Steele Livin' Large 1/4
Date: Monday, May 22, 2000
Linda <>
Anne Rose <>

Anne Rose and I wrote this together. Thanks to our beta readers, Susannah and Jax!

Steele Livin' Large Part I

"Remington Steele Investigations . . . Mrs. Steele is unavailable at the moment, may I take a mess----I expect her any mo----I'll tell her you called!" Left holding the telephone receiver with the disembodied voice of the agency's newest client still ringing in her ears, Mildred Krebs griped to herself, not for the first time, about the lack of manners among the younger generation.

Mildred busied herself sorting through the day's mail. Mr. and Mrs. Steele would be in soon, she knew, and she didn't relish telling them that yet another receptionist had up and quit with not so much as a day's notice. Not that working for Mrs. Steele was a piece of cake. She demanded a lot of
people, but of course no more than she demanded of herself and Mr. Steele. Mr. Steele, on the other hand, was still a pushover. If his morning tea was steeped just right, his almond croissant crisp on the outside but buttery soft on the inside, and the Los Angeles Times in residence on his desk, he was a happy man.

Business had never been better, but the workload was killing everyone. Mildred felt stooped under its weight, and the departure of the latest warm body to occupy the outer office wouldn't make it any easier. Still, the Steeles insisted on keeping the business small, and had resisted hiring investigators, preferring instead to do the work themselves. Or at least Mrs. Steele preferred toiling away. The way Mildred saw it, those two could use a little less time at work and a little more time at play. Mrs. Steele flourished on the bustle of running a thriving business, but the Chief
looked like he could use a break. Just then the double doors swung open.

"Say what you will, but Bruce Willis is just not believable as a pyschologist. Take Robin Williams, he did a much better job in Good Will Hunt----"

"Oh, please," Laura scoffed. "The cross-dresser from Mrs. Doubtfire?"

"Now Laura, you're distorting the plot. He was merely a poor soul desperately trying to remain bonded with his children. He surely deserved----"

"Come on, Sally Field was much better off with that other guy. Good morning, Mildred, where's Tracy?"

"Tiffany," Steele corrected.

"Whatever you wanna call her, she's kaput."

"Oh, no, Mildred, not another one!" Laura turned to Steele.
"Was I too hard on her, do you think? No, that couldn't be it. I never asked more of her than the rest of us were willing to do. . . ."

"Of course not, darling. You're an inspiration to us all," Steele replied. He steered her into his office and turned to stage-whisper to Mildred, "Call the employment agency and schedule some interviews while Mrs. Steele is out of the office tomorrow."

Relieving Laura of her jacket and briefcase, Steele hung them in the closet and joined her as she perched on the edge of his desk. The morning sun streaming through the ample glass panes, and Steele observed as it played upon Laura's chestnut hair. She absently chewed on her thumb nail, one of
the few poor habits she'd picked up over the years, and in that brief moment Steele stopped short and marveled, as he did nearly every day of their lives together, at how utterly captivated he was by her. It wasn't just her beauty, although she still had plenty of that to spare; and it wasn't only love reciprocated, although there was lots of that too. It was more of a visceral reaction, he mused, more about how she made him feel about himself. He was, pure and simple, a better person with Laura than he'd ever been
without her. Feeling his gaze trained on her with intensity, Laura glanced up at him. As if she read his thoughts, she smiled, and for a second or two set aside her not insignificant concerns about the agency's workload to
reconnect to this man who, while not an enigma to her anymore, still could stop her in her tracks when he looked at her that way. She slid off the desk and turned to him. He pulled her close and met her lips.

"Look, this new client, Mr. Zlotoff, has been calling since I got here." Mildred charged through the open door, bringing her employers back to level ground.

Reluctantly turning in her husband's arms, Laura blinked back to the present. "Aren't. . . aren't we meeting him this afternoon?"

"Yeah, but he wants to move the meeting up to eleven o'clock this morning. Is that ok?"

"Yes, of course." Laura was all business now. She smoothed her skirt with her hands, then brought her palms to her cheeks to quench the heat that had risen in them.

"Laura," Steele whined, "we've a twelve-thirty reservation at the Black Forest."

"Let's get a move on then. He only lives in Brentwood." Laura placed a hand on his arm briefly and smiled. "Don't worry, we'll make lunch."

She gathered her so recently shed jacket and went into her office to retrieve the relevant file. From her office she issued instructions. "Mildred, please call Fred and have him meet us around front. And call Zlotoff and tell him we'll be there at eleven sharp."

Steele scampered to keep up with the whirling dervish that was his partner. In a flurry of activity they managed to leave a few minutes later.

Fred pulled up to the curb in the agency's newest mode of transportation, a midnight-blue late-model Crown Victoria. In addition to blending in better for the grunt-work of stakeouts and the glamour of high-speed chases, the automobile had quickly cemented Fred's respect with its impressive turn radius and acceleration, always a deficit in the recently-retired limo. Steele held the passenger door open and Laura slid across the car's ample back seat, which had already earned the couple's respect. Stakeouts couldn't
be all work and no play.

"Laura, I must once again voice my dislike for these corporate cases. Remember Unidac?"

"How could I forget?" Laura replied, the sarcasm in her voice a clue to Steele that he hadn't put his best foot forward with that example.

Retreating hastily, he queried, "Just what do we need to do for this chap, anyway?"

"Looks like a simple case of corporate espionage. Zlotoff has some serious information leaks that're draining his business. These biotech companies can only survive if they keep a tight lid on their research efforts, and he hasn't been able to do that. Are you going to review the file?" Only Steelecould have distinguished the edge in Laura's voice from the norm. Laura always worked at a pace a notch or two above the rest of the world, but it seemed as if she was even more driven lately.

Without comment, Steele took the proffered folder from Laura.

With the meeting at Zlotoff's home successfully concluded and the Steeles safely ensconced in the car again, Steele's mind turned to his mid-day repast. "Fred, the Black Forest on Wilshire, ok? We've a twelve-thirty table."

Laura, on the other hand, went into analytical mode. "That went well, don't you think? Let's get on this first thing tomorrow. Once we infiltrate the company we'll have at least a rudimentary idea about the inner workings of Pulsatech. And when Mildred installs that e-mail monitoring software, we can check for any suspicious contacts between Pulsatech's employees and its competitors. If there's a computer trail to be found, Mildred'll uncover it."

"Slow down, will you? Let's have a relaxed meal, just the two of us, eh? We'll ask for that table near the back, in that private alcove. . . ."

"God, not the one under the moosehead!" Laura was warming to his plan.

"I don't think they have moose in Germany, darling. Must be an elk or deer or something of that ilk." He skillfully wound his free arm around Laura's shoulders and helped her settle back in the seat. "That's a marvelous table. If one were to, say, kick off one's shoes, indulge in a little private revelry, I'd wager the other diners would be none the wiser." He leaned down to breathe softly into her ear. "What do you say?"

"I'd say I'm already missing that privacy panel we had in the Cadillac. . . ."

"Mmm hmm. My sentiments exactly. . . ." He softly caressed her jawline, planting tiny kisses along its contours.

Fred glanced in the rear-view mirror. Always discreet, he afforded the Steeles their intimate moments as much as possible. A low clearing of his throat advised Steele that they had arrived at their destination. With regret, Steele pulled away slightly, but promised himself to capture the
moment again that evening, when the work day was complete and Laura was his and his alone once again.

Laura obviously shared his line of thinking. "Later?"

"Mmm, yes."

The hostess, Frau Mueller, was delighted to see the return of Mr. Steele, a veritable gourmet, and Mrs. Steele, a woman with an appreciation for sauerbraten. "Mr. and Mrs. Steele! I have just the table for you!"

Before Steele could put in his request for the secluded table, they were maneuvered through the lunchtime crowd to a prominent locale where they could see and be seen. Frau Mueller was intent on giving her reputation a boost by putting the Steeles on display; minor celebrities that they were, it could only help her business.

After pulling Laura's chair out for her, Steele sat down with a sigh, but cheered up at the sight of the menu. Flagging down a passing waiter, Steele sang out, "A bottle of your best Riesling, please. And the toast points
topped with roast goose to nibble on whilst we peruse the rest of the menu, my good man."

Not as eager as her husband to indulge in a hearty meal in the middle of the day, Laura said, "I'll have a salad."

Tsk tsking at Laura's choice, Steele was unintimidated. "No rabbit food for me. I've a craving for the smoked pork chops, potato pancakes with a large dollop of sour cream, and applesauce. Oh, and pickled red cabbage of course."

During lunch, Laura's mind worked in overdrive. "This case could be just the ticket for us. We could get referrals from-----"

"Referrals?" Steele was aghast. "Laura, we've more than enough work now. We surely don't need referrals."

"But this is a growth industry. Say, maybe part of our investment portfolio should be in these high-tech stocks. The NASDAQ is really taking off and . . . ."

Laura lost him at that point. Making money the old-fashioned way and investing it in sound fiduciary vehicles were about as exciting to Steele as watching grass grow. But as their wine and appetizers arrived, he lured Laura back into more pleasant conversation.

After lunch, Steele weighed the pros and cons of the dessert-cart options, finally settling on the signature Black Forest cake, while Laura passed on dessert.

As they stood under the awning waiting for Fred to bring the car around, Laura warned, "We need to make a serious dent in our paperwork this afternoon."

Steele groaned. After that heavy meal, all he wanted to do was curl up on the sofa in his office. But like a trooper, he rolled up his sleeves, and he and Laura worked for over two hours on the thankless chore. A quick glance at his watch told him the afternoon was going fast. He reached in his jacket pocket for the message slip Mildred had given him that morning.

"Laura, Maurice called again about my new suit. Will I be leaving you in the lurch if I make a short trip over there?"

Laura rewarded him with a sloppy kiss. "Go on then, I guess you've put in enough time on paperwork detail."

She didn't need to urge him twice. He seized his jacket and headed for the door.

A half-hour later Steele stood on a small platform before a bank of mirrors, all reflecting his physique head-to-toe. An ill-fitting pair of pants graced his midsection. Although the top button was secured, the waistband strained around Steele's middle.

"Impossible! Clearly, Maurice, you have miscut this fine fabric."

"Mais non, Monsieur Steele. Perhaps-----"

"Well, then, your seamstresses have fallen down on the job."

"If you will permit me, Monsieur-----"

"Frankly, I'm shocked, Maurice. Shocked. This is not the fine establishment I've come to depend on. No indeed. Is this how you attend to your loyal clientele?"

With that last assertion, Maurice had had enough. He whipped out his tape measure, and in a flash remeasured the flummoxed Mr. Steele.

"Monsieur Steele, we relied on the measurements we had on file for you, but I see that," and here Maurice drew upon all of his tact, "those dimensions are slightly. . . under-represented."

"Blasphemy! Measure again."

Not until Maurice wielded his tape measure twice more and Steele himself awkwardly wound it around his own waist was he willing to acknowledge the obvious: his waistline wasn't measuring up anymore.

He climbed down and retreated to a chair in the corner. Could it really be true? Well, there was no denying it, was there? Tape measures don't-----RIP!
As Steele sat, the seat of his trousers opened, revealing yet more evidence in support of Maurice's claim.

Steele slunk back to the office. He had no intention of telling Laura about his hellish experience with Maurice. After all, he had only slightly deviated from top form. Cut out a danish or two, and he'd be back to his old fighting weight. No one could accuse the Kilkenny Kid of a doughy

Laura sat snuggled deep in the corner of the couch, her attention only partially on the movie on TV. Her hand rested gently on Harry's head, pillowed comfortably in her lap as he stretched out the length of the sofa.

It had been a long afternoon. After returning from the tailor, Harry had spent over an hour soothing an irate client with his usual diplomatic aplomb. Although he perked up for the client, Laura could not miss his somewhat distracted air when he came back. She had just stayed out of the way, wrapping up another case with Mildred's help. Mentally exhausted, Harry had been more than willing to collapse on the couch after dinner. Now he was so still that Laura glanced down to see if he was asleep. Laura was
surprised to see that even Hugh Grant's antics in Notting Hill couldn't interest Harry enough to keep his eyes open. She gently stroked his temple, running her fingers through his jet black hair.

For a moment something caught her eye, and she bent close to his head as she combed. There it was. Still moving her fingers so she did not draw his attention, Laura was now sure she had seen it - a gray hair.

Combing a bit more, two more appeared above his sideburn. Laura wondered if Harry had spotted them yet. How could he not, she thought ruefully, as carefully as he groomed himself every morning? She debated whether she should say anything to him.

How would he react to this? Surely he couldn't miss the growing number of white whiskers mixed with the black on his weekend chin. Or the growing number of gray chest hairs that literally were before Laura's eyes every morning when she woke up in his arms. Was he just ignoring them, practicing
some kind of denial, or were they entirely of no consequence, and not worth mentioning?

Although she had been with him almost every day for 15 years, Laura still could not safely predict how his male ego would react to any sign of aging. Just when she thought she could make some less than complimentary observation about his appearance, something he said or did told her to hold
her tongue. Deciding that, in this case, discretion truly was the better part of valor, Laura said nothing.

Later, when the movie ended, Laura shook Steele awake. He stumbled to the bathroom, while Laura waited expectantly in bed. But instead of picking up where they left off today in the limousine, Steele mumbled a goodnight, kissed Laura affectionately on the cheek, and instantly drifted off to
sleep. Laura on the other hand lay awake, replaying the day in her mind. Up until the afternoon it had been a perfect day by Laura's estimation. A lot of business, a little passion --- until Harry had returned from Maurice's,
seeming quite preoccupied. Even on the drive home to Silver Lake, he was unusually quiet, especially for Harry. A simple dinner and the movie hadn't seemed to change that, and for the life of her Laura could not imagine what had happened somewhere between lunch and closing time to change his mood.

Laura paced back and forth in front of the big desk as Mildred scribbled notes. Harry stayed in his chair and out of the way. He had learned long ago that when Laura was in full brainstorming mode it was unwise to cross her path.

"OK, Mildred, you've got the e-mail monitoring software figured out?"

"Yup. I followed the tutorial this morning and I programmed in the six names that Zlotoff gave me. It can monitor internal interoffice e-mail as well as external. But I'm not exactly sure what I'm looking for."

Laura sighed. "Well, we're not exactly sure either, Mildred. Start by looking for patterns of certain discussion topics, anything that looks non-business."

"OK, but I feel like I'm going to be looking for the needle in the cyber haystack."

"With only six addresses to monitor something will pop up soon." Laura turned to Harry.

"And you, Mr. Steele, are you ready to join the minimum wage masses in the mailroom?"

"The mailroom?" he asked incredulously.

"Why yes, it will give you freedom to wander throughout the building and check out any leads. Soon as Mildred finds us a likely suspect, we'll need to join the Pulsatech workforce."

"And you? What will your lowly cover involve?"

"I've made arrangements with Mr. Zlotoff to do an internal cost-analysis on an old project --- he found me an empty office right in the middle of things."

"Uh-huh." Harry rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Well, perhaps I need to get started on my blue-collar look immediately."

"How's that?"

"I'll just save a little time in the morning and stop shaving." He ruffled his hand through his hair vigorously. "That ought to do it, eh?"

Several days passed as Mildred's software did its job. Business continued as usual while she searched for some common link, punctuated only by many anxious phone calls from Zlotoff demanding a progress report.

One morning Laura was in her office writing a report and Harry was in his on the phone with a client when a shout of "Eureka!" echoed through the suite.

"What have you got, Mildred?" Laura asked on the run.

"Look here. I didn't want to make too much of it until I could be really sure. But this character here, Glen Caron, has made several references in his e-mails to project 42. Now that struck me as kind of odd, because all of the other projects in that company have names that are letter and number combinations, like LE-538, for example."

Harry came in to look over her shoulder as Mildred went on. "To me, it looks like he is communicating with someone outside the building about project 42, and they are getting close to completing their little information swap."

"Well done, Mildred, well done." Harry patted Mildred on the back. "Anything else of interest?"

"Yes. Cybill in accounting seems to have a thing for Caron, and the head of R&D is the unofficial building joke distributor."

Steele smiled, but Laura missed that last remark as she went into high gear. "We need to get moving right away, then. As they say in the movies, 'places everyone!'"

Harry was running out of things to do to keep himself busy. There was only so much mail to sort and deliver, and the mild chaos he had encountered on his first day was now under control. His work was interrupted by the appearance of a young man whom Harry knew from the photographs provided to
be Caron. Caron looked about a bit frantically and approached Harry.

"Can I help you, sir?"

"Uh, yeah, uh, for some reason I haven't gotten any mail for the past two weeks, and I'd like to know why."

"I'll look into it right away, sir. Your name and floor?"

"Yeah, Caron, third floor."

"'Karen,' sir?"

"Huh? C-A-R-O-N. Glen Caron."

"Oh, Mr. Caron. I'll be right back."

Harry went to the back corner of the mailroom where he had been squirreling away Caron's mail, and called Laura on his cell phone.

"Laura Holt, Internal Auditing."

"Laura, it worked. He's down here right now. Hurry!"

"On my way."

Harry pocketed the phone and gathered up the piles of letters and packages.

"Why haven't I gotten any of this delivered?" Caron asked angrily.

Steele did his best to be obsequious. "I'm sorry, sir, I don't know. I've only been here a couple of weeks and I was just following the memo they gave me to hold your mail until you got back from vacation."

"I wasn't on vacation! Gimme that!" Caron snatched the bundles from Steele's arms and started digging.

"Can I help you find something, sir?"

No! Just leave me alone!"

Harry kept his distance but watched Caron closely. He knew Caron had found what he was looking for by the expression on his face.

The mailroom door opened and Laura entered quietly, but Caron was too caught up in his discovery to notice.

"I'll take that," Laura said authoritatively.

Caron whirled around to face her and panicked. He shoved her out of the way and headed for the back exit of the mailroom.

Steele was reminded of the Keystone Kops as he and Laura foundered, knocking over meticulously sorted stacks of correspondence and catalogues, making the mail room a shambles. And to think he had spend all this time establishing order!

"He's getting away!" Laura barked.

Caron had indeed managed to struggle to his feet and slog through yesterday's mail. He made a beeline for the door, with Laura and Steele in pursuit.

In her heels, Laura's progress was hampered, but Steele, clad in coveralls bearing the Pulsatech logo and white tennis shoes, was right on Caron's tail. Caron ducked into a stairwell, eliciting an inner groan from Steele. He gamely followed their suspect down the first of many flights of stairs.

When Laura flung the fire exit open and began her descent, she almost stumbled over Steele, who was sprawled on the stairs, clutching his chest.

"What---what is it? What's wrong?" Laura gasped.

Between clenched teeth, Steele ground out, "Pain. In my chest."

Hearing that, Laura turned and took the stairs two at a time. In an open office, she found a phone, stabbed '9-1-1,' and said a prayer.

End Part I
To Part II