Steele Menagerie 2 of ?
Date: Monday, October 23, 2000
EmilyAnn <>


"How are we planning to catch our culprit?" Steele helped himself to a glass of water while Laura warily watched Francois.

"Hmmm? Oh, yes . . . I thought we'd poke around Mrs. Langmore's estate, ask a few questions - the usual." She never took her eyes from the tiger.

"You know, Laura, if we're going to do that, you're going to have to leave Francois alone." Steele picked an apple from the fruit basket on the counter, studied it, and placed it back with the other fruit.

"You're right; help me out here." She approached the tiger only to have it hiss at her.

"Laura! What are you doing?"

"We're going to lock him in the bathroom!" She carefully reached for Francois' leash and began to tug at it. The tiger, however, stood his ground. "Come on! MOVE!" Laura pulled harder.

"Laura, I think he likes it where he is."

"I don't care." She tugged a little harder, and Francois lazily stretched his paws out in front of him - seemingly unaffected by Laura's persistent yanking.

"Here, let me." He took the leash from her, and knelt in front of the tiger. "Now, Francois," he addressed it as though it were a young child. "Miss Holt and I have to go out for a while." The feline yawned, but remained docile. "You're going to be here alone. Now we're trusting you," he shook his finger at the beast, "to be good and not hurt anything. Do you understand?" He nodded slowly, and Laura was surprised, when the Francois seemed to be nodding, jerkily, in response.

"Mr. Steele, did he just . . ."she was reluctant to give voice to her question.

"He'll behave." Steele managed to answer the question without specifically confirming or denying Laura's fears.

Laura gave the tiger one more leery look and then followed Steele through the door to the loft.


Arriving at Mrs. Langmore's estate later that afternoon, Steele adjusted his non-prescription horn-rim glasses, while Laura stuck one more bobby pin through her topknot. Both studied the results in the rearview mirror, and each reflection having met with its owner's approval, the duo strode purposefully toward the door.

The doorbell was answered by a study middle-aged woman who identified herself Mrs. Rommell, the housekeeper, and demanded to know their business there.

"Ahh, yes." Steele smiled brightly at the woman standing sentry. "I'm Dr. David Huxley, and this is my assistant, Susan Vance. "We're here to do an article on Mrs. Langmore's tiger for 'Exotic Pets Monthly.'"

Rommell stepped aside to allow them passage into the foyer. "Wait here; I will announce you."

"Charming woman," Steele whispered under his breath after the housekeeper stepped aside. "I think we've found our suspect."

"Where'd you get those names from?" Laura changed the subject, grateful not to be Myrtle Groggins again.

"'Bringing up Baby.' RKO 1938." Katharine Hepburn and Carey Grant traverse rural Connecticut looking for her lost leopard. It seemed appropriate."

"Indeed," Laura answered as Mrs. Langmore breezed into the entryway.


"So," Laura concluded. "That's how I thought we would start. Dr. Huxley will interview you, while I take pictures of Francois' habitat and get some of the servants' impressions of your pet."

"That sounds wonderful." The dowager clapped her hands together noiselessly. "Ms. Vance, I'll have Mrs. Rommell show you around and introduce you to the rest of the staff, while I meet with Dr. Huxley. Oh, this is just delightful!" Laura had to give their client credit, she was playing along with the charade beautifully.


"What do you think of Francois?" Laura asked Mrs. Rommell, snapping photos

"I don't get paid to think." The housekeeper continued to walk, keeping her eyes trained straight ahead. Though thick-waisted and doubled chinned, she moved very quickly, causing Laura to struggle to keep pace with her.

"Surely, it must be exciting for you. It's not every employer who keeps a tiger for a pet." Laura pressed further.

"This is the greenhouse." Mrs. Rommell waived her hand in the general direction of the glass structure.

"I see." Laura snapped another photograph, wondering what exactly it would take to get the woman to open up.


"Auntie!!? I'm home!" A youthful male voice echoed through the mansion.

"Who's that?" Steele asked, setting down the legal pad on which he was ostensibly taking notes.

"Mikey!!" Their client answered Steele's question indirectly - dashing from the dining room toward the source of the ruckus.

"Mikey?" Steele cocked an eyebrow waiting for the explanation he knew would be shortly forthcoming.

"Mr. . . Dr. Huxley," Mrs. Langmore quickly corrected. "I'd like you to meet my nephew Michael Wade. He's my late sister's son. Mikey." She turned to her nephew. "This is Dr. David Huxley; he's going to be writing an article on Francois."

"Charmed." Michael held his hand out in the affected drawl of those who have little concern in their lives but the size of their trust fund.

"Likewise, I'm sure." Steele returned his limp handshake, adopting a similar affectation.

"So, where is the hairy beast anyway?" Michael questioned.

"He's visiting the San Diego Zoo," Mrs. Langmore covered quickly. "He's had a bit of tummy ache."

"Pity," Michael said rather insincerely, though his aunt didn't seem to notice. Without taking leave, he then left the pair alone in the dining room.

"Does he live here then?" Steele questioned once he was gone.

"Yes, he goes to UCLA. His parents died a few years ago. Richard and I couldn't have children of our own, and so we were more than happy to take him in."

"Ahh, I see." Steele absorbed the information. "How does he get on with Francois?"
"Mr. Steele, surely you cannot be suggesting . . ." the dowager would not even allow herself to consider the possibility. "Mikey has known Francois since he was a cub; my nephew would never even consider harming a hair on his body."

"Of course, Mrs. Langmore. I'm only trying to be thorough." Steele picked up his pencil and jotted a few more notes on the yellow pad.


"Well, hello!" Mikey sidled up alongside Laura, as she and Mrs. Rommell continued the tour of the grounds.

"Hello, Master Michael," the housekeeper greeted him with a curt nod.

"Ilsa is lacking a bit in people skills." Michael smiled saccharinely at the housekeeper. "Allow me to introduce myself. I'm Michael Wade, and you are?"

"Susan Vance with 'Exotic Pets Monthly.'" Laura offered him her hand.

"Oh, you must work with that British fellow I met in the house." He continued to walk alongside Laura. "How is your article coming?"

"Very well," Laura answered, and she and Michael settled into a comfortable conversation.


"Well, I think it's rather clear." Steele took a sip of his wine, scratched Francois under his muzzle, and continued, "the culprit is clearly Mikey."

"Don't be ridiculous." Laura shot a withering look at the tiger and a slightly more tolerant one toward Steele. "It's Rommell. That woman gives Ghadaffi a good name."

"Oh, come now, Laura. You can't hold recalcitrance against somebody." He continued to absently stroke the tiger.

"Wasn't it you who suggested she was our primary suspect in the first place? And you obviously have something against Michael." Laura moved to perch on the arm of the couch next to him. Stretching a lazy arm out she began to play with the line of his hair along the nape of his neck. "Could you possibly be . . . jealous, Mr. Steele?"

"Me? Jealous?" He chuckled. "Don't be ridiculous, Laura." He turned to meet her eyes. "I have nothing to be jealous about. Do I?"

"I don't think so, Mr. Steele." Her hands continued to draw teasing lines along the back of his neck, even as he angled his head almost imperceptibly closer. The kiss began softly - two pairs of lips in mutual exploration. As it deepened, Laura slid off the arm of the couch and into Steele's lap. As her tongue gently probed for entrance, Steele moaned. And then he swore.

Francois, unwilling to be ignored, had butted his head against Steele's leg. "That's twice in one day." He scowled at the cat. "I'm beginning to think he has it in for us."

"No wonder someone wants him dead," Laura responded, as she eased herself off of Steele's lap.

Steele sighed, and worked his way over to the kitchen. "Has Mildred returned from the butcher yet?"

"Yes, she even managed to get us a good deal. Seems the demand for horseflesh isn't as high as it used to be." Laura called in response. "I sent her out to get the photos developed. She should be back soon."

"Do you think there will be anything of use?" Steele asked, as he set the bowl of ground horsemeat on the floor for Francois' consumption.

"I don't know." Laura stood, and began to pace. An indicator, Steele knew, that she was thinking. Every so often, she would stop, open her mouth as if to say something, and then continue pacing.

Francois, intrigued by this behavior, padded over to watch her, and then joined her. Steele watched the pair with scarcely concealed amusement.

Finally, she stopped and stood facing him in the center of the room, the tiger at her side. "What we're missing, Mr. Steele, is a motive. Until we can figure why someone would want to kill Francois, we can't know who it might be." The tiger flicked his ears at the sound of his name, and Laura absently reached down to stroke him.

"I see." Steele agreed with her, though he was still trying to decipher her logic. Their contemplation was interrupted by a knock at the door.

Steele slid it open, revealing a very tremulous looking Mildred. "I just came by to drop off the pictures, Boss. I'll be going now." She handed the photography enveloped to Steele, and walked unsteadily backwards away from the door, never taking her eyes off the tiger.

End Part 2
To Part 3