- Steele Upon a Mattress - Part
Date: Saturday, March 29, 2003 9:42 AM
- From: Lauryn Poynor <email@example.com>
STEELE UPON A MATTRESS - PART EIGHT
Special thanks to Susannah for East LA particulars and to
Spanish translations. I wouldn't have attempted this chapter
help of my two cultural attaches. <wink>
Rated NC-17 for sexual content.
He'd been here before, as a visiting tourist, and gotten the
recklessness knocked out of him for his presumption. The cinderblock
building on Lorena Street was as airless and shadowed as a cellar;
inside, a 20 X 20 boxing ring filled the small space, leaving
narrow, mirror-lined perimeter. On this small patch of neutral
roughly ten fighters shadowboxed, skipped rope, and stretched
muscles, sharing time on the heavy bags that swung in dangerously
arcs from rusted chains in the low, plaster ceiling. A smattering
free weights, speed bags, and double-end bags, jealously guarded
their owners, were scattered around the ring's edges. The spicy
of "Yo Tambien Quiero Bailar" by Miami Sound Machine
blasted out of a
boom box on a metal folding chair. The smell of dampness, leather,
sweat stuck to every surface like cobwebs.
"Steele!" called a softly accented voice. "Where
are your wheels, amigo?
Limo in the shop?"
Steele put a finger to his lips, grateful for the noise level.
Michael, ah, 'Mick', this trip." It would feel good to be
"Glutton for punishment, huh, St -, uh, Mick?" said
youth with a wink.
Steele's set his gym bag on a bench and grinned ruefully. "I
my friend here, Manuel. The one with the baseball cap and the
"Tito? Lost his job driving the bus. Gone back to San Felipe."
Steele's face fell. "I was hoping to go easy on him this
Manuel scratched his chin. "I don't think he'll be back.
Trouble with la
Steele's oblique gaze studied the other fighters as they bobbed
weaved on the mirrored walls.
"His cousin Emilio could be his twin," Manuel told
Steele. "Same style.
A little more power, maybe. Same weight. 155. He's over there
Manuel pointed out a well muscled, light skinned youth wearing
gold cross on a chain around his neck. He was barely twenty,
5' 8", with
velvet soft, angelic features. As he released a flurry of blows
heavy bag his trainer yelled a mixture of commands and insults
"If you want to do some work, I'll talk to his trainer,"
"He trained Tito. I'm sure he remembers your right hook."
Steele nodded assent. "Thanks," he said to Manuel's
Steele flashed back to that hot, sweet moment his punch had connected
and the force had staggered Tito to one knee. The rest of the
had been a prologue that blurred in the memory; the shaking off
pain of repeated blows until finally timing the other's jab and
his own hook sweep out over his opponent's extended arm. After
minutes of being out-maneuvered and out-boxed it had been an
Skin pricking on the backs of his hands, Steele watched as Manuel
conferred briefly with the trainer, both men almost shouting
to be heard
over the solid thump-thump of fists against leather and the squeal
hi-tops sliding across the wood floor.
After the formality of a handshake and a cursory introduction
Spanish, it was decided; Steele began to gear up. In T-shirt
he slathered Vaseline around his eyes, nose, lips, and cheeks,
someone's hastily borrowed headgear on over his ears. He slipped
mouthpiece and waited stoically as Manuel performed the solemn
wrapping his hands before lacing him into his gloves and fastening
After fifteen minutes of warm-up on the bag, Steele stepped through
ropes to face his sparring partner. He gave Emilio a quick glove
glove salute and both men lightly sprang apart on the sound of
Tension was a vice around Steele's chest as he traded flurries,
to loosen up, alternately circling and feinting. A fake and a
right jab and the sting of hard contact traveled like an electric
current from his arm to his synapses; he felt the once familiar
anticipation begin to settle in the pit of his stomach.
An answering hook struck Steele with the force of a rifle shot,
exploding near his temple and driving him backwards. With an
shook off the knife-sharp pain and the hot flash of anger that
came with shocking suddenness on its heels. He knew the tiniest
concentration would bring more punishment, and to avoid it he
think past the pain and adrenaline and find the weak thread that
unravel a youth from Baha Norte barely out of his teens. The
smooth-faced boy, trained as a fighter since he was fourteen,
any opponent's logic, simply a human puzzle to take apart and
Working at the edges of the ring, Emilio shifted his weight and
under Steele's straight right to strike a hammer blow to his
Momentarily unable to breathe, Steele collapsed against the ropes.
youth pressed the opportunity, grappling with him and going to
with a series of low, compact punches. Steele pulled out of the
recovering enough to go up top to counter to the other's exposed
with a left hook. As he knocked his opponent off balance, Steele
back and gasped in a desperate lungful of air. Sweat stung his
ran down his back and legs to dapple the canvas in heavy drops.
He could hear the boy's trainer shouting in Spanish. "Pegate
a él, che.
Sobre el cuerpo! No boludees! Usalo de bolsa!"
Steele had no intention of being Emilio's body bag. He knew he
get outside his opponent's punches and begin to use his greater
and height to his advantage. He spun off the ropes, guard low,
out with his jab, landing quick strikes to the jaw and nose to
shorter man at bay. Emilio countered by trying to go over guard,
Steele side-stepped his attack, and youth's hook, thrown wide,
off his shoulder. Steele came back with an overhand right and
it as Emilio deflected the shot and slipped inside with a granite-hard
jab to Steele's midsection.
With each successive blow the young fighter seemed stronger and
and he began to drive Steele back with a series of crisp double
His trainer yelled encouragement as his fists found their mark
pounded once more against Steele's battered ribcage. Steele froze
slow motion agony, stilling his head and giving Emilio the target
patiently been waiting for. His left hook cracked solidly against
hitting Steele with full force at the point of the jaw. Knees
vision fading to near black, Steele slid with almost glacial
"Descanso!" The trainer shouted at the sound of the
Steele didn't want a break. He wanted it to end. He staggered
legs and arms limp, gloves heavy and clumsy as anvils. His entire
was drowning in sweat and his breath rasped hard and painfully
throat. His chest felt like it was on fire.
Emilio's trainer came up to him and ran his hands over Steele's
Even the light contact was like torture. "No parece que
haya nada roto.
Solamente machucado," he said. Nothing broken, only bruised.
Steele and Emilio bottles of water which each half emptied in
simultaneous gulp. "Buen round, che. No muchos le pueden
dar a mi pibe
un buen round. ¿Pega fuerte, no?" He clapped Steele
on the shoulder
with a good natured grin. "Volvé mañana."
To Steele's half-disconnected brain the words sounded far away,
as if he
were hearing them through several fathoms of water. "Come
tomorrow." The injunction seemed as foolhardy and outright
walking a high wire without a net. "Sure," he said.
Steele stripped out of his sweat-soaked clothes and stood naked
cramped cubicle of the shower. The last of the hot water had
vanished and the pressureless cold spray ran in thin rivulets
battered torso. He washed carefully, nursing his aching ribs.
After drying off with a towel he surveyed the damage in the mirror:
large, spreading black bruise just to the right of his heart,
bleeding abrasion along his chin, a red swelling above one eyebrow.
watched idly in the glass as Emilio, sitting behind him on a
scraped dried blood from around his nose and mouth. The sight
gave him a
"Manuel, amigo. This is more than just a social visit. I
need to get
lost for a while. A few days." Steele rubbed his sore chin
"It's a bit hard to explain."
"Working on a case?"
"Ahh, you might say that. Do you know a hotel or a rooming
by? Some place where they don't ask questions and don't read
"A hotel? You come to my home turf and want to stay in a
clapped a hand to his heart as if mortally wounded. "Steele.
my hospitality. You can stay at my place, with my tía
and my brothers
and sisters. I know it sounds crowded, but you can sleep on the
the back. Plenty of privacy."
Steele wanted to demur; he hadn't meant to wrangle an invitation,
could see no way out without causing offense. "Ah, it sounds
Thank you," Steele said sincerely. "You won't even
know I'm there,
Manuel. I'll just blend into the scenery."
"You? Blend in? Whatever you say, hombre." Manuel laughed.
you to salsa," he winked.
Manuel lived in a neat, frame one story house with a sunny front
dotted with palms and rose bushes. The surrounding Boyle Heights
neighborhood was once a gateway for newcomers of many cultures:
Armenian, Italian, Russian, Japanese, and Chinese, as well as
Manuel's quiet street, near a large indoor market, housed extended
families, young and old, but gangs and guns were a fact of life
than a half mile away.
Manuel introduced Steele to his aunt Rosaria. "Tía,
this is a friend of
mine, Michael O'Leary. We call him 'Mick'. I've invited him to
a few days."
Rosaria put a hand to her mouth in shock and launched into a
rapid Spanish. "Señor Steele! Rem-ing-ton Steele!
Pero qué honor! Pero
si leemos todo lo de sus casos en el periédico, siempre,
Manuel resolvié aquello del George Kaplan!"
So much for staying incognito, Steele thought. He shot Manuel
a look of
mild reproof. "You solved the case?"
"My tía likes to exaggerate," said Manuel with
an apologetic shrug.
"Must be a family trait," Steele said dryly.
"Es que Usted es bien famoso," Tia Rosaria continued.
"Erik Estrada?" Steele queried politely.
"TV motorcycle cop," Manuel said sotto voce.
"Y casi igual de buen mozo."
"Almost, eh?" Steele tugged at his earlobe.
A lithe, curvaceous girl of about seventeen wearing glossy pink
lipstick, a stretchy mini dress, and platform sandals strolled
Steele, putting some extra sway into her languid movements.
She rolled her eyes in her aunt's direction. "Tia, you need
He's much better looking than Erik Estrada." Her eyes traveled
Steele's features and took in his jeans and sweater-clad body
"Mick, this is my sister, Reina. Everyone calls her 'La
Shy Girl' -- but
they're only kidding."
Tía Rosaria called to her other niece and two nephews.
television y vengan a saludar al invitado."
Three children reluctantly got up from in front of the television,
shifting restlessly in the stranger's presence while they were
"This is Carletta, she's five, Nicolas is six, and José
is nine," said
Manuel, pointing each out in turn. "This is el señor
Mick," he told
"He's a very important man. A detective," put in Tía
José's expression was solemn. "Can you pick locks?"
Steele started in surprise at the question. "Um, only in
the line of
duty," he answered.
Manuel ruffled the boy's hair. "He saw it on Starsky and
since he's been practicing with a nail file. No lock is safe
Tore up the dresser drawer in the front bedroom and scratched
paint on the back door."
"Well, don't be too hard on him. We all have to start somewhere,"
said philosophically, giving the boy a friendly pat.
Steele looked out cautiously from under the pillow, then groaned
blinked his eyes. The brightness of the morning sun scythed sharply
through the leaves of the low limbed sycamore that shaded two
Manuel's back porch. Every inch of his body ached but intermittent
spells of sleep had only half-quelled his leftover adrenaline.
of his bruised ribs, he got up and padded into the house in his
feet and pajamas.
He found Manuel at the table eating breakfast chilaquiles: fried
tortilla wedges with green tomato sauce, chicken, jalapenos,
topped with a fried egg.
Manuel looked up at Steele and shook his head in mock dismay.
Mick," he greeted with mild sarcasm. "You're late.
I guess it's corn
flakes for you."
Steele glanced warily at the other's cholesterol laden dish.
least I won't die young."
"This is a real breakfast, hombre. You look like you've
oatmeal for a week."
Tía Rosaria scooped chilaquiles from a cast iron skillet.
She waved a spatula threateningly over Manuel's head. "¿Así
tratas a los huéspedes? Ignérelo, Sr. Steele. Mi
sobrino no tiene, cémo
dicen en Inglés, no maneras?"
"No manners," supplied Steele. "I quite agree."
He smiled smugly in
She set an even larger plate of the hearty dish in front of Steele
garnished it with cilantro. "A comer, Sr. Steele,"
she ordered him,
politely but firmly.
"Do what she says, amigo. Eat. You don't want to see her
angry. That frying pan can crack a human skull like an eggshell."
"Thanks for the warning." Steele began to dig in, chewing
jaw was still stiff and painful from the effects of Emilio's
After a few bites he threw caution to the wind and began to eat
ravenously, his body reacting with visceral pleasure as if it
deprived of food for months. "Estß delicioso, Tía
Rosaria." he said
between mouthfuls. "Absolutamente delicioso."
"Gracias, Señor Steele." Rosaria beamed.
In minutes the plate was empty. "Tengo mßs manteniendose
assured him, indicating more chilaquiles in the oven in a casserole
"More?" Manuel cried incredulously. "Don't encourage
him, tía. I've seen
pigs with more restraint," he joked.
Giving her nephew a dirty look, she got out the dish and spooned
food onto Steele's plate.
"I really couldn't -" Steele began, but something about
the no nonsense
look in her eye made him withdraw his protest. He finished the
helping more slowly than the first but still made short work
"Where's the rest of the brood, Manuel?"
"Carletta and Nicolas are still asleep. The others are at
"Why aren't you still in bed? I thought you worked nights."
"Well, after you, that is, we solved the George Kaplan case
honchos from Ratooi ended up in jail -- and Esteban and I got
"I see," said Steele, somewhat dismayed at this unintended
"No problem. We found another cleaning job. Three days a
better will turn up."
"I'm sure it will."
"I'm going to see a man at the Mercado about some part-time
work. If you want to tag along here's tía's shopping list."
Steele looked over the list of unrecognizable ingredients. "Does
come with pictures?"
El Mercado, at the corner of First Street and Lorena, was a sprawling,
three-tiered indoor market that sold everything from aphrodisiacs
huaraches to yams -- a combination supermarket, clothing store,
metaphysical pharmacy, and folkloric festival. Its nooks, crannies,
archways, and central open air gallery invited all who entered
explore the sights and smells of the bakeries, meat and fish
splashed vegetables and fruits, clothing, crafts, dried beans,
spices, virtually anything and everything with a Latin American
Within its pale stucco walls, salsa rhythms hot off the Latin
clashed brightly with the slap of bass guitarrons and mariachi
piped in from the third floor restaurants. The air hummed with
of buyers, sellers, cash registers, jukeboxes, and gossip.
The market made no attempt to cater to the tourist trade. English
foreign language and on the second floor immigration lawyer's
crowded next to counters where people queued up to cash checks
money to Mexico.
Sticking close to Manuel, Steele wandered through the ground
aisles, threading his way past racks of colorfully embroidered
and fancy stitched boots and turning tight corners to find piles
produce and dried food items in large, white baskets. To an outsider,
Steele mused, street markets were much the same everywhere. All
their mix of the strange and the familiar. "Manuel, this
list of yours
might as well be in hieroglyphics. Flor de calabaza? What is
"Si. For soup."
Still a little mystified, Steele read the next item. "Huitlacoche?"
"It's kind of like a mushroom. I thought you spoke the language,
"Apparently not the local variety."
Manuel shook his head sadly. "You Anglos. Like babes in
"Should I leave a trail of tortillas back to the car?"
with a thin smile.
"Let's get the hierbas first. Tía said to be sure
not to forget the
manzanilla. She makes a tea out of it mixed with honey. It's
Alka-Seltzer for an upset stomach."
With Manuel leading the way, Steele soon found himself on ground
tourists feared to tread. Arcane plant-like materials bulged
and hung suspended from ceilings. Pictures of saints with garlic
their necks neatly framed racks of potions, oils, tarot cards,
innumerable plaster Virgins of Guadalupe.
The counter was presided over by a woman wearing heavy eye make-up,
dangling earrings, and a leopard print blouse and skirt. As the
them approached she froze in mid motion, staring at Steele's
face with a
look of revelation. Never taking her eyes off him, she made a
sign in the air.
"Ojo," she muttered darkly.
Steele was more than a little disconcerted. "What's all
that about?" he
whispered to Manuel.
Manuel looked surprised by Steele's ignorance. "You don't
"I know what it means. What does it mean?"
"Eye. Evil eye."
"That's not very reassuring."
"You're telling me. Her family comes from a long line of
she says someone's put the evil eye on you, my friend -"
"Oh, wonderful. That certainly puts a crimp in my plans
weekend. Ojo, eh? Not that I believe in that sort of nonsense,"
added, mentally reciting a prayer.
"Of course not," Manuel agreed, half smiling. "Still,
history teaches us
to hedge our bets. Pascal's wager, you know."
"French philosopher and mathematician. He examined belief
in God through
a decision matrix. Better to wager that God exists and live your
accordingly, otherwise you take a chance on going to the infernal
"What does that have to do with this evil eye business?"
"Same principle. Better to be safe than sorry. You should
"What's the cure?" Steele asked, not really sure that
he wanted to know.
"The healer recites a special prayer and rubs the victim's
body all over
with a freshly laid egg."
Steele grimaced. "Never mind. I'll take my chances."
Manuel's store of
unusual knowledge had him curious. "Where did you learn
"You think only Anglos read philosophy?" Manuel replied,
challenge the assumption.
"Not at all." Steele's own background had made him
less inclined than
most to take the orthodox view.
"I didn't learn it in high school, that's for sure. I read
on my own.
Science, economics, history. I'm not going to spend the rest
of my life
cleaning offices." Manuel clapped Steele on the shoulder.
now, amigo. I've got to see this dude about a job." On Steele's
look he added, "just hand her Tía's list. She'll
know what to do."
As he watched Manuel slip out of sight, Steele shifted nervously
front of the curandera. Feeling more than a little foolish, he
to the woman in Spanish. "Señora. ¿Tendrß
usted alguna cura contra el
"Si, señor," she replied, with a wary glance
at him. "Zapote blanco."
She handed him a plastic packet of dried leaves and melon seeds
containing a colorful sleeve with tea making instructions.
Steele translated aloud. "'Restful sleep in one hour or
back.'" His lips twitched in a half smile. Not much margin
for error, he
mused. "Gracias," he said to the curandera, handing
over some small
bills. "Muchas gracias." Steele tucked the packet away
inside his shirt
In the mornings, he sparred with Emilio, three minutes of work
to six, then nine. A break -- then two more rounds, Steele's
overextended body taking a beating but occasionally hitting stride,
finding a rhythm, slipping punches. Opportunistic in pursuit,
would land a sharp hook or jab that rocked his opponent's head
kindling a flash of surprise and anger in the other man's eyes.
On each walk back to Manuel's the world outside of the gym felt
removed, grainy and artifacted, like softly blurred images on
stock. Steele napped on the porch in the afternoons, exhausted,
by a low grade headache and the raw pain in his ribs.
Outside of living dangerously in the boxing ring, life was uneventful
the standards of a muy famoso, jet setting sleuth. Steele took
of Carletta, Nicolas, and Jose to the movies, amazed them with
tricks, and read them stories in Spanish. He went clubbing with
half the neighborhood, and a bottle of Cuervo, and learned salsa
with Reina, 'La Shy Girl', to Ruben Blades' latest hits.
Even though Suite 1157 and his life as Remington Steele seemed
Laura was rarely out of his thoughts. Twice, he tried her home
the middle of the night, but hung up before she could answer.
to clear the air between them, to give some account of what he'd
doing the past few days, but how could he explain to her what
couldn't explain to himself?
On his last night on Manuel's porch, Steele lay on the mattress
slipped fitfully into sleep. He dreamed that he was sparring
not with words but quite literally in the ring, with boxing trunks
gloves. Laura's body was a weapon; she stood before him, lethal
perfect, taller than he remembered, stronger, and impossibly
was wearing a low cut spandex top, and sweat shone on her skin
beaded in droplets between her breasts.
Her blows rang like thunderclaps against his head, and as she
with him he held on to keep from falling, pulling them both off
and down hard to the canvas. Laura was on top of him then, one
leg parting his knees. Her mouth sought his and they kissed hungrily
a clash of teeth. With their hands encased in leather, full contact
defaulted to groins and lips. Laura squeezed her glove between
bodies and pried it loose. Once one hand was free, she pulled
elastic of his trunks and underwear and Steele was eager to oblige,
lifting his hips to help her slide them down the rest of the
reached up for him, and with a low moan, he came erect against
Laura scrambled on top, guiding his erection inside the loose
leg of her boxing trunks. She had no panties on underneath and
further barriers his stroke slipped easily and fully inside her.
completely clothed, she rocked him in a slow, pulsing rhythm,
onto his shoulder one handed for leverage. Grappling closer,
bodies slick with sweat, they increased the tempo until they
driving each other to a frenzied heat.
The force of Steele's climax left him shuddering, gasping, and
awake, his fantasy dissolving as the all too real ache in his
competed with the throb in his groin. He shut his eyes against
darkness and clutched the pillow to his chest, waiting for his
breathing to return to normal.
That morning at breakfast, under the table, Manuel's sister Reina
her hand on Steele's thigh, smiling at him with such boldness
wondered if she had heard him in his sleep. Face flushing with
embarrassment, he quickly brushed her hand away. An entanglement
Manuel's seventeen year old sister was no way to repay his friend's
hospitality. Despite his sense that nothing much had been solved
coming here, he knew it was time to move on.
Manuel drove him back to Rossmore before noon and Steele invited
"Next time you come for a visit, hombre, bring that foxy
lady of yours.
That is, unless you are afraid my charm will be too much for
"My lady is quite charm resistant, actually, so I'll keep
the offer in
"You do that, Steele." He shook Steele's hand in something
close to the
"If you need a change of scenery from East LA, Manuel, my
door is always
Manuel took a long look around Steele's tastefully appointed
place, but does it have room service?"
Steele laughed. "I think that can be arranged."
"Remember, my friend. Don't fight stiff like an Anglo. Keep
moving and keep shifting your center. Get your weight behind
"Thanks for the lesson, mate." Steele clapped a hand
on his shoulder.
"It's on the house, amigo."
- To Part