Y'all, I am so sorry it's been too long between chapters...hopefully this really long chapter kinda makes up for it...enjoy!
DISCLAIMER: you know the drill...
THE TRUTH SHALL STEELE SET YOU FREE
Kelly stared at the two filthy gravestones,
overgrown and abandoned. Not really knowing why, she had ended
up looking up where Laura Steele had been buried and if Remington
Steele had been visiting the grave. Maybe it was the South Louisiana
Catholic in her, but she remembered 'Ti Marie's comment that you
could always tell how much somebody was loved by how pretty their
grave was kept. Kelly sighed. /If that was the case, I can understand
being a little touchy about Laura, but Mildred Krebs?/ Kelly didn't
know exactly who Mildred was, except that she had been surrogate
confidante to both the detectives, particularly Steele. At least
that was what she had gathered from what she had read of Laura's
journals. And she had done a few bits of research to come to the
conclusion that Mildred Krebs had been a grandma who spoke softly
and carried a big IRS notebook. /Of course, she was also one the
few people to speak in defense of Laura. Too bad she had a heart
attack six months later./
Why were these graves, particularly Laura's, left to rot? She had been Steele's WIFE for Chrissakes! Just her name and the two important dates of her life-birth and death. Kelly pondered this, turning it over in her head, over and over. From what Laura had written, her words echoed of a Steele very much alone in the world. There had been an unspoken need to protect in those words. If what Laura Steele wrote was true, and Kelly had a feeling that Laura had been the most bluntly honest human being on the planet, the papers had been royally deceived into creating a dream woman who was easily seduced and destroyed by her passions. Jarvis's description totally violated the image of the sad sprite with the serious brown eyes who looked up at Remington Steele's princely beauty on those courthouse steps. Kelly checked her watch.
/6:15 a.m. Gotta head to the Greyhound Station in a few minutes./ She stared at the two forgotten headstones, looking for some inspiration as to why Remington Steele, detective extraordinary and ardent lover of Laura Holt (at least according to the papers) would leave the grave forgotten...the mark of an unnamed woman. Why would a man who had been so alone (according to Laura) want to throw away the memory of his wife, not to mention surrogate mother, without a thought. She sat next to the gravesite of Laura, running her fingers over the intricate carvings of the Celtic cross. A sudden, if stupid, inspiration hit her. Grandma Ruby had always said talking to Granpere Jack always made his give her answers. What the hell?
Quickly glancing around to make sure no one was there, even this early, Kelly took a deep breath. "Look, ah, you don't know me or nothing. Hell, I wasn't even born when you were murdered, but I just-" Kelly exhaled. /I just what?/
Angrily, she stood up and then plopped back down again. "Dammit, this was only supposed to be a class paper, but nothing I've read has added up. It's so simple. You were lying dead on a hotel bed naked. A guy you might have had something going with during the first few weeks of your marriage is in there with you with his head blown off and his prints on the gun lying on the floor next to him. You add a distraught hubby whose turned into a martyr because he's trying to find out who killed you and clear you of everybody's idea of adultery. It all works, but none of it fits." She stood up, pointing accusingly at the grave. "Lady, I read your stuff! None of all that sappy shit you wrote about that man clicks with that old bastard who was ready to spit on me when I showed up and would probably kill me now if he knew what I was doing!
"Well, I got news for you. I believe you. I believe what you wrote, but somewhere, that man quit fighting for you because it was so clean and airtight...and convenient." In her rant, the flash of inspiration she was looking for came to her. /That's it! Your murder was too damned convenient. Too perfect. Nothing is perfect. Not even Remington and Laura Steele./
She stared at the grave, her mind conjuring up an image of a thin young woman with a flip remark on her lips and a lot of thoughts cluttering in her head. "Lady, I read your journals. You talked about your cases, about what you and Mr. Steele did. Y'all were good and y'all must have been good together, because that's all the papers seemed to talk about before you were murdered. You were no shrinking violet. Lady, I'm trying to get to the truth. All I'm asking is for some inspiration...and I can't get it from Remington Steele, so you're all I've got."
She dug her foot into the ground, a little uncomfortable at its bareness. It looked ugly and lost. Glancing around, she saw a bundle of roses on another grave. Frowning, Kelly shook her head. Roses were pretty, but somehow they didn't suit the enigma which had been Laura Steele...she looked at the other grave. Or the motherliness which had protected both of them.
Sneaking a look at her watch, she dusted her hands and turned to go.
Kelly sat in the second-to-last row
on a Greyhound bound for San Francisco. God, but they had some
weirdos that rode Greyhounds. One guy had gotten off at the last
stop, turned around and said to her, "You never saw me. If
the aliens ask, you never saw me." Well, at least it had
been an interesting trip. /Oh God!/ The old man sitting across
from her was drooling all over the seat and talking to someone
called Dinky-who was nowhere to be found. /Please get to San Francisco./
"Welcome to San Francisco, ladies and gentlemen. Please be careful when exiting and have a wonderful time." Okay, the bus driver was entirely too damn cheerful. Kelly stepped down, backpack over one shoulder. Her professor had grudgingly agreed to excuse her absence for the next three days but had threatened to drop her grade by one letter if she missed any more classes. So she only had three days to get it together. Jarvis, whom she was really appreciating at this moment, had given her a few starting points. The first was that Roselli called San Francisco home base. The second was that he was apparently pretty high in the Immigration Department there. The third was that Roselli's acquaintance with the Steele's apparently began during their first attempt at a honeymoon AND that Roselli and Laura had apparently formed a connection. All in all, this information seemed to validate the crime scene photos. Except-except, except, except...it was such an obvious crime. There should have been no questions; but there had been, by Jimmy Jarvis, and, at one time, Steele. Once again, Jarvis's words beat themselves into Kelly's brain. /He finally had to believe the evidence because there was no evidence to suggest the opposite./ A null positive. Only believable because there was nothing else to believe.
Kelly hailed a cab. One pulled over, nearly hitting her into next week. She climbed into the back seat. "Department of Immigration please."
Everyday it became more and more joyous to watch. Oh, such pride taken to such a fall! How glorious to see him suffer and to hopelessly blame the little bitch who had seemed to lead so charmed a life! Oh no longer! It had been done. The right hand of God had struck. A perfect sword took years to create, but like that famed sword Excalibur, this sword was a perfect blade which hacked and sliced enemies in beautiful arcs. And these arcs included the suffering old man living in earthly damnation and memories. Like the snake in the Garden of Eden, one was wise to remember the surest downfall of Remington Steele had been a woman. How glorious these past thirty years had been! The perfect crime against the perfect pair of detectives, destroying a partnership which had destroyed three lives. And now Steele suffered as he had suffered, only Steele couldn't even have the security of knowing Laura Holt had been faithful. How perfectly grand!
"Oh Mr. Henshaw! My dear man,
what are you doing crouching in my flowers!"
The old man jumped up in surprise. "I-ah. Ah...I don't-"
"Matthew, are you alright?" Lillian Chatsworth walked up to the elderly man, touching his arm gently. Matthew blinked his eyes, unsure of what the woman was talking about. "Eh?"
"I said, are you alright? I cam out here to water my plants and you were sitting in my calla lilies, looking through the fence."
Old Henshaw shook the woman's light touch off. "I'm alright! Where's my daughter? I want my daughter!" He backed away from the rose bushes. "Where's my girl?"
Lillian Chatsworth backed up slightly. "Yes, Mr. Henshaw. I'll call your daughter. It's alright. Just stay right here." She walked back into the house to phone Alicia Compton. /Crazy old man./
"Mrs. Chatsworth, I don't care
to talk to anyone."
Lillian smiled in a treacly way at her grouchy neighbor. He had been such a nice looking man once. "Yes, Mr. Steele, I know. I just thought I would inform you that Mr. Henshaw was in my garden, spying on you once again."
His accent and eyes were ice. This infernal woman had annoyed him with her busybodiness since he had exiled himself here so many years ago. She reminded him of Mil-no...her cheerful pushiness tended to remind him of Abigail Holt in the worst way.
"Lillian, please, Mr. Steele. We ARE neighbors-"
"Mrs. Chatsworth, I don't care if he's trying to contact UFOs. I asked you once that you not bother me and just call whomever it is you call for the old man. God bless him for his forgetfulness. I wish could share in it."
The door slammed on her face. Lillian Chatsworth's smile melted into a scowl. /Bastard./
She stomped back to her house without a trace of the elegant air she had shown earlier.
"Ms. Brannigan, your eleven-fifteen
is here....and oh my, is it an interesting one."
A slight smile crossed her boss's lips. Rina did have a tendency to be melodramatic. "Send her in Rina."
The appointment walked in. Not this time. The kid couldn't have been more than twenty and looked like a cross between a thrift store and a pincushion. The Director of Personnel stood up, extending her hand. "Hello. I'm Melissa Brannigan. You must be Kelly Landry. Please sit down."
The human pincushion sat down in the chair, perched nervously on the edge. "Thanks. Yeah, I am. Um, look, I came to find out some things."
Melissa Brannigan sat bank in her leather chair, tapping her pen on the desktop. Her appraising green eyes were making Kelly more than a bit nervous. Finally she spoke, making Kelly jump about three feet in the air. "Yes, you mentioned something about someone who worked here about thirty years ago." Her appraising gaze didn't lessen.
Kelly was starting to get pissed off. She knew she looked a little odd, but for crying out loud, the least the woman could do was hide her distaste! "Yeah, he worked here thirty years ago until he was found dead in a hotel room, apparently of a suicide after blowing away his lover."
"Why would you need to come see me?" The woman's face and eyes were unreadable. Kelly was rapidly losing large amounts of patience. Was everybody who worked for a government agency like this? Mentally counting to ten and reminding herself that attacking a government agent carried fifteen to twenty with it, Kelly swallowed her anger and smiled tightly.
"Because the woman he was found dead with was one of his cases. AND he had chased her and her husband across South America and Europe and apparently got them involved in some espionage activity he was involved in." Kelly met the woman's condescending gaze with one of her own. "And I'm researching that little fact."
The administrator rolled her eyes at the melodramatic tone the kid had. "Look honey, here it is, plain and simple. If it happened thirty years ago, so what? Unless it's a matter of national security, it's not news here. The fact that one of our own decided to bang one of his cases is not considered important, unethical maybe. Now if you'll excuse me-"
"No, but the fact that he was found dead with one of the top detectives in the state at the time WOULD be news. Matter of fact, it was news enough to splash all over the papers thirty years ago." Kelly quickly interrupted the woman's brush off. When Melissa Brannigan glared at her, Kelly grinned innocently. "'Course at the time, you were nothing but a little pissant secretary who took Tony Roselli's messages. You and another chick, who I haven't been able to trace down."
Melissa Brannigan, Director of Fraud and Securities, glared at the trashy little Rainbow Brite sitting in the chair. "Alright kid, first of all, if you want information from somebody, try not to insult them first, okay?"
Kelly sat up. "You were about to walk out like I wasn't even here anyway. Look, I know you're busy, I just need a few answers. And I did make an appointment."
Brannigan glanced at her watch. "Okay honey, I can give you fifteen minutes. So whatever you ask, make it good." Her jade-like eyes twinkled merrily. "Of course, you've already cut through half the pleasantry crap, so let's get on with it."
/She's okay./ Kelly showed the murder photo. "This is what I'm talking about. See, you gotta remember this."
Melissa looked at the photo. "God, that was so long ago." She gave the photo back to Kelly Landry. "Sorry, hon. Wish I could help you, but it was only a big deal around here in so much as to see if anything shady in terms of international crime activity went on."
"So you can't tell me anything?"
"Uh, I dunno." Kelly ran a hand through her hair. "Anything. You were an assistant in his office. Did he receive any unusual calls? Did anybody name Laura Steele call? Were any weird messages left? Anything?"
Brannigan sat back in her chair, tapping a pen against her mouth. She was silent for so long, Kelly cleared her throat. "Hmm?" Kelly nodded expectantly. "Oh sorry. Well, I had only been here a couple of months, just out of college maybe a year. Ummm...mostly I was a gofer, so yeah, I worked for Roselli, but I worked for anyone who needed me to do something."
"So? There has to be something."
"Well," Melissa leaned forward. "Okay. This is what I do remember. I met Roselli after he had been involved in the espionage thing in London and Ireland. A lot of rumors were flying around about him."
Kelly Landry leaned forward. "Like what?"
"Well, essentially that he was into some stuff that the department had tried to cover up and that going after the Steeles, at least according to his co-director, seemed more like personal interest instead of what actually was supposed to be national interest."
"What did you think?"
"Hon, I didn't know him very well. Remember, I had just been hired a few months earlier, when Roselli was still in Europe."
"Right. Anyway, the other director, Ashton was his name, used to make cracks that the only thing Tony wanted a piece of was Laura Steele's ass. Like you said, the Steeles were big names in this state at the time. And, in fairness to Roselli and Immigration, they were married under some pretty suspicious circumstances."
/Okay, now would not be a good time to volunteer about the almost-marriage to the hooker./ "Yeah, but Roselli wasn't their original caseworker. I already checked that out. First it was Estelle Becker, then Norman Keyes, who was mysteriously murdered while the Steeles were on their honeymoon in South America."
"Keyes,." Melissa Brannigan rolled her eyes. "Now THERE was a pig. At least Tony knew how to take a hint. Trust me, no one was mourning around here when he kicked the bucket."
"Yeah, but what about Roselli and Laura Steele? That's what I need to know." Kelly sighed in frustration. "Look, I came all the way up from L.A. to get SOMETHING, anything about what Tony Roselli might have been doing in that hotel room with Laura Steele."
"Apparently having an affair." Melissa smiled. "Sorry kiddo, hate to burst your romantic bubbles, but maybe she and Steele weren't that great off. I mean, from what Roselli said, she and he apparently made a connection. Maybe it went further. And now that you mention it, I did take a message from her once. Didn't think anything of it at the time. I'd forgotten about that."
"No. I don't why, but I don't think so. Things aren't adding up. Just---" Kelly leaned forward, desperately searching for something, any crumb Melissa Brannigan may be able to throw at her. "Do you have any available files to the public about the case? Anything?"
Melissa grabbed a piece of paper, scribbling something down in uniform, uninteresting script, nothing like Laura's wavy, dancing manuscript. "Here. Take this piece of paper and go up to the third floor. Ask to see Mike and show him this paper. We've got a file a mile thick on the investigation that went on with Roselli's death. Had to make sure he wasn't involved in anything that could compromise security, y'know? And then go to SFPD headquarters and ask for the investigation. That's a start, right?"
Kelly looked at the woman in surprise. "Thanks. Look, ah-you're not going to get in any sort of trouble for this, right?"
"Nah. It's public record." She looked at her watch. "Hate to end this, but I've got a meeting to get to."
"Uh, yeah. And thanks." Kelly quickly ran up to the third floor, looking for a guy named Mike.
A smile spread across a face twisted
by hate and evil. Insanity hidden under gentility. So horrible,
that tender suffering of love betrayed. /So arrogant you once
were, you bastard. And now you dance to my tune. I only wish the
bitch who helped you was still alive so she could suffer, but
it wasn't really her. She had to die...die rotting with a lover.
I had to make you hate her. It was always you. So I wanted you
to suffer as we suffered. And I will always be here to remind
Remington Steele passed the cemetery,
seeing the grave sites lying side by side over the stone fence,
both left alone, overgrown and filthy. Not that he ever had the
bravery to come back. Mildred's he might have come and visited,
if it hadn't been for the other one, with its intricately carved
Celtic cross. He had been avoiding it for years to keep away from
prurient observers who might dare to ask him about the greatest
pain of his life. Now, it had become a macabre amusement for mystery
hunters. This is what leaving was about, being forgot and left
to die, alone and betrayed. He tried to draw up some of the old
anger toward the s-Laura. Her name had been Laura. And even now,
as much as he tried to keep his hate of her death in his soul,
he couldn't. He was dying by inches and she was calling him to
death. The memory of the murder scene still lay on his heart like
a fresh scab. If he could have found one thing-one damned scrap
of evidence, something to have burned away her once fleeting (at
least he had thought so) attraction to that bastard Roselli.
/All I asked was for one thing to hold on to. To trust one person without any lies or subterfuge. I thought that was you. When it came down to your favorite thing...the hard cold facts...the life blood of a detective, you once called them. I had to believe the hard cold facts...because you left me nothing else, Laura. Damn you anyway./
His eyes narrowed. Someone was dropping flowers again. His eyes, old though they may be, were still as sharp as an eagle's. Someone was leaving white daisies on her grave.
"Sooo...Mike! You knew Roselli?"
Kelly had met so many government agents and police officers since
starting this paper, she was starting to feel like /she/ worked
for the FBI.
Mike stared at her over the rims of his bifocals, chomping away on a burrito. He swallowed a mash of beef and cheese, grabbing for a napkin. "You're the kid Brannigan said she was buzzing up here. Whadya wanna know about big Tony?"
/Big Tony? Who the hell calls themselves Big Tony unless they work for the Mafia like Gina Callucci's cousin Joe?/ "Yeah. She told me you knew him and that you talked to him the day he got killed, right before he left."
Another huge bite of cholesterol. "Yup. Tony and me, we worked together for years, since the military, actually. See, we were both in the espionage end of this stuff. That is, until he kicked the bucket."
Kelly bit her lip. The guy's bluntness might actually work to her advantage, since he seemed to dispense with the bullshit pretty quick. "So what kind of conversation did y'all have when he left that day he got shot? I mean, from what Melissa Brannigan said, she was one of his assistants and you guys were going back and forth. What were you talking about?"
Mike looked annoyed. "How the hell should I know? It was thirty years ago! What do I look like? The late night news?"
"Look, the guy was your friend. You can't remember what you were talking about before he ended up with a self-inflicted bullet in his head? I'd remember something like that."
"Sweetheart, knowing us, we were probably talking about the Lakers versus the Pacers. All I know is we were having lunch, one of his assistants said he had a call, and he took it. Then he left to go meet who called him."
Kelly leaned forward, listening, ready to grasp at any straw. "WHO called him?" She pressed her luck. "Was it Laura Holt? Did he tell you?"
"Nah!" Mike glared at her. "God, you're a nosy-ass kid! If you're asking if I know who called, yeah I do! That kid that was one of his assistants-"
"Nah, the other one! What was her name?" Mike closed his eyes, trying to go back thirty years. "Ahh-I don't remember. Anyways, she says he's got a call from Laura Holt. He kinda looks at her and looks at me, picks up the phone and talks to her."
"Did he look happy that she called?"
"Ehh..I guess. Tony was a pretty happy guy. And the only reason I knew who Laura Holt was is because we sorta discussed our cases. Seems they had a little thing going on when he was chasing her and that pretty-boy detective of hers across half the damn world." He chuckled. /He wishes. Laura had pretty much written Tony off by London./ Kelly thought sourly, thinking back to Laura's journals. "So they had a 'thing' going on for a while?"
"Yeah, Tony always did like women. Funny though, this one wasn't his usual type. He liked 'em tall, blonde, and with huge-"
"Yeah, anyway. So he left. Did he take a gun with him?"
"Did he always do that?"
"Well, unless he was going to visit his parents. Said they made his ma nervous."
"Right. So the intern gave him the message and he left."
Kelly pursed her lips together. She knew the police had probably done a cursory questioning of all those parties who had know victim and murderer. And if Mike had said that crap about Laura and Tony having flings on her honeymoon to Steele...well, geez, no wonder Steele tended to be guarded. Still...she thought back to Laura's journal's and Jarvis's words. /I knew Steele and I knew Laura. No way./
She offered her hand. "Well Mike, you've been an absolute joy of a human being to talk with. Thanks a lot."
Mike shook her hand, glaring at her. "I don't like smart-ass kids. Now, if you will excuse me. I gotta get back to work."
Kelly got up and walked down the polished stairs. She silently thanked an unknowing Jarvis for giving her a name to get access to records in the SFPD.
/What the?/ Kelly almost did a backflip down the aisle of the return bus, making plans to nominate Jarvis for canonization. They even had tape recording which had come from Roselli's office, a common procedure with government entities, she was assured. Maybe she was getting her break. She pulled out the report and sunk into reading another take on the murder of Laura Steele.
/You're not a detective./
/Who are you? Where did you come from?/
/A compromise...six months of my life for one night of yours./
/If you asked me, I don't think I could say no.../
/I'm not going to waste time.../
An old man stared out the window, wondering when he had failed so miserably and when he had lost possibilities.
/The great detective Remington Steele, indeed../