Steele Upon a Mattress - Part Nine
Date: Friday, April 04, 2003 11:37 AM
From: Lauryn Poynor <>



Lauryn Poynor


"Mr. Steele." Laura silently commanded her expression to remain neutral
to her partner's discerning gaze, while on the inside, her emotions ran
the gamut from relief, to pleasure, to festering anger with no stops in

To a casual observer the detective's easy manner conveyed that he'd just
wandered in from a refreshing stroll around the block, but even from a
distance Laura detected a tenseness in the set of his shoulders that
gave the game away; fight or flight, he was set to spring out of the
blocks as soon as she fired the starter's pistol. She'd be damned if
she'd give him the satisfaction.

Murphy, on the other hand, had no qualms about pulling the trigger. He
walked over to Steele and eyed him with clinical fascination, as if he
had just pulled back the sheet on a John Doe that had turned up in the

Upon closer inspection even Murphy registered disbelief. From the neck
down Steele was immaculate, if less formally dressed than expected in a
ribbed cashmere sweater, houndstooth jacket, and dark slacks. His face,
however, was several degrees shy of its usual perfection. There were
abrasions on his chin and left cheek, his lower lip was swollen, and a
large rainbow colored bruise decorated his brow.

Murphy gave a low whistle. "Unless I miss my guess," he began, "Bruno
and Guido finally caught up with you."

"Your consistency is admirable, Murphy. Always ready to assume the

"In your case it's a safe bet."

Steele returned fire with a marksman's assurance. "My mother, Mrs.
Steele, used to say, never bet on a sure thing unless you can afford to

"Yeah?" Murphy folded his arms across his chest. "Where did mother's
darling globe trot off to the past three days?"

"No passport required." Steele replied with brisk authority. "Never left
the city. I decided it was time to venture out beyond the microcosm of
these four gray walls. Become a tourist. Get the lay of the land, so to

Murphy's spirits seemed dampened by the news. "Wouldn't you know it? I
had five bucks riding on the Bahamas."

"Which reminds me," prodded Bernice expectantly, holding out her hand.
Murphy walked over and slapped a bill into her palm with an air of

Steele looked on from an ironic distance. "You only missed it by a few
thousand miles. Remind me not to hire you as my travel agent." His
exchange with Murphy was an afterthought. The reaction he was really
interested in was Laura's. She stood only a few feet away, watching him,
her entire body inclined forward as if it were spring-loaded with
curiosity. A myriad questions hovered on her lips and the set of her jaw
indicated they would be very direct questions indeed.

Steele scrambled for a fall back position. "No doubt since I've been
away, clients have been lining up to see me," he interjected hopefully.
Suddenly the reception area seemed terribly empty.

"Not really," Murphy said dryly.

"Well, it's lunchtime. I'm sure they'll be along shortly." He gestured
airily to Bernice. "Perhaps for the sake of efficiency you should send
them in by twos." In a few long strides he disappeared into his office,
closing the door shut swiftly behind him.

The trio of Laura, Murphy, and Bernice stared blankly at each other for
a moment.

"That was unenlightening," Laura said with a distracted air.

Bernice jerked her thumb in the direction of Steele's office. "Well,
what are you waiting for? A search warrant? Go in there and find out
what he's been up to."

Laura hung back stubbornly. "Why should I?"

"Because if you don't you're going to spontaneously combust."

Laura huffed mightily. "What Mr. Steele does on his off hours is no
concern of mine!"

"Off hours!" Murphy exploded. "When's the last time I took an
unannounced three day vacation with pay? The only reason he's back now
is he probably used up all his traveler's checks at the bail bonds

"I have to agree with Murphy. From the looks of him, Laura, he took a
few detours off the straight and narrow. You'd better get in there and
start pitching questions or we could all in up in the clink," urged

Laura didn't spend much time agonizing. "Hold my calls," she ordered,
before striding over and opening the closed door without knocking.

Steele had removed his jacket and was half hidden behind a newspaper
when she entered the inner sanctum. He peered over the pages as she shut
the door. "Client waiting?" he asked innocently.

"Don't bother to check for headlines. They're scarce these days."

Steele put down the paper and surveyed his uncluttered desktop. "I take
it I haven't been busy in my absence."

"No. Not very." Laura folded her arms.

"It was kind of you to save these for me." Steele waved a hand at a
small stack of daily papers.

"I hear circulation is up where you least expect it," Laura said
casually, perching on the edge of Steele's desk. "East LA, for

Steele recognized the signs of his inquisitive partner in full
investigative mode. He was as offhand as possible in his reply.
"Excellent news. Should help to bring in new clients."

"Maybe we should arrange some photo-ops. That is, if you're careful to
stick to the usual tourist attractions. Wouldn't want you to get lost."

"I think I can manage," he replied. Impassively, he studied his partner
and waited for the inevitable cross examination to begin.

To kill him or kiss him, Laura mused. Both options were equally tempting
but only one might get her some answers. On impulse, she reached over
and lightly stroked his bruised forehead. "Can you, really, Mr. Steele?
I'm not so sure," she murmured, sliding one finger slowly down his

Her touch sent off warning signals to every cell of his body. He hadn't
expected Laura to play this game. She leaned toward him, across the
desk, tantalizingly close, the thin material of her silk blouse drawing
tightly against her breasts. The sight made him think of spandex and
sweat. He shut his eyes tightly to dispel the image as Laura's fingers
twined in his hair. The aftertaste of his dream lingered as she kissed
him, none too gently, but with passion to spare. His swollen lips ground
against her teeth, but the pain was forgotten as her assault became more
yielding and seductive, sending a spike of ineluctable pleasure through
his veins.

Between kisses, never breaking concentration, Laura resumed her
interrogation. "What -- the hell -- have you been doing -- the past --
three days?"

"Nothing -- this gratifying -- believe me." Steele managed to get up
from his chair with minimal loss of lip contact.

She felt a small spark of triumph at his admission. His guard was
slipping. She was sure of it. "Why -- should I?" Laura exhaled,
slipping off the desk to stand facing him. "Believe you, I mean?" She
laced her fingers around his neck and kissed him with renewed vigor.

"Because -- when you do that," moaned Steele, demonstrating the action
back to her, "I feel this incontrollable -- urge for -- full

Laura's body tensed in response. Mr. Steele gave as good as he got. Her
hands roamed across his back, fingers kneading his muscles through the
soft fiber of his sweater. "Why didn't I think of this before?" she
breathed. "The truth game." She planted a kiss on his earlobe, a smile
playing across her lips. "Go on."

"Now I've forgotten the question."

Laura poked him hard, but playfully, in the chest. "I'll expect a signed
confession on my desk by Thursday."

Steele's face instantly turned a whiter shade of pale. He staggered back
and stood momentarily frozen in place.

"I was only joking," she assured him, dismayed by his inexplicably
violent reaction. "Well, half joking."

Steele was still trying to find his breath.

"Are you alright?" Laura asked, studying his bruised countenance with

"I'm fine," he croaked, the sweeping pain in his ribs making him feel

"No, you're not."

"It's nothing, really. Probably just the after effects of that trip to
the gym."

His gym partner wasn't buying any of it. "Pull up your sweater."

"Laura," Steele protested. The thought of doing it made him wince. He'd
dressed very carefully and slowly that morning.

"I'll do it." She lifted the garment and the T-shirt he was wearing
underneath as gently as she could manage.

"Have a care, Miss Holt. It's cashmere," Steele quipped, grimacing.

Laura's breath caught numbly in her throat as she drew her fingers
across his exposed skin. Deep-dyed bruises daubed his stomach and spread
darkly across his chest. When her palms explored his ribs Steele braced
himself not to react, but he still flinched noticeably when she applied

Steele gently stopped her progress. "Laura, I can explain." He tried,
but something went wrong. The stockpile of evasions, excuses, and
outright fabrications he had rehearsed on the way up in the elevator
mysteriously vanished into thin air.

"Ah, the explanation -- escapes me at the moment." Steele swallowed the
persistent lump in his throat. Why hadn't he said something sensible?

His partner's jaw dropped at this anticlimax.

"Laura, it really doesn't matter." Carefully, he removed her hands and
pulled his sweater back down over his torso.

"How can you say it doesn't matter?" Laura queried in disbelief, a
hundred fraught scenarios flashing through her mind. "What have you been

"I, that is, Remington Steele, had to disappear for a few days." He
smiled thinly. "I was following a hunch. An old instinct."

"A hunch?" she shot back, incredulous. "Some shady, back door operation,
no doubt."

"Nothing nefarious, I assure you," Steele winced. "The agency's
reputation remains very much intact."

Laura's voice was strained. "You think I'm just worried about the

Steele sighed deeply. It wasn't fair but he was tired of questions and
scrutiny, and wary of her solicitude. "It's safer that way, believe me."
He walked stiffly back to his chair.

Laura's jerked her chin defiantly. "You're not in the best position
right now to lecture me on what's safe." Self possession close to
unraveling, she stared back at him, wondering where the Remington Steele
had gone who, minutes ago, had kissed her so warmly. This one was a
stranger in the same dark clothes, the line of his posture alert,
dangerous, warning her off.

Steele regarded his partner distantly from behind the desk, his body
language signaling the interview was over. "Point taken, Miss Holt."

"I promised myself I would stay out of the advice business," Laura said,
keeping her voice low and even with considerable effort, "but you should
see a doctor."

Steele looked up sharply. "You're ever so determined to get me on the
psychiatrist's couch, Dr. Holt," he sniped. Her earlier injunction still

"You know that's not what I meant."

"Yes, well, it sounded very much like it," Steele said frostily.

Laura was speechless for a long moment, then found her voice in a rush.
"Then tell your analyst to pencil me in," she snapped. "I must need my
head examined. I have this stupid, crazy attachment to lost causes!"

Stung by her words, Steele took the path of most resistance. "Laura,
it's my life and my 'lost cause' as you put it, and I'll deal with it in
my own way."

"That's worked out really well so far, hasn't it?" In a fury of
frustration, Laura stormed out and strode to the sanctuary of her
office. She wasted no time in slamming the door resoundingly shut behind
her. Ignoring the questioning stares of Murphy and Bernice, Steele got
up and with less fanfare, but equal finality, closed his own door to the


Late that afternoon, a new client dug in his heels and adamantly
insisted on seeing Remington Steele. Nerves on edge, Laura buzzed
Steele's office, barked the news over the line, and gritted her teeth at
Steele's sardonically amused "Send him in, Miss Holt."

Few clients that had ever crossed the threshold at Remington Steele
Investigations received such rapt attention and tender loving care from
the dynamic duo of Steele and Holt. The brilliant armchair deductions
of Steele's trusted associate had the interviewee practically pinching
himself in disbelief over his own good fortune; then, for the coup de
grace, he was hit squarely with a dose of charm from Steele that was so
blinding it was almost radioactive.

With the awed client's head oscillating back and forth like a spectator
at a tennis match, the pair's one-upmanship continued for a full twenty
minutes until, giddy from the rarefied oxygen in the room, the man was
finally ushered to the door, besieged on both sides with firm jaws and
firm handshakes.

Bernice and Murphy observed the contest with a mixture of amusement and

"Amazing, Murph. I thought it was a run of the mill dog napping. The
guy's not even a celebrity, for pete's sake. He's a shoe salesman from

"He's certainly getting bang for his buck."

Bernice waved Murphy's five dollar bill in the air. "Which one do you
think will run out of ammunition first?"

"Uh-uh. When they get like this, all bets are off. We'll be lucky not to
get hit by the crossfire."


"I'll live to die another day," Murphy smirked.


That night, even after a therapeutic small screen dose of Cagney and
Bogart, Steele couldn't relax. His lock picking diversions fared no
better; he was unable to muster the finesse required to slip past the
guard of a twelve pin Medeco Super Special. Somewhat unsteadily, he
poured himself a Scotch.

"She's right. You're a lost cause, mate," he whispered, before downing
the shot in one go. The fact that he goaded Laura into the opinion
didn't make his prospects easier to contemplate.

His first impulse in a crisis had always been to cut and run, and it had
kept him safe more often than not; with the exception of Daniel he'd
never left anyone behind who mattered. With Laura, things were more
complicated. On the one hand, he devoutly wished her to care whether he
left or stayed, and to fret and worry over his well being; on the other,
his instincts told him that too much of the truth game was going on for
comfort. Fear of being trapped had him as nervous as a claustrophobe.

The more he thought of their earlier encounter, the more gloom washed
over him. He'd been so determined to keep her at bay he'd run roughshod
over her feelings and painted them both into a corner. Even if the world
righted itself again, and his sleep problems disappeared, he doubted she
would ever entirely forgive him. If he knew Laura Holt, her guard,
henceforth, would be up with a vengeance. His impossible challenge would
become even more impossible to win without a long, hard siege.

Steele dimmed the lights and sank down onto the sofa, feeling little
relief from the ache in his bones. He stared out at the lights of the
city and with an anxious heart, pondered his next move.


Sitting cross legged on the bed, Laura pored through the ledgers and
case files strewn haphazardly at her feet. Working at home had always
been a tonic rather than a chore, as long as it was sweetened by a pint
of chocolate fudge brownie ice cream or an extended break curling up
with a hot cup of coffee and a steamy novel.

Trouble was, at the moment, nearly all of those pleasures reminded her
of someone she wanted to forget. Sipping borrowed Jamaican nectar and
breathing heavily over Charlotte Knight's latest would be tempting fate,
to say the least. The last thing she needed to be thinking of was that
night, not so long ago, when she and that someone had shared
coffee-flavored kisses and fantasized about "prone positions."

He'd seemed charmingly open and above board then, not to mention,
pleased to see her. Not at all like the man she'd kissed this afternoon,
just as deeply, only to be summarily rebuffed minutes later. Nothing
about their relationship had ever been simple, but she couldn't remember
it ever skirting this close to disaster.

She'd been kidding herself to think he needed her. He'd certainly made
that clear enough. He didn't want any help from Laura Holt, or anyone
else, even if it killed him. She couldn't stop agonizing over what had
happened to him in the past three days, how he'd gotten so battered and
bruised, and why he was determined to keep her out of it.

So much of his former existence was a closed book to her, but surely the
truth couldn't be worse than what her overactive imagination could
conjure up. What messily complicated matters was that tacit agreement
that had been with them from the start, to keep their private lives
private. Still, as his partner in deception, so to speak, she had a
right to know. Not that it mattered now. The likelihood of that signed
confession of Steele's appearing on her desk was growing dimmer by the


Steele leapt to his feet, pacing the well worn path of carpet around the
perimeter of his desk.

"Laura, contrary to the rumors that have been bandied about, Remington
Steele is not an invalid, and he is quite capable of doing business as

"Business as usual? Please enlighten me," Laura retorted with an icy
glare. "I'm having a little trouble with the concept. What does that
mean exactly? Absence without leave? Popping in and out of sight like
Houdini at a magic show?"

"I would merely like to be assured of a ringside seat. I've been
doodling on dinner napkins for four days running."

"Isn't that what you wanted? Dullness? Boredom? Monotony? Politicians?
Insurance salesmen?"

Steele exhaled in exasperation. "I suppose, but it doesn't appear to be
working quite the way I envisioned." He straightened his tie absently.
"I haven't been able to sleep a wink."

"Is that my fault?" Laura shrugged, staring fixedly out of the window.
In truth, she'd been a bit leery of sending him out on publicity rounds
looking like he'd been in a bar fight, but if he avoided the questions
of the curious half as well as he had avoided her own, it was a harmless
way to keep him occupied. Steele had seemed desperately tired the past
few days despite his late show of bravado. He'd been standoffish in
equal measure, so it almost came as a relief to find them clashing once
again over the same familiar patch of ground.

"Did you have to be so bloody conscientious? Couldn't you have thrown in
a nice juicy murder to spice things up? I'm sure there's a politician
I've met somewhere who wouldn't be missed."

Laura turned back to him with a half smile, appearing to consider the
notion. "I'll try harder next time."

The buzz of the incoming phone line caused them both to jump. Their eyes
met briefly, then Steele reached over and firmly pressed the button.

"Undoubtedly a distraught client in urgent need of my services," he
theorized. "Steele here." Laura could hear Bernice's voice crackling
impatiently over the line.

"Well," Steele smiled sourly. "I got it half right. It's for you." He
handed over the receiver, then sat down behind his desk, tapping his
fingers monotonously on the arm of his chair.

Laura assumed a brisk, professional tone. "Yes, Bernice?" She listened
for a moment. "He's a little late for his appointment -- but no, it's
not a problem. I'll be right out."

She walked to the doorway and lingered there, as if waiting for Steele
to insist on seeing the client, or at the least, lodge a protest at her
exclusionary tactics. Instead, the slump of her partner's shoulders
indicated he found it infinitely more satisfying to sulk.

"Don't mind me, Miss Holt. I'm sure I can find something useful to do.
Sharpening pencils, drafting dull dinner speeches and the like."

Laura took a deep breath and proffered some advice. "Maybe you should go
home. The day's almost over. Try to get some rest."

Steele ran one finger meditatively across the smooth desktop. "Excellent
idea, Miss Holt, but it works better in theory than it does in


"A movie? Do you know what time it is?" Laura sat up in bed and ran her
hands through her hair.

"I make it about eleven. I'll send a cab round to pick you up. It starts
at midnight."

"What starts at midnight?"

"'Vertigo.' James Stewart, Kim Novak, Universal, 1958. It's been
re-released in theaters. The VistaVision negative has been deteriorating
for years but plans are afoot to restore it. They're asking for
donations to the cause, actually."

"Wonderful," Laura mumbled hazily. "I'll send a check in the mail

Steele rattled on as if he hadn't heard. "A good thing you saved the
'Arts' section in today's paper. An opportunity this rare should not be

"I saved it for the crossword."

"Very funny, Miss Holt." Steele's tone changed to pleading. "Laura, come
with me and you can hand over your check personally to Martin Scorsese."

"Shady associate of yours?"

You don't mean you've never heard of him?"

Laura rolled her eyes. "Just shoot me."

"Then perhaps you have. Mean streets of New York. Societal violence.

"Sounds frightening."

"Actually, for a film director I'm told he's quite civilized -- and
quite a champion of film preservation. Trust me, Laura. This screening
is the perfect photo opportunity."

"I don't have anything to wear."

"Nonsense. I'm sure you have a little black dress hanging in your closet
for emergencies."

"Enough about what's hanging in my closet -" Laura barked testily.

"Must you be so suspicious? Every woman has a little black dress."

Laura gave a long sigh and blinked fuzzily at her reflection in the
mirror. "You win. Let's make headlines, Mr. Steele. But if I end up as
'unidentified woman' again the agency's subscription to the 'Tribune'
will be dropped like a bad habit. Get it?"

"Got it."



"Laura. How often does one get to make a good impression on Martin

"What on earth were you thinking?" Laura shrilled. "That could have paid
our rent for the next two months. I should have known not to give you
the checkbook."

"One must keep up appearances. How would it look for Remington Steele
not to sign his own checks?"

"I don't suppose it would be polite to ask for it back?"

"Not in such refined company."

"Then I'll distract the photographers and you break into the cashbox."

Steele pulled her gently but firmly by the arm. "Icy calm, Miss Holt.
Think of it as an investment in the longevity of the cinema."

"This had better make the front page." Laura smiled into the flashbulbs
with a blinding show of teeth.

Later, the two of them looked on curiously as a middle aged man on the
fringes of the crowd was being hounded for an autograph.

"I'm sorry. I don't sign. You must have mistaken me for someone else."

"You're the shrink to the stars, right?" asked an intense, scraggly
bearded college student in a 'Taxi Driver' T-shirt. "Brando, Pacino, De
Niro. All the greats."

"I'm just here to support a worthy cause." He pushed his owlish glasses
back up to the bridge of his nose.

"Uh-huh. I know who you are. You de-program actors. When they get too
far into their roles."

The gray-haired man looked uncomfortable. "I'll sign if it will make you
feel better. Did anyone ever tell you that you have self esteem issues?"

The student grinned delightedly. "Thanks, doc. I knew it was you."

Laura watched the exchange with a thoughtful frown. "Funny. He is a
psychiatrist. That's Irving Sobel. I know he's had some very high
profile patients, at least that's the rumor. He also has a serious
background on the forensic side. I've seen him testify in court."

"Sounds fascinating." Steele looked suitably impressed.

"We collaborated briefly, on a murder investigation."

"Hang on." Steele's blue eyes widened incredulously. "Laura, you worked
with Robert De Niro's psychiatrist and you never told me?"

"You never asked. Besides, it was just a minor consultation. We had a
client in common. I'm sure he barely remembers me."

"Let's find out. Introduce us, won't you?" Steele propelled them both
through the well dressed throng like celebrity seeking missiles.

"Mr. Steele. We're not in a race." She brushed a windblown strand of
hair back from her forehead.

The doctor looked up and saw them barreling his way. He smiled in
recognition. "Miss Holt, isn't it? The Harcourt case?"

"Dr. Sobel," Laura replied cordially, shaking his hand.

His alert gaze fell on Steele. "Have we met before? You look rather

"Steele. Remington Steele. Perhaps it was at a premiere or something. I
see quite a lot of movies. Hobby of mine."

"Irving Sobel." They shook hands. "You must be Miss Holt's elusive boss.
Always unavailable or out of town, as I recall."

"I'm afraid the press of commitments elsewhere has kept me away from the
agency for some time," Steele replied with an officious air.

"We've practically had to install a homing device in his shoe," Laura
said tartly, in a backhanded reference to his recent exploits.

Unfazed, Steele assumed the Olympian faade of a builder of empires.
"I've decided to forego the international scene for a while and take a
more active role in things here. Los Angeles is, after all, the firm's
home base."

Laura resisted the impulse to roll her eyes heavenward.

"The papers say you're an expert on criminal psychology, Mr. Steele."

Steele eyed the other man somewhat warily. "I have a -- professional
interest in the subject."

"Likewise. Perhaps we could get together sometime and talk shop."

"If it's all the same to you, doctor," Steele said with short laugh,
"I'd rather talk about Brando and De Niro."

Crime in the movies is so much more glamorous, isn't it?"

An ironic half smile formed on Steele's lips. "I can't say I disagree."

"Dr. Sobel is too modest," Laura cut in. "His expertise is actually
quite legendary."

"Wonderful. Tell me doctor, " Steele began, deliberately misreading the
meaning of her words, "what was that process like? Getting inside Robert
De Niro's head?"

"Professionally speaking, Mr. Steele, actors are more of a sideline, but
they do have a certain fascination. Neurosis seems to come with the
territory." Sobel stared impassively from behind his glasses.

"You were saying, doctor?" Steele prompted with avid enthusiasm.

"You want to know about De Niro?," Sobel queried with a tiny smile. "I
could write a book. But confidentiality rather than modesty prevents

"Of course." Steele swallowed his disappointment. "Naturally, as a fan,
I would relish the opportunity to hear more, but I quite understand the
necessity for keeping secrets, doctor. Our investigative firm operates
under the same restrictions. Indeed, all of our clients, especially the
more newsworthy ones, are most eager to avoid publicity."

"Not to say, Mr. Steele, that over a few drinks, I might not be
persuaded to share a more public anecdote or two. I've never been sworn
to secrecy on a movie set, well not most of them, anyway."

"Miss Holt and I would have more than a few good stories to tell
ourselves," Steele replied expansively.

On Laura's warning glare, Steele tacked on a hasty amendment. "Names and
salient details changed to protect the innocent, of course. Or the
guilty," he finished with an apologetic shrug.

Sobel warmed to the idea. "Well, I certainly owe your firm a debt of
gratitude for past assistance."

"Then it's settled, doctor. Give me a call when you're free. We'll find
a bar where the martinis are crisp and the waiters are expert."

"And properly discreet, I hope." Sobel smiled politely. They exchanged
business cards.

"I'll look forward to it."

The doctor shook hands on the deal, and with a slight bow, left Laura
and Steele and slipped quietly away from the crowd.


Steele awoke with a start, his head throbbing like fury. Good lord.
What time was it? he wondered, rising from his half recumbent position
on the sofa. He pulled a pillow out from behind his head and waited for
the room to swim back into focus.

The vodka martinis that had stung so pleasantly going down a few hours
ago were making his stomach churn and had turned the back of his tongue
as fuzzy as a shag carpet. Steele dragged his protesting limbs into the
kitchen, downed two glasses of orange juice, and semi-automatically
began to fluff eggs, milk, and cheese into an omelet.

After breakfast had been methodically disposed of Steele got up from the
table, went into the bathroom and splashed his face with cold water. As
he stripped out of his wrinkled shirt and trousers a small business card
slipped from his pocket and fell onto the tiled floor. Steele picked it
up and blinked twice at the bold, black script. Appointment. 9:30. 2/08.

Somewhat erratically, he began to fit odd bits and pieces together from
the night before. It was a long story that had started, it seemed, at
the very long, mahogany bar of Musso and Frank's. The persistence of
memory of Old Hollywood had hung heavily in the air as the elder
statesmen behind the counter proffered crisp, martinis, very dry, and
sidecars in carafes. One minute he and Dr. Sobel were chuckling
companionably at a joke about how many method actors it took to screw in
a light bulb and the next thing he knew he could barely walk upright and
Fred was shepherding him to the relative safety of his own front door.
Somewhere in between there had been a detour to a dive in West Hollywood
with unidentifiable drinks and a kosher menu.

How Remington Steele had suddenly developed a doctor / patient
relationship with Sobel was even less clear in his mind. Somehow talk
had drifted from Robert De Niro learning to drive a cab on the graveyard
shift to night owls to insomnia and a harmless conversation had turned
into an impromptu therapy session. Steele squeezed his eyes shut and
perched on the edge of the bathtub, head throbbing incessantly to the
drum beat of his heart. He'd never liked drinking, at least, not to
excess. It brought out some dormant confessional streak in him. If Laura
ever knew, he realized with a sweaty-palmed lurch of anxiety, she'd
probably drag him off to the nearest wine cellar.

Ironic that the outcome he'd been trying so hard to avoid had now become
almost inevitable. For a fleeting moment Steele wondered if that chance
meeting with Sobel had been staged managed for his benefit. His
movie-fed imagination conjured up an image of Laura and the psychiatrist
smugly clinking glasses and toasting "to a successful conspiracy." Then
he let it go, deciding that thought was unworthy of both of them. It was
odd though, how the good doctor had seemed to get ever more sober as the
night wore on.

The question was how to get out of it all gracefully. He supposed he
could show up, play the twenty questions game until they both were ready
to call it a draw. Steele rubbed his aching skull and tried to map out
his quickest escape route.

Any actual truth telling, getting down to cases with a psychiatrist, was
out of the question; worse, it was anathema to his system. He could
think of nothing more horrendous than having his life opened up like
Pandora's box and reduced to a jumble of Freudian impulses. That sort of
thing didn't bear thinking about. Strangely enough, though he'd spent a
lifetime keeping secrets, the thought of chatting with Sobel didn't seem
especially frightening. The man had charm, he'd give him that. All the
more reason he needed to be on his guard.


Laura looked up in surprise. "Mr. Steele. I didn't expect to see you so
early. Fred told me you'd had a rather long night."

Steele wondered just how much the chauffeur had let slip about his
nocturnal activities.

"Affirmative, but I can assure you that the spirit is willing even if
the flesh is weak." Steele flinched under the office's fluorescent
glare. "Is it my imagination or is it rather bright in here?"

"The lighting's fine Mr. Steele." She quirked an eyebrow at his
bleary-eyed appearance. "Maybe a little too good. You look - " she broke
off, struggling for a disparaging word.

"Like hell," Murphy and Bernice supplied, as if on cue.

"Nothing that a few drops of eyewash won't remedy." Steele squinted in
Murphy's direction. "I'm afraid I don't have a cure for that plaid

"How were the chops at Musso and Frank's?" Laura interrupted.

"I didn't have the chops -" Steele began, shooting her a wary glance.
"You seem unusually well informed of my whereabouts."

"That's a first," Laura said dryly. "A waiter called and described your
cigarette lighter. Apparently you left it there last night. They weren't
sure if it was yours or Dr. Sobel's."

Steele's back felt the gaze of two sets of prying eyes. "Miss Holt.
Could we caucus for a moment?"

Laura shrugged. "Make it fast. I have paying clients to see." Curious as
to what he was up to, she followed Steele into his office.

Shutting the door behind him, Steele walked over and closed the curtains
against the sunlight. "That's better." He ensconced himself behind his

Laura looked across at him expectantly. "So. What's this urgent matter
you need to discuss? Your bar tab from last night?"

Steele gaze turned suddenly serious. "Laura. This Dr. Sobel. How well do
you know him?"

She seemed a bit unprepared for the question. "If you want my opinion,"
she replied with deliberation, "I'd say he's a very wise man. Is there
something else you'd like to know?"

"Not really. I surmised as much." Steele shifted uneasily in his chair.
"The other night at the screening. Did you know he was going to be

Laura frowned down at him. "Why do you ask?"

"I just wondered if the papers mentioned it or something. He seems to
have quite a public following for a man whose business depends on

"You could say the same for Remington Steele."

"You have a point, of course."

Laura shot him a sidelong glance. "Don't think I don't know where you're
going with this."

"Care to enlighten us both?"

"You think I arranged things so the two of you would meet."

"The thought did occur to me."

"Need I remind you, Mr. Steele, that I was the one dragged out in the
dead of night to go see some silly movie?"

"Silly movie?" Steele remonstrated in an injured tone.

"And they still didn't get my name right. 'Laura Bolt'!

"Well, it's an improvement. Only one letter was amiss. Perhaps the
agency should hire a publicist."

"We have enough people on retainer, Mr. Steele. Your tailor, your barber
- "

"All valued members of the firm. Image, Laura, image." Steele adjusted
his cuffs.

"Your bookie!"

"Entertainment expense."

Laura gave him a look that could draw blood.

"Tax writeoff?" he offered hopefully. "Laura, if you're afraid that my
seeing a psychiatrist will be too great of an expenditure -"

"I'll tell you what I think, Mr. St -- " Laura's lecture came crashing
to a halt. She sucked in a breath. "You're seeing a psychiatrist?"

Steele tugged at his earlobe. "I hadn't planned on it, but I suppose I
am. That is, I have an appointment."

"After you practically lopped my head off for suggesting it?" Her temper
flared up like a bonfire.

"If you'd rather I cancelled I'm sure Dr. Sobel would understand."

"Cancelled?" She discarded the notion without a backward glance. "Ha!
You're not getting out of it that easily."

Steele got up from his chair and began to pace. "I was afraid you'd say

Laura pinned him with a look. "I'm one step ahead of you, Mr. Steele."

Steele looked thoughtful for a moment. "So it appears, but that's not
quite good enough."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"In this sort of game one has to think several moves ahead."

"You're talking in riddles. What game?"

"Laura." His expression was grave. "Does your colleague's M.O. ring any
alarm bells? Dr. Sobel is an expert in criminal behavior. Not the sort
of man I'd like tiptoeing through my subconscious, thank you very much."

"I think you're overreacting. A little behavior modification might do
you some good."

"Be careful what you wish for, Miss Holt. The end result could be very
inconvenient. I'm not entirely sure your figurehead would be left
standing, despite my best efforts to guard the agency's left flank."

"I don't need you to remind me of the risks," Laura said with a superior
air. "I created Remington Steele. He's a figment of my imagination,

Steele regarded her quizzically. "As if I could forget. Are you sure the
good doctor isn't barking up the wrong patient? Your neuroses are far
more fascinating than mine."

"My neuroses?" Laura exploded.

"Acting them out is bloody hard work. You should try it sometime."

"It was your idea to assume Remington Steele's identity!" she snapped,
her own conscience nipping at her heels.

"You have me there, Miss Holt." Steele's expression softened. "Though
you were a rather willing co-conspirator." He captured her face in his
hands and kissed her lightly on the lips. "The work does have its
compensations. An excellent benefits package." His long fingers nipped
around the curve of her waist.

"We'll just have to be very -- careful." She sucked in a breath as he
pressed her form against his. "Stick to your official bio. Your news
clippings. That sort of thing."

"All that gop about the CIA? It's not much to hang an identity on."

Laura slipped out of his grasp. "You're right, Mr. Steele." She rubbed
her forehead absently. "This is all wrong."

"Don't look now, Miss Holt, but I believe you're beginning to trust my

"I should. I mean, you should. Trust them, I mean. Say whatever's on
your mind."

Steele was monumentally perplexed. "I warn you, I've never been good at
word association."

"This shouldn't be about keeping secrets. You're going to a
psychiatrist, for heaven's sake!"

Steele eyed the notion with disdain. "No reason to discard the habits of
a lifetime."

"Maybe there's plenty of reason." Laura slapped her thighs. "How should
I know? The point is, if you're not willing to give a few secrets away
you might as well get comfortable with that view of your bedroom

"Laura, I'm trying to cure my insomnia, not write my memoirs!"

Laura's investigative instincts bobbed to the surface. "But maybe
there's a chapter in there that explains it all. Why you can't sleep.
Some childhood trauma or -"

Steele reacted with a slight wince. "That's a bit of a reach, isn't it?
I've only had the problem since the Lindstrom case."

Laura put one hand against his chest in a restraining gesture. "They
don't pay me enough to psychoanalyze a man with five different passports
and five different names. Tell it to your shrink."

"But, Laura -"

"I hope he doesn't send five bills."

"Speaking of assumed identities, what about the agency's left flank?"

Laura squared her shoulders. "Dr. Sobel is a professional. Bound by
medical ethics. He'd never betray a confidence."

"Neither would Remington Steele." He gave a slight bow in her direction.
"Your little deception is safe with me."

"I never said it was a lifetime sentence." Laura fought off a wave of
anxiety. What if the cure was for Mr. Steele not to be Mr. Steele
anymore? "You don't have to be so noble."

Steele looked gravely offended. "You've never accused me of that

"I take it back." She idly smoothed his lapel.

Steele wasn't fooled by her show of unconcern. He knew that where the
agency was concerned, Laura could calibrate each element of risk to the
nearest decimal point. Yet, he quietly marveled, for his sake she was
willing to roll the dice. She had been from the beginning. The shock of
realization hit him squarely in the heart.

"Tell Dr. Sobel to keep his lousy paws off my figment. I'd like him back
in one piece."

"So would I, Miss Holt. So would I."

To Part 10


Readers who were in Los Angeles in 1983, the year of this story, may
remember the screening of Hitchcock's "Vertigo" (pre-restoration).
Martin Scorsese, among other luminaries, made an impassioned plea for
donations to the cause.

Speaking of cinema history, I couldn't resist the inclusion of Musso and
Frank's, not only for the obvious reasons, but because Raymond Chandler
wrote most of the screenplay for "The Big Sleep" while in virtual
residence there.