Outskirts of Saint Petersburg - Farm House. 7:56 AM.
Painfully aware of the dozen pairs of eyes following his progress down the inhospitable main hall of the soukhoz, Sergeant Grechko led a small procession of uniformed police officers and one civilian American woman outside the building.
Without as much as a glance in the deskurnaya's direction, he raised his hand in a formal salute. Even though the old woman's face wore a dead pan expression, Grechko would have sworn she was laughing inside.
Circled by four Soviet police officers, Mildred walked outside of what had been her permanent residence in Saint Petersburg for the past few days, welcomed the fresh air that flooded her lungs. Ten minutes earlier Grechko had woken her up with a rude knock on the door, ordering her to gather her belongings and informing her she was going to be re-located. In all honesty, Mildred had hoped to find Murphy waiting with her as well, and she felt dismayed when she learned she would be doing the journey all by herself.
There were two cars parked just outside the gates: the black Zil she had grown accustomed to and a dark green sedan with no license plates, which seemed utterly suspicious. Following Grechko's lead, Mildred climbed into the back of the four-door sedan while he did the same on the opposite side. The four police officers would be using the Zil, Mildred gathered.
"Ms. Mildred Krebs?" the man behind the wheel asked in American accented English.
As happy as Mildred was at hearing the familiar accent, she was still on guard. She looked sideways at Grechko, but his taut face didn't give anything away.
"Answer the question please, Miss Krebs," Grechko said at length, his voice tired.
Mildred eyed the driver, who was looking at her from behind a pair of cheap dark sunglasses.
"Who wants to know?" she asked, feeling awkward and frightened at the same time.
The driver put his hand in his inside pocket and produced a wallet. Flipping it open, Mildred almost cried out of joy as she saw the CIA identification badge, and then the conciliatory smile in the agent's face.
"I'm sorry, ma'am," the man said. "One forgets proper manners after dealing with the police force for so long. Right, Grechko?"
Grechko grunted and crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Get us out of here, will you?" he told the American in easygoing English.
"Glad to," the man replied. Then looking at Mildred, he added, "I'm agent Ford of the CIA, Miss Krebs. We're taking you to the Consulate."
"The C...Consulate?" Mildred asked unable to believe her ears.
"Certainly," agent Ford replied as he began cruising the streets of St. Petersburg.
His seriousness, however, belied his inner delight at having Grechko humiliated for a change. The Russian was an honest man and a damn good cop; in different circumstances they could have shared a few beers together. But the fact remained that Grechko was too good for his own good, and damn too proud a patriot.
"Does the name Mikhail Anatoli Novikov ring any bells, Miss Krebs?" Grechko asked suddenly, breaking the silence.
"No, it doesn't," Mildred answered truthfully. She knew she shouldn't get involved, but her curiosity got the better of her and she asked, "Who is he?"
"A dead criminal, as far as we know," Ford said suddenly, as if the question had bothered him greatly. "You are not allowed to interrogate her anymore, Grechko, so back off!" he warned the Russian.
"We're still in my territory, Steven; I'll ask whatever questions I want to ask!" Grechko replied angrily, knowing this was probably the last chance he'd have to talk to any of the Americans.
"You don't need to answer him, Miss Krebs," Ford said coolly.
"How would I know a dead Russian criminal, anyway?" Mildred asked; her curiosity still aroused.
"That's what I'd like to know, Miss Krebs. Furthermore, I'd like to know the reason why your friend Mr. Michaels refuses to volunteer any information about Novikov, although it is clear that he recognized his face. I could see it in his eyes," Grechko said, playing his last card as the car approached the last curb before the Consulate's street.
The green sedan parked just outside the gates and waited for the marine to come up to them.
"Home, sweet home," Ford announced in an ironic, but yet nostalgic, tone. "Feel free to join us for a cup of coffee, Grechko," he added with a smile as he flashed his ID to the marine, who in turn saluted and went to open the gates.
"I think I'll pass, Steven. But do drop by the HQ for a shot of vodka whenever you have a spare second," Grechko replied as he cracked the door open.
Ford laughed, but his eyes didn't. "Sure, pal. Will do," he told the Russian.
"Nice to have met you, Miss Krebs. I wish you could have enjoyed our fair city more than you did, but sadly, bureaucracy is such a tedious business," Grechko said amicably, slamming the door shut before she could answer back.
As the green sedan entered the immaculate grounds of the American Consulate, Grechko felt sick to his stomach. He had released both Mildred Krebs and Murphy Michaels, and now his only link to Novikov had vanished.
As the heavy iron gates closed before his nose, he felt the distrustful gaze of the marine and thought bitterly how insane it was for him to hate someone you had never even met. But the hatred was there; it was tangible, mutual, and painfully real. *Fuck you too, pal,* Grechko thought sadly as looked at the marine a final time and began walking towards the black Zil, which was waiting for him fifty yards away.
He lit a Marlboro and inhaled the smoke appreciatively, allowing the nicotine to sooth him. His mind was clear, his heart committed. Well, there was still one lead he could pursue; it might not be the cleverest thing to be do, but to hell with it. He had no family or friends who could be held responsible for his mistakes, no other concerns in life outside those related to the office. All he had was his job, and if finding Novikov meant losing that as well, so be it.
"Anyway, what good is a job, if it's not well done?" Grechko asked himself.
The black Zil disappeared behind the corner, leaving the street empty in the pale morning light. The sound of the water of the nearby Neva River filled the air, and it was almost peaceful.
Ice Palace, Krashnovo Kursanta St. Noon.
Bulbakov knocked gently on the door and allowed himself inside Laura and Steele's room. He smiled as he noticed that they were both dressed, but still lounging in bed. Misha wasn't looking that well, but he still looked better than he had expected.
"Ah, Kira. How nice of you to drop by," Steele said cheerfully, absolutely no trace of sarcasm in his voice. "But I'm afraid we'll have to call off our tennis match; I'm not feeling up to the task at the moment."
"They could have killed him, Bulbakov," Laura informed the Russian, her voice icy.
"Had I been there, I certainly would have, Miss Holt," Bulbakov shot back, his eyes staring at Steele, who was wearing a triumphal smile on his slightly damaged face. Then with a smile of his own, he added, "I'll admit it was a clever move, old friend."
"Thank you, but you know I generally don't approve of violence, so I'll take two points from you for this," Steele replied nonchalantly, pointing at his wounded forehead.
Laura could hardly give credit to her ears. Steele had almost been beaten to death last night and had nearly killed another man. Murphy could also be dead, laying in some empty Russian street right now, but none of that seemed to matter. It looked as if it was all a huge joke for Steele and Bulbakov. Their carefree manner revolted her and she suddenly felt sick. Rising to her feet, she started to leave the room.
"Laura?" Steele called, sitting upright on the bed, completely taken aback by her sudden departure.
Bulbakov also followed her with his eyes, intrigued and bewildered at the same time.
Laura reached the door, and waited for Bulbakov to let her pass. When he did, she turned to face both of them, saying, "I'll be in the American Consulate, gentlemen. You can reach me there whenever you wish Mr. Steele. Your friend here won't object, I presume, given the fact that everything matters so little to both of you."
She spoke coldly, most of her anger directed to Steele. Laura could forgive him many things and she could never stop loving him, but she would be dammed if she let him and Bulbakov play with people's lives and with their own lives, as if they were nothing but pawns in a crazy chess game.
She angrily left the room, leaving a slightly bemused Bulbakov behind.
Steele, on the other hand, was trying to get up and follow her, but the pain in his ribs prevented him any hasty movements. "Laura, come back, damn it!" he yelled in frustration, swearing under his breath as a wave of pain tormented his side.
"She won't go anywhere, Misha," Bulbakov said quietly, enjoying their little setback. How naive could that woman be? Didn't she see it was all just a power game? Didn't she know that every single thing on the planet was only a struggle for power and control? Lives would occasionally be lost and lives would occasionally be spared, but it really didn't matter.
"Help me up, mate; come on!" Steele told him urgently, lifting himself from the bed and making a supreme effort not to cry out in pain.
Bulbakov walked towards him and helped him steady himself on his feet, but as Steele began moving forward, the Russian's iron grip held him back.
"I would have killed you," he assured Steele seriously.
Steele turned around to face his old friend and tried to focus on him, but his mind was only concerned with Laura.
"That's why I didn't try it with you around," he replied, noting the Russian's dispassionate expression.
"If you play straight and forward, neither of you have anything to fear," Bulbakov added, the lie coming easily to him.
Steele stared into the man's shark-like green eyes and saw through his façade. Releasing himself form the Russian's grasp, he walked away without another word.
Steele found Laura staring hopelessly at the heavy oak doors of the main entrance. She wasn't a woman who would give up without a fight, but even the most stubborn person alive would have had to admit that her exit had been over dramatic. She could have gotten out of the house, maybe. As far as the front yard, for sure. But reaching the Consulate? Somehow, Laura didn't think so.
And besides, there was him. She could never leave him behind again, even is she had wanted to. Still, she was helplessly in love with him, there were times she almost hated him.
Steele cleared his throat to announce his presence.
Laura didn't turn around, but her shoulders sagged. "I need to be alone, please," she told him.
"I'm sorry," Steele replied simply, but he stood there in silence, unsure of what to say or do. He knew should grant her request and leave her alone, but instead he walked towards her and tentatively put his hands on her shoulders. "I am sorry, luv," he repeated. When she didn't shrug him away, he came closer and sneaked his arms around her waist.
"How can you act like that?" she asked finally.
"Act like what?" he asked quietly, not really knowing why she was so upset.
Laura turned around in his embrace and pulled back slightly to see into his eyes better. He looked genuinely sorry, but at the same time, puzzled. Her heart warmed at his honest desire to please her, but she also felt terrified and angry at his cold and detached behavior. Was that his true philosophy of life, or was she making too much out of just a stupid conversation?
"Act like it's all a stupid game-- as if nothing really matters," she explained with true concern. Then brushing his hair away from his forehead and exposing his wounded flesh as if trying to make him understand all of it was very real, she added, "Act as if you can laugh it away."
Steele sighed. How was he supposed to explain things to her when he didn't even understand them himself? Why did she have to ask so many questions? Why couldn't she accept him as he was, for what he was? How was it possible that she managed to irritate him beyond measure, and yet her integrity and concern made him love her even more?
"I don't try to laugh it away, Laura," he said defensively.
"Yes, you do," she replied.
He raised his eyes to the ceiling as id trying to find the answer there.
"It's for self preservation, I suppose," he began to explain. "I can't afford to have Bulbakov know that I felt sick when I cut poor Oleg, or that I was so scared about Murphy getting shot that I actually forgot those bullets could have killed me instead of him. I can't afford to have him see how much I love you, or how much I need to be near you. If he knew, you could be taken away from me, and I can't face the future without you, Laura...I can't afford to look vulnerable, I guess."
"In other words, you build a protective shell around yourself and don't let anyone in," Laura surmised, a wave of compassion washing through her as she realized how eerily alike the two of them were in some ways.
"I let you in," he replied honestly.
"Only if I bang at the door for hours, Mr. Steele," she said with a small smile.
"You have incredibly powerful fists for someone your size," he answered with a smile of his own as his lips lowered to find hers and his arms brought her closer to him.
Laura responded eagerly, the stress and fear of the previous night still fresh in her mind. She slid her arms around his neck and pulled him even closer, deepening their kiss. One of her hands lowered down his chest and settled just above his waistband, not daring to pull on the clothes just yet.
"Ouch," he complained jokingly. Then breaking the kiss and looking at her adoringly, he whispered into her ear, "Be careful of the ribs, Miss Holt. Remember, I'm damaged goods."
Laura smiled as she stood on the tip of her toes to kiss him briefly on his chin, her eyes finding the spot where his forehead had been hurt the night before.
"You're nothing of the sort, Mr. Steele," she told him with a laugh as she pulled him down to her again.
American Consulate, Saint Petersburg, 5:20 PM.
"Very well, Mr. Michaels; do as you please. But I warn you that unless you cooperate, I'll have your ass in Langley faster than you can protest," CIA agent Donaldson warned Murphy testily. Then directing his angry gaze towards Mildred, he added, "And that goes for you as well, Miss Krebs. Now, tell me exactly why you were arrested by the Saint Petersburg police before you even set foot on the damned city!"
Donaldson scrutinized both suspects resignedly and mopped his brow with his shirt sleeve. They had been at it for one hour already, but they had gotten nowhere.
"I've told you a thousand times, Donaldson--I'll tell you whatever it is you need to know after 10 PM. I can't tell you anything right now," Murphy said tiredly.
The previous night, Daniel Chalmers had returned Murphy's call and provided him with the information he had requested. Murphy couldn't be sure if the data was valuable, or even if it made sense at all. But Chalmers had been careful to correct him every time he got a simple word or name wrong, so Murphy was sure the message was written in some sort of code the old man and Steele shared.
Murphy had spent half the night memorizing Russian names, cities from around the world, more names, relationships between people and families, going back to the nineteenth century. He could only hope all that seemingly useless information would make some sense to Steele, because if it didn't, then he and Laura would be lost. But he had sworn not to reveal this information until 10 PM, and he was determined to keep his word.
Mildred was not only tired, but terrified as well. Why wouldn't Murphy tell them about Miss Holt? Maybe they could help. The whole situation seemed utterly ridiculous to her. They may have switched buildings and language, but the circumstances seemed not to have changed at all.
"Miss Krebs?" Donaldson asked for the tenth time. He was regretting having stayed a week beyond his leave time. He could have been resting comfortably at his parents' house in Arizona had it not been for his stupid desire to please the tantalizing Ann Hailey and take her to tomorrow's Kirov Ballet performance of "The Nutcracker."
"I'm sorry, Donaldson; you'll have to wait until 10," Mildred replied, shooting a questioning glance towards Murphy that wasn't missed by Donaldson.
"I know you're trying to protect someone, and for both your sakes, I hope that someone is not a commie!" Donaldson exploded.
At that precise moment, agent Ford opened the door to the interrogation room and walked in, a stack of papers in his hands.
"They're private investigators, and two members of their team seem to be missing," he declared triumphantly, placing the papers on the table and sitting on top of the desk, his legs hanging over the side.
Donaldson skimmed rapidly through the files. They were bios and reports on Michaels, Krebs, a woman named Laura Holt, and their boss, none other than worldwide famous Remington Steele. According to the papers, Michaels had now an agency of his own and the Steele agency had closed a mere three weeks ago. Now two of the four people accounted for in the files were here in Russia, but no one had been able to locate the remaining two in the US.
The Russian Immigration Department had registered three names-- Michaels, Krebs, and Holt. Sergeant Grechko of the Saint Petersburg Police department had handed in the passports belonging to Krebs and Michaels, claiming they had been kept in protective custody until their propkus were issued. Remington Steele, apparently, had never arrived in Russia-- at least not legally.
Donaldson found it hard to believe that the whole team would be there in the Soviet Union, but yet the head of the agency wasn't. Where was he?
Donaldson frowned as he avidly read the documents in front of him, shooting an occasional glance to his two suspects, who were quickly becoming nervous. The silence of the room was overwhelming; the only sound that cut through it was the idle brushing of cloth against metal as Ford's leg swung lazily form side to side of the desk.
Donaldson's eyes narrowed as he flipped the pages of their passports and saw the stamp of the Spanish customs service, signed a week ago in Madrid. Wasn't one of their agents killed in Madrid a week ago? It couldn't be just a coincidence, he reasoned; there are too many things that didn't fit.
"What was the name of that man Sergeant Grechko was so interested in... the dead man?" Donaldson asked Ford, seemingly unconcerned with the papers he was holding.
"Novikov. Mikhail Anatoli Novikov," Ford replied as he bent ever Donaldson's shoulders to peek at the papers. He hadn't read anything concerning Novikov in them when he had gone through them, but maybe something had escaped his attention. "Why?" he asked.
Donaldson didn't reply; his eyes were busy registering the reaction of the two suspects at the mention of the name. The man hadn't even flinched and the woman seemed nervous, but neither had recognized the name.
"Laura Holt entered this country on the same date as you, on the same flight, and probably from the same place. There are no records of Mr. Steele arriving, but it is clear that all of you arrived at the same time," Donaldson said, letting the words hang for a few seconds, hoping for some kind of an answer.
Murphy and Mildred kept their silence. Neither of them were sure what the agent was thinking, or how much he knew about Spain or about Steele --or Harry Chalmers, or whichever name he was using now-- but both of them sure that he would put two and two together sooner or later.
"We can help your friends. And let me assure you, they'll be better off with our help than without it," Donaldson said in a stern tone of voice.
"Not until 10; sorry," Murphy answered stubbornly.
Clearly, Donaldson believed the three of them and Steele were working together, but Murphy was too clever as to correct him. *Let him believe whatever he wants,* he thought.
Ford got up to leave, tired and bored of hearing the same answers over and over. It was clear to the agent that the blonde detective was determined to wait until ten o'clock for some reason, and the old woman wasn't being very cooperative either.
"Anyone want a cup of coffee?" Ford asked just before leaving the room. Hearing no answers, positive or negative, he sighed and walked out.
When Ford was gone, Donaldson lowered the documents and placed them on a neat pile on the desktop. He sat upright on his chair and looked at the two detectives with a no-nonsense look in his hard face.
"Mr. Michaels, I understand your last job involved a man named Freddy Hawks," he said flatly.
Murphy was instantly on guard, but it was obvious Donaldson already had all the relevant facts. "Yes, but I had to drop it," he replied.
"And Steele picked it up," Donaldson concluded.
Murphy sighed deeply. "You could say that the Remington Steele Agency followed through with that case," he said, carefully wording the sentence so it wouldn't be a complete lie.
"And now your client is dead...murdered," Donaldson continued, his voice still void of emotion.
"Yes," Murphy replied.
"A day after the incident, you, Miss Krebs, and Miss Holt decided to leave Spain and travel to Russia," the agent continued.
Mildred felt strangely hot and the palms of her hand started to sweat. She wanted to get up and leave all this insanity; she wanted to cry out that they had had nothing to do with that, that it had been someone else. She looked at Murphy, whose eyes were boring into Donaldson's with such concentration that it seemed he wanted to bring the man down solely with his willpower. Donaldson was also getting restless, Mildred noted, as his mouth had nervously twitched when he took a cigarette out of the pack and took it to his dry lips.
"You don't mind, do you?" Donaldson asked.
"Be my guest," Murphy replied.
"So?" Donaldson inquired, puffing leisurely and determined to get an answer from them even if it was the last thing he did in his life.
Murphy leaned back on his chair and closed his eyes. Silence grew heavy and the air thick with smoke. Mildred stared from man to man, her whole being revolting against the idea of staying in the cramped room for one second longer than absolutely necessary.
"Listen buster," she said airily, unable to keep quiet anymore. "You'll have to wait until 10 PM; you'll get nothing from us before then. If we so much as move a finger, our case will go to pieces!" she exclaimed. She didn't know the reason for Murphy's procrastination, but she was sure he knew what he was going.
Donaldson was up in a flash, his fists hitting the top of the table, which creaked loudly under the strength of the blow. "Your client is dead. You don't have a case, unless you've been hired by someone else!" he shouted back, menacing and violent.
"How did you know that Hawks was dead? And just why is the CIA interested in all this?" Murphy asked at length, his brain already imagining possible scenarios, none of them was remotely tranquilizing.
"We are always interested in the welfare of our citizens, Mr. Michaels," Donaldson replied, his tone ironic, making the comment sound almost like a filthy insult.
"You mean the welfare of your agents," Murphy realized at last, his mind reeling with the consequences of that fact.
Donaldson smiled thinly and sat back, though inside he was fuming that Michaels had caught him off guard; he had, unfortunately, let out more than he had meant to.
"It seems as if I underestimated your powers of deduction, Mr. Michaels. Congratulations," he said shortly.
Murphy didn't reply; his head was swirling. If Hawks was CIA, then Steele probably was as well. Maybe he was a double agent, or triple, or who knew what! But what about his wife, Felicia? She was the one who had killed the Hawks, for God's sakes!
However, Murphy was much more concerned with Laura's safety that with Felicia's. He had loved Laura for more years he could remember; even though she had never reciprocated his feelings, he had never been able to erase her from his memory. She had chosen a different path--an extremely dangerous one, it turned out.
Maybe it was time Laura Holt faced her destiny without his help, as she had chosen to do so long ago. Maybe he should just leave her on her own.
Murphy had to laugh at the idiocy of such an idea. *Face it, buddy; you'll never do that. Because if you do, you won't be able to live with yourself,* he thought grimly. Raising his eyes, a resigned smile still dancing in his face, he suddenly felt awkward and out of place.
"Well, now that we all know who is who," Donaldson said, his fake smile in place, "Would you be kind enough to tell me in what sort of trouble your Miss Holt has gotten herself into. And why on earth wasn't your boss registered through Customs? By not doing so, he entered the country quite illegally."
"Listen, Donaldson, you'll have to wait. Are you deaf, or just plain stupid?" Murphy exclaimed, unaware that he had confirmed Donaldson's suspicion that Steele was indeed in Russia.
"I bet your boss would cooperate if he was in your shoes, Mr. Michaels!" Donaldson shouted back, aware that Murphy was reaching the limit of his tolerance and could explode at any minute.
He didn't have to wait long. Murphy sprang from his seat, grabbing Donaldson by the lapels of his suit. "Listen, you bastard," he warned in an edgy tone of voice. "I don't care if you're with the CIA, or if you're the goddamn president of the United States-- I will talk to you at 10 sharp; until then, get off my back. Alright?"
Then releasing the man's suit, Murphy pushed him back into his seat and stormed out. When he had reached the door, however, he turned around and faced Donaldson again.
"And Steele is not my b-"
".. is undercover," Mildred said, interrupting just in time. "He's working undercover; that's why he didn't register at Customs. I'm sure he'll be able to explain all the details of the case later, Agent Donaldson," she continued, looking at Murphy reassuringly.
Murphy, however, just nodded his head in defeat and walked out of the room.
Mildred brought her attention back to the nervous agent in front of her. "Now, if you'll just let us get in touch with him, we'll be able to wrap this case and everyone will be happy. Alright?" she said in a conciliatory tone.
Donaldson looked strangely at the older woman. Amazingly, he was tempted to believe her; she sounded so sincere and honest, not that such a fact ever provided any guarantees, but Donaldson was feeling very tired. His head ached, and all he wanted was a cool Budweiser.
"I'll give you until ten and not a second later," he said tiredly.
Mildred nodded and smiled, relieved. Now maybe she could get a cold beer, or a cup of coffee, or even better, a nice hot bath.
As Donaldson escorted her out of the room, they almost felt like old friends who were fighting for the same thing, but tugging at the rope from opposite ends.
"And I'll expect to see Steele with a full report on this thing, as soon as he returns to the States," he said.
Mildred smiled sadly to herself, knowing the chances of that happening where almost nil.
"Oh, I'll pass the message to him, agent Donaldson; I'm sure Mr. Steele will be very pleased to comply. He's the very picture of citizen responsibility," she replied.
Donaldson, looking at the portly woman and hearing a slight wavering in her voice, merely said, "I'll bet he is, Miss Krebs."
End of part 15