- Steele Upon a Mattress - Part
Date: Friday, March 21, 2003 9:55 AM
- From: Lauryn Poynor <email@example.com>
STEELE UPON A MATTRESS - PART SEVEN
Special thanks to Susannah for geographic assistance.
"Amscray. Buzz off. Make like the Invisible Man and disappear.
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
shoulder to the recipient of her ire, she sat down at her desk
jotting notes on a steno pad.
The titular head of Remington Steele Investigations showed no
inclination to budge from the general vicinity. "Penning
resignation letter perhaps?" Steele lazily stretched his
"Don't stop on my account. I look forward to toasting your
departure with a remarkably well bred bottle of Cheval-Blanc."
Bernice looked up from her writing and made a face. "I'd
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."
behind her. "Go talk to the furniture. It's more on your
"Precisely. The executive level. Where one finds the not
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
paper airplane. Would you stop looking over my shoulder?"
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
Bernice drew another one, bisecting it decoratively with an arrow.
A semi-guided object made of newspaper spiraled out of the open
of Laura's office. It was trailed by a rather puzzled Murphy
"Curses. Still haven't licked that stability problem. Maybe
wing flaps would help."
"Good lord. I'm gone for twenty-four hours and the entire
regressing back to the womb."
Murphy picked up the paper plane and lofted it to Steele with
"She's all yours. Ya know, just when you think the society
be duller, a new wrinkle shows up. So to speak."
Steele unfolded the paper and found himself face to face with
photo from a recent charity event. "More than a few, it
wrecked the crease in my trousers."
"Yeah, but I got really great airlift." Wearing an
grin Murphy went back to his case files.
Still in the mood to skirmish, Steele gave a disparaging head
Bernice's direction. "Writing tawdry little love notes on
One shudders to think of the possibilities. 'Dear To Whom It
Concern. My life is now complete. Thank you for inventing Press-On
"Don't knock it. That nails guy's a gazillionaire. He could
check for Dodger Stadium out of petty cash."
"Poor chap. Pawed over by hordes of cheap, desperate women
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
stripe. The elves in your shop are slipping. Lining's loose.
that? New showroom? Shipment of vicuna? I take it back, old chap,
Bernice scowled impatiently and punched the hold button. "Do
Steele promptly disengaged it. "Sorry about that. Still
receptionist. It's so hard to get good help these days. Mi scusi,
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
and into the reception area. Purse slung over her shoulder, file
tucked under one arm, she breezed by humming the theme tune from
'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
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
"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
Laura winced. "Is it that obvious?" A wry head shake
was all she got in
Steele stepped through his office door. "Laura." Their
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
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
lovely gesture, don't you think?"
Unimpressed, Laura shrugged her shoulders. "I suppose. Considering
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
"Now that you mention it . . . Steele trailed off as an
occurred to him. "Perhaps we could call it a business lunch.
purposes, that sort of thing."
Laura's face set in a dubious frown. Between Steele's new gym
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
doorstop. Still, the Cafe's dessert chef is a marvel. I'll abscond
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
"Hey, no fair! What about the rest of us?" called Bernice.
"You and Murphy? I suppose I could pick up a few souvenir
Caio." With the blithe condescension of visiting royalty,
he sailed out
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."
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
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
"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
"Damn. I got my hopes up, didn't I?"
"Happens to the best of us." Bernice gave a world weary
soul searching. I want to know what happened yesterday. Did you
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
he? We'll caucus in Mr. Steele's office."
"Why so mysterious? The coast couldn't be clearer. Your
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
"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,
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
four eight by ten glossies and the original snaps. Jo had to
8 x 10's so they're a little fuzzy in places but I think you
get the picture."
Bernice did a double take that would be the envy of a stand-up
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
close with the camera?"
Bernice inspected one shot at crotch level. "Hmm. Long enough.
Everything's to scale. Maybe you could make an educated guess.
"Bernice!" Laura blushed crimson.
"Don't tell me the math major's not curious. I'll bet you've
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
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
come back into fashion - "
"Saw one in a store on Melrose last week."
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
you're right." She tossed the glossy back on the desk. "I
How on earth did you talk Skeezix into that spandex slingshot?"
have to get naked first?"
"Of course not," Laura replied, trying to sound terribly
"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
but I was mad at him over the bimbo and pulled a switch before
A dirty trick but it was worth it."
"Whoa. Back up a minute. What were you doing going through
"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
clutching this huge towel around him; nothing underneath but
"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
admiration. "When I said Chippendales and photos I was only
never thought you could pull this off."
"We came close to pulling everything off. Shirts. Pants.
In the gym, in the pool." A smile crept across Laura's face
pleasant image came to mind. "Mr. Steele has very nice skin."
"There goes that look. The one you were wearing the day
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
"Maybe I don't want to get off just yet."
"Your problem is you want to get off with Skeezix in the
"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
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
to him in just the right places. If he'd been doing push ups
have crawled under him and -"
Bernice covered her face with her hands. "Stop or I'll get
gun and put you out of your misery! You don't have to draw me
Speaking of pictures, Laura, you'd better put these under lock
If he ever finds out you snapped him - he doesn't know, does
"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
that, uh, kind of exposure."
"Don't worry. I'm not really going to the Trib. Just to
your office to
"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.
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.
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
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
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
colour, a felicitous combination of lightweight wool, silk, and
was a study in raffish elegance. A small cardboard box tied with
was held securely in his well manicured right hand.
The silence was deafening. No greeting or salvo of wit issued
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,
the small box on the desk. Was he only imagining it, or were
them looking somewhere a bit south of his waistline? An awful
struck him and he surreptitiously checked his fly. Thankfully,
was amiss. He thought perhaps with all of the suit trousers he'd
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
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
"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
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,"
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?"
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
"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
to their fun and games. She fingered the sleeve of his suit.
many extra zeros were on the price tag?"
Steele gestured vaguely. "Oh, the usual range."
"Somewhere near the gross national product of Belize?"
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
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
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,"
Steele decided it was time for diversionary tactics. He picked
small box from the desk and proffered it in the palm of his hand.
for dessert, Miss Holt?"
Laura grinned and held out her hand. "What's a few extra
inches in a
Bernice peered over Laura's shoulder at an open file folder.
Richards case. That was a puzzler for the finest minds,"
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
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
Laura took a fortifying sip from her coffee. "I'm sure business
pick up soon."
"Laura, I'm not talking about cases. What's going on around
Frowning slightly, Laura ran her fingers through her hair. "If
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
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.
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
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
your skin, hasn't he?"
Cole Porter didn't know the half of it, Laura thought glumly.
wandered back to the first time she'd heard that movie reference.
Buddy Shapiro case. Remington Steele never shows up wrinkled.
wondered what state Steele would be in if he showed up now --"if"
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,
happened between the hour of eleven and eleven fifteen the morning
"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
find anything. Zilch. Nada. Neesh. At least that's what Mr. Steele
"Things are never as simple as 'that's it' with Mr. Steele.
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
diagnosis. Instant cure. But it didn't work out according to
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."
"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
Wolfhound. Murphy might disagree."
"No bones about it," Laura joked half-heartedly.
"I prefer to think of him as household pest," Bernice
warmed up. "A one man plague of biblical proportions. A
"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.
reaction wasn't exactly encouraging."
"What reaction? I don't remember hearing the usual fireworks.
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
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.
it. It's not fun and games anymore. It's getting serious. What
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
first place. Maybe I created an impossible role for anyone to
"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
by three? Luxury apartment? Key to the executive washroom?"
Laura sprang up and paced the carpet, words tumbling out in a
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
side trips to a minimum. I mean, I'm always moaning about how
turned our lives upside down; I've never thought about what it
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
"I went by his apartment yesterday. No sign of him. Bed
slept in, though I'm not sure how much of a clue that is right
Didn't find his passports which means either he's gone globe
he's hidden them somewhere I haven't thought to look. His closet's
of clothes though -"
"That's a good sign."
"Including Gianni's latest creation."
"Case closed, Laura. He wouldn't have left that suit behind.
"Not since he dropped him off at the corner of Cesar Chavez
"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
with murals on the walls, the usual taquerias, check cashing
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
"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
with British accents could be hanging around the neighborhood?"
"Maybe something got lost in the translation."
"Think I should brush up on my Spanish?"
- To Part