Dust to Dust
Date: Friday, November 16, 2001
Pat Christensen <patspen@iconnect.net>


Bright Saturday sunlight splashed across the brushed metal and wood veneer
of the desktop as Laura prowled through drawers. A thin layer of dust,
betrayed by the morning light, showed no mark of anything upon it. Laura
grimaced, looking at it, not sure if what annoyed her was the dust itself or
the fact it betrayed, that no actual work had been done on this surface
since it's last dusting, which was probably last weekend.

And where had the cleaning staff been last night, she wondered. She and the
normal occupant of this office had come in last night from the end of a
difficult case -- she to do paperwork, he to pick up the jacket he'd left
behind in their "rush to justice" as he'd sneeringly called it -- only to
find an empty office with none of the trash cans emptied, none of the mess
cleaned up and, obviously, no dusting done.

She sighed and wrenched open another drawer, her hands pawing at the sparse
contents. "You'll find the erotica on a shelf in the restroom," a voice
drawled from the doorway. She rammed one knee painfully against the edge of
the open drawer as she jerked upright to find him leaning against the
doorframe, looking at her with an indecipherable smile playing across his

"I wasn't looking for...erotica," she snapped, feeling a traitor's blush
spreading across her face. "I can't find the key."

He straightened and strolled across to the other side of the desk. "Which
key would that be?"

"The key to the locked file cabinet in the lobby," she said, mustering as
much dignity as she could find under the circumstances.

"And you expected to find that with the, ah..." he looked over the top of
the desk into the drawer she had open, "extra toner, stamp pads and metal
file separators?"

"Who the hell knows where you'd put anything in this place?" she said,
realizing that her tone was becoming strident and wishing she could stop it.
Why did he ALWAYS have this effect on her? Why did she let it take her over
so completely every time?

It didn't seem to have touched him. Either that, or that enigmatic smile was
super-glued in place. "I believe the key you're looking for can be found in
Mildred's top left-hand drawer. She needed it yesterday and never returned
it. And Mildred is obsessive about what goes where, almost as bad as you, so
that should be where you'll find the key in question."

She squared her shoulders and brushed a strand of hair back into place.
"Thank you. That will be a big help." She moved around the end of the desk,
heading toward the door and then stopped to look at him. "Which still begs
the question, what are you doing here?"

The smile never wavered, in fact, it grew broader. "Looking for you. And
where else would you be on a bright, beautiful Saturday? Would you be out
for a walk in the park? Or playing tennis? Or taking in a film or lunch or a
museum? Heaven forefend. No, you'll either be home, regrouting your sink, or
here, looking for paperwork to do. I came to see if I were right. If you
were, in fact, in full flight from life itself. And," he fairly smirked,
"here, in fact, you are."

"I'm not in 'full flight' from anything, thank you very much. I'm just
doing...what needs to be done. Someone around here has to." She turned and
gave the slightly dusty desk a pointed look and headed for the door. He
caught her arm as she passed him and pulled her back.

"Really?" he said softly, too softly. She felt a shiver climb up her spine.
"Then tell me, if you stayed last night to finish the paperwork on the
current case, what exactly is it you need so desperately from the
closed-case file cabinet on this otherwise promising Saturday morning?"

"The Breakfield file." Her chin was as high as she could maintain it and
still look him in the eye.

"The Breakfield file," he said musingly, the corner of his mouth twitching
in time to the twinkle in his left eye. "Really?"

"Really." She suppressed an urge to back away.

"The file concerning the Breakfield case? That file?" She nodded, wishing
he'd just explode or drop the whole thing. "The file on a case we wrapped up
three months ago? The case we've already been to court on, been paid for,
and put to bed, which is why it's in that particular filing cabinet in the
first place? The case that's now deader than our client's sister-in-law?
That's the file you're sitting here on a gorgeous weekend morning worrying
about? The Breakfield file?" He dropped her arm and his smile died.

"What?" she said, suddenly alarmed.

"You're sure it's a file you're looking for?" His eyes bored into her, dark,
suddenly, and filled with an emotion she wasn't sure she wanted to identify.
"You wouldn't be feeling a sudden need for, say, the agency gun? Laura, are
you in some kind of trouble you don't want me to know about?"

She gasped, feeling an unwanted laugh rising in the back of her throat. "No!
Oh, lord, it's nothing like that! Honestly!" She was relieved to see the
dark clouds begin to withdraw from his face. "I just..." she suddenly

"Just what, Laura?"

"Well, I..." she swallowed. Hard. "I was finished with, with the case we
were working on last night and I was kind of...well..."

"Just say it, Laura," he said, the smile suddenly returning.

"Say what?"

"The sink was already regrouted and you were at loose ends." The flush rose
to her cheeks again and she swung away from him.

"Excuse me, but I have work to do!"

He caught at her arm again and pulled her back. "Work? Laura, there is no
work to be done here today and you know it. You're hiding and that's all
you're doing."

"I'm not hiding from anything. I'm here to work!" She stopped and looked up
at him. "Work. You know what that is, don't you? You don't do any of it, but
you know what it is, right?" She looked pointedly at the desk and his gaze
followed hers. She was gratified to finally see confusion there.

"Is there something about my desk that bothers you, Miss Holt?" he finally
said, mildly. "Perhaps the lack of towering stacks of unfinished files? The
abscense neat rows of pencils and pens? The carefully bundled stacks of old
memos that simply aren't there?
The invisible, small, but growing chains of paperclips? The odd assortment
of used-and-re-bent-staple sculptures that aren't gracing it's pristine
surface? What exactly is bothering you most about my desk at the moment,

"Dust," she said through tightly-gritted teeth.

"Dust?" His left eyebrow ascended to heights hitherto undreamed of.

"Mr. Steele, this desk is dusted once a week. On Fridays. Yesterday, for
whatever reason existed, it wasn't dusted."

"I can see how such an oversight could conceivably annoy you, but this
regrettable condition exists throughout the office at this time. My desk,
Mildred's desk, even the two square inches of unblemished space on your own
desktop, I'd dare say."

"Yes, but the dust on Mildred's desk and whatever dust might have landed on
my desk over the course of this week isn't the same as this dust. This dust
is settled. Practically domesticated. And untouched by human hands. Or
anything else!"

"Your point, Miss Holt?"

"My point is..you...there is no...you can't see that...argh!!!" She threw
her hands up in the air and turned toward the door once again.

This time he caught her around the waist and pulled her back. The warmth of
his palm slid under her jacket and pressed against the thinner fabric of her
blouse. It never occurred to her to simply reach down and move his hand.
Instead she froze in place, not moving, staring up at him, her breath
straining against the cage of her chest, praying he wasn't aware of the
effect he was having on her.

Her prayer went unanswered. His free hand began to stroke the lapel of her
gray, striped blazer in a way that was only slightly short of obscene. "So,
my dust is causing you...discomfort." His eyes locked onto hers. "I wonder
what I can do to...relieve the situation? I only want you to
be...comfortable. I mean, you are forced to spend time here,
under...intimate circumstances and comfort is so very important under
those...trying circumstances. So what can I do to make the situation
more...comfortable for you. I wonder..." One hand stroked the lapel, the
other still warmly encircling her waist, he only had to lean forward
slightly and she was suddenly just off balance, head tilted, hair streaming
back, just brushing the top of the desk in question.

"What do they call this?" he said, still fingering her lapel.

The word "assault" rose to her mind and for once in their long and troubled
relationship, she actually managed to bite it back. "This what?" she
murmured instead.

"Your, um, jacket. Don't they call this a 'duster'?" His hand moved up along
the lapel and across the back of her neck, his fingertips brushing the fine
hairs near the base of her skull. "Loose, flowing in the back, kind
of...swirly. They call this kind of thing a duster, don't they?"

She was finding it hard to breath. Or focus. "I...think so. I don't really

"Then, perhaps..." he muttered. And suddenly she wasn't poised just above
the desktop anymore and his breath was warm on her face for that brief
moment, just before his lips covered hers. And the world went away for an
uncounted span of time. She wasn't aware of her feet leaving the floor. He
spoke from time to time, but the words fell across her consciousness like
feathers and blew quickly away. She was more aware of other things. Warm
things. Intimate things. Wonderful things.

Later, she would find it almost impossible to look her dry cleaner in the
eye. But before they were done, there wasn't a speck of dust to be found
anywhere on that particular desktop.