same easy posture of a man who didn’t have a care in the world… The same mocking, glittering eyes which seemed to laugh at him from the past were now haunting him in the present.

Murphy felt his blood boil in his veins, but he tried to remain calm under the scrutiny of Grechko’s suspicious eyes.

"I will ask you again, Mr. Michaels. Do you, or do you not, know Mikhail Anatoli Novikov?" Grechko inquired slowly and carefully, not wanting to miss the American’s reaction this time.

Murphy, his eyes still glued on the scornful features of the man he knew as Remington Steele, answered calmly. "I’m sorry, Sergeant Grechko, but that name means nothing to me."

End Part 10
To Part 11