They flew a few hours later into the
pretty city by the bay, San
Francisco. But where to start? Food or footwork? Laura was
softening. And she was hungry. She hadn't eaten anything since
breakfast, and it was nearly five o'clock by the time they reached
"I've heard the Hard Rock Cafe
is a mine of activity," she said
trembling slightly as she looked at her companion, and thought of all
the times she would have loved to get down and dirty with this man.
"Maybe we can go down to the
mills and find my friend Ronnie to
verify the red hot accusations of Silver's meddling with the labor
Laura hardened again, and she didn't
know why. "Well, let's stop by
the police station first. Later we can call your friend and see the
They quickly unpacked their things
at the hotel, and, taking the case
file with them, they caught a taxi to the police station. Sergeant
Micah assured them there was a team assigned to locating Miss Tracy
out of Santa Monica, but not here in San Francisco. Well, at least
the agency had brought it to their attention.
Another taxi to the restaurant, and
this case was starting to add
up. Not logically yet, but monetarily. Laura was sure to have a
retainer from Mr. Silver, but not if the results went against him.
She sighed and thought, Silver or Rusty? Her eyes focused suddenly
on the rusty-colored structure ahead.
Located at Pier 39, the Hard Rock
Cafe offered a view of the Golden
Gate and Bay Bridges, as well as of Alcatraz-the Rock. The sun was
just setting across the water as their taxi turned on Embarcadero. A
golden glow warmed the air and the color in the sky gleamed just
before softening and darkness would soon overtake them.
"Love all, Serve all," was
the motto of the Cafe. They were seated
after a half an hour, and given menus to peruse. No sooner had they
decided what to order, than Laura said, "Guess who's here?" She was
shocked it was so easy.
"`Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?'
Um. . .Columbia Pictures, 1967,
Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy."
Laura whispered excitedly, "Please
concentrate, Mr. Steele! It's
"She's here?" Steele didn't
want to give anything away by turning
around and looking. He felt like it gave him metal fatigue to sit
still and get the report from Laura. His stomach rumbled.
"I'm sure it's Rusty, but she's
changed her looks. Doesn't she have
red hair and is a little flaky?"
"No, she doesn't have all her
coals burning, the headlamp turned on,
"Ah, well, she could be smarter than she looks," Steele ventured.
She had dyed her hair platinum blonde,
but Laura was right. It was
Rusty coming towards them.
Rusty was their waitress. When she
spoke, it seemed as if there was
a big air pocket in her head, like she was all tapped out.
"What'll ya have to drink tonight,
folks?" Her nametag identified
her as "Dusty."
"Mineral water, carbonated, please," said Laura.
"Do you have Coors? You know,
the `Silver Bullet'?" Steele smiled,
but Rusty startled at the phrase.
Seeing that reaction, Laura looked
at Rusty, and said quietly, "We
need to talk."
"Look, I know ya think I'm Rusty, but I'm not. I'm her sister."
"Twins!" Laura exclaimed.
"Not quite. We're triplets. We have a brother named Richard."
"He is your brother? Dick. . . .Tracy?" offered Mr. Steele.
"No, Ricky. But he is a detective. How'd ya know?"
"He's a dick?"
"A private investigator?" asked Laura.
"No, he's a small town cop in
a little place right near Mercer
Caverns. So you see, Rusty wouldn't never have gotten mixed up for
real with nobody like Mr. Silver. We're honest folks. That's a
trumped up charge if ever I heard of one. Everybody's spreadin'
rumors about her, so she's lyin' low until we can come up with
somethin'. Ricky's doin' his best, but the pressure's on for him to
cave in, and give her up."
"Well, maybe that's where Mr. Steele and I can help you."
Laura and Remington placed their order
for food, and discussed some
of this new information. When the food came, they ate ravenously,
pumping Dusty for more information whenever she could stop by their
table. Dusty told them that she and her siblings were children of a
coal miner in West Virginia.
"`Coal Miner's Daughter.' Universal.
1980. Sissy Spacek, Tommy Lee
"What's up with him? Is he speakin' in tongues?"
"No, it's just Mr. Steele's way of processing developing cases."
Dusty appeared to be genuine, which
was a good sign for Rusty, but
Mr. Silver appeared more tarnished as time moved on.
When they were done eating, Steele
placed a call to Ronnie from a
payphone, confirming their meeting at the Steel Mills on Montgomery
Street, not far from the Hard Rock, at 10:15 that night.
Dusty's shift was over at 10 p.m.,
and it was about that now. She
offered to drive Steele over to the mill and then take Laura back to
the hotel. It was quite dark near the mill where they left him off.
"You think there's a connection
between Rusty and this steel mill?"
"We're not sure yet, but I have
a friend who lives in San Francisco,
who wants to show me something here," Steele explained.
"Should we wait for you?" Dusty asked.
"Oh, no, no. No, I'll be fine. Ronnie is trustworthy."
"How will you get back to the hotel?" Dusty was concerned.
"Ronnie will bring me back. Thank
you for asking." He looked at
Laura, who looked a little puzzled. He tapped twice on the roof of
the Chevy Silverado to send them off.
Laura and Dusty were able to talk some more on the short drive to the
hotel. Laura was glad she wasn't taking Dusty too far out of her
way, and she expressed concern for Dusty, who lived about a half an
hour away in Mill Valley. If anyone had been tailing Laura and
Remington, they might very well come to the same conclusion, and
think that Dusty was Rusty.
"I can't tell you where Rusty
is right now. I just know she's safe.
Ricky is seein' to that. I will get a message to her, though, that
you are workin' on the case too, and that you need to know she really
isn't blackmailin' anybody."
Dusty sounded more intelligent all
the time. Laura appreciated her
"Yes, well, even though it's
Mr. Silver who is employing us to find
her, if he's the criminal, then we don't want Rusty to get hurt."
"Thanks, Laura. I'll be in touch."
Laura had given Dusty her number at
the hotel written on the back of
a business card.
"Drive safely!" Laura affirmed.
Laura was restive and restless waiting for Mr. Steele's return. Even
though it was late, she had checked in with Mildred, who had come up
with Mr. Silver's income tax return data. Nothing shady there, but
would there be? No, any unclaimed income would be hidden somewhere
that couldn't be traced to him. He sure lived well enough, though,
and that's what was arousing suspicion.
Turning on the TV, Laura caught the
late news. There weren't any
other programs that interested her-"A fiery horse with the speed of
light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty `Hi Yo Sil. . .'"-flipping
channels until she landed on a PBS station: a Nova episode about
various types of mining. She was about to give up and turn off the
TV, when the word "bauxite" caught her attention. She got ready for
bed as the host gave a tour of a mine which produced the raw material
that ultimately became aluminum. Wheels were turning in her head as
she wondered not only where Steele and Rusty were at this hour, but
also if Dusty had made her way home safely.
She wouldn't have been able to sleep
right away anyway, for the
excitement of the last 24 hours, but she was happy and relieved when
she heard soft noises indicating Mr. Steele's return to the adjoining
Should she be bold, and greet Mr. Steele?
Laura threw on her robe, and just
as she clicked the bolt on her side
of the adjoining door, she heard a woman's giggle and the soft clink
of glasses. Too late. Mortified, she forged ahead and knocked.
All was quiet.
"Mr. Steele, it's Laura."
A bit petrified, Steele cursed himself
for being such a blockhead.
He had piles of explaining to do.
"Ah, Laura," Steele said
as he unlocked his side of the door. He
laughed nervously. "I thought you'd be asleep by now. It's after
midnight, you know."
"Yes, it IS after midnight. Did
you get what you wanted from Ronnie,
or am I interrupting something?"
Smiling, but dying a little inside,
he introduced the women to each
"Laura, uh, this is Ronnie. Ronnie, Laura Holt, my associate."
Ronnie giggled again, and said, "Gee,
it's a pleasure, I'm sure.
Bottom's up!" as she drank her champagne, sitting on the bed, smiling.
Now *this* was the flaky one. Laura
rolled her eyes, entered the
room, leaned against the dresser and crossed her arms. The
temperature in the room rose a few degrees.
"Gee, I've never been in this
hotel before. Look at the pretty
pictures on the wall."
"So, does Ronnie have any sisters,
cousins, friends, like "Vitamin
E," whom you call "Minnie," or God forbid, "Rock E or Will E?"
"Oh, Miss Holt, you are so fun. . ."
"E. I suppose Ronnie majored
in Gee-ology. Quite the rock. . .
Steele was beside himself, wriggling,
sweating, loosening his tie,
finally at a loss as to how to continue.
"Did you manage to get any valuable
information about the case, Mr.
Ah, something else to focus on. "Yes,
Miss Holt. About the case.
Uh. . .Ronnie has a friend, Bernie Blackschmidt, who works in a huge
bauxite mining operation up past Stockton in a little valley near
Sutter Creek. He told her he suspects something fishy is going on
with the operation because things seem rather amorphous."
"What do you mean `amorphous'?"
"Gee, I didn't say that. I said
they keep changing the way they pick
up the stuff!"
"No one seems to know where the
ore goes once it's brought to the
surface. The miners work during the day, and by the next morning,
the material has been whisked away. Poof! They're not employing the
usual reputable trucking firms or shipping by train to a local
"Well, then that's part of our
job now, too. To bring things to the
surface. I suppose we'd better get an early start tomorrow, uh, THIS
morning. We can rent a car. Thanks, Ronnie."
"Gee, you're welcome. Cheers!"
she said as she drained her glass,
and Mr. Steele helped her up off of the bed. "You know, Miss Holt,
I'm just his alloy."
Laura said, "You mean his alibi?"
"Gosh no, his friend. You know."
Steele jumped in. "That's `ally,'
Ronnie. Time to say so long," he
said as he placed her jacket over her shoulders.
"And, gee, you don't owe me that 1 G anymore, OK sweetie?"
"Yes, have to be up first thing
in the morning." Remington escorted
Ronnie out the door, Laura glaring at him. "Well, I'll escort you
down to your car now, seeing how I need to get some rest. Thank you
for the tip: follow the bauxite, not the steel. Good night, Miss
Holt." And the door to the hallway closed.
Goodbye! thought Laura, though she
didn't know which person she truly
meant it for. Some midnight special!
"Dammit," she voiced aloud.
She felt pulverized and didn't know now
if she was angrier with herself or with him. One step forward and
two back. All this sliding around in a relationship built on sand.
Where was it leading? She loved him, but couldn't trust him. She
thought he loved her too, but look at tonight! She felt like she was
even in quicksand sometimes, with nothing to grab onto. Talk about
grounds for. . .for what? Where did they stand? Not together. Not
apart. Oh, to bridge that constant mis-stepping.
By the time Steele returned five minutes
later, Laura had left a note
on his pillow and locked the door between them.
"Truck rented for 8AM. See you
after bkfst. Hasta Mañana. BOT!!"
Not even signed.
"BOT?" He pondered. "BOT?
Bought? The truck? No, it's rented. B-
O-T. Bitch of Temper? Bastard of Timing? Beginning of Trouble?
Big Overtime? Ah. . .Be On Time. Oh what the devil. . .I was going
to start thinking of movie titles next."