There she is. He handed the binoculars to the passenger in the adjoining seat. The second man peered through lens and double-checked, examining the black and white photo on the seat.
Youre right, lets see where she goes.
Laura Holt wasnt sure how she ended up where she did. She had a vague memory of making some absurd bet. In retrospect, she should have known better than to take his bait when he goaded her into it. She also recalled wine, lots of wine.... or was is shots? Most of the evening after that was a blur. The last thing she remembered was Mr. Steele hoisting her over his shoulder. She woke to find herself lying on top of his back, naked. Pushing her hair off her face, she surveyed the surroundings. Once the room stopped spinning, she eyed her dress that was deposited in the bedroom doorway. And her bra and panties, given the proximity to the dress, were obviously removed in rapid succession. Of course there was also that unmistakable..... she smiled, trying to think of a better word but, stickiness was the only one that come to mind. Take that back, she did have a pretty good idea how she ended up where she did.
She pushed herself off and sat momentarily at he edge of the bed. A brief wave of dizziness swayed her sensibilities when she stood. Laura shuffled cautiously toward the bathroom. At every other step, she paused, hoping the wooziness would subside before it would escalate into anything more unpleasant involving the toilet in the next room. Once she made it to the shower, she breathed a sigh of relief that this hangover appeared to be only of the stage one variety, and wouldnt go beyond the misery in her head. Laura wiped the steam from the mirror and surveyed the damage. She rearranged the contents of his medicine cabinet from one shelf to the other. Nothing for her headache, but the Visine and mouthwash would come in handy, so she set them on the counter. Wrapped in a towel, she breezed through the bedroom into the living room to get some aspirin from her purse. On her way back to the bathroom, Laura bent down to pick up her clothes from the floor. Her panty hose were still M.I.A. She dropped her purse and clothes on the bed and knelt at the edge to check underneath. When she emerged with nylons in hands, her eyes were level with a smiling, smug, Mr. Steele.
Laura dumped out her purse on him, If you are going to get a woman drunk like that, at least you should have the good manners of providing some Tylenol.
A bit of a headache?
I havent felt this awful since the day after you ordered me that oyster appetizer-thing, she reached down to pick up a small bottle.
Well I have to admit, that didnt produce the effect in you I had hoped.
You mean me? Pale and clammy, slumped on your bathroom floor wasnt what you had in mind? She snickered. Im glad to hear you didnt intend to poison me.
Laura returned to the bathroom leaving Remington to put everything back into her purse. The round, pastel case housing her birth control pills was open. Just as he was about to shut it and return it to the purse, something struck him as puzzling. Only three pills had been removed. The prescription label affixed to the lid indicated one pill every twenty fours hours, starting the Sunday after last menstrual period. Menstrual period. God, what an awful phrase, not exactly something they were comfortable talking about. Normally, he paid little attention to Lauras body in a biological sense. He knew though. He knew, by the way she would keep her distance. He knew, by the way she would say Im tired or the way she would stock the freezer with a pint of double chunky chocolate. Contrary to what she believed, Laura wasnt very candid when it came to discussing personal matters. She knew how to conceal just as well as he. Except, by Lauras double standard , when it was him, he was being sneaky or deceitful. When it was her, of course she was just being modest or discreet. Once, when he pressed for more details, she just sidestepped the question and euphemistically referred to it as the joys of being a woman. That was the extent of discussion on the matter. Their discussion of birth control was just as brief. It involved him having a peculiarly lucid moment while undressing Laura the first time, offering, Do you need me to She stopped him mid-question. All she said was that wasnt necessary and she had it covered. They soon went on to bigger and better things. That was the last he thought of it.
Until now. Remington clutched the pillow underneath him and sank back down, prone on the bed, contemplating. Only three pills had been removed. According to the label, shes supposed to take one every day. Today certainly wasnt Wednesday and he last remembered her being overly concerned about having her purse with her at all times during the Carson case. That case had been a while ago, though. It had also been a while since she was distant or tired or plowing through double chunky chocolate. Laura wouldnt. Would she? She couldnt be. Could she?
Dressed in maintenance outfits, the men from the car peeked around the corner of the eleventh floor corridor.
Thats where she works.
Coast is clear. Lets go.
They unlocked the glass doors. While one kept a lookout, pretending to vacuum, the other took out a small vial of dark brown powder and mixed it with the coffee in the canister on the shelf.
Although she was reluctant at first to keep some of her things there, times like these she was glad Mr. Steele made some room in his closet. At the time, he appealed to her proclivity for efficient time management; such Irish Blarney from the master. She knew he just wanted her to spend the night. Why couldnt he just say that? Why couldnt he just say a few other things?
Make up and a clean business suit put Laura back on track. She sat on the edge of the bed to slip her shoes on. Remington still lay there, still flat on his stomach, still thinking, just plain still.
If you ever deign to get out of bed, I could use you at the office this morning, Laura reminded him. She reached across his body to grab her purse and swatted him on the rump with it, Mildreds at that seminar, remember? She put her watch on, checking the time, Oh God, Im late.
That particular phrase caught his attention, What?
I gotta go, she kissed the top of his head, Im sending Fred in an hour for you with instructions to drag you out of here, with or without clothes.
All he could think about was that only three pills had been removed.
Laura opened the office. She checked the appointment book on Mildreds desk and logged on the agency computer. While it clicked and hummed to life, Laura went to make some coffee . She reached for the canister on the shelf. This morning definitely called for a full pot. Eight scoops as directed, plus one extra for lack of sleep and a pinch more for her hangover. The searing hot liquid limited Laura to tiny sips. By the time Mr. Steele arrived, her #1 cup was still half full, steaming on her desk.
Laura? He walked into her empty office, picked up the cup, sniffed it and put it back down, with a grimace.
She walked in behind him seeing him set the cup on her desk, Want some? I made a whole pot, she offered cheerily.
Ah Laura!, you look much better.
No thanks to someone I know, she gave him a sideways glance.
Yes, she did look better, she looked damn good in fact, almost radiant. His eyes transfixed on her midsection, trying to imagine her larger.
Laura caught him mid-daydream. She followed his eyes and placed her hand on her belly, What?
Do I have something on my skirt?
Youre staring at me.
Nothing You just look well you look like you feel better.
Laura lifted her cup. Must be my coffee. She winked and made a mock toast.
He stopped her just before she was about to take another drink. Laura, I beg you not to drink that poison.
Hasnt killed me yet. She took a long drink just to prove her point.
Steele couldnt bear to see any human subject themselves to such cruelty. He walked into his office shaking his head in disgust.
Mildred made it into the office in the early afternoon. She was just about to pour herself a cup of coffee, when Mr. Steele cautioned her, Laura made that.
Miss Krebs looked in the direction of Miss Holts office. Making sure not to be overheard, she replied, Oh Chief, thanks for the warning. Mildred put the pot back down and reached for the hot water and tea bag instead.
Miss Krebs, today seems to be a slow day. The office is running smoothly in your absence. What would you say to an afternoon of shopping?
Shopping for what?
I was just thinking that a bit of variety in our coffee selections might benefit all of us.
You mean some of those new flavors?
Rich French roasts, exotic blends, hazelnut, vanilla, soft-sweet, subtle, piquant, well get them all. Maybe an espresso or cappuccino machine too. After all, variety is the spice of life.
Trying to improve Miss Holts brewing?
He took the pot and dumped the remaining swill down the drain, It cant hurt, Mildred, it cant hurt.
Still in a maintenance outfit, He cleared his throat in an attempt to garner some attention. Its done, boss. A few cups of that stuff and shell be out of commission for a while, if not forever.
A finely tailored man swiveled in his leather desk chair, Good and eliminating Remington Steele and that other woman would be a pleasant bonus. he rolled a cigar between his fingers and swayed it appreciatively under his nose. Using his free hand, he reached into a nearby draw and tossed a bundled of bills on top of the desk.
The other henchman anxiously grabbed the payoff. He fluttered the ends of the money, assessing, A little cruel for a secretary, if you ask me.
I dont recall asking you. Besides, shes not just a secretary. Now take your money and
go watch her. Theres another thousand in it for you when shes hauled away in an ambulance or the coroners car.
When Remington and Mildred returned, Laura was lying on the sofa in Mr. Steeles office. Normally she would literally jump up at the chance to scold him for leaving the office unexpectedly, but she just remained still and half-heartedly asked, Where have you been?
Just getting a few supplies for the office. Our beverage selection offered to clients was somewhat lacking. Miss Krebs and I assembled a veritable treasure of coffee delights. He was about to give her an inventory when he noticed her uncharacteristic lack of financial concern. Where was that patented, you did what? said with a slight timbre of panic? He waited expectedly for her how much? spoke in that low, even, ominous tone. He braced himself, for her standard tirade on discussion of expenditures and fiscal responsibility; that little lecture he had come to know and ignore over the years. Something was definitely wrong with his Miss Holt. If he knew she was going to be so non-combative, he would have told her about the $1200 espresso machine that was being installed tomorrow. But genuine concern made him ask, Are you all right? He put his hand to her forehead.
I dont feel so well, Im going home.
No. She shook her head.
Joys of being a woman? He asked, almost hoping.
No. Just a little queasy. Laura got up slowly. She grabbed her empty coffee mug from the edge of the table and made her way into the supply room. Mildred was taking the cache of coffee packages from the shopping bag and arranging them on the shelf. Thinking it was Mr. Steele coming, she took down the old canister of coffee and asked without turning around, Do you want me to dump this out, Chief?
What are you doing, Mildred? Laura rinsed her cup in a nearby sink.
The Boss decided that we needed more of a variety of coffees. She put the blame entirely on Mr. Steele. Given that their little office spats were usually a catalyst to an amorous reconciliation, Mildred reasoned she was probably doing him a favor. She toyed with the idea of telling her what he said about her coffee earlier , just to see how late they would come in the next morning. But Mildred noticed that Laura didnt look like she was in the mood for a spat or a reconciliation at the moment.
Whats wrong, hon?
Remington appeared in the small room with Lauras coat and purse in hand. He answered for her, Miss Holt is a tad under the weather. Im going to take her home.
Mildred was about to toss the coffee canister in the trash when Laura, stopped her and in a highly agitated tone, Laura declared, There is nothing wrong with that coffee.
She further demanded, Give it to me. If you two dont want to drink my coffee, fine. Ill take it home. Laura knew what they were up to. She took her belongings from Remington, And you, I can make it home by myself, thank you very much.
Once Laura left, Mildred theorized, Must be double chunky chocolate time.
I dont think so.
Dont you know?
Am I supposed to know?
Mildred just muttered a disgusted, Men. and resumed her task of arranging the shelf.
Mildred, do you remember the Carson case?
That guy who wanted us to locate his ex-wife because he thought she had his Willie Mays rookie card from his baseball card collection?
When was that?
Must be eight, maybe ten weeks ago . Why?
Thats the last time I recall Miss Holt having a double chunky chocolate time.
You mean you think Miss Holt might be? She left the question hanging with noticeable optimism.
He quickly squelched Miss Krebs enthusiasm, No. Heavens no. Just wondering.
Remington still couldnt escape the facts circling in his mind. Only three pills. Her, sick in his bathroom, that morning. The oysters seemed a reasonable culprit at the time, but he didnt get sick. The stark realization that the Carson case had been at least eight weeks. Disturbingly though, a more recent image of Laura brashly downing drink after drink trying to be Karen Allen from Raiders of the Lost Ark didnt fit somehow into his theory. Laura would never jeopardize a babys health in such a reckless manner. He then amended that to <his babys health> and the thought that she would do that, upset him even more.
The two men watched once again from across the street, this time, however, parked in front of her apartment. They took note of her getting the mail from the box.
What if the poison in the coffee doesnt do the trick. How long are we suppose to tail this broad? I dont know about you, but I could use that extra grand right now. The passenger took a gun impatiently out of the glove box.
Put that away. We do it the bosss way for now.
She looks harmless. What did she ever do to the boss?
Not sure. Something about his property forfeiture and prison time from his tax problems.
Remington knocked on the door of her loft promptly at 8:30 am. He had a bouquet of flowers in hand to make up for the brief phone call the evening before that apparently woke her up. A muted, Its open. invited him in.
Laura, dressed in only a slip, popped out from behind the bathroom door, Ill be ready in five minutes.
He shouted over the sound of running water, Laura, it disturbs me that you leave your door unlocked for anyone to just come in when youre dressed like that. He went to the kitchen in search of a vase. On the counter he noticed a half cup of coffee and plate of dry toast with just one bite removed. He picked it up with a disapproving scowl. Dry toast? Surely that wasnt her breakfast? Who has dry toast for breakfast?
She took it from him and disposed of it, dismissively explaining, Still a little nauseous, must have a bug or something.
Dusting crumbs from his fingers before pointing in the direction of the bathroom, he cautiously ask, Were you sick in there?
Its nothing. How about we start off the day with a more pleasant topic? She busied herself wiping the counter.
He suggested, Maybe you should stay at home.
Im sure it will pass by this afternoon.
Laura, is there something you should tell me?
These are pretty, she appreciatively sniffed the flowers on the counter. She reached for her purse and the birth control pills slid out. It seemed like divine intervention. He could see that still only three had been pushed through the foil. He picked up the case before she had a chance.
Remington became annoyed at her apparent evasiveness, What about these, eh?
What about them? Laura yanked them from him and returned them to her purse.
You havent happen to forget a few pills, have you? Or maybe you *intended* to forget them? He accused. Why should this surprise me? You never let me in on any of your decisions, do you? No matter how closely it affects me!
What are you talking about?
Please tell me youre not pregnant.
Genuinely confused, Laura asked What? Her tone then turned to offended, No. Why on earth would you think I was pregnant?
There are only three missing pills! You obviously havent been taking them for quite some time.
Jaw clenched in anger, she just stormed into the bathroom, heels clacking against the wood floor. She came back and thrust another packet of pills at him, most of them consumed, Here. See. She took the ones from the purse, fuming, This is a spare package. I have one in my desk drawer at the office and another one in the glove box of my car. And you obviously dont look in the drawer of your nightstand very often, because there a package there too. Now if you think I am being negligent in my duties or if you dont trust me with such responsibility, then maybe we should just forget being together And what do you mean intentionally? You think I WANT to get pregnant? You can put your mind at rest on that one, Mr. Steele, because that is the last thing in the world I would want.
Youve been sick lately and when was the last time you had your you know. I mean are you sure youre not? He didnt know when to quit.
For your information, she got a small calendar from her purse, it was three weeks ago. Feel free to keep track of it yourself from now on, but I dont see how this will concern you in the future!
Laura, perhaps I did jump to the wrong conclusion he tried to calm her but it was too late, the pot was already boiling.
She now spoke in controlled, analytical, albeit incensed manner, No, no, Im glad we had this little discussion. At least I know youre horrified at the thought of having children with me. Im glad I found out now before this got any more serious between us.
I wouldnt say horrified.
Your face said horrified.
Lets just drop it, Mr. Steele. Laura tucked her purse angrily under her arm and headed for the door.
Remington was going to need a bigger bouquet.
Mildred noticed their avoidance as soon as they arrived. Without so much as his cheery good morning Remington took his paper into his office. She also overhead Miss Holt mumble stupid jerk when he slammed the door. Laura picked up the morning mail and walked in the direction of the coffee room. A young man had the counter in complete disarray with tools, copper tubing, and a very large, very intimidating, very expensive looking coffee machine.
Morning maam. Ill have you brewin in no time.
Im steaming already thank you Laura turned, Mildred! What is all of this?
But before Mildred could explain, Laura recognized Mr. Steeles exaggerated spending style and calmed considerably as she saw no sense in taking her irritation out on poor Mildred.
Nevermind, Im going to find me a nice, normal cup of coffee made in a simple, cheap, fifty dollar Mr. Coffee maker. Laura stated while reaching around the Espresso Express man and snatched her coffee mug from the shelf. She noticed a peculiar residue in her cup. Despite rinsing her cup before leaving yesterday and there was a strange green film lining the inside of her mug. Laura lifted a trace amount with her middle finger. She sniffed and cautiously touched it to the tip of her tongue. It was definitely not from coffee.
What is it, Miss Holt?
Mildred, did you have any of my coffee yesterday?
I think there may have been something in it. I was the only one who drank it yesterday. Then I took it home and Ive been sick as a dog since. I should take it to the lab and have it analyzed.
No, you should go to the doctor and get checked. Ill go to your loft and get the remaining coffee to the lab.
Do you mind? I would ask Mr. Steele, but I would rather not speak to that that creep right now.
Mildred and Laura were just about out the door when Mildred stopped, Shouldnt we at least tell him where we are going?
Cmon we have a job to do, Laura pulled Mildred along.
Remington eventually emerged from his office as the Espresso Express man was already packing up his tools.
Did you happen to see the two women who work here?
Older lady and a pretty brunette, who doesnt want to speak to you?
Remington nodded uncomfortably.
What did you do, anyway? She seemed really pissed.
Do you know where they went?
Something about going to the doctor and getting lab results.
Doctor? Lab results? Good Lord. Remington dashed out the door.
Mildred usually stayed out of Mr. Steele and Miss Holts relationship squabbles , but Laura seemed more troubled than usual and it was unusual for her to not at least tell him where she could be reached during office hours. In the elevator on the way down, Mildred tried to intercede, Miss Holt, I know your mad at him, but
He is the most inconsiderate, insensitive
If this is about the coffee machine
Laura began venting, letting it all out without realizing what she was saying, or who she was saying it to. He had the nerve to accuse me of being pregnant! Of trying to get pregnant, of all things! I have birth control pills packets in every drawer and purse on the face of the earth and he doesnt have a clue. Humph, some detective he is. .
Mildred recalled the discussion with Mr. Steele and his interest in the Carson case.
Oh Miss Holt, dont be too hard on him. Men have a way of being . Being
Stupid, obtuse, thoughtless, selfish. Laura supplied,
Mildred diplomatically jumped in, Uninformed, when it comes to women.
Youre right Mildred, hes definitely uninformed, Laura reluctantly admitted , realizing that she could be more open herself.
Lets get to the bottom of this coffee mess and then the two of you can talk.
There she goes.
And she doesnt look the least bit ill.
I think its time to go to plan B He took out the handgun once again.
Mildreds car left the parking lot being closely followed by the indiscriminate sedan.
She made her way into Lauras loft, found the coffee canister and was halfway down the first flight of stairs when the two men stepped up, blocking her exit. She politely smiled and moved to the other end of the step when they shifted too.
One said to the other, Look, shes got the coffee.
Mildred knew she was in trouble. She cautiously backed up the steps.
He pulled out a gun, Were going to need that. Boss doesnt want any evidence or witnesses either.
Witness? Who me? Im not a witness to anything?
Oh, youre more than a witness. The boss wants you to pay.
Pay? Pay for what. She continued to retreat.
He didnt take too kindly to the IRS taking all his property.
Or the four years he spent in prison. The other added.
Mildred reached the top landing. She tossed the canister of coffee in their eyes and made a desperate dash for Miss Holts door. She slammed the door and felt safe for the moment. After making a call to the police, she worried though that the lock wouldnt keep them at bay. Frantically, she looked for anything to use in her defense. Under the sink, she found a can of Lysol spray and grabbed the heaviest pot from the overhead rack. Poised next to the door, she waited. When they barged through, she sprayed them in the eyes, clocked them over the head, and hustled past them down the stairs. Just as she reached the curb outside, Mr. Steele was pulling up in the limo.
Within the hour, the two men were in custody. Mildred told Mr. Steele of the poison in the coffee and the apparent attempt of revenge by a former IRS case. Mildred vowed that when she got back to the office, shed call Bumpers to find out who was behind it. However, her first priority was to go get the coffee analyzed. They managed to sweep up a sample of the coffee from the stairwell. Insisting that Fred take Mildred to the lab, Remington took her car to go find Laura.
Mr. Steele was more than relieved when he saw Laura holding the instruction booklet, familiarizing herself with the new coffee contraption in the office. Not wanting to rock anymore boats for now he casually strode in.
Impressive, isnt it?
I dont know why Im even reading this, I dont want another cup of coffee for as long as I live.
Mildred said you went to the doctor, he stated, in a tone that was more like a question.
Blood tests were negative. Whatever poison it was, apparently I didnt ingest enough of it. Everything should be fine.
Is it? Everything, I mean? Remington hinted.
Are you talking about us?
He nodded. I know I behaved badly. Im sorry.
And I know I never discuss some things that might involve you.
Do you want to discuss them now?
No. Laura resolutely declared. Remingtons optimism faded. Laura stepped closer and renewed Mr. Steeles hope when she said the word, but in a promising tone.
But we can talk tonight.
So is everything fine then? His arms encircled her in a loving embrace.
Hmm mmm Laura agreed.
Just as they were about to kiss, Mildred barged in, interrupting once again,
Ooops, sorry. I just wanted you to know Im going to get right on tracking down that slime ball who did this, Miss Holt. I just feel so bad.
Oh Mildred, it wasnt your fault. Laura sympathetically touched her arm.
And the doctor says Laura is good as gold, Remington added.
But if it wasnt for me, you wouldnt have had all this trouble.
Laura and Remington looked at each other as if to confirm, <you dont know the half of the trouble this stirred up>
What do you say to the three of us going out on the town tonight, eh? Remington took Lauras coat from the nearby stand and held it up for her to slip into. A gracious smile thanked him. He then did the same for Mildred. She, however, turned him down.
You two kids go. Threes a crowd where I come from. Besides, I want to wait for the lab report on the coffee.
I feel fine. Really. Laura assured her, Im sure there is nothing in that lab report.
Mildred went to her chair insisting, Ill sleep better when I know for sure there are no further side effects.
Mildred waited for nearly two hours before a courier delivered the report. She opened it with anxious apprehension. Her hand covered her mouth, an Oh dear God. escaped her lips and she feverishly dialed the phone
Remington and Laura skipped the going out on the town part. Laura claimed she still didnt have an appetite. She did have an appetite, it just didnt have anything to do with food. Arms locked around each other, they danced to the soft music playing in his apartment.
It never occurred to me that Mildred probably made a fair amount of enemies when she was at the IRS. Laura mused.
Dont worry, Im sure Miss Krebs will get to the bottom of it. Remington assured her. Theres something I would like to get to the bottom of. A pinch to Lauras rear punctuated his intent.
Something? Or someone? Her mischievous banter was always a good sign.
So nice to have peace once again restored. He murmured just before snatching a brief kiss.
We could have avoided this little misunderstanding if you would have just asked.
I did ask.
No, you accused.
Perhaps I didnt word it in the best way possible.
There is a huge difference between Laura have you been taking your pills? and Dear God, Laura, dont you dare tell me that you went behind my back and allowed yourself to get pregnant?
I didnt say that.
Close enough your expression pretty clear though.
He pulled her closer, I vote we change the subject.
Do you want to tell me how much you spent on that espresso machine?
Not the subject I had in mind.
What subject do you have in mind?
One that doesnt require any talking. Remington whispered, as he ran his hands suggestively up and down her back.
But I thought we were going to discuss a certain topic this evening.
Later, he promised. Then Remington leaned down as he lifted Laura tight up against his body. Their lips met with mutual desire; a desire for more intimate contact, the kind that extended far beyond just lips touching. You couldnt really tell if Remington was pulling or Laura pushing. Either way, their rush to the bedroom was in complete synchronization. Clothes had hastily been removed. Just as they tumbled on the bed, the phone began to ring.
They decided in unison. One said, It cant be that important" While the other suggested, Let the machine get it.
The passion intensified. Two bodies, receptive and dedicated to nothing but the pleasure of the other.
In the entry Mildreds voice came crackling through the speaker, Are you two there? Pick up, its important!
In the bedroom both Laura and Remington were oblivious, absorbed in the ecstasy of two people engaged in the act of love.
Miss Krebs continued to plead, Mr. Steele, Miss Holt, You need to know something. I got the results from the lab.
Mildreds warning would never be heard over the steadfast, insistent creak of the bed and the panting moans of the participants.
It says that even trace amounts of the poison will render oral contraceptives ineffective. Miss Holt? Mr. Steele? Anyone there?