- Steele Upon a Mattress - Part
Date: Saturday, April 12, 2003
- From: Lauryn Poynor <firstname.lastname@example.org>
STEELE UPON A MATTRESS - PART TEN
Steele pondered the paradox of having a world of time on his
not nearly enough.
He had to do something to relax. The "Movie Classics"
channel had been
preempted by an advert for a food dehydrator, he hated taking
cigars didn't go well with breakfast -- come to think of it,
didn't go well either. Cooking often had a salutary effect on
but this morning's repast had ended up in the garbage disposal.
drinking, he planned to abstain from anything stronger than bottled
water. Chalk it up to New Years' resolutions.
His stress relieving options were dwindling by the minute. He'd
out a pad and pencils and tried doing a bit of sketching but
subject he chose seemed to have some disquieting Freudian subtext,
when he turned them upside down.
The phone rang, teasing his imagination with the hope of a last
"Mr. Steele. It's Dr. Sobel. I hope I caught you in time."
"Where are you calling from, doctor? We have a rather tenuous
"I'm afraid I'll have to cancel our appointment. I've decided
to give up
the profession of psychiatry to become a freedom fighter in the
"It seems that destiny has taken a hand."
"That line. . .it's from 'Casablanca.'"
"Indeed, doctor. I've waited my whole life to say it."
Steele shook his head to clear it. He'd been watching too many
Allen movies. He reached over and picked up the still ringing
He heard the lilt of a familiar voice.
"Laura!" Steele felt cheerful in spite of himself.
"The wake up call was
hardly necessary." He listened contentedly as she argued
"Well, consider every 'i' dotted and every 't' crossed,
rapid-fire laundry list of instructions followed. Steele looked
his wallet. "Medical insurance card? -- Yes, I have it --
yes, I'll be
sure to fill in all the blanks on the forms." There was
a silence as she
stopped for breath.
He heard her reply, "Mr. Steele?"
"You sound lovely in the morning."
Sobel looked on, icy calm, as Steele paced back and forth, barely
check, like a caged tiger.
Steele stopped and tugged nervously at his right earlobe. "I
you're going to tell me to lie down on the couch."
"Such a clichè, isn't it? I bought this couch a couple
of years ago. My
patients seemed disappointed that I didn't have one. Why don't
down on it and you take this chair?"
"Does that mean I get to ask the questions? About your unhappy
and your fascination with ink blots?"
Sobel rubbed his glasses with his tie, then put them back on.
get around to that. Meanwhile, sit." He got up from the
wingback and patted the seat cushion.
Steele hesitated. "Are you sure?"
"It was good enough for Robert De Niro."
Steele did a double take. "Robert De Niro sat in that chair?"
"The very same."
Steele sank onto the cushions and stared down at himself expectantly,
if waiting for some sort of transformation to happen. "Don
Travis Bickle? Jake LaMotta? In this chair?"
"Well, not all three at once. Unless Bobby was having a
very bad day."
"Amazing. He, ah, they, don't seem like the type."
"Of course Marlon Brando preferred the couch. He liked a
bit more elbow
Steele gazed in newfound appreciation at the unpretentious piece
furniture, with its plump cushions and slightly faded oriental
"That's not a bad provenance for a couch, doctor, though
I was rather
hoping you'd say Kathleen Turner."
Sobel cracked a smile. "Never had the pleasure."
"Pity," Steele sighed. "The thought of Kathleen
sultrily on this very couch . . ."
"Would Jessica Lange suffice?"
Steele visualized for a moment. "You didn't expect me to
say no, did
Sobel leaned against the back of the well stuffed sofa, chin
slightly as if he'd caught the scent of an elusive perfume in
"Actually, Jessica usually consulted with me on the set,
though she did
come here a few times."
Steele allowed himself a small pang of jealousy. "I think
I'm in the
wrong profession, doctor. Beautiful blonde Oscar winners have
obliged me by assuming prone positions on my office furniture."
"It's not as salacious as it sounds. She was doing research
movie about the actress Frances Farmer."
"'Frances.' Jessica Lange, Sam Shepard, EMI, 1982."
Sobel gave Steele a curious look.
"Sorry. I have this habit of reciting film annotations."
"It sounds like a perfectly harmless ritual." Sobel
lines on a clipboard.
"Ritual? You're not writing that down, are you?" Steele
"Just making a few preliminary notes." The psychiatrist
as if amused by a private joke.
"So how was Jessica Lange?" asked Steele, trying for
a change of
"In a word. Tempestuous."
"Really?" Steele grinned slyly.
"As you can imagine she might be, Mr. Steele, after the
playing a famous actress who becomes a mental patient."
"Yes, of course," Steele deadpanned.
"Not to mention, the stress of filming 'Frances' and 'Tootsie'
"'Tootsie.' Dustin Hoffman, Dabney Coleman -- ah, well,
no need to fill
in the rest."
"It was touch and go for a while. Dustin Hoffman kept stealing
nylons and wearing her bras."
"Better than Charles Durning," Steele shrugged.
Sobel thumbed through a file folder. "I have your records
here from Dr.
Lindstrom. Although he does suggest some possibilities it appears
there's no readily apparent physical cause for your condition."
"If there is," Steele remarked wryly, "twenty-first
medicine hasn't discovered it yet."
"In my experience, most cases of insomnia are only partly
It's relatively easy, under stress, for one's body clock to get
"Dr. Lindstrom did hint at something of that sort."
"Did he mention 24 hour cycles? Circadian rhythms?"
"Quite possibly. I forget. Not the sort of rhythms Ira Gershwin
about, at any rate."
"I see that he prescribed some lifestyle changes. Routine
keeping set work and sleep schedules, cutting down on stimulants.
that working out?"
Steele fidgeted with his tie. "Not precisely as advertised,
suppose I haven't given things a fair chance." He looked
chagrined. "I was rather convinced at the time that Dr.
doing it just to annoy me."
Without replying Sobel scribbled several lines in the file.
"It's not that I harbor any, ah, latent hostility towards
"Don't apologize, Mr. Steele. I often annoy my patients.
Keeps us all on
"It's just that -- well, I hesitate to take a colleague
of yours to task
but frankly, Dr. Lindstrom's behavior was not entirely professional."
"Really? In what way?"
"For a start, when it came to my associate, Miss Holt, he
his innuendos to himself. The man thinks every woman in the world
to sleep with him."
"Interesting. An idèe fixe suggestive of a Don Juan
"If you plan to psychoanalyze Lindstrom I hope you have
Sobel steepled his fingers under his chin. "Does that disturb
other men find your associate sexually attractive?"
"I'm a man of the world, doctor," he replied, masking
with well practiced sang-froid. "I'm aware that Miss Holt,
your typical cover girl or film starlet, has a certain allure,
"The allure of the unobtainable, perhaps?"
"In Lindstrom's case I certainly hope so," Steele sniped.
"And in your case?"
"Ah, Miss Holt is a very independent woman. Stubbornly so,
Steele smoothed a wrinkle in his trousers.
"I see." Sobel put down his clipboard. "Have you
ever fantasized --
about sleeping with her?"
Steele colored slightly. It was a palpable hit, one that demanded
parry of his own. "I'm an insomniac, doctor. I could dream
sleeping with anyone. Princess Margaret, Indira Gandhi. As long
didn't hog the covers."
"Humor. Classic suppression technique."
"A defense mechanism employed when one is afraid to express
Steele smiled softly. "The direct approach can be rather
Sobel blinked curiously from behind his glasses. "You sound
like a man
who's tried it."
On impulse, Steele decided to come clean. Laura did tell him
whatever was on his mind. He lifted his eyes to the ceiling and
his woes. "I've tried everything, doctor. Seduction, artifice,
and sympathy. An insomniac should never have to work so hard
to get a
woman between the sheets."
"Ah. I rather suspected as much," Sobel replied with
a smugly oracular
Steele shot him a look of mild annoyance. "I wasn't aware
were so transparent."
"I noticed it at the movie screening. It wasn't that obvious,
except to the trained eye."
"A discreet look. That lingered just below her neckline
going." Sobol didn't seem at all surprised by Steele's preoccupation.
"It was a dress that could stop traffic, wasn't it?"
"I have an eye for fashion, too, doctor."
"And Miss Holt returned the once over rather enthusiastically
direction, though I confess I'm less sure there. Even Freud could
figure out what women want."
Steele weighed in decisively. "Perhaps Sigmund needed to
get out more.
The tricky part, I find, is not discovering what a woman wants,
reminding her of it at just the right moment."
Sobel was amused by Steele's presumption. "Speaking of a
"You can put your theories to rest, doctor. Despite your
the feeling is mutual, frankly, I begin to despair that Miss
Holt and I
will ever get our, ah, watches synchronized."
"An interesting choice of metaphors."
"I think a stop watch would be more apropos." Steele
exhaled in utter
exasperation. "The woman insists on all this business before
business, then out of nowhere drops the bombshell that it's not
and fast rule." He sprang up and began to pace. "Room
minute, fever pitch the next. It's enough to - " Steele
when he noticed Sobel scribbling notes. "Forgive me, doctor.
I seem to
have strayed from the business at hand."
Sobel lounged on the couch, propping his clipboard on his chest.
don't mind if my patients don't follow the script. In fact,
improvisation is keenly encouraged. But if you'd like to get
back to the
text, as they call it in drama school, we can talk about your
for a while."
Steele sank into his armchair and planted his feet on the floor,
the tension from his limbs.
Sobel glanced briefly at his notes. "Let's recap. When you
investigating the sleep clinic case, you checked in, so to speak,
insomniac. And since then, I gather, you've had difficulty in
the role go."
"Be careful of what you pretend to be, because you are what
to be," Steele recited, with an air of disenchantment.
Sobel considered the notion. "Adults like to think they
did most of
their pretending in childhood, though I often find it's the other
around. Still, one's formative years are nothing to sneeze at.
we should start there. Do you remember any similar instance as
"Of insomnia?" Steele queried, affecting to miss the
point entirely. An
instantaneous and involuntary recollection slipped past his guard,
shadow play of silver images across his vision.
"I was thinking of role playing. Pretending. Assuming another
Steele became excruciatingly aware of the silence. "Well,
I suppose it
all started at the movies," he began hesitantly. "I
spent my afternoons
sitting in the dark wanting to be Humphrey Bogart."
Sobel's mouth twitched wryly at the corners. "I know the
and Cagney. Gary Cooper. And, though it sounds like a contradiction,"
added with a wistful gleam in his eye, "I always wanted
to be Cary
Steele shrugged. It was a desire universally acknowledged. "Even
Grant wanted to be Cary Grant."
"Bogart makes sense given your profession, even though it
seems a little
too easy to connect the dots."
"Playing detective, you mean. There are times, doctor, when
I wish I
could wake up as Sam Spade rather than Remington Steele."
"Why does that fantasy remain so appealing?"
"Oh, I don't know. For a rather shifty character there's
reliable about him. No matter what situation confronts him he
it up and look it in the eye. Always get the best of it. At least
two hours until the credits roll."
"Real life is rarely so accommodating." He eyed Steele
"The heroes of our childhood do tend to stay with us. I
take it you're
not still obsessed with Humphrey Bogart."
"No more than a discerning cinemaphile should be."
Steele wondered what
Sigmund Freud would have had to say about his five passports.
"What about your professional career? Your years of government
Were you ever called upon to play a role, perhaps while undercover,
got a little too far under your skin?"
Government service? Steele's palms began to sweat at the allusion.
forgotten that Sobel had read his press clippings -- all part
of that absurdly inventive cloak and dagger biography Laura had
up: CIA, NSA -- he'd forgotten the rest. What on earth could
up along those lines? Steele's first impulse was to stonewall
seasoned politician. "Of course, most of my activities during
my time as
a, shall we say, 'licensed troubleshooter' are still very hush-hush."
"Doctor and patient confidentiality applies. You don't have
names, places, or dates."
"Well, of course, I couldn't possibly," Steele replied.
His mind raced,
seeking out a scenario with a grain of truth for his fertile
to embellish. Surely, he reasoned ironically, his larcenous past
perfect training ground for government work.
"I understand your hesitation . . ."
After a moment, Steele leaned forward conspiratorially as if
about to reveal a state secret. "There was one rather protracted
of role playing that sticks in the memory."
"Go on," the doctor prompted.
"I was summoned to a small nation in Eastern Europe to serve
somewhat unorthodox capacity. You see, I had a strong, almost
physical resemblance to a prince first in line to the throne
. . ."
Steele paused briefly to gather in the loose threads of his narrative.
Sobel raised an eyebrow. "OK. I'll bite. You served as a
double? Were there fears of assassination?"
"It was nothing quite so dangerous, really." Steele
eyed the other man
for a reaction. "You seem disappointed, doctor."
"I suppose I shouldn't be, but I got my hopes up, so to
sounded like a modern day 'Prisoner of Zenda.' Ronald Colman,
Fairbanks, Jr., Selznick International, 1937. Well, that version's
considered the classic though there are nearly half a dozen remakes."
Steele's reply was deferential. "Not bad at all, doctor.
I won't trouble
you for the other five annotations."
"That's a relief, because my reputation for infallibility
"Neither would mine." Steele concurred ruefully. "I
was playing the
Rudolph Rassendyll part for entirely different reasons. The prince
developed a rather nasty drugs habit and his royal relations
pack him off to a rehabilitation clinic for six months. Since
followed his every move, a plausible doppelganger was needed
duration in order to avoid a scandal and ensure the stability
The part about the prince's indisposition was entirely true.
mentor, Daniel Chalmers, had learned of it through one of his
contacts on the continent. Daniel had originally hatched the
thumbing through a tabloid and almost, but not quite, seeing
features of young Harry, his protègè, staring back
at him from the ski
slopes of Gstaad. At first they'd only planned to go on an extended
shopping spree and charge the expenses to the royal accounts,
more closely Daniel investigated he realized there was a more
bargain that could be struck.
"For all intents and purposes, doctor, I was the prince
for six months.
I christened ships, awarded decorations, visited hospitals, toured
military installations, gave boring public speeches about my
glorious past and golden future -"
"It worked for Ronald Colman," Sobel interjected philosophically.
"Well, he had the voice for it. Actually I was afraid I'd
have to affect
the native accent. Luckily the prince had studied at Oxford and
more English than the English or I would have been sunk."
A happy side
benefit occurred to him. "Then there was the more delicate
matter of the
unattached royal's equally blue-blooded stable of girlfriends."
halted meaningfully in mid-sentence. "All with their eyes
set on one
Sobel raised an eyebrow. "One thing? You mean you had to
-" He left the
obvious inference dangling.
"I was speaking of the throne, but as to your question,
the answer is
yes. They all knew something was up, as there was, ah, a rather
measurable difference between the real prince and myself. Poor
Pedigree isn't all it's cracked up to be," Steele shrugged.
"Well, as I
was saying, they were more than happy to keep the sizeable secret
Sobel chuckled. "To have a chance at the family jewels."
Steele grinned roguishly. "I think they were rather sorry
to see me go.
I was sorry, too, for a time. I learned to play polo and to fence
the prince's own tutors, was wined and dined, had my own private
collection, access to some of the finest treasures of Europe
caught himself before he let slip just what that access had netted
"It sounds too good to be true," remarked the psychiatrist,
"There was a downside, of course. The regimented lifestyle
drove me mad
and some of it was dead boring. The speeches, the state dinners,
cricket matches." Steele suppressed a yawn. "The interminable
shoots and interviews for 'Hello' magazine and 'Horse and Hounds'.
this day I have an allergic reaction to grouse shooting. And
"Allergies are a little out of my line," Sobel deadpanned.
"I began to feel rather at home in the prince's polished
boots. I knew
that I wasn't tied down to it for a lifetime so I kicked up my
bit. I think that deep down my, err, that is, the prince's subjects,
the press began to suspect something. Despite one's training,
only keep up the charade in fits and starts." Steele smiled
memory. "Oddly enough, honor was satisfied. The press conveniently
ignored the rumors of a switch in exchange for six months of
good time and some lively copy, and the citizenry lapped it all
All things considered the deception had a very profitable run,
and Daniel had made a sizeable dent in the royal household's
After the tour of duty was up, they departed for London with
one of the
aforementioned art treasures and slipped back into relative obscurity,
"It plays like a movie with a happy ending. Hard to believe
would sit on a story like that."
"I'm sure some money changed hands discreetly. I'm not free
the details," Steele replied with an airy wave.
"Your stint in government service sounds a bit more romantic
Steele gave a short laugh. "The whole truth can be so tedious."
was struck by the realization that his real former profession
was not so
different. "My work was a very oddly syncopated business,
one minute, utter boredom the next.
Sobel looked thoughtful. "It's not as uncommon a situation
as you think.
Soldiers suffer from a similar affliction. Bouts of sheer terror,
followed by months encamped with not much to fill the day but
homesickness, drills, and exercise."
Steele regarded him speculatively. "You sound as though
you speak from
experience. You were in the war?"
"Korea." After brief instant of eye contact Sobel's
gaze returned to his
Steele was curious to know more but there was a heavy weight
in that single word that conveyed that the subject was closed.
left with the distinct feeling he'd been talking through his
maybe government service was quite another thing altogether.
"I take it you didn't have typical nine to five assignments?"
That was putting it mildly, Steele thought. "I'd call it,
work for the most part. The hours were . . . variable. Rather
business at times, skulking around street corners. After sensible
have gone to bed."
"I imagine that a detective agency is a bit more regular."
"Not always. Miss Holt and I do our best work after five:
in the cramped
space of a car during a stakeout, turning on a lamp or a torch
disturbing the occasional murder victim -"
"I don't mean to suggest you keep strictly to banker's hours
imagine the business day conventions have to be observed, to
clients, and so forth."
"You have a point, doctor. The daily grind has taken some
to." Steele had a sudden, unsettling vision of himself in
a gray flannel
suit with attached briefcase.
"I don't think I'm reaching here to suggest that might be
to your sleep problem. A shift in work habits does require a
physical adjustment. I am curious as to why it took this long
up to you. I mean, the agency has been open for some years, hasn't
Steele silently cursed the inconvenience of having a psychiatrist
was no fool. He skirted the issue as adroitly as he could. "Miss
handles the day to day operations. She's been with me since the
beginning. My own role is somewhat harder to define . . ."
trailed off, searching his phrase book for le mot juste.
"That's not atypical of most CEO's," Sobel replied
"The arrangement is a bit unusual, you see. After I made
a name for
myself in, ah, government service I was eager to parlay that
into a more
-- settled line of work. You might say I provided the agency
trappings of success: a well respected name, a ready made reputation
discretion and resourcefulness -"
"Sort of like a creating a franchise."
Understanding passed between the two men like a secret code.
precisely, doctor," Steele pronounced, feeling a weight
from his shoulders.
"Customers know what they're getting. Operations hum along
courtesy of your experienced staff -"
"I see you have a firm grasp of the concept. To be perfectly
Holt has the formal training as a detective. I had to learn the
"Less than you might suppose. Miss Holt is remarkable, truly.
excellent teacher, though in some areas her education is sadly
"That surprises me. Isn't she a Stanford graduate?"
Steele felt moved to expound on the pedagogical problem. "We'll
embarked on the demanding last leg of a case, et voila! The puzzle
pieces begin to fit; I offer a solution so daring, yet unassailable
its logic that Agatha Christie would envy it. But to Laura Holt
as well be speaking a foreign language."
"I'm a little confused myself."
"Perhaps I didn't make myself clear. I find much of my crime
inspiration is drawn from the cinema. For instance, if I say
to you a
conspiracy is afoot just like the one between Robert Walker and
Granger in 'Strangers on a Train' why, you'd get my full meaning
Sobel nodded in understanding. "It is a useful form of shorthand."
"To you and me, perhaps," Steele replied, "but
to my associate, it's
"It does come in handy when I work with actors," Sobel
affirmed. "If I
tell them they're in danger of becoming scopophilic, chances
get a blank stare until I say, "look what kind of trouble
got into in 'Rear Window.'"
"One who takes undue pleasure or stimulation from looking."
Steele's mind wandered for a moment. "I've been guilty of
that a time or
"Cinematic inspirations aside, I imagine some of your previous
troubleshooting' expertise would come in handy."
Unwittingly, Steele mused, the doctor had struck a sore point.
natural instincts and talents, unlicensed as they truly were,
been used to the full. Who at the agency could claim a more first
knowledge of crime? Some things, he reflected, were better learned
the inside out. "Not as handily as I'd expected," Steele
sighed. "I feel
like a fifth wheel at times."
Sobel pondered Steele's predicament. "A client would expect
Steele to have all the answers."
"Having a ready supply can be tricky. Sometimes it's as
though I'm on
stage waiting for a prompting from the wings." Steele smiled
thinking of the Havenhurst reunion, and Laura, between eye rolls,
whispering stratagems into his ear.
"Even JFK needed a good speechwriter."
"I remember once Miss Holt and I were trapped one weekend
solve a murder in a houseful of detectives."
"'Murder by Death.' Peter Falk, David Niven, Alec Guinness,
Columbia Pictures, nineteen, um -"
"Seventy six." Steele supplied, smiling in delighted
"Excellent doctor. The Lionel Twain of the piece was one
head of the Havenhurst detective agency."
"So that's where the roomful of detectives came in."
Steele nodded. "It was a reunion of sorts. Miss Holt was
so sure I would
be unmasked as a neophyte in the sleuthing game that she hid
"Not exactly a vote of confidence."
"She needn't have worried. It all went swimmingly. You see,
solely a matter of having clues and facts at one's fingertips;
Cordon Bleu graduate can assemble a meal's ingredients. The master
knows the difference is in the presentation. One must have flair,
confidence, èlan. To continue the cooking analogy, by
the end of it I
had the detectives eating out of the palm of my hand."
"That must have been gratifying."
"Well, Miss Holt did a bang up job supplying the ingredients
turned them into a banquet. Did I mention that the clue that
case came from a movie? Pity one's inspirations are so rarely
"Oh, I don't know. Your press clippings would indicate otherwise."
"Miss Holt is rarely as fulsome in her praise as the 'LA
Steele said acerbically.
"Do you miss it? Your life before you started Remington
Steele's brow furrowed. He'd never been given to soul searching
felt the question merited a thoughtful answer. He wondered if
possible to halve his existence so neatly; despite Laura's restraining
hand, the art of dissembling still came as naturally to him as
breathing. It was certainly novel to be on the right side of
the law for
a change, but there were times he wondered if his role playing
Remington Steele was all that different.
"It's hard to say, doctor. You describe it to someone and
glamorous, exciting. It can be rewarding when things go according
plan." Steele paused, weighing his words carefully. "The
risk nags at you after a while; the need to prepare for every
contingency, identities failing, being found out. You can never
relax, or feel at home."
"You were speaking in the present tense," Sobel observed,
eyebrow. "Do you feel more at home these days? Here in Los
Sobel took off his glasses and Steele could feel the doctor's
him. He felt the urge to be as noncommittal as possible. "Oh,
weeks ago, on a good day, I might have said yes."
"But now you're not so sure."
"If only I could sleep on it," Steele quipped, brows
quizzically. "Things here do seem to be coming apart in
"I can understand how you feel." Sobel glanced at his
watch, unsure the
time left in the session was sufficient to cover more new ground.
still have a lot to talk about, and the hour is getting away
Why don't we explore that territory in detail in the next session?"
Steele exhaled audibly as relief swept through him. He suddenly
spent, sapped of energy, as if he'd run a marathon.
"In the meantime I'm going to give you some aids that may
'sleep on it.' Breathing exercises." He got up and handed
clipped sheets of paper. "You might be interested to know
relaxation techniques are commonly taught in acting classes.
Niro swears by them."
"Strange. He never seems very relaxed."
Sobel shot him a look of mild disapproval.
"A little levity, doctor."
"You're suppressing again."
"I'm never more serious than when I'm joking," Steele
replied with an
air of perfect gravity.
"A rather neat Lacanian paradox."
"If you say so."
"Jacques Lacan studied linguistic opposites and their role
the unconscious -"
Steele held up a hand in a restraining gesture. "That's
doctor. I'm not sure I want it explained to me."
Sobel shrugged. "Come to think of it, maybe your paradox
"Ah. Now we understand each other."
- To Part 11