Steele Livin' Large 3/4
Date: Monday, June 12, 2000
Linda <>
Anne Rose <>

Harry's sound slumber was rudely interrupted by the alarm clock. When Laura failed to push the snooze button fast enough, he rolled over and reached for it himself. If he had to listen to that song by Savage Garden one more time. . . it occurred to him that Laura had changed the radio station again. Why couldn't she be content to be gently roused from sleep by the lilting strains of Mozart and Vivaldi? It was so much more civilized than the cacaphony of Bill Collins, or whatever his name was. He woke up fractionally more when he realized that Laura's warm body was not blocking his way in the manner to which he was so pleasantly accustomed.

Harry collected his thoughts as quickly as his sleep-addled brain allowed, trying to decide where Laura might be. He heard some knocking around downstairs and was fully awake with the knowledge that Laura was in his kitchen.

Grabbing his robe off the end of the bed, he beat a path downstairs quickly but quietly to find Laura setting the table and pouring coffee. She rearranged things for another moment before she sensed his presence.

"Good morning," she said brightly.

"Laura, what are you doing?"

"I'm getting breakfast ready."

Harry looked about suspiciously. "You're not cooking, are you?"

Laura ignored his gruffness. "Why, no." She turned back to her task. "I'm just warming up some muffins that I got at the Whole Foods Market. Robin says they're high in fiber. And here's some juice and broiled grapefruit."

Harry sat at his place as Laura placed a warm muffin on his plate. He eyed it suspiciously before getting up and going to the refrigerator.

"Did I forget something?" Laura asked.

"I'm just getting the butter." Harry searched the shelves for a moment. "I know we're not out --- I just bought some last Saturday."

Laura took a deep breath and prayed Harry would take this the right way. "I gave it to John and Paul across the street. Robin wants you to try this Benecol instead."

Harry came back to the table and picked up the plastic tub. "The what?"

"Benecol. Robin says it's supposed to help lower your cholesterol."

Harry set down the tub and sat down again without comment. He looked at Laura, then at the muffin, and then back at Laura again. With as much enthusiasm as she thought was safe, she broke her muffin in two and reached for the tub of spread. She took a healthy bite of the muffin and stopped
after a couple of chews. In what she hoped was an inconspicuous move, she tried to sip a little coffee to help put some moisture in her mouth, but Harry was entirely too observant.

"How are they?" he asked with undisguised amusement.

"Try it for yourself," she said with treacly sweetness.

Harry didn't stop smiling at her predicament as he broke off a piece and put it in his mouth. Having been forewarned, he took a sip of juice and tried to chew. Gamely he swallowed his small bite.

"Laura, this tastes very much like a hockey puck."

Laura stifled a groan as she wondered how he would know what a hockey puck tasted like. "Eat your grapefruit, Harry," she seethed.


The Century Plaza Tower elevator was packed as everyone arrived for work at the same time. Laura and Harry politely pushed their way in, and as usual Harry found it was unnecessary to push '11' as every floor button was already lit.

Laura nodded a greeting to a couple of people she recognized from their floor. She was preoccupied this morning by the thought of finding more ways to incorporate exercise into their day, to at least get Harry up and moving once in a while.

As several people got off on the eighth floor, Laura was seized with an idea, and at 9 she abruptly exited out into the corridor, headed for the stairwell.

Harry, caught completely off-guard, called after her.

"Laura! Where are you going? This isn't our floor!"

Laura did not answer but kept on walking. Harry squeezed his way past the other passengers, muttering his apologies, and barely got through the closing doors.

He trotted after Laura and caught up with her at the stairs. "What are you doing?" he demanded.

"Let's take the stairs the rest of the way up," she said cheerfully. "Mike says stair climbing is great cardiovascular exercise. It's just two floors."

"Laura, you know how I feel about stairs. Remember that very expensive bottle of Roederer Cristal I opened to celebrate your moving out of the loft?"

Laura laughed. "C'mon, it won't be so bad. Besides, there'll be another one of these. . . " she kissed him soundly but quickly ". . . at the top."

Harry drilled her with his gaze, mentally weighing the strength of this incentive. Without comment he trudged up the stairs behind her.

At the first landing, Laura glanced over her shoulder to check on Harry and found him intently watching her backside.

"Find the view interesting?"

"Oh, positively diverting."

She laughed and kept on climbing. At the eleventh floor she stopped with her hand on the doorknob.

"You OK?"

"Barely winded."


"Yes, really."

"Good." Laura gently pushed him against the cement wall and claimed the second kiss. She snaked her arms under his jacket and held him tight. When she released him, she smiled. "Tomorrow, we'll get off at the eighth floor." The next day, Steele was out of the office schmoozing with a new
client while Laura and Mildred prepared the agency's quarterly tax returns.

"Sign here and here, and we'll be all set."

Laura signed her name where Mildred indicated, then pushed back from the conference table and picked up a shopping bag that was next to her desk. "I'm going home now, Mildred."

"OK, boss. What's in the bag?"

"The makings of a healthy dinner I'm cooking up tonight."

Mildred looked skeptical. "Are you sure that's such a good idea?"

"Mildred, you're as bad as Mr. Steele. One of us has to take a stab at healthy-meal preparation. Besides, I bought extra of everything in case I really mess up and have to start over."

"OK. Best of luck," Mildred said without much conviction.

Laura got everything organized in the kitchen before she started, talking to herself as she worked. <All right, Laura, you've helped enough in the kitchen that you can handle this. Remember, it's just like a stakeout - get
everything ready, turn on the heat, and wait. C'mon, math major, you can do it. Besides, how can you mess up something with so much water in it?>

Always excelling in preparation, Laura got everything chopped and diced, and had the recipe essentially memorized before she started.

A couple of hours later Harry came home to find Laura setting the table. She beamed at him. "Hello, sweetheart, how was......"

"Tolerable. You've been up to something, I can tell by the expression on your face. What's that fabulous smell?"

"That's dinner."

"I'm famished - I accidentally skipped lunch. How soon do we eat?"

"Whenever you're ready."

Laura ladled out two soup bowls of her creation and set them on the table.

"What is it?"

"Minestrone, with some whole grain bread to go with it."

Harry sampled it carefully. "Hmmm, this is very good. Where did you get it?"

Laura tried not to smile too broadly and give herself away. "Can I tell you after we finish?"

"Sure." Harry did not speak again until he had finished every drop. "OK, which restaurant is the soup from?"

"None. I made it."

Harry tried to keep himself from going slack-jawed as he glanced at his stockpot and around the rest of the kitchen. Had Laura actually managed to successfully concoct something without setting off the smoke alarm?


"Yes, really. C'mon, Harry, give me some credit for learning a thing or two from you."

"Well, Laura, I'm more than pleasantly surprised. This is quite good."

"Thank you. I take that as a great compliment coming from you. It's got lots of healthy things in it, but still tastes good." She glanced at the pot on the stove. "I'm glad you like it, because I made enough to feed the whole office building. But we can always freeze it and take it with us."

Steele stood and began to clear the table. "What say we get the kitchen cleaned up so we can engage in our favorite form of exercise?" Depositing the dishes in the sink, he came up behind Laura and leaned down, locking his arms around her waist. "Or wouldn't Robin approve, so soon after dinner?"

"I can't wait to show her the recipe for tonight's soup. Did you know she puts together a cookbook every year of heart-healthy recipes her clients prepare? I bet this is good enough for the book."

Steele sighed, and returned to clean-up detail. Once Laura got going on Robin the Great, it took awhile for her to stop.

"I even used one of her ideas. You know, the one about sauteing the vegetables in broth instead of oil and butter . . . ."

By the time Laura wound down from the subject, Steele was glassy-eyed, but still interested in that exercise. As she turned out the kitchen light Harry pulled her into his arms. "Location, Mrs. Steele?"

"Oh, my choice tonight? Well, let's see." Laura pretended to ponder her options carefully. "How about the guest room balcony?"

Harry was taken aback. "Laura, apparently you have failed to realize that the Reads are having a party in their yard. That's only two doors away!"

Emboldened by her success in the kitchen, Laura teased. "What's the matter? One too many" she unbuttoned a shirt button "risk factors for you?"

Harry had to remind himself that for as long as he lived, when Laura's wild side snuck out, he could never be sure what would happen next. He loved it.

Laura snuck a kiss under his chin. He cleared his throat. "Uh, I was thinking of something a little less, hmmm, exposed. Like the Jacuzzi?"

She was easily convinced.

Laura walked out to Mildred's desk. "Do you have the menu book handy? This summary for Zlotoff is taking longer than I thought. How about something from Jamba Juice?"

Mildred pulled the three-ring binder out of her drawer. "Sounds good to me." To her surprise, Laura watched Mildred pull a pair of walking shoes out of the drawer as well. "Why don't I walk over and pick it up after we call it in?"

"When did you get those, Mildred?"

"The day after the Chief's trip to the ER. You're not the only one who didn't sleep very well that night, Mrs. Steele. I realized it wouldn't hurt for me to lose a little tonnage, too. So I've been walking around the mall at lunch."

"That's wonderful, Mildred! More power to you."

During lunch the three of them ate together in Steele's office. Harry looked at his foam container suspiciously. "What did you order for me, Laura?"

Laura perched on the desk and attacked her salad. "A veggie bean burrito and a Peach Pleasure. A little fiber, a few vitamins, not much fat."

Harry got up from his desk and went into his bathroom. "Is something wrong?" Laura asked worriedly.

Harry did not answer but came back with a plate and a fork. He moved his food from the takeout container to the plate and sat down again. "I will eat this, Laura, to make you happy. But remember, presentation is everything."

Mildred tried not to laugh out loud at the chief's antics and decided she should change the subject. "It's a good thing Fred came up Pulsatech's alley when he did. But I think he still feels guilty about knocking Caron down."

"Nonsense, Mildred. They way I see it, Caron ran into Fred. Since I was totally incapable of doing anything to help, I think it's rather fortuitous that Fred was following Laura's surveillance route so diligently."

"Caron may have a calculating mind, but he has no backbone," Laura chimed in. "He caved as soon as Zlotoff and the security guards caught up with him. Of course, that wasn't too difficult, seeing as his leg was broken."

Harry had finished and was studying his empty plate. "How was that? Did you like it?" Laura asked cautiously.

"Oh, I liked it well enough, but I don't know if it will carry me through to this evening."

"Remember, Robin says eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper."

Steele's fork came down so hard on the desk that Laura jumped. "Laura, I have had just about enough of the gospel according to Robin," he said quietly.

Mildred froze in mid-chew, at a loss on how to change the subject now. Laura slid off the desk, stunned into silence. Steele scowled at her as he picked up his plate and fork. "Besides, I don't think kings are forced to eat hockey pucks for breakfast," he seethed.

He marched into the bathroom and shut the door.

Mildred snatched up the remains of her lunch and rushed for the door, closing it behind her. Too many years' experience had taught her that the ground would soon be shaking, even eleven stories up.

Laura stood outside the bathroom door, feet planted and chin set. Waiting for Harry to come out was doing nothing for the slow burn that was developing.

After what she thought was an inordinate amount of time, Harry emerged and glanced briefly at Laura. Seeing the set expression on her face, he went straight to the refuge of his desk, like a crab seeking shelter under a rock.

Laura took a deep breath and went over to him. "What's the problem here?" she asked quietly.

Harry swiveled his chair sideways and would not make eye contact. "I've had enough of everyone's helpful advice, Laura."

"We're only trying to help, Harry."

Steele sprang to his feet and began to pace in front of Laura. "'We,' Laura? How can you say 'we?!' I'm the one who's been eating like a bloody bovine for the past month! I'm the one who's been walking four and five nights a week! I'm the one who's making all the sacrifices." He stopped short. "Did you know that Claude called the other day, wondering why he hasn't seen us at Chez Rive in so long? He thought something serious had happened."

"Something serious did happen! You almost had a heart attack!"

Harry waved his hand at this seeming triviality. "Be that as it may, Laura. However, you seem to have conveniently forgotten one of the issues Mike brought up at my first visit."

"What are you talking about? We've got it covered. You're eating better and exercising."

Harry cut her off. "Stress, Laura, stress. Absolutely nothing has improved in that area."

"What do you mean by that?" Laura asked defensively.

"Maybe you think the pace around here is satisfactory, but it could literally be killing me! And what about Mildred, eh?" He took a few steps toward the door, gesturing in his subject's general direction. "Haven't you noticed how exhausted the poor woman looks at the end of the day? She
doesn't say anything, but I can see it! You want to accept referrals for more of this high-tech work when we're barely managing the cases we have now. And why is it that we can't keep any extra employees around here? Because it's too frantic!"

"No it isn't!" Laura snapped.

"Perhaps not for you." He considered her for a moment. "When's the last time we went out of town for the weekend?"

Laura had to stop and think. "I . . . I don't really remember."

"Then it's been entirely too long. What did we do last weekend, Laura?"

"We did the books for April and started on Zlotoff's report."

"And the weekend before that?"

Laura could not recall. "Obviously you're going to remind me," she said peevishly.

"We boxed up the 1998 case files and got them ready for the movers to take to storage." He got up and went to the window, hands thrust deep in his pockets. "We need help, Laura."

Laura rose to the defensive. "Now wait a minute, just because you and I don't . . . ."

Harry turned to her suddenly. "That's not what I meant, and you know it! I'm talking about full-time, professional, licensed private investigator help!" He smacked his fist in his palm with each word.

Laura backed up a step. That vein that popped out on Harry's left temple when he was agitated stood out in a ridge right now. She was scared enough by the possibility of another cardiac episode that she was moved to back down, this time.

Harry took a deep breath and forced himself to relax. He waited quietly for Laura to make the next move but never took his eyes off of her.

There was a long, heavy pause. "I'll think about it, Harry."

"Good. I'm going to walk around the plaza for about half an hour and then I'll be back."

"We have an appointment with a new client, Mr. Butler, at 2:30."

"I haven't forgotten." He shrugged into his jacket and straightened his tie. "I'll be back in plenty of time, eh?"

Laura smiled weakly as he kissed her forehead and left.

May 10. D-day. After more than a month of fits and starts, plus enough healthy eating to choke a horse, Steele was set to return to the cardiologist for a progress report. Two days earlier, he had fasted for twelve hours and then gone to the lab for blood tests. Steele thought he was even more nervous at the prospect of the return visit than he had been when he first met Gleason. With Laura's help, he had made some significant headway. But what if that wasn't enough?

The Steeles returned to the medical complex with an odd sense of deja vu. If he hadn't stopped himself, Harry would have parked in the very same spot he had pulled into six weeks ago, the first time they met Mike. But this time, it was he who opened the door to the stairwell so they could make the three-flight climb to the Cardiology Department.

They were ushered back almost as soon as they arrived, so Steele had no time to rehearse his excuses should the test results not be up to par. The nurse led them to Gleason's examining room, and Steele winced inwardly as she gestured toward the scale. When he stepped on, however, he was pleasantly surprised to see that it registered a seven-pound deficit over last month. With that good news to tide him over, Steele hopped up on the examination table while shedding his jacket, tie, and dress shirt. These he handed to Laura, who hung them on the hook behind the door.

Laura too was apprehensive. It hadn't been easy for him, but she knew that Harry had tried his hardest, and she prayed for good results.

"Harry! Laura! What's the good word?" Mike's booming voice announced his arrival, and Steele jumped.

"Hello, Mike," Laura smiled her greeting.

Steele was less cheerful. "That's what we want to know. What *is* the good word?"

Chuckling, Mike paged through Steele's chart. "Nice work, Harry! I see you've made good progress. Your weight and your blood pressure are moving in the right direction."

Next, Gleason listened carefully to Harry's heart and lungs. As the exam progressed he asked, "So, was it as bad as all that?"

"It had its moments. Hockey pucks and all." Harry and Laura shared a smile over the good doctor's head.

"Hmm. Go ahead and get dressed, Harry, and let's meet in my office when you're ready."

Gleason's office reflected his casual air; he joined the Steeles at a conference table to review Harry's medical record, rather than sitting behind his imposing desk, littered as it was with medical journals and enough paper to start a bonfire.

Flipping through the lab results stapled to the chart, Mike was silent for a few moments. Then he looked up to meet Steele's eyes. "I see you took our advice to heart, no pun intended." Laura laughed nervously, but Steele held his breath. "Your cholesterol dropped 40 points, still not where I'd like to see it, but moving in the right direction. HDLs are up. Triglycerides are down. Everything's going the way we want it to. Your stress test was borderline, but we'll repeat it in another couple of months, and I bet we see improvement. All in all, I'm very pleased with what I see."

The collective sighs of relief from the Steeles were palpable. Steele met Laura's eyes, wordlessly echoing her own thoughts. Joy was tempered for them both, though, with Gleason's next words.

"So, what's your stress like?" Gleason elicited blank expressions. Had they heard him correctly? "Remember, we were gonna talk about it today?"

"Well, not to brag, Mike," Steele examined his well-manicured hands in an attempt at false modesty "but I'd say four or five times a week, easily, although sometimes six----"


"Oh, *stress.* Sorry Mike, didn't hear you right the first time."

"This is not something to be joked about, or overlooked. Psychosocial stress, especially anger, doubles the risk of a heart attack, at least in the short term. Am I right in thinking all that gumshoe stuff can get pretty stressful?"

And here it was. Out in the open. Laura opened her mouth to fabricate her own excuses, to explain away her own excesses at work, which were no less harmful than Harry's excesses at the dinner table, apparently. But Steele smoothly filled the void.

"Mike, as world-renowned private investigators, our services are called upon constantly. Constantly. It's a burden, it takes a personal toll, but we rise to it. Why? Well, simply because it's difficult to turn away clients in true need of our intercessions. Why, just the other day. . . ."

Steele blathered on, while Laura stared at him in amazement. She had fully expected him to point a well-deserved finger at her, but he hadn't. Instead, here he was, accepting full responsibility.

"Well, Harry, the first step is recognizing the problem. Don't get me wrong, your physical parameters are all going the way we want them to. If we can take care of the rest, I think we'll be seeing you around for a long time to come. I've got some information about. . . ."

Ten minutes later, carrying pamphlets and fact sheets about stress management, Laura and Steele took leave of Dr. Gleason. After Harry made a return appointment, they walked silently to the stairs and trudged down. Walking among the rows of cars to locate their own, Laura broke the silence.

"You didn't have to do that."

"Do what?"

"You know."

Steele dismissed his actions with a wave of his hand, which still clutched Gleason's parting gifts to them.

"I mean, you shouldn't have done that."

Steele stopped short. "What are you talking about?"

"I don't need you to make excuses for me!" Laura's voice modulated to a shriek, and they could both see the way this one was headed. "Since when do I need you to rescue me?!"

"Never, Laura. Never have you needed me to rescue you." The irony was lost on Laura.

They'd reached the car, and Steele held open Laura's door, but rather than slide in, she turned to face him.

"So why'd you do it?" Arms folded, she awaited an answer, and from her expression, it had better be good.

Why indeed. It could have been that Steele's naturally chivalrous manner had been coaxed out. Or that he hadn't wanted Laura to feel embarrassed in front of her friend. But those weren't the reasons, not really.

He looked her in the eyes. "Because you're not to blame. I am. Me. I can't lay it all at your feet."

Ah yes. So that's why she loved him. That, and a thousand other reasons, of course. She leaned up against the car and pulled him toward her.

"Not true." And to prove it, she kissed him, letting herself go, forgetting for one glorious moment that they were in a parking garage beneath Cedars-Sinai. "You were right."

"I doubt it."

"No, you were, when you said that we needed help at the office. When you said we don't get away enough. . . ." Laura's hands trailed down his chest, her fingertips coming to rest just inside his trousers.

"Maybe trotting off to San Francisco, or London, or Acapulco, with a 47-year-old man with an expanding waistline and gray hair and----"


"----and a bad ticker and God knows what else isn't worth the effort."

"You're joking!"

"I wish I were."

As if in emphasis, Laura ran her fingers through his hair. "Well snap out of it! I don't see you like that! I see a devilishly charming, breathtakingly sophisticated----" Laura paused as she loosened the knot in his tie "----drop-dead gorgeous man, whom I was lucky enough to convince to marry
me----" he pressed his lips to hers, effectively silencing her.

"Did I ever tell you how lucky *I* am?" Steele breathed.

"And did I ever tell *you* that Ma Maison Sofitel is right across the street?"

"Excuse me, this can't be *my* wife talking! Aren't we meeting a new client in" he looked at his watch "an hour?"

"So? Mildred can keep her busy."

"And isn't that easily a $350-a-night hotel? Surely you're not suggesting we----"

Laura shrugged and smiled. "Mildred can find a way to make it a tax-deductible medical expense. My credit card or yours?"

End Part III
To Part IV