Steele Upon a Mattress - Part Eight NC-17
Date: Saturday, March 29, 2003 9:42 AM
From: Lauryn Poynor <>



Lauryn Poynor


Special thanks to Susannah for East LA particulars and to Adri for
Spanish translations. I wouldn't have attempted this chapter without the
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 only a
narrow, mirror-lined perimeter. On this small patch of neutral ground,
roughly ten fighters shadowboxed, skipped rope, and stretched their
muscles, sharing time on the heavy bags that swung in dangerously long
arcs from rusted chains in the low, plaster ceiling. A smattering of
free weights, speed bags, and double-end bags, jealously guarded by
their owners, were scattered around the ring's edges. The spicy rhythms
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, and
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. "It's
Michael, ah, 'Mick', this trip." It would feel good to be anonymous for
a while.

"Glutton for punishment, huh, St -, uh, Mick?" said the dark-haired
youth with a wink.

Steele's set his gym bag on a bench and grinned ruefully. "I don't see
my friend here, Manuel. The one with the baseball cap and the double
jab-right cross."

"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 time," he

Manuel scratched his chin. "I don't think he'll be back. Trouble with la
migra. Immigration."

Steele's oblique gaze studied the other fighters as they bobbed and
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 in the
green trunks."

Manuel pointed out a well muscled, light skinned youth wearing a heavy
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 to the
heavy bag his trainer yelled a mixture of commands and insults in
Argentine-accented Spanish.

"If you want to do some work, I'll talk to his trainer," offered Manuel.
"He trained Tito. I'm sure he remembers your right hook."

Steele nodded assent. "Thanks," he said to Manuel's retreating form.
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 sparring
had been a prologue that blurred in the memory; the shaking off of the
pain of repeated blows until finally timing the other's jab and feeling
his own hook sweep out over his opponent's extended arm. After six
minutes of being out-maneuvered and out-boxed it had been an ending to

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 of
hi-tops sliding across the wood floor.

After the formality of a handshake and a cursory introduction in
Spanish, it was decided; Steele began to gear up. In T-shirt and trunks,
he slathered Vaseline around his eyes, nose, lips, and cheeks, and drew
someone's hastily borrowed headgear on over his ears. He slipped in his
mouthpiece and waited stoically as Manuel performed the solemn ritual of
wrapping his hands before lacing him into his gloves and fastening his
chin strap.

After fifteen minutes of warm-up on the bag, Steele stepped through the
ropes to face his sparring partner. He gave Emilio a quick glove to
glove salute and both men lightly sprang apart on the sound of the bell.
Tension was a vice around Steele's chest as he traded flurries, trying
to loosen up, alternately circling and feinting. A fake and a solid
right jab and the sting of hard contact traveled like an electric
current from his arm to his synapses; he felt the once familiar fear and
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 effort he
shook off the knife-sharp pain and the hot flash of anger that always
came with shocking suddenness on its heels. He knew the tiniest slip of
concentration would bring more punishment, and to avoid it he had to
think past the pain and adrenaline and find the weak thread that would
unravel a youth from Baha Norte barely out of his teens. The
smooth-faced boy, trained as a fighter since he was fourteen, was, by
any opponent's logic, simply a human puzzle to take apart and solve.

Working at the edges of the ring, Emilio shifted his weight and slipped
under Steele's straight right to strike a hammer blow to his ribs.
Momentarily unable to breathe, Steele collapsed against the ropes. The
youth pressed the opportunity, grappling with him and going to the body
with a series of low, compact punches. Steele pulled out of the clinch,
recovering enough to go up top to counter to the other's exposed chin
with a left hook. As he knocked his opponent off balance, Steele stepped
back and gasped in a desperate lungful of air. Sweat stung his eyes and
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 had to
get outside his opponent's punches and begin to use his greater reach
and height to his advantage. He spun off the ropes, guard low, snaking
out with his jab, landing quick strikes to the jaw and nose to hold the
shorter man at bay. Emilio countered by trying to go over guard, but
Steele side-stepped his attack, and youth's hook, thrown wide, glanced
off his shoulder. Steele came back with an overhand right and paid for
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 faster
and he began to drive Steele back with a series of crisp double hooks.
His trainer yelled encouragement as his fists found their mark and
pounded once more against Steele's battered ribcage. Steele froze in
slow motion agony, stilling his head and giving Emilio the target he'd
patiently been waiting for. His left hook cracked solidly against bone,
hitting Steele with full force at the point of the jaw. Knees buckling,
vision fading to near black, Steele slid with almost glacial slowness to
the canvas.

"Descanso!" The trainer shouted at the sound of the bell.

Steele didn't want a break. He wanted it to end. He staggered upright,
legs and arms limp, gloves heavy and clumsy as anvils. His entire body
was drowning in sweat and his breath rasped hard and painfully in his
throat. His chest felt like it was on fire.

Emilio's trainer came up to him and ran his hands over Steele's ribs.
Even the light contact was like torture. "No parece que haya nada roto.
Solamente machucado," he said. Nothing broken, only bruised. He handed
Steele and Emilio bottles of water which each half emptied in a
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 back
tomorrow." The injunction seemed as foolhardy and outright dangerous as
walking a high wire without a net. "Sure," he said.


Steele stripped out of his sweat-soaked clothes and stood naked in the
cramped cubicle of the shower. The last of the hot water had long since
vanished and the pressureless cold spray ran in thin rivulets down his
battered torso. He washed carefully, nursing his aching ribs.

After drying off with a towel he surveyed the damage in the mirror: a
large, spreading black bruise just to the right of his heart, a still
bleeding abrasion along his chin, a red swelling above one eyebrow. He
watched idly in the glass as Emilio, sitting behind him on a bench,
scraped dried blood from around his nose and mouth. The sight gave him a
secret pleasure.


"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 nervously.
"It's a bit hard to explain."

"Working on a case?"

"Ahh, you might say that. Do you know a hotel or a rooming house close
by? Some place where they don't ask questions and don't read the 'LA

"A hotel? You come to my home turf and want to stay in a hotel?" Manuel
clapped a hand to his heart as if mortally wounded. "Steele. You insult
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 porch at
the back. Plenty of privacy."

Steele wanted to demur; he hadn't meant to wrangle an invitation, but he
could see no way out without causing offense. "Ah, it sounds ideal.
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. "I'll teach
you to salsa," he winked.


Manuel lived in a neat, frame one story house with a sunny front yard
dotted with palms and rose bushes. The surrounding Boyle Heights
neighborhood was once a gateway for newcomers of many cultures: Jewish,
Armenian, Italian, Russian, Japanese, and Chinese, as well as Latinos.
Manuel's quiet street, near a large indoor market, housed extended
families, young and old, but gangs and guns were a fact of life less
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 stay for
a few days."

Rosaria put a hand to her mouth in shock and launched into a torrent of
rapid Spanish. "Señor Steele! Rem-ing-ton Steele! Pero qué honor! Pero
si leemos todo lo de sus casos en el periédico, siempre, desde que
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. "Como Erik

"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 over to
Steele, putting some extra sway into her languid movements.

She rolled her eyes in her aunt's direction. "Tia, you need glasses.
He's much better looking than Erik Estrada." Her eyes traveled over
Steele's features and took in his jeans and sweater-clad body with frank

"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. "Apaguen la
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 being

"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 Rosaria.

José's expression was solemn. "Can you pick locks?" he asked.

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 Hutch. Ever
since he's been practicing with a nail file. No lock is safe from him.
Tore up the dresser drawer in the front bedroom and scratched all the
paint on the back door."

"Well, don't be too hard on him. We all have to start somewhere," Steele
said philosophically, giving the boy a friendly pat.


Steele looked out cautiously from under the pillow, then groaned and
blinked his eyes. The brightness of the morning sun scythed sharply
through the leaves of the low limbed sycamore that shaded two thirds of
Manuel's back porch. Every inch of his body ached but intermittent
spells of sleep had only half-quelled his leftover adrenaline. Careful
of his bruised ribs, he got up and padded into the house in his bare
feet and pajamas.

He found Manuel at the table eating breakfast chilaquiles: fried
tortilla wedges with green tomato sauce, chicken, jalapenos, and cream,
topped with a fried egg.

Manuel looked up at Steele and shook his head in mock dismay. "Señor
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. "Well, at
least I won't die young."

"This is a real breakfast, hombre. You look like you've been eating
oatmeal for a week."

Tía Rosaria scooped chilaquiles from a cast iron skillet. "Corn flakes?"
She waved a spatula threateningly over Manuel's head. "¿Así es como
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
Manuel's direction.

She set an even larger plate of the hearty dish in front of Steele and
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 when she's
angry. That frying pan can crack a human skull like an eggshell."

"Thanks for the warning." Steele began to dig in, chewing carefully. His
jaw was still stiff and painful from the effects of Emilio's fists.
After a few bites he threw caution to the wind and began to eat
ravenously, his body reacting with visceral pleasure as if it had been
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 caliente," she
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 more
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 second
helping more slowly than the first but still made short work of it.

"Where's the rest of the brood, Manuel?"

"Carletta and Nicolas are still asleep. The others are at school."

"Why aren't you still in bed? I thought you worked nights."

"Well, after you, that is, we solved the George Kaplan case all the
honchos from Ratooi ended up in jail -- and Esteban and I got laid

"I see," said Steele, somewhat dismayed at this unintended consequence.

"No problem. We found another cleaning job. Three days a week. Something
better will turn up."

"I'm sure it will."

"I'm going to see a man at the Mercado about some part-time delivery
work. If you want to tag along here's tía's shopping list."

Steele looked over the list of unrecognizable ingredients. "Does this
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 to
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 to
explore the sights and smells of the bakeries, meat and fish stalls, sun
splashed vegetables and fruits, clothing, crafts, dried beans, herbs and
spices, virtually anything and everything with a Latin American accent.
Within its pale stucco walls, salsa rhythms hot off the Latin pop charts
clashed brightly with the slap of bass guitarrons and mariachi melodies
piped in from the third floor restaurants. The air hummed with the noise
of buyers, sellers, cash registers, jukeboxes, and gossip.

The market made no attempt to cater to the tourist trade. English was a
foreign language and on the second floor immigration lawyer's offices
crowded next to counters where people queued up to cash checks and wire
money to Mexico.

Sticking close to Manuel, Steele wandered through the ground floor
aisles, threading his way past racks of colorfully embroidered clothes
and fancy stitched boots and turning tight corners to find piles of
produce and dried food items in large, white baskets. To an outsider,
Steele mused, street markets were much the same everywhere. All had
their mix of the strange and the familiar. "Manuel, this list of yours
might as well be in hieroglyphics. Flor de calabaza? What is that?
Squash flower?"

"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, amigo."

"Apparently not the local variety."

Manuel shook his head sadly. "You Anglos. Like babes in the woods."

"Should I leave a trail of tortillas back to the car?" Steele queried
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 better than
Alka-Seltzer for an upset stomach."

With Manuel leading the way, Steele soon found himself on ground that
tourists feared to tread. Arcane plant-like materials bulged from bins
and hung suspended from ceilings. Pictures of saints with garlic around
their necks neatly framed racks of potions, oils, tarot cards, and
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 two of
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 mysterious
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 know what
'ojo' means?"

"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 curanderos. If
she says someone's put the evil eye on you, my friend -"

"Oh, wonderful. That certainly puts a crimp in my plans for the
weekend. Ojo, eh? Not that I believe in that sort of nonsense," Steele
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."

"Pascal's wager?"

"French philosopher and mathematician. He examined belief in God through
a decision matrix. Better to wager that God exists and live your life
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 take the

"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 about Pascal's

"You think only Anglos read philosophy?" Manuel replied, eager to
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. "Adios, for
now, amigo. I've got to see this dude about a job." On Steele's worried
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 in
front of the curandera. Feeling more than a little foolish, he whispered
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 your money
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 expanding
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, Steele
would land a sharp hook or jab that rocked his opponent's head back,
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 slightly
removed, grainy and artifacted, like softly blurred images on old film
stock. Steele napped on the porch in the afternoons, exhausted, dogged
by a low grade headache and the raw pain in his ribs.

Outside of living dangerously in the boxing ring, life was uneventful by
the standards of a muy famoso, jet setting sleuth. Steele took the trio
of Carletta, Nicolas, and Jose to the movies, amazed them with card
tricks, and read them stories in Spanish. He went clubbing with Manuel,
half the neighborhood, and a bottle of Cuervo, and learned salsa steps
with Reina, 'La Shy Girl', to Ruben Blades' latest hits.

Even though Suite 1157 and his life as Remington Steele seemed far away,
Laura was rarely out of his thoughts. Twice, he tried her home number in
the middle of the night, but hung up before she could answer. He wanted
to clear the air between them, to give some account of what he'd been
doing the past few days, but how could he explain to her what he
couldn't explain to himself?

On his last night on Manuel's porch, Steele lay on the mattress and
slipped fitfully into sleep. He dreamed that he was sparring with Laura,
not with words but quite literally in the ring, with boxing trunks and
gloves. Laura's body was a weapon; she stood before him, lethal and
perfect, taller than he remembered, stronger, and impossibly fast. She
was wearing a low cut spandex top, and sweat shone on her skin and
beaded in droplets between her breasts.

Her blows rang like thunderclaps against his head, and as she closed
with him he held on to keep from falling, pulling them both off balance
and down hard to the canvas. Laura was on top of him then, one silken
leg parting his knees. Her mouth sought his and they kissed hungrily in
a clash of teeth. With their hands encased in leather, full contact
defaulted to groins and lips. Laura squeezed her glove between their
bodies and pried it loose. Once one hand was free, she pulled at the
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 way. She
reached up for him, and with a low moan, he came erect against her palm.

Laura scrambled on top, guiding his erection inside the loose fitting
leg of her boxing trunks. She had no panties on underneath and without
further barriers his stroke slipped easily and fully inside her. Still
completely clothed, she rocked him in a slow, pulsing rhythm, holding
onto his shoulder one handed for leverage. Grappling closer, their
bodies slick with sweat, they increased the tempo until they were
driving each other to a frenzied heat.

The force of Steele's climax left him shuddering, gasping, and finally
awake, his fantasy dissolving as the all too real ache in his ribs
competed with the throb in his groin. He shut his eyes against the
darkness and clutched the pillow to his chest, waiting for his rapid
breathing to return to normal.

That morning at breakfast, under the table, Manuel's sister Reina put
her hand on Steele's thigh, smiling at him with such boldness he
wondered if she had heard him in his sleep. Face flushing with
embarrassment, he quickly brushed her hand away. An entanglement with
Manuel's seventeen year old sister was no way to repay his friend's
hospitality. Despite his sense that nothing much had been solved by his
coming here, he knew it was time to move on.

Manuel drove him back to Rossmore before noon and Steele invited him up
for coffee.

"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 her."

"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
traditional manner.

"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 flat. "Nice
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 your head
moving and keep shifting your center. Get your weight behind those

"Thanks for the lesson, mate." Steele clapped a hand on his shoulder.

"It's on the house, amigo."

To Part 9