Early morning dew still lay on the neatly manicured Arlington lawns when the doorbell rang in the Stetson household.
Amanda, startled awake, glanced at the clock, as her husband Lee threw back the covers and stood up. "Who could that be at this hour?" she wondered groggily. Lee shrugged and grabbed a bathrobe. Wide awake now, Amanda followed suit and the pair headed downstairs. Good thing the boys are heavy sleepers, their mother thought; Still a couple of hours until they've got to be up for school. She only hoped 17 month old Jennifer slept through the commotion. If the rambunctious toddler woke up, then the whole household would soon follow.
Glancing through the peephole as he opened the front door, Lee's eyes widened slightly. "It's Laura and the kids!" he softly exclaimed, and swung the door wide. Both Lee and Amanda were shocked to see a very distraught Laura Holt Steele on their doorstep, newborn Brian in her arms, young Katie Laura, standing sleepily at her side.
"Remington has left us," she said flatly.
"What?" "Are you certain?" Lee and Amanda said together.
"Yes of course I'm certain," Laura huffed, and pressed past Amanda into the house. Amanda glanced around the entrance but didn't see anyone else. "And no, I'm not certain at all. Oh, I don't know what to think." Her voice rang with exhaustion, anger and frustration.
The Stetsons followed Laura into the living room, where their unexpected visitor sank down into an overstuffed chair. Katie Laura climbed up next to her mother, her thumb stuck in her mouth, a well-loved stuffed bunny clutched in her other hand. No sooner had she sat, then Brian began to wail.
All Amanda's maternal instincts kicked in. Less than a month away from her own due date, she felt for Laura's predicament. Reaching out her arms in an unspoken offer, Laura looked thankful and let Amanda take her baby. She rummaged in her overstuffed diaper bag and handed Amanda a bottle of milk. This served to quiet the baby and Amanda settled into the rocker with her now-happy charge.
Relieved of that responsibility for the moment, Laura sprang up and began blindly pacing the small room, coming close to running into furniture but not seeming to notice. Lee and Amanda exchanged worried looks. On her next pass in front of him, Lee gently reached out to grab Laura's arms and guide her to sit beside him on the couch.
"Take it easy there, Laura, hold on. Just sit, take a deep breath and tell us what's going on. Let me bring you something to drink," he offered and immediately went to the kitchen, coming back shortly with a mug of hot tea.
Laura took it without comment and sipped silently for a few moments, her brow furrowed.
Glancing at Amanda and getting a nod, Lee calmly said, "Now, that's better. Laura, I want you to focus, and start at the beginning for us."
Abruptly, Laura wrinkled her nose and put the mug of tea on the end table. "It's chamomile..." she said distractedly, "I hate chamomile..."
Another look of concern passed between Lee and Amanda. Laura sighed and finally looked up into the faces of her friends.
"It started yesterday, with a phone call..."
Laura walked into the kitchen of hers and Remington's Los Angeles home just as he hung up the telephone. His back to her, his face hidden, he looked tense, unnaturally still. He looked up at her approach and whatever emotion had been chasing across his features was quickly masked.
"Who was that?" Laura asked curiously as she took off her coat.
"Oh nothing, just one of those annoying salesmen -- thinks we need something we don't," he lightly replied.
"Oh," she said as he gave her a quick welcoming kiss on the cheek. "You know you don't have to listen to them!"
"Mmmm, yes," he murmured. He busied himself getting a glass of water as she began to tell him about her day's work. Their latest client had provided several leads, which they had both spent most of the day tracking down. They'd split up to cover more ground and finish the legwork faster. Steele nodded as he listened, making perfunctory grunts of agreement; his manner was distant, but Laura, in her enthusiasm for the case's many intricacies, failed to take note of it then.
"I'm famished, love," Remington finally interrupted her to say. "No doubt Maggie has the children already fed. Let's go get dinner at the Dragon and I can fill you in on my results there."
He offered Laura her coat and ushered her out the door before she could say anything more.
* * *
The restaurant was crowded at this time of night, but Laura took advantage her husband's well-known name to get them seated ahead of the line.
Well, it worked! she silently congratulated herself as the waiter pushed in her chair. Steele hadn't even raised an eyebrow at her blatant bending of the rules.
An hour later, their meal almost finished, Laura was discussing the next day's cases when Remington asked, playing with his chopsticks in almost too casual a manner, "If you were in trouble, Laura, who would you go to?"
Laura looked surprised at the abrupt change of topic. "What kind of trouble?" she responded.
"Who knows?" Remington shrugged. "You know, trouble."
"Why?" Laura was immediately suspicious. "Who's in trouble?"
"Laura," he said, and she heard exasperation but also something else in his tone, something she couldn't put her finger on. "It's a hypothetical question," he explained. "Like what if you won the lottery?"
She gave him a look. His blue eyes shone as if to say, "Trust me, I'm just a playful puppy dog." She glanced away, blew out a breath. Then answered, "Fine. Whatever. If I was in trouble I'd go to you."
There was a grateful softening around his eye for a moment, before his mouth grew sardonic and he said, "Let's say I'm not here. Who would it be?"
"Why are we having this conversation? It would still depend on the situation. I don't know. Murphy, I guess."
"Not good enough," he immediately responded.
Laura's patience began to fray. "Well, why don't you tell me then? Sheesh, I don't know why you ask if you're just going to tell me the answer."
"You know who I'd go to?" He leaned over the table to her like he was imparting some clever secret. She couldn't help herself and leaned forward too.
"Lee!" she exclaimed in surprise. "Why him? How could he help?"
"Oh, I don't know." Remington gave her an odd look and started finger-walking his fortune cookie across his knuckles. "Because sometimes when you're in trouble you need to use the biggest stick you can find."
She all but laughed. "What makes you think Lee would be a big stick?"
Remington shrugged and pulled his gaze away. "Oh, just a feeling. Sort of a sixth sense I've got. All that skulking about in my misspent youth. The romantic air of D.C. -- seat of the government and all that."
Laura rolled her eyes. "You've been watching Walter Matthau's 'Hopscotch' again, haven't you?" she said sternly, softening it with a smile.
They finished up their coffee and opened their fortune cookies. Laura read aloud: "Much fortune awaits he who works hard. "She looked over for his, but Remington shook his head, he hadn't opened it.
"I already know what mine says." He reached out to touch her hair. But he stopped himself and said abruptly, checking his watch, that they should go.
On the way home, Laura noticed Remington's eyes strayed more often than usual to the rear view mirror. Her attempts at conversation were greeted with noncommittal noises or silence. He certainly seems distracted tonight, she thought. But just as she was about to ask him what was the matter, Remington spoke up out of the blue.
"I think you need to get away," he stated. Staring straight ahead, he continued, "You've been looking tired lately."
"What?" Laura said in disbelief. "I'm fine!"
Remington studied her, concern written large on his face. "Seriously, Laura, I think you've been working too hard, you don't want to overdo it. You've just had a baby, after all."
Laura shook her head. "Honestly, Remington, I know you feel protective of me but I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself. The doctor said I could start work as soon as I felt ready. Will you stop worrying?"
Laura heard him sharply expel a breath, almost a snort, as if he had been holding it for some time. She tried to gauge his feelings from his face but he wouldn't meet her eyes.
"Yes, well," Remington began hesitantly. He paused briefly then said firmly, "I need some space. I need some time to think about things."
Laura's voice rose in puzzlement as she asked, "What things?"
With an odd edge of dissatisfaction to his voice, Remington replied, "Oh, you know, baby number two comes along. Nappies all over again. Bottles in the middle of the night. It's all a bit much to take in." He concentrated on his driving, sped up the car to merge into faster traffic. "I need some time to think things through."
Laura sat frozen, stunned. As Remington switched lanes, he quickly scrutinized the mirror on her side of the car and that was enough for Laura to catch his expression -- closed. Hard. She suddenly became aware of the road they were traveling and realized he wasn't heading home. They were nearing the airport, and she hadn't even noticed. That jolted her out of her shock.
"What are you doing? Why aren't we going home?"
"Don't you understand what I mean by space!" he said angrily. "I can't keep this up until I've figured out who I am, how I'm supposed to be a father when I never had one until it was too late. And I can't do that with you and the children around, with the constant reminder of how my life has irrevocably changed whether I like it or not."
He jerked into the airport parking lot and parked the car with a squealing of brakes. Laura felt as if she'd been slapped in the face. As Remington got out and opened her door, she pushed the hurt away deep inside her and glared at him.
"You picked a fine time to tell me you're having second thoughts!" she retorted.
He practically pulled her out and began to steer her by her elbow towards the terminal.
"Remington!" she said forcefully as he walked briskly inside and headed for a gate, all the while clasping her arm. "You can't go anywhere until you explain what's going on!" Her head was spinning.
Steele said nothing, just continued walking down the endless corridor, eyeing the flight information screens above his head. He finally answered her as they approached security at the gate. "It's not me, Laura. It's you." He let go of her arm and turned to face her. "I need time away and this will be a good chance for you to get some vacation in. It's all been taken care of." He thrust a packet into her hands. "I've made all the arrangements." He nodded his head toward the gate.
Maggie stood there, both children in tow, bewilderment obvious in her face.
Laura hardly glanced at the tickets. "I guess you certainly have!" she stormed at him. "You've been thinking about this a long time, haven't you? I can't believe I didn't see it coming. I guess I've been in such a hormone-laden fog I wouldn't have figured it out until I came home to an empty house!" Her anger threatened to boil away into tears, but she wouldn't let it.
Remington argued with her. "I didn't say I was divorcing you! We just need a little time apart. A long weekend. Maybe a week. Just to get things in perspective."
He opened his mouth to add another argument but then abruptly he closed it, reached out and almost shakily kissed her on the forehead. Laura's eyes widened. Remington said quietly, "I'm sorry. But I can't be doing this anymore. Now just get on the damn plane, Laura."
He gave her a nudge towards the security scanner as the loudspeaker blared the final boarding call, and he turned and left.
"So the tickets were to D.C.?" Lee asked.
"Yes," Laura said softly.
In the middle of the line of passengers gathering to board the plane, Laura stood with Brian asleep in the snuggly, and Katie Laura clinging to her hand. Maggie hovered helplessly beside her, unsure what exactly had just happened. Laura hadn't said anything to her friend and employee, she merely stared after her disappearing husband, then down at the tickets. She pulled back the envelope flap: Washington DC. Where Lee and Amanda lived. She gazed unseeing at the crowd of strangers swirling around her. Remington was gone.
Into Laura's field of vision stepped a clean-cut young blond-haired man wearing glasses and tweed.
"Excuse me," he began apologetically, almost stuttering, "but I'm trying to catch American Flight 260 to Washington, DC. so that I can connect to the one to London and then I'm headed to Egypt and there's all this insanity with Customs and stuff and is this the right flight?"
His blue-grey eyes hopefully peered into hers, which gazed at a spot in the distance. "Um, ma'am? Are you all right? Can I get you something?" He pushed his glasses higher up on his nose, looking more closely at her, and then her condition became clear to him. "Er, uh, do you need to sit down?" he said nervously.
Brought back from her reverie, Laura blinked and stared at him. She held up her tickets and again contemplated the flight information. Yes. American Flight 260. The flight attendant came over; nearly everyone else had boarded and he needed to hurry them up. Was she boarding or not?
"And you got on the plane?" Amanda asked.
Laura snorted. "Are you kidding?"
"I grabbed Maggie and the kids, marched out of there and tried to hail a cab, but I realized I didn't have enough money, so we had to go back inside through the security gate to the cash machine," Laura recounted. "Then outside again to hail another cab and go home. We couldn't have been more than 20 minutes behind him." Her tone dropped to a whisper. "But that was enough..."
The door was unlocked. Cautiously Laura pushed it open with a hand. The house was dark. Empty. Maggie had taken the tired children to the gatehouse to sleep there for the night, so Laura was truly alone. Walking around the rooms, Laura felt the emptiness bearing down on her, as if it was a physical weight.
Her husband had already come and gone. Some of his clothes were missing from their neatly lined up hangers in his closet. Checking under the bed, Laura couldn't find his suitcase. But what distressed her the most was discovering that all of his old passports were missing. The feeling of deja vu threatened to overwhelm her and she had to sit down abruptly before she collapsed. Not again, not again, why did you leave me? she despaired.
Her mind whirled. Perhaps Remington was in some kind of trouble and didn't want to tell her. Or perhaps he really did leave her because he wanted space. Or was he tired of her? Especially now, after two pregnancies, she supposed she had lost a bit of her younger, more attractive figure, at least to her mind. She didn't know if she could handle it if the latter were true; images of blonde bombshells from Remington's past flashed before her mind's eye.
It took so long for him to be honest with me, she thought. Can he really be tired of living with the same woman day after day? Is our life together so boring?
"No! I'm not giving up so easily!" she exclaimed.
Shaking her head sharply, Laura picked up the telephone and made several calls. But no one had seen Steele. No one knew anything about his plans. He hadn't checked into any area hotels. She put in a call to Murphy Michaels, who answered on the second ring.
Her former associate's concern for her was evident in his voice. "I'm sorry, Laura, I haven't seen him. The last time we talked was a week or so ago, he seemed okay to me. I wish I knew where else to tell you to look. But Laura, you can't get yourself all worked up until you know the facts."
Laura sighed. "I know, and I'm trying not to worry. Never mind, Murphy, I'm sure he'll be back soon. Thanks."
Disconnecting, Laura tried Lee and Amanda's house, but after several rings their answering machine picked up. Not wanting to needlessly alarm them, she left a vague message.
Fighting back her rising sense of desperation, Laura grabbed her car keys and went looking for Remington in his favorite pub, at the cinema, anywhere she could think of. She searched the agency's office, hoping for any clues to his whereabouts. Several hours of fruitless investigation later, she returned home to the desolate house. As the clock in the foyer struck eleven, Laura saw the airline ticket, still on the table where she'd placed it.
For some reason Remington had thought Lee would understand -- would help her. Well, fine, she decided. But just in case, she left a note for Steele on the kitchen table.
Laura finished her story and slowly exhaled. "So here we are," she told Lee and Amanda. "Now what do you know?" She glanced pleadingly to each of them. They stared blankly back at her.
"Nothing," Amanda said quietly, slowly rocking Laura's sleeping infant. "Well, not nothing, obviously. But nothing about this. We haven't spoken to Remington since..." She paused, obviously trying to remember. "I guess since we were all at the ranch this past summer. We heard your message on the machine last night but that's all we know." Her eyes were wide with concern. "But I'm sure there's a perfectly good reason why he left, and it wasn't because he doesn't love you, Laura."
Lee nodded. "The guy's crazy about you, no doubt about it."
Laura smiled weakly in gratitude for their support.
"However, I hate to say it, Laura, this worries me," Lee continued. "Remington must have thought he was in over his head, but why didn't he just come to me himself?"
The three pondered this a moment, contemplating what to do next.
Lee stood up decisively. "I'm going to head to L.A. and see what I can find out there."
Amanda nodded her agreement. "I can call up some of our contacts and see if they know of anything going on that could concern Remington," she volunteered.
"I'm going with you," Laura informed Lee, the confidence back in her manner. Her brown eyes glimmered determinedly.
Lee frowned. "Laura, I'm sorry but I don't think that's a good idea." He raised a hand to ward off her protestations and said gently, "I believe Remington thought that whatever was going on was something that could harm you and the kids."
Laura pursed her lips in frustration.
"Remington's first impulse was to get you three, not only out of the house, but out of the state. That means that there is something or someone very bad in town." The gravity of his words cast a pall over the three friends.
Lee went on, "We know you can take care of yourself, no one's doubting that, but what about Katie and Brian?" He looked steadily at Laura until she finally dropped her gaze in defeat.
"Alright, you win, I'll stay here," she grumbled and threw up her hands. "But I'll be right by the phone, call as soon as you find anything."
Lee's smile lit up the room. "You bet!"
Lee investigated every possible lead to Remington's location in the City of Angels, to no avail. It appeared that Steele had just vanished off the face of the earth. No ATM activity. No hotels. No passport use.
That's odd, considering what Laura said about finding his passports missing, Lee mused as he headed back to the detective agency's offices to reconnoiter after a long day of searching. It's not looking good. Usually only bodies disappear this thoroughly, he thought dejectedly.
Tossing his keys down onto Remington's desk, Lee sat heavily into the leather chair. I'd better call Amanda and Laura soon, but how do I tell them I've come up empty-handed? he thought sadly.
He pulled open a few desk drawers at random, unwilling to give up the search. Something about the bottom drawer didn't feel right as he pulled it open. Yanking hard, he jerked it out of its track and dumped the contents: some manila file folders. Examining it more closely, he discovered a false bottom, which concealed a large crumpled envelope. Pulling it out, Lee saw that it was addressed to Remington at his home address. The agent looked at the postmark: the day before Remington shoved Laura onto a plane and vanished.
Inside the envelope were pictures; Lee carefully spread them out. They were all of Laura and the kids. At first it appeared Remington might have taken them, because they were personal. Close up. Intimate. Laura laughing, smiling. Laura reading Katie a book, weeding the garden. Even one of her nursing Brian.
Then Lee realized the truth: these were more like surveillance photos. And there was an odd aspect to them. The images were getting near and near to Laura, and the last one was very close: an image of Laura looking up startled into the camera. With the photos Lee found a note, that said simply: "Yes or No?"
A sudden cold chill came over Lee. Oh no. So this was the threat that had made Remington act the way he had.
Lee gathered up the photos and headed out the door to hail a cab. Arriving at his hotel, he was deep in thought as he went upstairs to his suite and let himself in, mentally preparing his phone conversation with Amanda and Laura. So he was utterly surprised to see, sitting on his hotel sofa, Laura Holt Steele.
"Laura!!" Lee yelped. "What are you doing here?!" He frowned at her. "You shouldn't be here, it's dangerous." He glanced around the room.
"Is Amanda with you?" he asked suspiciously.
Laura had stood up at his entrance. "No, I slipped out of the house while she was on the phone. I know she'll take good care of the Brian and Katie while I'm gone. Don't be mad, Lee. I just couldn't stay away doing nothing," she explained. "He's my husband. And I am a detective."
She held his gaze with her own stubborn one. Lee sighed and set his wallet and other items down on the end table.
"I should have known I couldn't keep you away. Well, two heads are better than one, and I was about to call you to tell you I haven't found any leads yet." Lee deliberately kept his eyes away from the crumpled envelope on the table. "Let me call Amanda and tell her you're alright, and we'll plan our next moves. Don't go anywhere!" he reprimanded Laura, who simply nodded. He went into the adjoining bedroom to phone his wife.
Minutes later, Lee returned to Laura and found her sitting on the couch, with the photos of her from the envelope spread out around her. His heart sank. She studied them and then peered up at him, her face grave.
"This is why, isn't it? This is why he left. It really is because of me after all."
Her tone was matter-of-fact, but Lee could hear the barely controlled emotions underneath it.
"Yes," was Lee's heavy response. He sat down in a chair next to her and held her hand as the tears came.
Remington Steele crouched behind a pillar at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and mentally cursed Julian Forsythe for the hundredth time. How he yearned to just put his hands around Forsythe's neck and slowly squeeze the breath out of the despicable man. At least I've gotten my family out of his reach, Steele thought with relief.
He scanned the room again with his slim binoculars, taking note of the red laser beams sweeping across at several angles. He trained his gaze on the security guard at his desk just as the telephone rang and the guard answered it. Remington's thoughts went back to another phone call, a week earlier...
"Steele here," the detective briskly answered. The smarmy British-accented voice on the other end of the line caused him to drop his coffee cup with a clatter. He glanced up, but the office door was closed and Laura hadn't heard.
"Oh, so it's Steele now, is it? Why Harry, couldn't you come up with something cleverer than that?" the voice cheerfully asked.
Forsythe. Long-dormant memories swirled unbidden through Remington's mind -- dark memories of a hungry young boy on the streets of London, forced to pick pockets but not being able to keep the spoils; memories of a sneering, rough-faced man who backhanded the boy on a whim; memories of other, nastier things.
Steele's voice became brittle as ice. "How did you get this number?"
A low rumbling laugh came over the line. "Never you mind. It's been a long time, Harry, my boy. Time for you to let bygones be bygones, and help out an old friendů"
"You were never a friend to me, Forsythe. Never."
"Oh but I was, I was indeed, Harry. Who else would have taken you under his wing and taught you how to survive, but a friend like me?" Forsythe chuckled; the sound was dry sandpaper rubbing against slate. "I set the groundwork for that soft old fool Chalmers to build on."
Steele's blood boiled. "How dare you ring me up out of the blue and insult a true friend of mine?!" he all but shouted into the receiver. He wasn't about to tell this slime ball the real nature of his relationship to Daniel Chalmers. "I'd like to see you say that to my face!"
Another chuckle. "That can be arranged. How about this -- I tell the world about Harry, who masquerades as the great detective Remington Steele? I need a favor, and I think you're the man to grant it. Meet me at O'Malley's in half an hour, or say goodbye to your quaint secret." The line went dead.
Remington reluctantly went to the bar to meet Julian Forsythe. He found him in a smoky back booth. It had been decades, but the thief still looked the same: lean, muscular body; intelligent eyes so brown they appeared black, in a face weathered and scarred; short-cropped thinning dark hair graying at the temples. The detective sat down opposite his former acquaintance and hissed, "Alright, you've got me here. What do you want me to do? Tell me and I'll think about doing it."
He glanced quickly around the room and back to Forsythe. "But if you think the threat of revealing my real identity will work, you're mistaken. Go ahead and tell the press; see if they care. Those who matter already know the truth."
Forsythe grinned contentedly, as if he had known Steele would say that. "Is that any way to greet an old friend? Harry, I'm wounded," he said dramatically.
At Steele's glare, Forsythe cut the play-acting . "I plan to steal the Faberge Czarina Emerald Egg, and I want you to help me do it."
Steele snorted. "You really are a piece of work. There's no way I'll help you, I've been out of the burglary business for years now, in case you haven't noticed. And trying to go after the Czarina Emerald is a fool's quest. It's a national treasure; this is the first time it's been out of the Soviet Union. There's so much security surrounding it, it makes Fort Knox seem like a child's playpen. Not to mention that whoever stole it would be causing an international incident, setting back glasnost by years, and be wanted by Interpol as well as the Russians and the Americans."
He leaned back in his seat. "And stop calling me Harry."
Forsythe raised his eyebrows at this. "That's exactly why I need you, Steele," he said smoothly, emphasizing the name and managing to make it sound repulsive at the same time. "You're an expert in museum security, and you keep up with today's politics. I would think you'd be willing to help me out, for a cut of the profits, and for old times' sake."
Remington couldn't repress a slight shudder. "Our 'old times' were not good, mate," he said angrily. "I still have scars from those 'old times.' I'm not a child anymore, Forsythe, you can't twist my arm and make me do what you want."
His blue eyes held the thief's black gaze; he was rapidly losing his patience with the whole conversation. "And money is not a concern of mine. Even if you could manage to find a buyer for the egg or the emerald it contains. The answer is no."
But Forsythe only grinned, a nasty grin holding the promise of evil.
"Okay then, I can see you have made up your mind. But wait and see if I can't find something to persuade you."
"You don't have anything I need," Remington brusquely replied.
"Not yet, no," Forsythe said with a small smile. He laughed, stood up swiftly and exited the bar. Remington was left with the tab, and a bad feeling in his gut.
Still in his reverie at the Museum, Steele blinked as he recalled how that bad feeling had become worse the day the photos arrived.
Remington had no premonition that the large manila envelope lying on the kitchen table held anything more sinister than tax forms, or a sample magazine issue, or something equally benign. Sorting through his mail that day, with Laura eating a late dinner opposite the table from him, he was only mildly curious as he opened the flap. There was no return address; it had been postmarked from Van Nuys. But one glance at the first photo and he quickly put it back in the envelope, without drawing his wife's attention, and casually got up from the table.
Laura looked up as he told her he was going into his office for a bit. "Don't wait up, I may be late coming to bed," he called over his shoulder as he left the room.
"Okay," she replied as she went back to her meal.
In the sanctity of his office, with the door locked, Remington slowly removed all the photos and paged through them. His temperature rose with each view. By the last photo, attached to a note, his hands were shaking with rage. The note read: "Yes or No?"
Remington dropped the pictures and suddenly crushed the empty envelope into a ball, throwing it hard against the wall. As it dropped harmlessly to the floor, its momentum spent, Remington sagged at his desk, his anger vented. A sob burst from his throat and he struggled to keep his composure. he thought passionately. He had always needed and longed for a family, and now that he finally had one, he was damned if he was going to let anyone jeopardize it. He spent most of the night agonizing over his course of action, finally slipping into bed in the early hours of the morning. Laura never stirred beside him.
The next day Remington tried to go about the day's business as if nothing had changed; but inside he knew everything had. He began to set his plan in motion. First and foremost was to get Laura to safety. He had arrived home first from their separate investigations and was in the kitchen getting a snack when the telephone rang.
The sinisterly confident voice on the line said, "I can get at her any time, anywhere I want. You'd better help me or she and the children are going to go missing." Remington's back stiffened, and just at that moment, Laura walked in.
Steele was brought out of his thoughts by the arrival of another museum guard. Moving quickly and quietly, he backed out of the room they guarded and walked briskly out of the museum's front entrance. At a nearby cafe he called Forsythe, and they finalized their plan to steal the world's most valuable peace offering.
Working together, Laura and Lee began to uncover Steele's trail. Lee was still not comfortable having Laura in Los Angeles, contrary to Steele's wishes, but the agent had to admit that she was an excellent investigator, despite the personal nature of the case She had found clues he'd overlooked, and with the help of one of the Agency's L.A. contacts, supplied by Amanda, they were now on their way to stake out a cafe where Remington had been spotted.
"And I'm telling you again, Laura, please keep a low profile and let me check things out first," Lee said with some exasperation as he drove the rental car down Wilshire Boulevard toward the cafe. His passenger fidgeted in her seat but reluctantly agreed to stay in the car when they arrived. Knowing she might be close to finding Remington again was driving her nearly crazy with impatience.
Lee pulled into the crowded parking lot of the Marie Callendars restaurant and parked in a far corner spot. He scanned the tables outside the eatery as he put his gun into its underarm holster. He noticed Laura staring nervously at it.
"It's okay, Laura, just a precaution. We don't know who we're dealing with or what situation Remington may have gotten himself into."
She nodded. "I know, I'm just not used to seeing you carrying one," she replied.
They waited in silence for an hour, watching the doors of the restaurant and eyeing the diners seated at the tables.
Suddenly Laura saw a familiar dark head and tall thin body stroll casually up to a vacant table and sit down facing the street. She grabbed Lee's arm. "That's him! There he is!" she exclaimed.
Her heart leapt at the sight of her husband and she was halfway out of the car before Lee could seize hold of the door handle and block her escape.
"Laura hold on a minute!" he hissed. He gently pulled her back into the car and shut her door. "I'm going to go over and talk to him and see what's going on. Stay here. Okay?" he admonished.
He got out of the car and walked up to Remington's table, approaching him from behind as he quickly scrutinized the nearby tables. He slid into the seat next to Steele's and muttered quietly in the detective's ear, "Nice to see you again, Steele. Whoa, don't go anywhere yet!" as Remington startled and turned to face his visitor.
"What are you -- how did you find me?" Steele quietly asked. "You shouldn't be here, don't get yourself involved." His eyes darted across the street and around the tables.
Lee replied, "I got involved when you sent your wife to my doorstep. You mind telling me what's going on, and how I can help?"
He picked up a menu and pretended to be utterly engrossed in the entrees. Steele glanced anxiously at Lee.
"Where's Laura? Is she still at your house?"
"Relax, she's perfectly safe," Stetson answered. He signaled a waiter to take their drink order. "I need to know why you left, why you feel she's in danger. And who's blackmailing you?"
"We found the photos," Lee told him.
Steele groaned softly. "Did Laura see them? No, don't answer that," he said with chagrin. "I might as well tell you, since you're here, and there's not much time left before things happen. There's a bloke from my past who has reared his ugly head and is threatening to kidnap my family if I don't assist him in a little venture he's got planned."
Steele broke off to accept his drink from the server, and waited until he'd left earshot to continue.
"I wanted them all safely out of town and under the strongest protection I could think of; that was you, Lee." Remington looked gratefully at his friend.
Lee squirmed ever so slightly at the compliment, and took a drink, forcing himself not to check out his car.
"Who is this guy, what's he after? Would he carry out his threat?" he asked the detective.
Steele explained, "He was a leader of a gang of pickpockets and thieves back in England when I was young, and he did some terrible things to the kids under his thumb. And yes, he will do what he says he will do." Remington paused and looked inward, recalling another long-locked-up memory. "The reason I was finally able to get away from him was because he went too far: there was a woman who used to live with him who was always nice to me, when there weren't many nice people in my life. But she wound up dead with -- with some of her body parts missing."
He swallowed painfully, then finished with, "His name won't mean anything to you, it's Julian Forsythe -- what?" Remington saw his companion nearly choke on his beverage.
Lee looked a trifle paler.
"Julian Forsythe is a confirmed terrorist," Lee finally said. His eyes blazed. "He's wanted on several charges, by several governments. This is incredible, you say he's here? In L.A.?"
Remington nodded. "I've been planning a museum heist with him over the last several days." He looked pained. "It was the only thing I could do to keep Laura and the children safe, agree to do what he wanted and hope to double cross him at some point." He shook his head ruefully. "But I haven't been able to come up with a good way to do that yet. And now I see why he wants to go after this particular item; he's never been a patriotic Englishman, even when I knew him, and preventing a warming of the Cold War would be just the thing to garner him attention for his so-called terrorist aims," Steele finished in a disgusted tone.
Lee said briskly, "Well, now that I know who we're up against I can call in some reinforcements. And we can come up with a plan to take this guy into custody."
Pulling out his radio, he began going over details with Steele as, across the parking lot, Laura watched their conversation with growing impatience.
He's perfectly fine, and doesn't even look like he's worried one bit about me, she thought testily. I'll just give him a piece of my mind, for making me worry so and not telling me what he was up to.
Without further thought she exited the car and made her way slowly over to the table occupied by the spy and the detective.
Remington was going over the finer points of alarm disabling when he looked up and saw a vision. Blinking, he realized it wasn't a vision after all but really and truly was his wife Laura approaching their table.
His surging joy at the sight of her instantly turned to anger and before Laura could say anything he turned to Lee and gave him a withering look.
"Perfectly safe, is she mate?"
Lee shrugged in embarrassment and tried to apologize, but Steele wasn't listening.
He couldn't stop staring at Laura as she came closer and closer, her mouth in a frown. How I've missed her in such a short time, he thought.
And suddenly in a whir of activity two men in dark suits came out of nowhere to either side of Laura and grabbed her arms. Struggling in their strong grip, she yelled, "Hey! Let me go!" and tried to free a hand to karate chop one of them. Lee and Remington burst out of their chairs toward the trio but before they got any closer one of the goons drew a gun and leveled it at them.
"Don't come any closer or we won't be nice to the lady here," he said in a guttural accented voice.
Stetson and Steele halted in their tracks; Remington locked eyes anxiously with his wife while Lee cast about frantically for opportunities to get behind the men. But the dark-suited duo began backtracking toward a black sedan pulling up next to them; they shoved Laura into the back seat and themselves after her. The one who had spoken called out from the window, "Mr. F says to finish the job tonight!" And the car sped away with a squealing of tires.
Lee galloped toward his rental car, as Steele stood for a moment, staring out at the point where the sedan had vanished.
Then he followed Lee, and as the agent was opening the car door, Remington yelled "No, Lee, wait!" and tackled him from behind, sending him to the ground with an exclamation. Lee got up and brushed himself off, looking confused.
"Sorry about that, but we can't go after her now, as much as I'd like to. You heard him, we have to finish the job and carry out the heist, or he won't let her go." His eyes were pools of cobalt, hard and shiny. "Have you ever robbed a museum, Lee?" he asked rhetorically.
"One more!" Remington whispered to Lee that night as they lay on their backs in the middle of the floor of the Faberge room of the L.A. museum.
Lee sprayed a puff of mist out of the can he carried, and the last laser beam became visible. They inched their way under it and sat up near the glass case housing the Czarina Emerald Egg. He nodded to Lee, who turned and kept watch while Steele cut through the glass case, disabling more alarms as he went. Finally he was able to gently, ever so gently, remove the golden enameled egg from its velvet perch and place it carefully in the bag at his waist. And they went back the way they had come, inch by slow agonizing inch, until they were out the door. No alarms had rung, no guards had come running. Lee had a new begrudging respect for his friend's many talents.
Steele held the bag to prevent it from bouncing as he and Lee ran quietly through the museum, avoiding the guards, and then out into the street. They drove a few blocks to the rendezvous point, an abandoned building with a poorly lit parking lot strewn with rubble and trash. A black sedan was parked in the lot; its lights came on at their approach.
"Are you ready for this?" Lee asked Steele.
The detective nodded briefly; his thoughts were on that car's passengers. The two men exited the vehicle and slowly walked toward the sedan, hands held out from their sides. Remington carried the dark blue velvet bag that contained the Emerald Egg. The sedan's doors opened and out came the dark-suited men, and they were propelling an unwilling Laura in front of them. Her hands were secured behind her back and there was a cloth covering her mouth. One goon had a knife drawn and was gesturing with it as he walked alongside her.
Remington slowly approached the sedan, trying to make eye contact with Laura as best he could.
At that moment, Forsythe stepped out of the vehicle and stood by the driver's side, practically salivating under the streetlight. "Steele, well, well, well -- looks like you keep your promises after all," he said gleefully. "Bring it here!" he said in a colder tone of voice. Remington stepped carefully up to Forsythe, and held out the blue bag. The terrorist grabbed the bag and greedily opened it to examine the merchandise.
"It's there, old boy," Steele said sardonically. "I kept my end of the bargain, how about you?" He tossed his head toward Laura. "Let her go, now!" he spat.
Forsythe, having satisfied his need to know if the egg was genuine, gestured to the two goons to relinquish hold of Laura. When they did so, and ripped the cloth out of her mouth, she kicked one of them on the shin and head-butted the other in the stomach. Remington couldn't help but smile at his wife's determination. And suddenly a bright white spotlight split the air from above them, as a helicopter hovered and several police cruisers and nondescript unmarked cars roared into the lot to surround the sedan.
Lee pulled his gun and aimed it at Forsythe. "Hold it right there, Forsythe. You are under arrest ..."
But Forsythe had jumped back into the vehicle and hit the accelerator, rocketing the car across the lot and towards Remington, who stood in front of the only clear space between police cars.
"Noooo!" Laura screamed as Forsythe aimed right for Remington. Her arms outstretched, she watched helplessly as Steele, wide-eyed, made a desperate lunge to get out of the way of the oncoming vehicle. Lee leaped towards him and yanked him to safety just as the sedan went tearing past them and the two cruisers, onto the roadway.
Forsythe didn't get far. An Agency vehicle gave chase and cornered him a few blocks away, and he was captured. His goons tried to run on foot but gave up soon after when they discovered they were surrounded by agents.
The Soviet authorities were immediately contacted with the Egg on its way back to the museum; international incident averted.
But Remington and Laura were oblivious to the end of Forsythe's bid for freedom and fame; they were in each other's arms and kissing each other as if they'd been parted for months. They didn't even hear the roar of the helicopter rotors as it landed a few yards from their embrace, and disgorged a limping passenger. Finally breaking apart, Remington kept his arms around his wife and looked tenderly into her eyes.
"Can you forgive me for pretending to get mad at you and sending you all away, love?" he asked her, concern in his voice. "I was only trying to keep you safe, and I couldn't tell you why..." he broke off, the agony he'd undergone written on his face.
Laura considered him for a moment, then smiled. "Of course. And I'm sorry I ever doubted you." She turned serious, frowning at him. "But don't you ever do that to me again. You should have told Lee and me from the beginning, called the police, we could have worked together to stop this."
Steele looked embarrassed. "Well, in the past I've always had to deal with things on my own, so I didn't go to the police or anyone else for help because I guess I thought I could take care of this my way. I knew you'd be safe with Lee and Amanda--" now it was his turn to frown at her; she at least blushed a bit-- "while I figured out what to do. And I'm sorry I had to steal again; you know I've given that up, really!" he pleaded as she tried to maintain a serious face and failed miserably.
"Ahem," came a throat-clearing noise behind Remington. He turned, still not letting go of Laura, to see Lee Stetson grinning from ear to ear.
"Guess who I found, ready to come to our rescue?" he asked, and stepped aside to reveal a sheepish Murphy Michaels. Laura gasped in delight and stepped out of Steele's embrace to go hug her former partner
"What are you doing here?" she asked in astonishment. Indeed, everyone had stunned looks of amazement on their faces.
"I was worried," he answered. "Your phone call sounded off to me." He regarded Remington, who gave him a grateful look back. Murphy nodded once, satisfied, and turned to punch Lee on the arm. "But I should've known I had nothing to worry about, not with cousin Lee on the job!"