The Alternate Link of Steele 14
Date: Thu, 5 Oct 2000
"Adriana" <>

The Alternate link of Steele 14

by Adriana

Rated: PG 13 ( on account of violence and bad languge, I'm afraid.)

Corner of Dovrtsovaya nab. and Lessnov Prospeckt.  9:55 PM

Murphy looked behind his back again. If he heard just one more dog barking in the distance or the sound of a car slowing down on the curb, he was going to flee as fast as his legs would allow him. Rubbing his hands together, he cursed under his breath.  *What the hell am I doing here anyway?*  he wondered bitterly as he stood under the light of the nearby lamp post.

Hours earlier, when Mildred had told him about this insane plan, he thought the poor woman had finally had too much and had lost her wits. Steele coming to visit them on the soukhoz, dressed as a KGB officer and giving out strange cryptic notes that were to be destroyed?  It seemed to Murphy like an elaborate ruse to have them all killed, or at least jailed for quite a long time.

Idly kicking some loose rocks on the pavement, he cursed again as he remembered the only reason why he was there: the bastard had Laura! Clenching his fists out of sheer impotence and frustration, he turned around once more to see if there was somebody coming. He squinted his eyes to see better in the dark… and finally saw Steele, his  lean figure clad in a Soviet uniform. He was rapidly approaching, both his hands in his pockets as he looked down at the pavement. Behind him were two other uniformed Russian men, one of them as big as a tank, both of them carrying M-16s.

Murphy felt an immediate urge to run away, but just as he was about to take a pace backwards, Steele raised his eyes from the ground. His cold blue gaze petrified him on the spot and caused his anger at the man to return in full force, making him forget all his fears.

Steele slowed down his pace about twenty feet away from where Murphy was standing and raised his hand, motioning for him leave the light of the lamp post and come to him in the sanctuary of the shadows.

Murphy started walking uncertainly towards him, but stopped as he saw Steele say something to the Russians. Evidently they didn’t like whatever it was he had told them, as they both shook their heads and aimed their guns at him. Steele, however, didn’t seem affected by the danger those weapons embodied. Murphy heard him bark some Russian words he couldn’t understand and wave his arm in the air as if to dismiss the other two.

Mildred had told him Steele swore he wasn’t KGB--that it was only in disguise-- but from the way he was acting with those two, he certainly seemed to be in charge.  As the two Russians moved farther away and left Steele alone in the shadows, Murphy decided that the man was not only KGB, but possibly a high ranking officer as well.

With all of this in mind, Murphy Michaels treaded the last paces to meet his nemesis.

"Where’s Laura?" he asked, as if he and Steele had talked to each other quite recently instead of nearly five years earlier.

"She’s alright," Steele replied, aware of the dangerous edge in the American’s voice.  Obviously, the presence of the two armed Russians merely ten paces away was the only thing causing Murphy to hold himself in check.

"Exactly *where* is she?" Murphy asked, his jaw tightly clenched.

Steele looked at the American wearily and suddenly felt a rare empathy. He would hate to be in Murphy’s shoes right now, unsure of where Laura was and unable to tell whether he was speaking with a friend or an enemy.

*Well, one thing is for sure,* Steele thought bitterly.  *He certainly won’t be thinking he’s talking to a friend.*

"If you want to help us, Murphy, then I suggest you stop asking questions you know I cannot answer, damn it!"  Steele said, hating to be rude but needing Murphy to cooperate without anymore unnecessary delays.

"US?" Murphy asked, his astonishment evident.

"We don’t have much time…"  Steele said, ignoring Murphy’s sardonic laughter.

"You have some nerve, Steele…"

"You’ll have to help me to help you…Okay? I’ll try and distract those two while you make a dash for the American Consulate-- It’s only two blocks away?"

Murphy’s look of disbelief told Steele the American wasn’t at all convinced of how they were going to carry out the plan.

"Distract your own men, you mean? So they can shot me in the back as I ‘try to escape’?"  Murphy asked, looking at the two menacing figures behind Steele’s back.

"They’re not my men; they’re my guards-- And they’re here to see that *I* don’t escape… Believe me, both of them would be delighted to shoot me if I tried to do it. I thought Mildred told you what the situation was," Steele said.

 Then pressing the issue before Murphy could interrupt him again, he added, "I need you to get safely to the Embassy so you can get out of the country with Mildred as soon as possible. There’s no way I can get all of us here on my own; I need your help to get Laura and me out."

Murphy eyed the handsome face that he had learned to hate, trying to decide whether the man behind it was being honest. Every fiber of his being was against the idea of believing one single word coming from the con man in front of him; still, there was something about his uncertain blue gaze that made Murphy wonder.

 *What if he is really trying to save Laura?* he thought. *What if what Grechko told me is true? What if by involving herself with Steele, she’s put herself in danger—and he’s the only chance she has to save herself?*

Steele was staring intently at the American’s face, his eyes searching for a sign that the blond man would go along with his request and do what he requested. But Steele could read nothing in the other man’s expression but anger and distrust.

 Time was pressing, however, so Steele had no chance but to risk it. Reaching into his pocket and taking out a piece of paper, he handed the note to a confused Murphy. "Read it when you get to the Consulate," he told Murphy in a whisper. "But now, play along,"

Steele then proceeded to violently push the American forcefully back. Murphy staggered and almost fell, recovering just in time to hear Steele shout something in Russian that seemed very much like an insult.

As the two Russian soldiers began approaching, their guns leveled at each of them, Murphy rapidly pocketed the note. Seeing the urgency in Steele’s eyes, he lunged forward and pushed him back, giving him a punch in the stomach, just for the heck of it.

Steele recovered slowly from Murphy’s punch, which he hadn’t considered necessary at all. Then as soon as he was sure Petr and Oleg were within hearing distance, he panted and yelled, "You told Grechko what?" deliberately emphasizing the police officer’s name.

"Schto sluchtylas?" what’s going on?- Petr asked as he leveled his gun at Steele’s chest.

Steele swirled around as if surprised to see the Russian behind him. Switching rapidly into Russian, he said apologetically, "Nothing, Commarade; I lost my temper for a minute. ..That’s all…"

Steele smiled at Petr. Then turning towards Murphy again, he said in English, "You’ve betrayed Commarade Bulvakov to the Police? Are you insane? The Komitet will hear about this and will send Bulvakov, Petr and Oleg to some extended vacation in Siberia!"  Again, Steele stressed all the key words the Russian would be able to understand.

 Murphy looked at him in amazement, trying to figure out who all those people were and what the hell the Komitet had to do with anything.

Before Murphy could react, however, Oleg jumped forward and pressed the muzzle of his gun against Murphy’s chest. "Matyerybyetes Amerikanet!" he barked, in what Steele thought must be the longest phrase the man had uttered in the last two days.

"Hey, wait just a second, Commarade…" Murphy said, raising his hands in the air and shooting a desperate look towards Steele.

Steele, however, was equally occupied. One hand reached up into the air slowly in a gesture of surrender while the other sneaked rapidly inside his coat and behind his back, securing the knife tucked into his belt.

Before Steele could pull the blade out, however, Oleg suddenly swirled around and caught him in mid action.

"Stoi"he warned Steele. Then looking at his partner without taking the aim of his gun from Murphy, he said in Russian, "He’s got a knife!"

Petr heard the warning and felt his fingers tightening on the trigger. It’d be so easy to kill the bastard, and yet, he was sure Major Tarshkin-- or Bulbakov, as this foreigner called him-- would have his ass in the nearest prison if he as much as touched a hair on the Englishman’s head.

Steele also felt the tension and felt compelled to close his eyes at the inevitable round of fire that would surely follow. However, he fought his first panicking instincts and managed to keep his cold blue eyes trained on Petr’s. Lowering both his arms to rest at his sides, he took a step back, checking on Murphy out of the corner of his eye. Oleg was very nervous, but he doubted the smaller Russian would fire unless his partner did.

"Give me the knife and I will let you live, commarade," Petr said in Russian, using his low, cavernous voice.

Ignoring the fact that he was being held at gunpoint, Steele took a step to the left and stood between Oleg and Murphy, making himself the target of both Russians firearms.  He held the hope that they wouldn’t kill him, but he knew Murphy was entirely dispensable to them and therefore likely to be shot if things went wrong.

"You may come and get it, if you will it strongly enough," Steele replied fearlessly in the same language, as he stood with his head erect and proud in the dark shadows. Only the reflection of the light in the beaming slits that were his eyes gave an indication of the seriousness of his threat.

Both Russians flinched at the sharp edge of the deadly, slightly accented voice. Petr changed the weigh of his body to his other leg as he fought to keep his finger from triggering the gun. He quickly glanced at his partner as if to ensure he would have backup, but Oleg seemed too nervous and the blonde American too quick and ready.

Murphy, on the other hand, didn’t feel ready at all. Having watching the exchange between Steele and the Russian, even though he couldn’t understand what had been just said, he had a very accurate idea of what was going on. He eyed Steele, looking tense and ready to jump at the slightest movement, and was instantly reminded of a wild panther stalking its prey. Remembering the night at the museum, Murphy recalled how cool and collected Steele could be even in the most strenuous situation, and he unwillingly he admired his rival for that.

"Hand me the knife and no one will get hurt!" Petr exclaimed as he slightly changed the aim of his gun from Steele to Murphy.

Steele knew he didn’t have much time left; it was now or never.

Taking a protective step in front of Murphy, he looked Petr right in the eyes. "Nyet," he said simply, and then without looking Murphy’s way, he told him, "Run. And don’t stop till you’ve reached the Consulate. I’ll hold them as long as I can."

Baffled, Murphy looked at Steele and tried to gauge the reaction of the two Russians.

"For God’s sakes, mate. Run!" Steele repeated, this time more urgently. Then he stepped even closer to Petr and Oleg, whose guns were aimed at his chest, almost in a defensive way now.

Without thinking twice, Murphy dashed off. After running some eighty yards, he felt bullets snapping on the pavement. Dashing for the protection of the walls, he made a desperate sprint around the corner. Looking up, he distinguished the darkened white mast of the American flag, the banner dancing lazily but proud in the gentle wind. Murphy thought he had never seen anything more beautiful in his whole life and couldn’t help smiling.

About a hundred yards behind him, however, Steele was feeling far less enthusiastic as Petr’s knee dived into his stomach for the third time and he gasped for air that refused to come. The knife in his hand was dripping with blood as Oleg lay unconscious on the floor beside them, an ugly wound in his side. Using the last of his strength, Steele rushed forward and used his head and shoulders to tackle Petr; unfortunately, however, the Russian was much too strong for him. He clasped Steele’s armed hand in an attempt to keep the dangerous blade from nicking him as it had his partner.

They struggled for several minutes, but Petr’s superior strength and size gave him the advantage in hand-to-hand combat. Steele was having trouble freeing himself from the Russian’s bear hug. Soon he felt a blow on the back of his neck and an indescribable pain in his groin-- and then the lights suddenly went out.

Petr watched the dangerous Englishman sliding slowly down his own body as if attempting to remain upright and then finally fall onto the ground with a deaf thud. He kicked the knife from Steele’s hand and then, just for good measure because he hated the matyerybyetes, he kicked him once more in the ribs.

Admiring his handiwork as he wiped away the blood that dripped from his mouth, he felt with his tongue that a few teeth were somewhat loose. But Oleg looked to be in even worse shape; he’d have to carry him back quickly if he were to survive the night.

Then turning his attention back to the inert body of the Englishman, he smiled thinly. "Zhit’ budesh," ? You’ll live-- he hissed viciously.  "No est ne zakhachesh." - but you won’t feel much like fucking…"

*******************         ******************        **********************

American Consulate, Saint Petersburg. 10:32 PM

Leaning back on a chair, his hand holding a cup of steaming coffee, Murphy closed his eyes and sighed. He had reached the Consulate almost in a panic and as a result, his babbling greeting to the marine standing guard by the gate had sounded incoherent. He had asked for help, begging for someone to run and save Steele from what was surely to be a horrible fate, but the officers had remained impassive. They said they couldn’t interfere directly in any disturbance outside Consulate grounds—and certainly not if the KGB were involved.

Reaching into his pocket, Murphy retrieved the piece of paper Steele had given him.  Because he had been involved in a series of interviews and preliminary debriefings since his arrival, he hadn’t had a chance to read it yet. He was sure the questions and the interviews would continue, but in the meantime…

Glancing down at the white paper in his hands, he distinguished Steele’s handwriting; it looked as elegant as ever, even though the note seemed to have been written in a hurry. There was a London phone number beside Daniel Chalmers’ name and a set of  brief instructions which read:

 "Ask Daniel for Kira’s full bio and any details he might consider useful… Run a check for aliases… GET MILDRED OUT… Laura or I will contact you at the Embassy in 24 hours. If you don’t hear from us by then, leave the country. Steele."

Murphy scanned the note carefully a few times and then memorized the number. Even though he was feeling out of his depth not knowing who "Kira" was or if Chalmers would volunteer any information about him, he was somehow relieved Steele had included Laura’s name as a contact. That meant the two of them were indeed working together as a team.

Murphy grinned in spite of himself at the irony of it. Not one hour ago, the fact that Laura and Steele were once again working together as a team would have seemed more a curse than a blessing. But now… Well, now things were different.

When from the corner of his eye he saw a figure approaching, Murphy promptly hid the note again and innocently resumed his coffee drinking.

"Mr. Michaels, are you feeling better now?" a gentle female voice said.

Murphy looked up to see an attractive woman in her early thirties approaching him with a smile on her face. "My name is Ann Hailey. I’m FSP ? Foreign Service Personnel.  We’d like to ask you some questions about Miss Krebs."

Murphy sat up straight on the couch and offered his best smile. "Sure, Miss Hailey. What do you need to know?"

*******************            ****************           *******************
Riverside Manor, Kensington, London.  6:41 PM

"Who?" Daniel asked Felicia, who was holding the receiver in her hand, her hand a mask of worry.

"A Miss Hailey, from the American Consulate in Russia," she replied, not bothering to hide her concern. "Do you know her?"

"I’m afraid I don’t," Daniel answered darkly as he rose from his armchair, newspaper in hand.

The look they exchanged was enough to let the other one know they were both thinking along the same lines… Something must have happened to Harry; he was the only other person to have Daniel’s number.

Daniel took the receiver from Felicia’s trembling hands and cleared his throat before saying, "Miss Hailey? Daniel Chalmers here. How can I be of service to you?"

"Mr. Chalmers, I have Mr. Murphy Michaels here. He needs a word with you. I’ll put him through," the woman said, in a business like tone.

After a beat, Daniel heard a male voice on the other end of the line.

"Chalmers?" Murphy asked.

"Mr. Michaels, is it? I don’t believe we’ve been properly introduced, but if I remember correctly, you’re one of Miss Holt’s associates, aren’t you?" Daniel replied, sounding nonchalant and unconcerned.

"Yeah, that’s me. I have a m-"

"Are you alone, Mr. Michaels? Do you know if the line’s secure?" Daniel asked imperiously.

"I’m alone, but anybody could be listening," Murphy replied, kicking himself mentally for not having taken that into account.

"How did you get this number, may I ask?"

"Your, er…. ‘son’ gave it to me," Murphy replied.

Upon hearing that, Daniel’s heart missed a few beats. Did Michaels know, and therefore Harry… or had that just been a coincidence? "I see," he said, at length.

"I’ve a message from him," Murphy said, lowering his voice even though he knew it wouldn’t make any difference.

"You do?"

"He wants to know about someone named Kira. He said you’d tell me, so I could tell him. He’s going to contact me tomorrow, so you’d better stop beating around the bush and get on with it," Murphy said, irritated by the man’s coolness.

The use of Bulbakov’s first name was an indication that the American was probably telling the truth, but why hadn’t Harry phoned directly instead of through Michaels?

"How do I know you’re not lying, Mr. Michaels? After all, you and my ‘son’ were never you might called *friends,*" Daniel said suspiciously.

"Listen, Chalmers--He’s in danger, and so is Laura. So you’d better tell me whatever it is he wants to know so I can get them both out of this damned country."

Daniel pondered the dilemma for a few seconds. Disclosing Bulbakov’s history to a stranger could be highly dangerous--especially if one considered that a great number of hostile ears could be hearing the conversation as well. He’d have to come up with a code so that no one but Harry would be able to make use of the information. But that meant planning…

"I need some time to get the information ready. When can you call back?" Daniel asked.

"You have two hours," Murphy replied.

"Very well; in two hours, then."

"You’d better be there when I call back, Chalmers," Murphy warned him. "Because if you fail me and something happens to Laura, I swear I’ll find you and I’ll kill you with my bare hands. Do you hear?"

But Murphy’s threat fell into deaf ears, for the line was already dead.

****************          ********************          *******************
Ice Palace, Krashnovo Kursanta St.  10:44 PM

When the door of her room opened in the pitch-dark night, Laura jumped from the bed where she had been lying awake for the most part of the night. She fought her terror upon seeing a huge figure, outlined against the light from the corridor, entering the room backwards.

It was Petr and he was carrying something heavy. Without even bothering to glance in her direction, he walked towards the bed and with a small effort, threw an unconscious Steele onto mattress. Steele gave a faint grunt as he fell on the soft bed, but as quickly as he had come to, he fainted again.

"Oh, my God!" Laura said in barely more than a whisper as she fell on her knees at Steele’s side. Then turning to Petr, who was about to leave the room, she shouted, "What did you do to him?"

Petr turned around, looked at her distastefully and then resumed his exit, slamming the door behind him, leaving Laura and Steele in complete darkness.

Laura turned the night table lamp on and looked intently into Steele’s face. She didn’t try to move him, but she brushed a lock of hair from his forehead as she tried to determine the extent of the damage. He had a nasty cut above his left eyebrow which was bleeding badly, but the rest of his face seemed to be all right.

Laura found a clean handkerchief in her pocket and applied it to the wound, stopping the bleeding for an instant. After washing his face with the elements of her improvised first aid kit-- the damp handkerchief and a few Band-Aids and gauze she had found on the bathroom-- she began stripping him from his uniform, checking for other wounds. Fortunately, the blood she found on the once immaculate dark green overcoat didn’t belong to him. She then examined his chest, sides, legs and arms, and after being satisfied that he didn’t seem to have more than a few nasty bruises on his ribs, she covered him gently with the covers and propped his head on the pillow.

A few minutes later she heard him grunt again. Leaning over him she caressed his cheek, but drew her fingers back as he shifted his head to the other side. She looked at him and smiled in spite of herself; he looked so innocent and vulnerable, so different from the tough persona he was projecting these days. Putting her arm protectively over his chest, she lay beside him on the bed, content in the knowledge that his regular breathing pattern meant he was safe for now.

Steele didn’t regained consciousness for several hours. Eventually, however, he tentatively opened one eye. The faint light from the night table lamp made him realize how much his head was throbbing. With an effort he managed to open both eyes, and when he was finally able to focus them on something, he was glad to discover that something was Laura’s lovely face.

"How are you feeling?" she asked him tenderly.

Steele attempted to lift his head to see her better, but the room started to spin wildly around him. He let out a loud groan and put his head back on the pillow.

"Just peachy," he said quietly, smiling weakly at her.

"Don’t try to move; they really beat you up," she said, her voice full of concern.

The next thing he knew, Laura was gone and he was in a panic. "Laura?" he asked groggily.

She turned around from the basin in the bathroom where she was soaking the handkerchief again and said, "I’m right here--I’m just cleaning your bandage."

He closed his eyes again, too tired to even raise himself from the cushions Laura had placed behind his back and head to help him sleep better and to prevent him from choking.  When he felt the cold cloth on his face, the throbbing in his left eyebrow smoothed a little.

"Thank you," he muttered.

She didn’t answer, but placed a small kiss on his forehead.

"What time is it?" he asked as he slowly moved his hand to his pocket, trying to get his watch.

Laura took it out for him. When she popped the lid open, the sweet music filled the air.

"One a.m." she said. Then lost in the rare peaceful moment, she added, "It’s a lovely tune, isn’t it?"

Steele smiled, turning his face to look at her. "Not as beautiful as you are, but it always has reminded me of you," he said, his voice filled with his love for her.

Laura smiled back. How he managed to be gallant in even the most dreadful moments, she didn’t know. "Why?" she asked him, a bit puzzled.

"I used to keep a small portrait of you under the mechanism, but I had to give it away," Steele said, reluctant to elaborate further on the reasons why he had kept the portrait all those years or the reason why he had handed it over to Bulbakov during their first meeting.

Laura got the hint and kept her peace. When the tune ended, she closed the lid and put the watch by his hand. He put his bigger hand on top of hers and kept it there, feeling the bond between then growing stronger with every second that passed.

"What went wrong? Why did they beat you up like this?" Laura finally asked him.

Steele sighed, hoping his effort had served its purpose and not gotten Murphy killed instead.  "I guess my ‘old pal’ Igor wasn’t especially pleased to see Murphy running towards the American Consulate," he explained.

At the mention of her old friend’s name, Laura beamed. "Murphy escaped?" she asked, hopeful.

"I don’t know for certain; I got blindsided before I could make sure. I did give him a fair head start, I think," Steele replied, suddenly yipping like a hurt dog as he tried to shift his weight.

"I told you not to move!" Laura said, shaking her head. "They did a very fine job of bruising your ribcage, you know"

"Ouch…I know," he said. Then frowning, he added, "I really hope he made it. Our lives may rest on his hands."

"What?" Laura asked in amazement. If he had really confided in Murphy to get them out of this mess, then he must have been really frantic.

"He’s supposed to get in touch with Daniel and then report back to us with, hopefully, some kind of an answer to our present dilemma," Steele explained.

"And Murphy agreed to help you?" she asked in disbelief.

Steele winced as he moved again. "Not in so many words, no," he said. Then looking reassuringly into Laura’s dark eyes, he added, "But even if Murphy wouldn’t lift so much as lift a finger to save me, I know he’ll do the impossible to get you out of Russia as fast as he can."

"I’m not going anywhere without you," she said firmly.

He smiled at her and pressed her hand tightly. "Oh, I’m counting on that, luv… I’m counting on that…"

End Part 14

To Part 15