- Steele on Our Own Part 2/6
- by Linda Bonnell
- Date: Sun, 2 Jan 2000
Harry awoke with a start. The bad taste in his mouth and the
blinding headache behind his eyes were unwelcome reminders that
over-imbibing has its consequences. But the mind-numbing qualities
of alcohol were just what the doctor ordered last night. Harry
reasoned that only in that drug-induced state could he face his
wife after yesterday's disappointment. He knew how much Laura
had yearned for a child these last few years and he grieved,
not for the child that would never exist, but rather for the
wife he had once had. The sparkle in Laura's eyes had dimmed,
the spring in her step had faded, and the joy she had once taaken
in her work was a memory Unfortunately, sleep ensued before he
had a chance to really talk with her after yesterday's debacle.
Last night he had intended to tentatively, slowly, and with great
trepidation, introduce his idea to Laura. This 'idea' had begun
first as an idle musing, but it had taken shape over the last
months. He had done his legwork this time, and he took considerable
pride in that fact. He just wondered if his powers of persuasion
would be enough to convince Laura that this would be a wonderful
alternative for them both.
Several months ago, Harry and Laura attended the LA premiere
of the latest Bond film. As they were jostled in the crowd, Harry
had the distinct impression that his wallet was being filched.
He easily evaded the crook, grabbing a bony little wrist and
whirling around to issue a stern reproach to the would-be thief
and to send for the gendarmes. But when he sought out the culprit's
face, he was taken aback to see a young boy, none too clean and
cheeks quite hollow, staring back at him in abject terror. At
that moment, Harry was once again in a world he tried to forget,
a world that resided only in his occasional nightmares now. He
saw himself in that young boy's eyes, and his heart melted. He
would have taken home that little street-urchin then and there,
but the lad took advantage of Harry's lapse and escaped his grip.
It was then that he realized that even if he and Laura never
conceived a child of their own, there was still another option.
Adoption could give them a child to love, and maybe, just maybe,
give Harry a chance to rescue some other would-be ruffian, as
Daniel and later Laura had rescued him. Surely with so many unwanted
children in this world, he and Laura could open their hearts
and their homes to one of them.
Harry diligently investigated the opportunities. Social worker
after social worker sat across a desk from him and told him quite
plainly that adopting a healthy white infant would require years
of waiting, or hefty fees for a private adoption. When Harry
explained that he was quite willing to accept a child who had
been passed over by other families, the eagerness of the bureaucrats
was palpable. And then one by one, they had all asked the question
he couldn't yet answer: did his wife share his conviction to
open their home to a child whom others might consider undesirable?
Even though Harry felt that he and Laura had exhausted their
chance for a biological child, he wasn't sure if Laura recognized
that fact yet. Even if she had, would she be able to love a child
that she had not borne? Harry felt certain that he could, but
Laura would have to answer that question for herself. And after
this last round of failed conception, he was ready to ask the
question of her. Even the doctors had finally admitted that the
chance that they would conceive a child was slim even with increasingly
unpalatable medical intervention. Through the entire four-year
ordeal, more than their sex life had suffered, though that was
the first casualty. This obsession with conception had taken
its toll on their marriage, and it was time to reclaim their
love for one another.
Laura. Harry opened first one eye and then the other, while reaching
out a hand to caress his wife. But not only was she not there,
in their bed, but from the looks of the neat bed linens, she
had never even gotten into bed last night. Now true remorse set
in, and Harry was ashamed that he hadn't taken the time last
night to console Laura as she needed to be.
Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, stretching his long,
lean torso and absentmindedly smoothing his disheveled hair with
his hand, Harry got to his feet and padded downstairs in search
of Laura. From room to room he wandered, but there was no sign
of her. He went upstairs again, and now that he was more attentive
to his surroundings he noticed that several drawers bearing Laura's
clothing were ajar. Heart pounding a bit faster, Harry checked
their closet and noted that a suitcase was missing.
While waiting impatiently for Fred to arrive in the agency's
limousine, Harry searched in earnest to see what Laura had taken
with her. The most surprising, the most gut-wrenching discovery
was that her passport was missing. Until then, Harry had been
able to reason that perhaps Laura had merely needed some time
to herself, or a visit to Frances or even her mother, but- Now.why
would Laura need to leave the country? And where was she going?
And how could she leave without a word, a note, a..
The ringing doorbell announced Fred's arrival. Harry greeted
Fred with as much pleasantness as he could muster, then instructed
the chauffeur to head straight for the office.
"Oh, and Fred, don't spare the rubber."
"Morning, morning, morning," Harry announced with a
forced smile, all for Mildred's benefit.
"Morning yourself, Boss. Where's Mrs. Steele?" Mildred
"Yes, well, Mildred, Laura had to go out of town for a few
days, on a case, you know."
"But she didn't tell me about any case."
"Not to worry, Mildred, it's all on the hush-hush. Now can
I safely assume that we have a light day here in the office?"
More than a little suspicious about Laura's absence, Mildred
answered warily: "You have Mr. Gleason at one, and of course
a meeting downtown with Detective Jarvis at 3:30. But what happened
yesterday at the doctor's, boss? Any good news?"
Harry answered in measured tones, "Unfortunately not, Mildred."
"How is Laura? I mean, is she-"
"Mildred, given the circumstances, I'd appreciate it if
you cancelled my appointments for the rest of the day and you
and I both took the rest of the day off."
"But Boss, " Mildred protested, "there's plenty
of work here for me. And besides, I.."
Somehow Harry managed to usher their assistant out the office
door, with a promise that he would call Mildred later in the
day if he needed her. Once he had squired Mildred safely to the
elevator, Harry raced back to the office at breakneck speed and
threw himself in Mildred's chair. Flexing his fingers, he ruminated,
"Perhaps if a computer is anything like a woman, I'll be
able to ply a few secrets from her."
The morning passed, and Harry did discover a few things about
Laura and her disappearance, but telephone calls were mostly
responsible for any revelations. Apparently computers were harder
to crack than safes. Discrete exchanges with Abigail and Frances
revealed nothing. Neither gave any indications that they suspected
anything was amiss. A conversation with their bank manager was
rather more productive: early that morning, Laura had removed
$10,000 in cash from their account. A check of the airline departures
was less successful, suggesting that Laura hadn't flown out of
LAX that day. Harry even telephoned Murphy Michaels in Denver,
but to no avail.
'Now what,' Harry wondered. 'Better yet, where would I go if
were Laura? And how would I get there if I didn't want to be
discovered?' Time to consult with one of the agency's official
At 6 that evening, Harry stood at gate 64A in LAX, clutching
his passport and a ticket to London. Estelle Becker at INS had
come through. Laura's passport had indeed been used, on a flight
from Mexico City to London. And as far as Harry could recall,
there was only one person Laura knew in London. "And his
name is a four-letter word for rat," muttered Harry grimly
under his breath.
End of Part 2
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