Revised, Part 4 - Steele By Your Side
Date: Tuesday, January 30, 2001
Carla Keehn <>

See Part 1 for copyright disclaimers . . .

Previously: "I see that Steele's still up to his old tricks . . ." The biting words intruded suddenly on the younger woman's troubled thoughts. "So he stood you up again, huh, Laura?"

The voice was from her past, a voice that she thought she'd never hear again. Holt whirled around and stared in disbelief at the man that had come out of her office.

* * * *

"Murphy?" Men seemed to be walking in and out of her life at an alarming rate today. "Is it really you?"

"The one and only," Murphy Michaels replied with a smile.

"But, what are you doing here? And where's Bernice - I thought the two of you were starting out on your own - I never expected to see you again!"

"Stop talking and come here - unless you're not glad to see me!" He wrapped his arms around her protectively.

"Glad? Of course I'm glad to see you - it's just such a surprise!" Holt felt the tension drain from her body. It was good to have Murphy back. She'd never forgotten how Murphy Michaels had stood by her during the early years when Laura was struggling to build up the agency. Laura had felt a tremendous sense of loss when Michaels and Bernice, Mildred's predecessor, had decided to strike out on their
own. "Mildred, hold my calls - Murphy and I have a lot to catch up on."

Krebbs eyed the man with disdain. She didn't like the way the sandy-haired man was moving in on Steele's territory. "But," Mildred sputtered, "what about the boss?"

"Mr. Steele can take care of himself for one morning," Holt
answered. She motioned towards Steele's office. "Shall we?"

Laura led Michaels into Steele's office. Murphy followed behind, kicking the door closed behind him.

Laura stood with her back towards the man, staring out at the cityscape.

Then, without warning, Murphy's arms were around her. "I've been waiting a long time to do this, Laura . . ." He whispered.

Holt stiffened in the man's arms. She swallowed hard. "No!" She said, more forcefully than she'd intended. Laura turned around to face Michaels. "I'm sorry, Murphy, but . . . Mr. Steele and I have a relationship . . . of sorts and - -"

"Then where is he, Laura?" Michaels ranted. The ill feelings that he had for Steele hadn't faded over time. "He stood you up last night, no one has any idea of where he is now - -" He gently massaged her shoulders. "You deserve better than that!"

"Murphy, please . . ." She took a deep breath. "We haven't seen each other in years, let's not waste time discussing my relationship with Mr. Steele."

Michaels' face grew hard. "We have to discuss it - that's why I came back." The anger left him and slumped down in one of the chairs in front the expansive desk that filled the room. "My agency is finished, Laura."

"What? What happened?" Holt said incredulously. "When you and Bernice left here, things looked so promising!"

He shrugged. "Things went well for a while. Then Bernice left with one of the clients." Michaels got up and paced. "I can't blame her -the guy offered her everything that she'd ever wanted, I couldn't tell her not to go." The pacing stopped. "After she left, I couldn't run the agency myself and I couldn't afford to add anyone else to the payroll. So I closed up shop and thought I'd see how things were here."

"I'm sorry to hear that, Murph. You're a good detective."

"If I am, I owe it all to you." Michaels reached over and took her hands in his.

"It hasn't been the same without you here," she replied. "And so many things have changed since you left."

"Things haven't changed all that much," he replied, his eyes
flickering around the room. "You're still here, carrying the load by yourself," he continued softly, pulling her closer. "We were a great team, Laura, it can be that way again if you let it."

"It - It wasn't ever that way between us," she replied softly.

"I wanted it to be - but HE was always there, whether you care to admit that or not - -"

Holt's thoughts were in a whirl. Steele's unexplained absence and Murphy's sudden arrival had put her off balance.

"Look, I have some things to do here," Laura said unsteadily. "I'll meet you later for lunch, we can talk about all this then."

"Why put things off, Laura? Why not now?" Michaels said in annoyance.

"I can't, Murph - -I just can't - -" Holt glanced around. It was only yesterday that she was here in the same office, enjoying a brief moment of passion with Steele. She couldn't discuss anything with Murphy, not there, not with all the memories around that Steele's office held.

And maybe, just maybe, she'd have the elusive Mr. Steele's
whereabouts settled by lunch leaving her better able to cope with Murphy's appearance.

Michael's thought for a moment, then nodded slowly. "All right, Laura, we'll do it your way." He threw his hands up,
frustrated. "Even when HE isn't here, HE is!"

Laura smiled slightly. Despite the morning's trials, it made her feel good to see Murphy's jealousy of Steele flair up once again. "Pick me up here at noon."

Holt watched silently as Michael's strode through the outer offices. There was a time, long ago, when she'd entertained ideas of having more than a working relationship with Murphy. But not anymore, not when she and Steele were making such headway in sorting out their relationship.

"Miss Holt?"

It was Mildred. The concern in the older woman's voice roused Laura from her musings.

"Yes, Mildred, what is it?"

"A messenger dropped this letter off for you while you were, eh, in conference," Krebbs said. "It's marked urgent."

Holt took the nondescript looking letter. There was nothing about the locally postmarked envelope to give her any idea what was inside.

"You know, Miss Holt," Mildred continued, "don't take this the wrong way, honey, but I don't think that the boss would like that guy hanging around here. He looks like the shady type to me."

Holt laughed as she ripped the envelope open. "I think that you're right, Mildred," she said, recalling the strained relationship that Steele and Michaels shared. "Mr. Steele probably wouldn't like it at all!" Laura's face fell as she studied the contents of the envelope. "What's this?"

"What is it?" Krebbs said, straining to read over Holt's shoulder.

The card was Victorian, the front decorated with a lavish bouquet of red roses and hearts. "Happy Anniversary . . ." Laura read.

Just then the blaring jangle of the telephone filtered in from the outer office.

"You'd better get that, Mildred," Laura commented absently. "It might be Mr. Steele . . ."

For a moment, Krebbs toyed with the idea of ignoring the telephone then decided against it. If it was Steele, she wanted to talk to him first about the goings on of the morning.

The card was beautiful. Laura mentally sorted through names and dates in her mind, searching for an occasion that would warrant such a remembrance. She slowly opened the card and gasped slightly . . .
End Part 4
To Part 5