Steele Upon a Mattress - Part Seven
Date: Friday, March 21, 2003 9:55 AM
From: Lauryn Poynor <>



Lauryn Poynor

Special thanks to Susannah for geographic assistance.

11:45 am

"Amscray. Buzz off. Make like the Invisible Man and disappear. Some of
us have work to do." Bernice Fox made a shooing motion with one hand and
retrieved a pencil from behind her ear with the other. Turning a cold
shoulder to the recipient of her ire, she sat down at her desk and began
jotting notes on a steno pad.

The titular head of Remington Steele Investigations showed no particular
inclination to budge from the general vicinity. "Penning your
resignation letter perhaps?" Steele lazily stretched his lean frame.
"Don't stop on my account. I look forward to toasting your long overdue
departure with a remarkably well bred bottle of Cheval-Blanc."

Bernice looked up from her writing and made a face. "I'd write your
official good-bye in a heartbeat -- if you had a real job."

"Unlike your own, Miss Wolf, my skills are too numerous to fit with room
to spare in a one column inch secretarial advert."

"Speaking of room to spare, your office is that way." Bernice gestured
behind her. "Go talk to the furniture. It's more on your level."

"Precisely. The executive level. Where one finds the not inconsiderable
consolations of a clean, well lighted desk-top, an ergonomically
designed chair, and a freshly ironed newspaper. I hope today's
'Lifestyles' section is ready for my perusal."

Bernice rolled her eyes. "Just about. I'll tell Murphy to unfold his
paper airplane. Would you stop looking over my shoulder?" She half
covered the pad with her hand. "This is agency business. That makes it
none of yours."

"Business, eh? Do you always draw little hearts in the margins on agency

Bernice drew another one, bisecting it decoratively with an arrow. "So
sue me."

A semi-guided object made of newspaper spiraled out of the open doorway
of Laura's office. It was trailed by a rather puzzled Murphy Michaels.

"Curses. Still haven't licked that stability problem. Maybe downward
wing flaps would help."

"Good lord. I'm gone for twenty-four hours and the entire staff is
regressing back to the womb."

Murphy picked up the paper plane and lofted it to Steele with a smirk.
"She's all yours. Ya know, just when you think the society page couldn't
be duller, a new wrinkle shows up. So to speak."

Steele unfolded the paper and found himself face to face with his own
photo from a recent charity event. "More than a few, it appears. You've
wrecked the crease in my trousers."

"Yeah, but I got really great airlift." Wearing an insufferably pleased
grin Murphy went back to his case files.

Still in the mood to skirmish, Steele gave a disparaging head shake in
Bernice's direction. "Writing tawdry little love notes on company time?
One shudders to think of the possibilities. 'Dear To Whom It May
Concern. My life is now complete. Thank you for inventing Press-On

"Don't knock it. That nails guy's a gazillionaire. He could write a
check for Dodger Stadium out of petty cash."

"Poor chap. Pawed over by hordes of cheap, desperate women with fake

"You should know. You've cornered that end of the market."

"How's your love life?" Steele inquired sardonically. "Managed to track
down that fellow who kept phoning last week?"

"Probably a secret admirer," Bernice replied with a mysterious air.

"I'm sure you remember the one. I knew you two would hit it off when he
asked what color knickers you were wearing - though I must admit the
heavy breathing was a bit disconcerting."

Bernice tossed her head. "At least I wear underwear. Your dates would be
underdressed at a Playboy club."

Steele's stinging retort was interrupted by a phone call.

"It's for you." She dangled the receiver with a languid wrist.

"Would it be too much of an imposition to ask who's calling?"

"How should I know? Some Italian guy."

Steele winced involuntarily. There were a number of men with names
ending in vowels he'd been studiously avoiding since a certain
investment went sour two months ago.

"Al Pacino sort of Italian or more Marcello Mastroianni?"


"I thought you took shorthand," Steele exhaled in exasperation.

"He said his name was Gianni, I think."

Steele's heartbeat returned to normal. "Ah. My tailor. I've been
expecting a call." He took the receiver, stretching the phone cord as he
leaned casually against the far side of the desk. "Gianni, my good man.
Steele here. I've got a bone to pick with you about that worsted chalk
stripe. The elves in your shop are slipping. Lining's loose. What's
that? New showroom? Shipment of vicuna? I take it back, old chap, all is

Bernice scowled impatiently and punched the hold button. "Do you mind?"

Steele promptly disengaged it. "Sorry about that. Still here? New
receptionist. It's so hard to get good help these days. Mi scusi, un
momento." Steele put the call back on hold. "I'll take it at my desk,
Miss Wolf. Less chance of unwanted static on the line." He vanished to
the confines of his executive level inner sanctum.

A minute later Laura Holt strode through the double doors of Suite 1157
and into the reception area. Purse slung over her shoulder, file folder
tucked under one arm, she breezed by humming the theme tune from the
'KROT' morning show.

"Hey, not so fast," called Bernice. "You promised you'd tell me
everything that happened between you and you know who yesterday at the
gym. So spill," she ordered her friend. "I'll let you skip to the good

Laura affected an air of unconcern. "What makes you so sure there were
good parts?"

"That silly grin on your face for one thing."

"I don't have a silly grin on my face," Laura replied, trying to slip
gracefully back into a businesslike expression.

"Right, and I never kiss a guy on the first date. Who's kidding who?"

Laura winced. "Is it that obvious?" A wry head shake was all she got in

Steele stepped through his office door. "Laura." Their eyes met
instinctively. "You sound chipper today. What do you say to a leisurely
lunch? At Cafe Lautrec?"

"Cafe Lautrec?" Laura gaped at him. "I hate to shatter your illusions
Mr. Steele but at those prices I could barely afford a small salad. For
the main course, I might have to hock something."

"Nonsense, Laura. My treat."

"Independently wealthy, are we?"

"Well, to be more precise, my tailor's. He's invited all of his best
customers to lunch to celebrate the grand opening of his new showroom. A
lovely gesture, don't you think?"

Unimpressed, Laura shrugged her shoulders. "I suppose. Considering that
you signed enough checks last month to re-tile his pool."

"Well, at least he's in a mood to be generous."

"Maybe. But I'm not so sure his generosity extends to inviting your
trusted associate."

"Now that you mention it . . . Steele trailed off as an alternative
occurred to him. "Perhaps we could call it a business lunch. For tax
purposes, that sort of thing."

Laura's face set in a dubious frown. Between Steele's new gym membership
and the likelihood of several sleep clinic bills the agency balance
sheets were getting deeper in the red than a valentine card.

"Discretionary fund?" Steele pleaded.

"I'd rather not write any more checks for a while. Anyway, I have client
meetings scheduled. You go on ahead."

Disappointed, Steele tried not to show it. "I imagine it's for the best.
Claude tells me their swordfish en brochette could be used for a
doorstop. Still, the Cafe's dessert chef is a marvel. I'll abscond with
something for your sweet tooth."

"You certainly know the short cut to a girl's heart."

"Chocolate mandarin cheesecake, I presume."


"Excellent. Well I'm off then. Fred's bringing the limo around."

"Hey, no fair! What about the rest of us?" called Bernice.

"You and Murphy? I suppose I could pick up a few souvenir matchbooks.
Caio." With the blithe condescension of visiting royalty, he sailed out
the door.

Bernice stared after him. "Laura, can we change the locks before he gets

Laura perched on the desk, letting her legs dangle. "Sure. But would it
do any good?"

"You're right. I forgot that we hire from Felons R Us." Bernice absently
twirled her pencil between her fingers. "You know, there are days when
I'd gladly throttle him. Then I remember you have first dibs."

"You and Murphy will just have to wait your turn." Laura expelled the
air from her lungs in a heartfelt sigh. "To kill him or kiss him, that
is the question."

"For you maybe. I'll stick with option one."

"You know, it's funny. Since he's become an insomniac I've only felt
homicidal towards him oh, five, maybe six times."

"You're getting soft."

"Could be. Don't want to kick him when he's down. Lately, he seems -- I
don't know. Different. A little more open, more honest. Less devious.
Less enigmatic."

"Are you sure he's not sleepwalking?"

Laura laughed. "Don't get me wrong. He's still as hard to read as ever."

"I'd be careful if I were you. I don't think it's a permanent

"The insomnia?"

"The honesty."

"Damn. I got my hopes up, didn't I?"

"Happens to the best of us." Bernice gave a world weary sigh. "Enough
soul searching. I want to know what happened yesterday. Did you two get
physical or what?"

Laura lips twitched in a secret smile. "You might say that."

"Now who's being devious and enigmatic."

Laura glanced over at her open office door. "Murphy's still here, isn't
he? We'll caucus in Mr. Steele's office."

"Why so mysterious? The coast couldn't be clearer. Your gym partner
probably won't be back for a couple of hours."

"Trust me." Laura grabbed her purse and the file and made a beeline for
Steele's office, Bernice trailing in her wake. "Murphy," she called out.
"If the phone rings take a number. Bernice and I need to have a private

Murphy poked his head through the door. "Don't tell me. Let me guess.
One of those 'men - can't live with 'em', can't exchange 'em for credit'
chats, right?"

"Affirmative. And we don't want to be disturbed."

"Don't worry. I've learned to keep my head down."

Closing Steele's office door behind her Laura caught her breath, still
clutching the file in front of her.

"OK, Laura. We made it to the safe house." Bernice looked at her
quizzically. "What have you got in there? State secrets?"

"Pretty close. Eyes only." She opened the file and removed the contents.
One by one she spread a series of color photos on the desk. "I've got
four eight by ten glossies and the original snaps. Jo had to enlarge the
8 x 10's so they're a little fuzzy in places but I think you can still
get the picture."

Bernice did a double take that would be the envy of a stand-up comic. "I
see it but I don't believe it! Did he mug a male stripper on the way to
the pool? What is that he's almost wearing? And how did you get this
close with the camera?"

"Long story."

Bernice inspected one shot at crotch level. "Hmm. Long enough.
Everything's to scale. Maybe you could make an educated guess. Got a

"Bernice!" Laura blushed crimson.

"Don't tell me the math major's not curious. I'll bet you've studied
these photos under an electron microscope."

"Don't be silly," Laura shot back. "Just a little close-up work with the
magnifying glass in my glove compartment."

"Remind to borrow that later." Bernice slapped a hand to her mouth and
gasped. "What am I saying?"

Laura grinned. "What I'm thinking."

"I know. That's what scares me. I refuse to go over to the dark side.
The day I have the hots for Skeezix cats and dogs will sign peace
accords, the Cubs will win the World Series again, the shirtdress will
come back into fashion - "

"Saw one in a store on Melrose last week."

"Not funny."

Laura held up her right hand. "God's truth. Hey, the dark side has its
perks. The view's nice from where I'm standing."

Bernice studied the photo with a connoisseur's eye. "I hate it when
you're right." She tossed the glossy back on the desk. "I gotta know.
How on earth did you talk Skeezix into that spandex slingshot?" Did you
have to get naked first?"

"Of course not," Laura replied, trying to sound terribly shocked.

"OK. Next question. Did he lose a bet?"

Laura smiled at the notion. "No. At least I don't think so. He got them
from some dumb blonde. He was going to return them, wear something else,
but I was mad at him over the bimbo and pulled a switch before we left.
A dirty trick but it was worth it."

"Whoa. Back up a minute. What were you doing going through his clothes?"

"He asked me to," Laura said as if it were the most natural thing in the
world. "You should have seen Mr. Steele at the pool. He came out
clutching this huge towel around him; nothing underneath but that
turquoise G-string."

"You're killing me! Sounds like at least one of you had a good time

"Once he finally got submerged I teased him unmercifully. In more ways
than one. Remember that bikini I showed you?"

"The itsy bitsy teeny weeny red one?"

"Did I mention it's practically transparent if you add water?"

"I'll bet that got his attention."

"A few more minutes and we both might have gotten lucky."

"My hat's off to you, Laura Holt, PI," Bernice said with undisguised
admiration. "When I said Chippendales and photos I was only kidding. I
never thought you could pull this off."

"We came close to pulling everything off. Shirts. Pants. Tops. Bottoms.
In the gym, in the pool." A smile crept across Laura's face as a
pleasant image came to mind. "Mr. Steele has very nice skin."

"There goes that look. The one you were wearing the day Ben Pearson
showed up flashing his fake ID."

"You were wearing it, too," Laura reminded her.

"I plead temporary insanity. You, on the other hand, are a lost cause.
Perry Mason couldn't get you off the hook."

"You make it sound like a life sentence."

"If you show him the door maybe you can get time off for good behavior."

"Maybe I don't want to get off just yet."

"Your problem is you want to get off with Skeezix in the worst way."

"Too true. There was a moment yesterday . . . strike that, there were a
lot of moments -- when I was dying to ask Mr. Steele to scratch my
itch. I almost lost it when he was doing sit-ups."

"Uh, OK. Whatever turns on your headlights."

"Sounds crazy, doesn't it? He was kind of in a rhythm -- not to mention
a little hot and sweaty. Well, more than a little hot. Clothes clinging
to him in just the right places. If he'd been doing push ups I would
have crawled under him and -"

Bernice covered her face with her hands. "Stop or I'll get the agency
gun and put you out of your misery! You don't have to draw me a picture.
Speaking of pictures, Laura, you'd better put these under lock and key.
If he ever finds out you snapped him - he doesn't know, does he?"

"Not a clue. My plan worked like a charm."

"And how! I'm getting this story on tape. Then I'm selling it and the
pics to the Trib."

"Bernice, it's a tempting thought, but I don't think the agency needs
that, uh, kind of exposure."

"Don't worry. I'm not really going to the Trib. Just to your office to
show Murphy."

"No-o!!, Laura protested with sudden vehemence. "Don't -"

"Why not?" Bernice stared at her fellow foot soldier as if she'd gone
over to the enemy. "Murphy's your best pal. A stand up guy. He deserves
it. God knows entertainment is scarce around here."

"We-ell," Laura equivocated.

"Think of it as the gift that keeps on giving. Something to throw darts
at when he's feeling blue. A fab addition to the office wall. C'mon. You
have to bring him in on this one."

"I don't know, Bernice. I'd like to but -"

"You almost sound worried about him, and I don't mean Murphy."

Laura's smile was as mysterious as the Mona Lisa's. "Why play your ace
in the hole on the first hand?"

"I'm afraid you've lost me."

"Of all the people on the planet, who is the last person Mr. Steele
would want to get a peek at these beauties?"

The light bulb went on over Bernice's head. "Murphy."

"He's my hole card. I'm saving him up for the proverbial rainy day. Mr.
Steele refuses to obey one direct order, does one reprehensible thing,
steps one toe out of line and -"

"Sounds like blackmail, but I like it. Don't spend it all in one place.
Just remember, with that guy, when it rains, it pours."

"Yeah, but at least I'll be carrying an umbrella."


All eyes were on Remington Steele as he strode through the suite's
doors, swathed from head to toe in luxury fabric. His suit, mid-grey in
colour, a felicitous combination of lightweight wool, silk, and mohair,
was a study in raffish elegance. A small cardboard box tied with string
was held securely in his well manicured right hand.

The silence was deafening. No greeting or salvo of wit issued forth from
Steele's captive audience. Both women seemed content to stare as if the
sight made mere words superfluous.

"Don't everyone applaud at once." Steele stared back, absently putting
the small box on the desk. Was he only imagining it, or were both of
them looking somewhere a bit south of his waistline? An awful thought
struck him and he surreptitiously checked his fly. Thankfully, nothing
was amiss. He thought perhaps with all of the suit trousers he'd been
trying on in the dressing rooms at Gianni's, he'd gotten a little

It was Bernice who recovered first. "What are you going to do with him,
Laura? He has more costume changes than Cher."

Steele's nostrils flared in disgust. "I won't even entertain the thought
of such a vulgar comparison."

"How was lunch?" Laura inquired.

"In a word, Miss Holt. Decadent. The chef was definitely on form. I
think Claude may be a little jealous."

"At least this particular overindulgence of yours didn't cost anything."

"I'm not so sure." Steele looked down at himself ruefully. "I think I
may have gained several inches."

Laura and Bernice exchanged a look. "Quick, Laura. Go get your tape

Steele glanced at her warily. "Hardly necessary. I'm sure Miss Holt can
help me work off the extra in the gym."

"Nothing would give me more pleasure, Mr. Steele," Laura replied,
resorting to biting her lip to keep a straight face.

"Fifty push-ups ought to do the trick," opined Bernice with a spreading
grin. "Laura will have that flesh stripped down in no time."

"Is this what the well dressed man is wearing this season?" Laura
queried in an offhand way.

"You think it's too flashy?" Steele asked with a hint of concern. "More
Piazza del Duomo than Savile Row but one learns not to be a slave to

"You know what they say, Mr. Steele. Less is more."

"But a little flash goes a long way," Bernice added with thinly veiled

Laura shot her a look of warning. It wouldn't do for Steele to catch on
to their fun and games. She fingered the sleeve of his suit. "So, how
many extra zeros were on the price tag?"

Steele gestured vaguely. "Oh, the usual range."

"Somewhere near the gross national product of Belize?" Laura's voiced
was laced with sarcasm.

Steele had the grace to look slightly chagrined. "I know the agency is
having a bit of a cash flow crisis, but Gianni was swamped with orders.
I'm sure the reckoning will be delayed for a couple of months."

"You'd better use that high-powered suit to haul in some clients, Mr.
Steele, or we'll all be drowning in red ink."

"I suppose this means the vicuna top coat I have my eye on is out of the

"Unless you need something to wear to your funeral," Laura replied

Steele decided it was time for diversionary tactics. He picked up the
small box from the desk and proffered it in the palm of his hand. "Care
for dessert, Miss Holt?"

Laura grinned and held out her hand. "What's a few extra inches in a
good cause?"


Bernice peered over Laura's shoulder at an open file folder. "The
Richards case. That was a puzzler for the finest minds," she observed
with liberal dash of sarcasm.

"It had some features of interest," Laura bluffed.

"You must have memorized all two of them by now. Finding a prom queen
for a high school reunion? What really puzzles me is why you've been
staring at an old case file for the last half hour."

Laura cupped her chin in her hands and stared into space. "I guess I am
a little preoccupied."

"There's a newsflash." Bernice's voice softened. "Anything you want to
tell me?"

Laura took a fortifying sip from her coffee. "I'm sure business will
pick up soon."

"Laura, I'm not talking about cases. What's going on around here?"

Frowning slightly, Laura ran her fingers through her hair. "If you're
looking for answers -- I'm fresh out."

"I mean, one phone call and Skeezix disappears for three days to parts
unknown -- not that I'm looking a gift horse in the mouth. Since then
you've acting like a zombie, burying yourself in paperwork, barely
saying a word to anyone but clients -"

Laura rubbed her forehead, trying to ward off an incipient headache. "I
know I haven't exactly been chatty lately -"

"'Inanimate object' doesn't begin to describe you. Murphy says if you
don't snap out of it, he's going to fit you with a toe tag and have the
coroner declare you D.O.A."

"'D.O.A'. Edmund O'Brien, Pamela Britton, United Artists' -"

Bernice looked more than a little worried. "He's really gotten under
your skin, hasn't he?"

Cole Porter didn't know the half of it, Laura thought glumly. Her mind
wandered back to the first time she'd heard that movie reference. The
Buddy Shapiro case. Remington Steele never shows up wrinkled. She
wondered what state Steele would be in if he showed up now --"if" being
the variable in the equation.

"Are you going to fill me in on this mystery or are you just going to
sit there and mope?"

"As long as you're giving me an option, moping sounds good."

"Not really. You know the drill. Twenty questions. For starters, what
happened between the hour of eleven and eleven fifteen the morning of
January 28th?"

"The Dow went down 2.6 percent."

"Are you going to cooperate or do I have to get rough?"

Laura cracked a smile. "There was a phone call. From Lindstrom."

"The sleep doc?"

"He had Mr. Steele's test results."

"And?" Bernice prompted.

"There's not much to tell. Twenty first century sleep medicine couldn't
find anything. Zilch. Nada. Neesh. At least that's what Mr. Steele told

"That's it?"

"Things are never as simple as 'that's it' with Mr. Steele. He didn't
take it very well."

"Why not? It's good news, isn't it?"

"Maybe. I think he was expecting it to be an open and shut case. Instant
diagnosis. Instant cure. But it didn't work out according to plan."

Bernice shrugged her shoulders. "Life is like that sometimes."

"Then things progressed inexorably from bad to worse. Lindstrom
suggested he see another sort of expert."

"What sort?"

"A psychiatrist. They have one on staff."

Bernice's eyes widened. "Skeezix go to a shrink? Call me crazy, but I
don't think he's crazy. If he is, it's more like a fox than a Russian
Wolfhound. Murphy might disagree."

"No bones about it," Laura joked half-heartedly.

"I prefer to think of him as household pest," Bernice continued, getting
warmed up. "A one man plague of biblical proportions. A nuisance -"

"A damned attractive nuisance."

"But not crazy. Even if he has seen one too many old movies."

"You don't have to be crazy to see a psychiatrist."

"But it helps."

Laura gave a short laugh. "I was foolish enough to agree. That he should
see one, I mean. I've had worse ideas, but I can't remember when. His
reaction wasn't exactly encouraging."

"What reaction? I don't remember hearing the usual fireworks. You know,
two fighters leaving their corners at the sound of the bell."

"Don't quote me, but that would have been a relief. It got as quiet as a
tomb in there. He just looked straight through me like I was transparent
and said three words. 'I'm going out.'"

"I'm going out?"

"Then he left. End of story."

Bernice looked thoughtful. "Has he called?"

"He won't." Laura stirred her coffee absently. "I screwed up, didn't I?
I should have stopped playing Dear Abby and kept my mouth shut."

Bernice patted her shoulder. "You were trying to help."

"Maybe. Or maybe I want an instant cure as much as he does. Let's face
it. It's not fun and games anymore. It's getting serious. What if he
doesn't -" Laura bit back the words.

"Hey, don't panic." Bernice smiled in encouragement. "Skeezix is as hard
to get rid of as a bad cold, right?"

"I got us all in over our heads. Not just by giving him free rein on
that sleep clinic case but by letting him be Remington Steele in the
first place. Maybe I created an impossible role for anyone to play."

"Laura, the guy changes identities like he changes suits. How much of a
strain can it be? You do the work, he takes the bows? In at noon - out
by three? Luxury apartment? Key to the executive washroom?"

Laura sprang up and paced the carpet, words tumbling out in a headlong
rush. "It's not just a one night scam, though, is it? Or a quick score.
As long as our mystery man is wearing the great detective's eminently
respectable shoes, he has to tread the straight and narrow and keep the
side trips to a minimum. I mean, I'm always moaning about how he's
turned our lives upside down; I've never thought about what it looks
like from his side of the street."

"Laura, he's stayed this long. I don't think he's ready to hang up his
Italian loafers just yet. Even if they are a tight fit."

Half convinced, Laura stopped pacing and tried to gather her thoughts.
"I went by his apartment yesterday. No sign of him. Bed hadn't been
slept in, though I'm not sure how much of a clue that is right now.
Didn't find his passports which means either he's gone globe trotting or
he's hidden them somewhere I haven't thought to look. His closet's full
of clothes though -"

"That's a good sign."

"Including Gianni's latest creation."

"Case closed, Laura. He wouldn't have left that suit behind. Has Fred
seen him?"

"Not since he dropped him off at the corner of Cesar Chavez and Gage."

"In east LA?" Bernice queried in disbelief. "What's he doing in east

"Believe me, I'm as confused as you are. I had Fred drive me to the spot
and there's nothing much for blocks, just some half boarded up buildings
with murals on the walls, the usual taquerias, check cashing places, a
couple of furniture stores."

"Doesn't sound like the place for a high stakes poker game or an art
heist. But with Skeezix you never know. Maybe he had to meet someone."

"I wish I knew which someone," Laura said with feeling. "I asked around
but no one's seen him. How many tall, well tailored, blue-eyed gents
with British accents could be hanging around the neighborhood?"

"Maybe something got lost in the translation."

"Think I should brush up on my Spanish?"

"Couldn't hurt."

To Part 8