The Alternate Link of Steele 12
Date: Saturday, September 09, 2000
Adriana <>

I'd like to thank Debra for all her help, and patience, and help... and even more patience.

Without further ado, here it goes.

The Alternate Link of Steele 12

By Adriana

Outskirts of St. Petersburg. Farmhouse 5:47 PM.

Mildred walked hastily through the corridors of a wing of the suokhotz she had never seen before, the deskurnaya leading the way with an authoritative pace. Looking around with amazed eyes, Mildred noticed this part of the building wasn't as derelict as the rest of it was. Even though it was painted in the same grayish color as the rest of the building, somehow the walls around her looked livelier.

As she followed the Russian woman through heavy iron doors and narrow passages, Mildred wondered again what was she doing in there. She hadn't seen Murphy all day. As a matter of fact, it seemed as if the young man had vanished into thin air since the previous night, when they had dined together in the common dinning room.

Mildred shivered, fearing he had suffered the same fate as Miss Holt, who had also disappeared two three days ago. She felt lonely and scared in a strange country, surrounded by angry looking officers, and fellow *guests* of the suokhotz who didn't understand was she was going through.

Five minutes earlier, the deskurnaya had told Mildred, in heavily accented, halting English that three KBG officers wanted to ask her some questions. Then turning around curtly, she had refused to answer any of Mildred's anxious queries. As the rude Russian woman led her across a heavy iron gate and then into a small, bug proof room, Mildred thought she'd kill for the chance to see a friendly face again.

She almost fainted, however, upon seeing the face of one of the three KBG men who were staring at her from under the low peak of their caps. She quickly looked down at his crisp, dark green uniform in a futile attempt to calm her already shattered nerves before finally looking up at the stern face of Remington Steele and his two companions.

Mildred opened her mouth as if to say something when Steele ordered in accented English, "Silence! You will speak only when you're told to. Understood?" Then addressing the deskusrnaya in her own language, he added, "I will interrogate this woman alone. These two officers will stand guard outside. I don't want any interruptions while we are here. Is that clear?"

Thinking that Steele's accent had sounded quite strange, the deskurnaya eyed him suspiciously. But after seeing the other two officers turn to leave as they leveled their guns carelessly at her back, she nodded her head obediently and walked out.

Before closing the door, one of the KGB men turned to Steele and touched his cap in salute. "Diesyatminutm," he warned. - Ten minutes-

Steele looked at the huge man and nodded in return, recognizing him as the same who had driven him two days ago and then locked him inside an ancient, beautiful room where he had found Laura sleeping. The other man Steele hadn't met before, but he looked as dangerous and hostile as his partner.

Steele had been given the uniform, complete with cap, boots, holster and gun. He hadn't been given a loaded cartridge, of course. He wasn't particularly fond of guns, but at that moment, however, his mind would have been more at rest if his weapon were actually of some use.  Shifting his weigh to his other leg and feeling the shape of the knife hidden behind his belt, he breathed more easily.

Once the two men had left, Steele let out a small sigh. Then directing his glance toward Mildred, he saw the confusion in her eyes and had to smile. *Poor Mildred!* he thought. *I would have never brought you into this if Murphy had been here.*

"Where's Murphy?" he asked, dropping the fake accent and speaking gently.

Mildred didn't answer. Instead, she eyed him with fear, not knowing whether to trust him or not. She had no idea who he was anymore; was he friend or foe? She couldn't decide. The friendliness in his eyes and voice compelled her to speak with him, to ask him what he knew and what this was all about. Her cautious side, though, warned her that he was not the friend she remembered, but a stranger-- and even possibly an enemy.

"I don't know where Murphy is," she replied, not giving away her fear. "I thought you and your people would know."

Steele let out a short, amused laugh, pleased that the disguise had worked. Removing his cap off of his head, he combed his hair with his fingers and explained, "It's just a costume, Mildred. It's not real."

"Oh, really? It seems quite real. I don't believe a word you're saying, buster," she replied angrily. Then, with earnest sorrow, she added, "Not anymore."

Steele lowered his gaze, the sting in his heart making it unbearable to look at her disapproving eyes. "I need to know where he is, Mildred," he pleaded. "I have to speak with him."

When he lifted his eyes again, Mildred faltered a bit. It was the same look he used to wear when he was actually regretting something he had done. Mildred hadn't seen that look many times, but she had seen it enough to know when it was real, and this time it was real. Still, she couldn't bring herself to trust him completely.  She had seen the results of his actions first hand, and she knew he was dangerous.

"Who are you? What right do you have to do this to us?" she asked, on the brink of tears.

"I haven't done anything to you. You all came here on your own free will, did you not? You're not going to tell me Laura forced you to come, are you?" he asked with pain in his voice, tired of being accused and battered from all sides.

"We couldn't let her come here alone!" Mildred exclaimed.

"You could have talked her out of it," Steele replied, only to be hushed by the sarcastic look on Mildred's face. "Yes, well. I suppose that wouldn't have worked," he admitted with a fond smile. Then seeing that the older woman was upset, -or furious, rather- he tried an apology. "For what it's worth, Mildred, I am terribly sorry."

"Listen, Mr. Whoever-you-are, I'm not up to any games right now, so cut the crap. What do you want with Murphy?" she asked, her manner relentless.

Steele took in her harsh words in and realized she was not likely to view him as a friend anymore. He couldn't blame her, really. He stood up, and then putting the cap back on, he took a piece of paper from the pocket of his army coat and handed it to her.

"Tell Murphy, when you see him, that it's imperative we meet," he said somberly.

He glanced at the message in Mildred's hands. "That's the time and location of the meeting," he explained. "There can be no changes in it and no bartering. I suggest you memorize that information, Mildred, and destroy the paper before you leave this room."

Mildred looked down at the piece of paper and then back into the blue eyes she had once liked so much. Her heart sank with the realization that maybe neither one of them had really known his true identity or his true feelings. She felt devastated by the fact that the young man she had once loved like her own son might actually be an undercover Russian agent.

"Murphy will never make it here, if he comes back at all, that is," she said, referring to the address she had been given. "We are not allowed out of this building, you know."

"I'm sure he'll find a way. Tell him I'll keep Grechko busy for him," he said, wearing a playful smile on his face again. Then to put Mildred's mind at peace for a moment, he leaned towards her and patted her on the shoulder, adding, "He'll come back, Mildred; don't you worry. He's always been there for Laura, hasn't he?"

Upon hearing Laura's name, Mildred suddenly realized what was going on. She felt a surge of anger like she had never felt before, and for a brief moment she was tempted to choke the man in front of her.

"What have you done with her?" Mildred asked with ice in her voice and fire in her eyes.

When Steele turned around to face her again, the look on the woman's face filled his soul with grief, remorse and anger. *How can she even think that?* he thought, fully aware of her reasons, but hurt nonetheless.

"She's safe, Mildred," he said apologetically again. Tiredly, he added, "But I need to speak with Murphy to keep things that way, for all of us."

Mildred wasn't listening; her mind still ringing with the news that Laura was in Soviet hands and still alive. She again looked up at Steele, this time unable to hide her fear or the tears that were welling in her eyes.

"Please don't hurt her, Mr. Steele. We'll go home and you'll never hear from any of us again," she begged, her highly emotional state making her drop every façade.

Steele watched the older woman come to pieces before his eyes and instantly went to her. He wrapped a protective arm around her shoulders. "I could never hurt her, Mildred; for Heaven's sakes!" he said in an exasperated tone.

"Please don't hurt her!" Mildred repeated as a litany.

Steele took a step backwards and bent his knees to level their eyes. "Look at me, Mildred," he ordered, putting his hands on her shoulders. When she did so, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand in an effort to regain composure, he added, "I could never, ever, bring myself to lay a hand on her or harm her in any way. Do you understand?"

Mildred nodded, but Steele wasn't sure she really believed him.

"I love her, Mildred. And I'll do anything within my power to keep her-- and you, and Murphy-- safe. Alright?"

Mildred smiled thinly. Doubt still dwelt in her heart, but at the moment she felt that what she was hearing might be the truth.

Steele stood up straight and patted her shoulders with both of his hands. "Well, then. Make sure Murphy gets my message, will you?" he said as he turned towards the door again. Then keeping his eyes on her, he added, "And make sure he'll be there."

Steele walked towards the door, knocked twice and waited.

"How did you learn Russian so well, Mr. St..."  Mildred stopped before she said the whole name, reminding herself inwardly that the uniform clad figure in front of her wasn't Remington Steele-- and that he had probably never been.

"Long story, Mildred. Long story," he replied with a sad smile, very aware of her doubts and fears, and then disappeared behind the door.

"Da Svedanya," Mildred said to the empty room. She was aware that it might be the last time she ever saw him.

Ice Palace, Krashnovo Kursanta St., 6:33 PM

Laura woke up from her nap and again had trouble realizing where she was. It seemed that every time she opened her eyes, she was somewhere new, somewhere she had never been before. However, as her gaze traveled through the spacious, elegant room, she quickly recalled the nice few hours she had spent there.

She and Steele had talked again, discussing possible outcomes for their present situation. They had worked as a team as they had done so many times before, again feeling at ease with each other. They had spoken of trust, love-- and the past. At first, she had cried about the hopelessness of their situation, but then finally came to understand that though he deeply cared about Felicia, it was much in the same way she cared about Murphy or Mildred.

Closing her eyes momentarily, Laura's thought's dwelled in the past few hours. She recalled how she luxuriated in his presence, feeling the male glow that emanated from him when they were alone together, relishing on that glow like a sunbather relishes the sun. Needing to feel that warmth again, she stretched her arm only to find cold, empty sheets.

Seeing the empty pillow beside her, still hollow where his head had made a dent, Laura felt a knot in the pit of her stomach. Sitting of the bed, she looked around, but Steele was nowhere to be seen. She walked towards the huge bathroom suite, but it was empty as well. Finally, she decided it was best to get dressed and look for him downstairs.


Bulbakov was sitting comfortably in his sofa, reading The Pravda -The Truth-, a newspaper from Moscow, which was usually regarded as the most objective. Bulbakov laughed again at the inside joke the KGB and any Russian with half a brain shared about that paper: "There is no news in The Truth, there is no truth in the news."

Bulbakov's eyes flew from the paper to the stairs as Laura appeared on them. He stood up, folded the paper in half and walked towards her.

"Just the man I was looking for," Laura said with sarcasm.

"Miss Holt, I'm flattered. But I could never do that to Misha," he replied charmingly, with a playful smile on his face. Then lifting his eyebrows with mock regret, he added, "We'll have to remain just friends, I'm afraid."

Laura, however, was having none of it. "I am not your friend, Bulbakov. Where is he?" she asked.

"Would you care for some tea, Miss Holt? It's from India, packed in England, and freshly brewed," he offered, his smile never wavering as he poured the hot, steaming liquid into an exquisitely crafted porcelain cup.

"No, thank you. Where did he go?" Laura insisted, using the same charming tone he had just used.

Bulbakov laughed shortly, cup of tea in hand, and not quite sure what to do with it. Finally, he walked back to his seat and began sipping it carefully before answering. "He's meeting your friend Michaels, I believe. I tried to stop him, but you know Misha when something gets inside his head."

"You let him go alone? Are you insane?" Laura exclaimed. The idea of Steele meeting Murphy in a quiet and peaceful fashion was in itself a crazy notion, but the idea of him going there alone was completely suicidal.

"Of course not!" Bulbakov said, putting the cup down and looking terribly offended. "Two of my best men are with him."

"Oh, he's out in the streets of Saint Petersburg with two armed KGB men. Yeah, now I'm relaxed," Laura said, feeling fire spreading on her cheeks.

"I would dare to say, Miss Holt, that the KGB is his and *your* best friend in this country. For the moment, at least," Bulbakov answered in a menacing tone.

She frowned deeply and bit her lip, not sure that picking a fight with Bulbakov was the wisest thing to do. On the one hand, she knew the meeting with Murphy hadn't been Steele's idea to begin with, Bulbakov had managed to persuade him that Murphy might be dangerous, and none of her arguments on the contrary seemed to have worked.

On the other hand, Laura thought desperately, Bulbakov was right. The KGB was the only thing that kept Steele, and probably herself, as well, from falling into Grechko's hands. She knew the Police didn't have anything on her, but Steele was an altogether different matter. If the police should find him, he would be prosecuted for his past crimes in Russia. And more than likely, his present and past identities would be thoroughly investigated, uncovering a Pandora's box that many would prefer to see undisturbed.

All of these problems whirled in Laura's mind as her eyes unmercifully bore in the relaxed features of Kira Bulbakov. All the answers she required seemed to be embodied in him. *The KGB is our only ally in Russia* Laura thought as she admired the steadiness and outer clam of the old fashioned man sitting in front of her. *The question is why*

"Why, Bulbakov?" she asked, the sound of his last sentence still hanging in the air. "Why is the KGB our best friend?"

Bulbakov smiled again and then sighed. "Because, Miss Holt, Misha is my friend. And friends do take care of friends in times of need, don't they?"

Laura's mind immediately went to Murphy and Mildred and the precarious balance in which their lives were hanging on because of her foolishness. The anguish grew deeper as she realized there was nothing she could do about them right now.

"Oh, please!" she exclaimed. "You're not Mr. St... Misha's friend, so spare me the lies."

Bulbakov's smile grew even wider, making him look like the cat who had swallowed the canary; he was ahead in the game, and he knew it. "I know all about Remington Steele Investigations, Miss Holt. But never fear; my lips are sealed," he told her as he made a gesture which implied that his mouth was locked and he had thrown away the key.

Laura shot him daggers with her eyes, but it didn't seem to have any effect on him. He merely smiled and said, "I am his friend, and I want to see him off the hook as much as you do. But if that means he'll have to make some sacrifices... Well, as surely as my name is Kira Bulbakov, I am not going to stand in his way."

"I'd be willing to bet your name isn't Kira Bulbakov," Laura retorted evenly. "Not your real name, at least."

Bulbakov laughed heartily, admiring the nerve of the woman and her indomitable spirit.

"Oh, but is it, Miss Holt. It's very real. Almost as real as all the other names and lives that go with them," he said, enigmatically. Then standing up and slowly walking toward her, he looked straight into her eyes and said, " You see, Laura... May I call you Laura?"

Laura stared into the light green eyes that made him look feline and deadly. She hadn't noticed before how fierce they looked or how clear they were. She nodded her head as he took another step forward.

"It doesn't really matter which name I use, because who I am never changes. Who's to say who's the real me and who isn't? I am always real, and like everyone else, I have many sides."

Bulbakov came closer and now they were facing each other, but Laura held her ground and refused to feel scared.

"I am cruel, sometimes; I am charming, sometimes," he continued, taking Laura's hand to his lips and kissing it lightly. Then lifting his head to meet her cold stare, he smiled. "I am calculating, I'm loving, I'm dependable, and I'm treacherous. It all depends on who you ask, really. But one thing I can tell you, Laura, dear-- I am always real."

Releasing Laura's hand, he turned around and walked towards the huge paneled windows that overlooked the Malaya Neva River.

Laura stood where she was, unable to say anything, her mind reeling with the knowledge that Bulbakov's words could just as easily apply to the man she loved. But there was one difference she was certain of-- Steele could never be cruel or treacherous, and he would certainly take no pride in implying he was, as this man had just done.

"I know what's going through your mind, Laura. You're wondering how real Misha is, aren't you?" Bulbakov asked, still looking outside, "Well, I think Remington Steele was as real as anybody could be, but Mikhail Novikov was just as real. But trust me, *he* knows who he is."

Bulbakov turned to face Laura again and this time there was not a shadow of a smile in his. "You, on the other hand, have yet to figure out who he is to you."

Laura stood in silence, trying to digest the truth in Bulbakov's last words. She knew he had been trying to divert attention away from her previous question, though, and she wasn't about to let him get away with it.

"Why is the KGB helping him?" she demanded.

Laura saw Bulbakov smile weakly, but noticed his eyes didn't smile at all. As a matter of fact, his eyes looked deadly serious.

"You're a persistent woman, Laura Holt," he said with admiration.

"So I've been told," she replied, outwardly unafraid.

Bulbakov reached for his lighter and made a big show out of lighting his pipe. After a few puffs, he turned sideways to the window again, causing Laura to miss the dark shadow that momentarily passed before his eyes.

"Perhaps it would be wiser this time if you didn't pursue the issue any further. You will just do more harm than good," he said earnestly.

"I can't do that," she replied.

"I thought Misha explained the gravity of this situation to you," Bulbakov said, testing the waters.

"Mr. Steele could hardly tell me anything, Bulbakov, because I doubt you had the finesse to inform him about it, either," Laura explained, sensing from the man's evident uneasiness that she was right.

"He had sense enough to know when to back off, Miss Holt!" Bulbakov exclaimed, his eyes sparking with anger. "Something you, evidently, lack!"

Laura felt she had gained some ground and just needed to press further. Without thinking about it twice, she struck right through the jugular, asking, "Why is the damn bookmark so important!?!"

He turned his back on her in an effort to stay calm and collected, but she was making it damn impossible.

"Why did you contact Freddy Hawks first and not tell Mr. Steele about it?" she demanded.

Bulbakov remained silent; he wasn't about to volunteer any information. He pushed one of the costly curtains aside and puffed some smoke, allowing the nicotine to soothe his nerves.

Laura stared at him, surprised at his outward calm, after his last outburst. She wondered what it would take to make the Russian talk. Her mind reeled a thousand miles an hour as the pieces of the puzzle began fitting into a very disturbing scheme. She lifted her eyes to the ceiling, as if saying a silent prayer, hoping with all her heart that none of she was thinking was true.

However, she needed to know. "You didn't tell him because both of you were sure he wouldn't have gone along with it. Isn't that right?" she asked.

Bulbakov's posture didn't change and he didn't speak a word, but the rhythm of his breathing was now faster.

"That robbery wasn't ordinary at all," she stated, not a trace of doubt in her voice. "It was a set up."

"Now, why would you think such a thing, Laura?" Bulbakov finally asked, ready to drop the act if she gave him the right answer. And if she did give him the right answer, the question remained of where would they go from there.

"You and Hawks needed to make and exchange; you chose a neutral location and used Mr. Steele and the robbery itself as a decoy to confuse both your governments. For some reason, neither the CIA nor the KGB were in the know about the transaction - at least, not completely," Laura guessed.

From the look on the Russian's face, she could tell she was very near the truth.

"Let me ask you something, Laura, and I want you to think very carefully before answering," he said, his tone of voice very serious even though his gentle smile was dancing. "If that robbery was indeed a sham, and what happened that night was merely a show to hide a supposed transaction between a CIA agent and the KGB, then those involved could be charged with treason. Isn't that right?"

Laura's heart missed a few beats, and her mouth felt dry as she was tried hard to articulate her next question.

"What is in that book?" she asked, already knowing that it was not Cervantes' masterpiece. At least five people had died to hide the fact that it had been sold to the enemy, so whatever was hidden in that book had to be more important than they had been led to believe.

Bolbakov didn't relent, however; he had Laura where he wanted her. "IF a third party were involved in that transaction, knowingly or not, then the said third party would be committing treason as well, wouldn't they?" he asked, his voice low and strangely sad.

"Treason?" Steele asked, his voice ringing out from the frame of the door. "What the hell are you talking about, Kira?"

Laura turned to meet the uncertain blue gaze that peered at her from under the peak of a Russian army cap. The shock she felt at seeing Steele in that uniform, however, couldn't begin to compare to what she felt when she saw the look of complete dismay he wore on his face.

As Steele's eyes moved from Laura's to Bulbakov's, his fear was suddenly replaced by sheer and absolute rage. "What treason?" he asked, his words echoing in the large, pompous room, like a clap of thunder in the solitude of an empty night.

End Part 12
To Part 13
Note of the Author: The Pravda, is an actual Russian newspaper. However, the impressions and comments made about it are taken from the fictional world of Nelson DeMille's books. I couldn't say which one with certainty, but I'm sure anyone who'll look diligently enough will find that quote somewhere.
-- I'd love some feedback, if you have some around that you don't use.