Murphy Michaels groaned loudly and tried to bury his head deeper into his pillow. The irritating buzz of his clock radio still droned on persistently. At last, unable to ignore it any longer, he reached out an arm and fumbled with the numerous buttons until he found one that silenced the nagging alarm. Somebody really ought to invent a more pleasant way to wake up in the mornings. He could think of a few he wouldn't mind trying, but they could hardly be patented, he supposed.
Fully awake now, he rolled onto his back, folding his arms beneath his head, and stared up at the textured ceiling of his bedroom. He did not want to go to work today, but really couldn't come up with a good excuse not to. His stomach was fine and he didn't have the slightest hint of a headache. He felt like his body had betrayed him in some way.
Finally, unable to put off the inevitable, he sighed and threw back the covers, swinging his legs around to rest on the floor. He sat that way for a brief moment rubbing his bleary eyes. He hadn't slept well. There had been too much going through his mind and those thoughts that had plagued his sleep seemed to have followed him into the morning. It was not going to be a good day.
As he got to his feet to make his way to the shower, his eyes caught sight of the small framed picture on his dresser. Almost against his own volition, he reluctantly walked over and picked it up. He wished he hadn't. Laura's smiling face only made the memory of last night more painful than it already was.
He still didn't know what had made him do it. He wasn't usually so impulsive, but he sensed more and more each day that Laura was slipping away from his reach and he didn't know how to fight for her. He was definitely not in the same league with him. At any rate, he'd ended up at Laura's house, flowers and wine in hand, determined to make his bid, fearing what was developing while he stayed quietly in the background.
He hadn't even gotten out of the car. The shiny black limousine parked in front told him more than he wanted to know. Always one to stay in there pitching as long as there was a chance, he also knew when the game was over. Jamming his car into gear, he'd screeched away, driven around for a long time, then gone home. The trash got the flowers; he drank the wine.
He chuckled drily at his own stupidity. How had he ever hoped Laura would choose him with a guy like that for competition? He glanced at his reflection -- so sadly ordinary. He'd never had a chance, but damn it, it still hurt. He clenched his fist tightly and cursed the day he'd first heard of Remington Steele. Then he relaxed, knowing the hand was played out. He took the picture from its long-time place and carefully laid it face down in a drawer and slowly slid it closed. He then shuffled toward the bathroom. He had to get a move on or he'd be late for work.
Laura Holt jostled her way free from the crowded elevator, thankful to be out of it, and hurried down the corridor. She pushed her way through the double glass doors, even after all this time, letting her eyes rest momentarily on the bold lettering. It was a continuous source of amazement that the improbable hoax had been pulled off, but she had more important things on her mind at the moment. She walked in and headed straight for her office, pausing only briefly at the reception desk. Bernice Foxe was idly sipping at a cup of coffee and lazily sorting the morning mail.
"He in?" Laura asked, picking up the bulk of the mail.
"Not yet," Bernice replied.
Laura chewed her lower lip thoughtfully.
"Anything wrong?" Bernice asked, her face lighting at the prospect of something juicy. It was no news to her that her bosses' relationship with each other bounced back and forth like a tennis match.
Laura shook her head distractedly. "I hope not," she murmured, then moved over once more toward her office. She vaguely registered the slightly open door to the third workroom and Murphy's plaid-shirted back as he poured over notes of some kind.
"Morning, Murph," she called out absently as she passed, not seeing his head come up at the sound of her voice.
She entered her office, threw down the bundle of letters and bills and tossed her hat onto the brass hat rack in the corner. She wondered if Mr. Steele was going to put in an appearance, then had to laugh. It seemed ludicrous to still be calling him Mr. Steele, but she could hardly say "Hey, you" all the time, and he was so damn stubborn and elusive about his real name. That was probably what had started their argument last night. She'd thrown him out in a huff, and while a part of her regretted it and had wanted to call him back, another part was practical and wary of getting hurt. It was an old battle she'd waged with herself many times, whenever things started looking serious.
He seemed to understand her hesitancy, although lately there was less and less of it. Last night's sudden flare-up may have come as a surprise. She sincerely hoped he didn't hold any grudges. He hadn't seemed too mad when he left. At any rate, he had an early appointment today with the Mayor's Committee for Community Service. He had better show or she would happily wring his neck.
Her mind was thus occupied when the inner door connecting Murphy's office to hers opened slightly and his sandy blond head poked in.
"Laura," he called, tapping softly on the door to get her attention.
She looked up suddenly, a bit startled. "Oh... hi, Murph."
"Can I talk to you?" He stepped into the room and closed the door behind him.
"Sure. Be with you in a moment." She picked up the phone and asked Bernice to call Mr. Steele and find out what was keeping him. When she turned her attention back to Murphy, she found him sitting uneasily in a chair, his fingers drumming on its arm.
"What do you need, Murph?" she asked, the major portion of her mind not really on the man in her office.
"Laura... I've been thinking about this for some time." He stood up and wandered over to the file cabinets, his hands jammed into the pockets of his slacks.
"Thinking about what?" She'd finally become aware that something was bothering her friend.
"About the situation here. About you and him." He gestured toward the other door.
"Murphy," Laura began, feeling she knew what was coming. "We've been over this and over this." Her voice was patient and sympathetic. "You're aware of my feelings on the subject."
"Yeah, I guess I am," Murphy agreed with a short laugh.
"Well, then I don't see the point in..."
"The point is," Murphy interrupted, his voice rising, "I don't think I can go on working like this. I've been thinking of turning in my resignation."
"Your what?" Laura rose to her feet in surprise, but the phone rang, forestalling further discussion; it was Bernice.
"Laura, something's up. I called Mr. Steele and at first no one answered."
"Maybe he's on his way."
"I don't think so, because when I tried again the police answered."
"What?" Laura practically screamed into the phone. "Oh God, what now?" she moaned to herself, feeling plagued at the moment by men and their problems. "Okay, Bernice, thanks." Laura hung up and turned to Murphy who waited for an explanation for her outburst.
"Look, Murph," she stated, "can we talk about this later? We may have a problem."
"What's he done this time?" Murphy sounded unenthused. "Robbed the Louvre?"
"Be serious, Murph."
Laura grabbed her hat and purse. "The police are at his place. He may be in trouble."
"That doesn't sound too hard to believe."
"Come on, Murphy. I need your help. Will you come with me?"
After a slight hesitation, Murphy just shrugged. "Sure, why not?" He followed Laura out of the office, the urgency in her pace not lost upon him.
"He won't even let me bow out gracefully," he muttered.
Laura paused at the door, not sure she'd heard him right, but there was too much on her mind to give him more than passing concern.
Laura's white Rabbit pulled up outside the plush apartments and parked. As she and Murphy got out, they both couldn't help but notice the numerous police cars that swarmed around the building.
From beside him, Murphy heard Laura's sharp intake of breath as she grabbed at his arm and pointed out the ominous looking station wagon.
"The Coroner. Oh, Murphy, you don't think..."
"Come on," he assured her. "You, of all people, shouldn't jump to conclusions. You know our Mr. Steele. He's pretty indestructible."
Laura remained silent, but her grip on Murphy's arm tightened. His mind registered the irony of his situation with little appreciation. He had no desire to win by default.
A uniformed officer stopped them at the ground floor, wanting their identities, then let them pass. They hurried up to the apartment. From down the hall they could see the door to Steele's rooms was open. As they approached, two white-smocked men came out, a gurney between them, a bloody sheet covering what they were conveying.
"Murphy," Laura breathed and even Murphy found no pleasure in thinking that Steele just might be dead.
"Easy, Laura," he cautioned as they watched the gurney disappear around the corner.
They continued toward the open door and almost ran into the next group to emerge: two plain-clothed policemen with a third man between them.
Murphy felt his jaw drop and then felt Laura sway next to him. Standing before them, his hands cuffed in front of him, was none other than Remington Steele. For once the imperturbable Mr. Steele seemed unsure of himself, his usually well groomed appearance now disheveled and rumpled. Murphy also noticed the dismay in his eyes when he saw them.
All this registered in the briefest instant. Abruptly Steele bolted, crashing up against one detective and tripping up the other as the man tried to help. He then shoved past his astonished associates and ran down the corridor. He paused for only a fraction of a second to give one backward glance to Laura, his eyes speaking a mixture of sorrow and apology before he disappeared.
The two stunned policemen staggered to their feet. "Why didn't you stop him?" one demanded hotly as he pulled his gun.
Laura was still too dumbfounded to answer. Murphy knew all her worst nightmares appeared to have come true.
"What's he done?" he demanded, his own voice unsteady.
"What's he done?" the policeman repeated. "He only murdered a man in cold blood, that's all. The great Remington Steele indeed." He pulled out a two-way radio and called up the ground forces. "He won't get far," he assured them.
"Murphy, I don't understand," Laura stammered.
"Let's get out of here," Murphy advised and took Laura's arm to propel her out, but the detective grabbed his arm.
"I'm afraid you two will have to stay here. We have some questions to ask you."
Murphy glanced at Laura, whose brown eyes were brimming with tears of confusion, hurt and a myriad of other emotions. Reluctantly he led her into the apartment they'd both been in so many times.
Somehow it seemed foreign. Everything was in its usual place, but slightly askew. Several chairs were overturned, and in the middle of the floor was the taped outline of a body around a large, dark stain. Laura moved around it and walked to the wall.
"Something's wrong here," she murmured, more to herself than anyone else. She suddenly bent down and picked up the large frame Murphy realized was missing from the wall. The glass was smashed and the poster from Casablanca was torn. Laura's shoulders seemed to sag and Murphy turned away. He wandered to the windows and peered out at the approaching reinforcements coming to aid in the search for Remington Steele.
The muted wail of distant sirens lent an eerie quality to the atmosphere of the dark, musty crawl space; the uncomfortable nearness of the passing footsteps only added to that feeling. The man calling himself Remington Steele, his long frame tucked neatly into the cramped area, listened intently to what was going on below while he worked methodically on the metal links binding his wrists together. He silently thanked whatever fates governed his life that he'd thoroughly checked out the building when he'd first taken up residency. Though with the way his life had been going lately, he never would've imagined making use of any of his various escape routes. That was the main problem with trying to live down a colorful past. You never knew when it was liable to raise its ugly head and complicate things.
He allowed himself a small triumphant smile at the sharp click that told him he'd loosened the spring. The cuffs fell away from his wrists and clinked softly to the dust-covered ceiling panel. Steele's heart froze momentarily. One slip like that and it would be over. All it would take would be one passing policeman to hear a stray noise and look up. The intermittent access panels were not glaringly obvious, but neither were they invisible. When, after a few moments no one seemed to take notice, he allowed himself to breathe easier.
The voices below told him the search was still in progress. It would take them a while, but they would eventually decide he'd gotten through their blockade. He could wait them out. Patience had been a necessity in his various occupations -- patience and a keen sense of timing. No, he wasn't worried about getting out of the building. It was what to do after that that was nagging at him.
He'd had a few brushes with law enforcement agencies, but nothing of this sort. He had the distinct feeling he was in over his head and he wished there really was a Remington Steele who could pull rabbits and clues out of a deerstalker. And, of course, ever present in his mind was Laura and what all this must be doing to her. He'd finally felt that he was gaining her trust and confidence, despite last night's temporary set-back.
Now, naturally all her doubts would flare up again. Murphy would be there telling her I told you so, and of course, the police would do their share. There would be an investigation. It would have to come out that he wasn't really Remington Steele, and then they would have to find out that there was no Remington Steele at all. He wasn't sure just how, but he knew he had to stop that from happening. He owed them all that much. Not just Laura, but Bernice -- and Murphy too.
He paused in his reflections, getting a sudden idea. Maybe there was someone he could go to. Not Laura obviously. She had to be kept out of it entirely. But maybe, just maybe, there was someone.
Murphy sat sprawled on the long couch in Laura's living room, his feet propped up on the coffee table, and studied Laura as she slowly paced the length of the room, lost in thought. He briefly wished the concern that wrinkled her forehead was for himself, but for once he decided that he really wouldn't want to be in Steele's shoes. Maybe now she would begin to see the guy for the creep he was. Hadn't he told her all along not to trust him, that no good would come of their association? But what struck Murphy funny was that he just now realized that he'd only half-believed the things he'd said. It wasn't a very good feeling to be proven right, especially since it had come at Laura's expense.
Laura must have become aware of his eyes upon her for she abruptly stopped her pacing and plopped onto the sofa next to him. "We've got to do something," she exclaimed in frustration. "There's got to be some way we can get into his apartment."
Murphy exhaled noisily. "You heard the sergeant. We're practically suspects ourselves. They're going to be watching us like hawks," he concluded.
He recalled vividly the interrogation at police headquarters, the sergeant's beak nose fairly twitching at the idea of cornering the famous Remington Steele. He had shown the cocaine found next to the body with an air of pride.
"But he's innocent, Murphy. He isn't capable of this sort of thing. I know..."
"How do you know?" Murphy interrupted. "What do you really know about him? You still don't even know his real name, do you?"
Laura was silent a moment, then she reluctantly shook her head.
There was an awkward pause, a few minutes of noisy silence. Then he spoke up apologetically. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to give you a hard time."
Laura smiled her acceptance. "That's okay, Murph. We're both a little tense."
"Yeah, well, I'm also sorry about what you must be feeling." Murphy swallowed hard at his own pride. "I know you cared about him."
"I still do," Laura replied softly.
Murphy noticed that she was now studying him, her face thoughtful, and he wondered uncomfortably what was going through her mind.
"You were trying to talk to me this morning," she commented. "I guess things sort of got hectic."
He shrugged and gave her a swift glance and a slight smile. "It doesn't much matter now."
"Yes it does." She rested her hand on his shoulder and he forced himself to face her. "You were talking about leaving the agency. That matters a lot to me. I don't know what I'd do without you, Murph. You do so much for me."
"Yeah, that's me. Good ol' reliable Murphy. But don't worry. I won't go now and leave you in the lurch like this. We're both responsible for Remington Steele, whatever happens to him."
"I'm not giving up on him. He's out there somewhere. We'll find him. I just wish..." Laura bit back whatever she'd been about to say, but Murphy knew only too well it was that ever-present doubt -- that the man who had captured Laura's heart just might be capable of murder. It was that doubt in Laura's eyes Murphy would never forgive him for.
"I tell you, Laura," he informed her flatly, "if I ever find him, I'll break his pretty face."
Laura gave him a reproachful look. "We have to find him first."
The night was dark and moonless and Steele was glad enough for its cover. It had been a tricky business getting away from his apartment, even as long as he'd waited. There were still a few uniformed officers nosing around, probably expecting him to show up at the scene of the crime. He wished to hell he could find out what had happened. He knew well enough what he was supposed to have done. A body with a knife in its heart and a briefcase full of cocaine spoke volumes -- at least louder than any of his own explanations.
He still couldn't believe his own stupidity. It was the oldest trick used in any movie: the hapless victim of a framing, when confronted with the corpse, inevitably picked up the murder weapon in confusion just as the tipped-off police came charging in like the well-known cavalry. At the very least, his association with private investigators the caliber of Laura and Murphy should have taught him better than to touch that knife, thus endowing it with a wonderful set of his fingerprints.
He had a pretty good idea of who would have tried to set him up, but he had no idea whatsoever of who that murdered man in his living room was or how the drugs came to be there. He shuddered in distaste at the thought of ever being mixed up with that sort of nonsense. It wasn't his style to deal with such low lifes. He wondered what people must be thinking of him.
Soft as a shadow, he made his way through the streets, avoiding lights and busy intersections. He passed few people who would even remember he'd been there, drunks and junkies, a few old ladies clinging tightly to their bags of treasures. Once or twice he spotted the police, but only the usual patrolmen, nothing out of the ordinary. He gave them a wide berth.
When he finally reached his destination, he halted abruptly and ducked around the wall. Not too obvious, but nonetheless there, was an unmarked police car, evidently a stakeout. He should have known; he had ties and connections now. Whatever happened to him affected everyone else. It was unsettling to have to shoulder that burden.
He pondered for a moment the best way to gain entry. Although it posed a bit of a problem, he was not too worried. This kind of thing was more in his line of work, and it beat running about blindly, waiting for the police to find him. He eyed the high wall with speculative appraisal. It didn't look like it would prove too difficult. He only hoped his reception inside would be as easy to cope with.
Murphy came awake abruptly with a sudden jerk of his head. Except for the static fuzz from the television set, the apartment was dark. He must have fallen asleep during the news. It was no wonder, with the kind of day it had been. It still set his teeth on edge to remember the police's attitude. He and Laura had been blocked at every turn today, denied the right to investigate their boss's alleged crimes. It rankled him to no end that the police thought whatever Remington Steele did was done with the knowledge and blessing of his adoring staff.
Shivering a bit at the chill in the room, Murphy yawned and moved to get up and go to bed. Halfway out of the recliner, he froze, his heart thumping in his chest. He'd heard a noise, soft and subtle, but still there, and probably what had awakened him in the first place. Perched on the edge of the chair, his back unnaturally straight, he slowly turned his head to peer behind him.
In the darkness all he could see was a tall, shadowy figure leaning up against the wall. He strained to make out the face, and unconsciously his hand reached toward the reading lamp next to him.
"Don't turn on the light, Murphy. We wouldn't want your birddog outside to think anything's out of the ordinary, would we?"
There was no mistaking that smooth-sounding, accented voice. Murphy stood up, the fear of an unknown stranger abruptly replaced with all the anger and frustration of the day. This man was the cause of it all.
"You! I don't believe it." Murphy's voice was low and barely controlled. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"Nice to see you too." Steele moved toward the couch and started to sit down. "You don't mind, do you?" he asked, looking up.
Murphy didn't answer. He thought he might be in shock. He noticed, however, that when Steele did sit down, it was with a certain air of weariness. He grudgingly acknowledged that however hard a day he and Laura had had, it probably wasn't anything compared to Steele's, not if his grimy and tattered appearance was any indication.
Murphy moved over to stand in front of his unexpected visitor and at last collected himself enough to speak. "Would you please tell me what the hell is going on?" He was surprised to find that he was as much curious as he was everything else.
Steele glanced up at him. "I was rather hoping you could tell me."
Murphy's eyebrows shot up incredulously. "You are unbelievable. You're found standing over a corpse, your hand on the knife, a hundred thou of cocaine next to you, and you want me to tell you what's happening?" He shook his head. "I ought to call the cops right now."
"You ought to, but you won't."
Murphy scowled and strode over to the phone. In an instant Steele was on his feet and his hand clamped down on the receiver as Murphy reached for it.
"Sorry, ol' chap, but I need your help."
Murphy found himself staring into a pair of deadly earnest eyes.
"You need my help?" he repeated in disbelief.
"Yes. I didn't kill that man. I don't even know who he is... was."
"And I'm supposed to belief that?" Murphy scoffed.
Steele nodded. "Yes, because it's the truth."
Murphy let loose a dry laugh. "You wouldn't recognize the truth if it was staring you in the face."
"Then I can say the same about you," Steele retorted, "because the truth is staring you in the face right now."
Murphy smiled wryly. "I should've called the police the first time I ever met you."
"But you didn't. And we both know you won't now, and for the same reason."
"Oh, yeah? What's that?"
"Laura. Neither one of us wants to see her hurt."
That was too much for Murphy to take. Perhaps it was the cumulative strain of the day's events, or maybe it was just that he'd been looking for an excuse for a long time, but suddenly, at hearing him express concern for Laura, Murphy lost the last shred of control he'd been holding onto. His fist impacted squarely with Steele's jaw, sending the unprepared recipient of the blow sprawling, landing unceremoniously on his backside.
"That's great coming from you," Murphy claimed, advancing until he stood towering over the fallen man. "You care so much about Laura that you kill a man and leave her to take the heat. Not to mention the fact that she's torn apart wondering what's happened to you. So don't tell me how you care about Laura."
Steele sat where he'd fallen, massaging his jaw and listening calmly as Murphy vented his feelings. Then he slowly rose to his feet and faced his angry associate.
"I don't intend to explain my feelings for Laura to you, but I didn't kill that man and I need you to help me find out who did."
"Why me?" Murphy demanded, his shoulders still heaving with his outburst of emotion.
"Well, I couldn't very well go to Laura, could I?"
"But you got along on your own before you showed up here. Why do you need me now?"
For the first time Steele smiled slightly. "I seem to have lost my anonymity when I assumed the role of Remington Steele. I no longer blend very well."
Murphy straightened up. "So you need somebody who can blend, huh?"
"No offense intended, Murphy, ol' chap, but in a word, yes."
Murphy hesitated, torn between his inherent distrust for the man before him and an ever-increasing belief in what he was being told.
Steele, noticing the indecision, decided to press for the advantage. "Don't do it for me. Do it to help Laura." Murphy's fist started to clench, but Steele forestalled him. "We have to clear Remington Steele for the agency's sake."
Slowly Murphy relaxed his fist and exhaled noisily as he nodded his head. "All right. It's against my better judgement, but okay."
Steele smiled a genuine thank you and Murphy jabbed a warning finger at his chest.
"You better be completely honest with me. I mean it. If you play games..."
"Wouldn't dream of it," Steele assured him.
"I'm sure you wouldn't," Murphy said sarcastically. He eyed Steele speculatively. "I have one question."
"Why did you come back? You could've just faded away. No one says you have to worry about Remington Steele. I would've thought you'd be long gone."
Steele thought a moment. "Harold Hill," he finally answered.
"The Music Man, Warner Brothers, 1962. Robert Preston plays a con man who falls in love with the town librarian."
Murphy still appeared bewildered.
Steele only smiled. "I got my foot caught in the door."
Laura pushed her way into the office late, plagued with an irritating headache caused, no doubt, by a combination of traffic and her mother's phone call this morning. She prayed things would run smoothly today; she didn't feel up to dealing with any more problems.
Bernice greeted her with a wry smile and an unfolded L.A. Times. "We're famous," she announced sarcastically.
"I don't even want to see it," Laura moaned, with a wave of her hand. "I already know all about it."
"Your mother called, huh?"
Laura grimaced. "You got it. Murphy in yet?"
"Nope. And he won't be till later. Called in and said he's got a dentist appointment."
"Today?" Laura felt a stab of disappointment. It was so mundane, so everyday. Strange, Murphy hadn't mentioned anything about it yesterday, and she'd counted on his being here to help. It seemed like she couldn't count on anyone anymore.
"Hold my calls, will you, Bernice? I want to drink my coffee in peace."
"Sure. But I don't think it'll be too much of a problem."
"What do you mean?"
"I didn't want to mention it. I mean, just what you need -- more bad news, right?"
"Bernice," Laura demanded impatiently.
"Well, the only calls we've gotten have been cancellations. You know, thank you for services rendered."
"Great," Laura muttered. She wished she was a small child so she could sit on the floor and have a nice little tantrum.
"Sorry," Bernice offered lamely. Then she brightened. "Listen, why don't we just close up shop today. You and I can go make a day of it -- have lunch, go shopping, whatever."
Laura smiled her appreciation at the offer. "Thanks, but I don't think so. I want to be here when Murphy comes in. You can go if you want though. Doesn't appear like it'll be too busy for a while."
Bernice shrugged. "I guess I'll stay too."
Laura moved toward her office, but instead of her own small room, she somehow ended up in front of the larger, executive office. She hesitated a minute, then opened the door and stood there staring at the emptiness. It looked much the same as it always had. The large, polished desk, plush furniture, beautiful view. There wasn't really anything to mark the fact that the imaginary head of their agency had become real. Yet she could tell a difference. He was here, all over this room. She could feel the difference in the place from when it had been unoccupied.
Laura sensed someone at her elbow and turned, trying hard not to let Bernice catch the tears that had welled up in her eyes, but the receptionist didn't miss much.
"It'll be okay, Laura, you'll see. You and him, you're both survivors. However things end up, you'll both get through it."
Laura nodded her head, not trusting her voice. Then she closed the door and walked into her own office.
Murphy still couldn't believe what he was doing. Standing here in his kitchen calmly -- well, not too calmly -- making breakfast while a probable murderer was cleaning up in his bathroom. He paused a moment, heard the shower running upstairs, and shook his head in disbelief of his own activities.
He would have to formulate some kind of plan. He couldn't hide Steele here indefinitely; the police weren't fools. He needed to find some place safe and tuck Mr. Steele away in order to give himself time to work. That was going to prove interesting. He couldn't wait to hear the explanations he'd been promised could wait for the morning and a good night's sleep.
As he set two plates of scrambled eggs on the small kitchen table, Steele appeared, buttoning the cuffs of one of Murphy's shirts.
"I never knew plaid came in so many different colors," he commented.
"I didn't ask you to wear them," Murphy retorted.
"Right you are. My apologies." He took a seat at the table. "It seems neither of us ever knows quite what to say to the other."
Murphy couldn't have agreed more. He joined Steele, who'd begun eating in earnest. "The only thing I want to hear from you right now is the story about that stiff."
Steele paused, his fork poised midway to his mouth, and he grimaced with distaste.
"Really, Murphy. Hardly an agreeable subject for breakfast."
Murphy slammed his own fork on the table impatiently. "I told you last night, it's the whole truth or it's nothing. If you don't tell me what happened, I call the police right now."
Steele slowly sat back in his chair, studying Murphy's angry scowl and apparently decided his reluctant host wasn't going to be put off any longer for his face grew serious and he sighed resignedly. He pushed his plate away as if no longer hungry.
"I really have no idea whatsoever who that was."
"Why don't you start at the beginning?" Murphy advised. "Tell me everywhere you were that night." He paused. He knew he must have blushed for he could feel his face grow hot. He cleared his throat in an attempt to recover, then he fixed his eyes on Steele's in a determined effort not to act as ridiculous as he felt. "What time did you leave Laura's?" He somehow kept himself from looking away awkwardly.
Steele's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "I didn't realize you were into that sort of thing," he commented.
"It was an accident," Murphy snapped defensively. "I just happened to be driving by. I saw the limo," he finished lamely, knowing Steele wasn't buying it.
There was a moment of silence during which Murphy studied the pattern of the tablecloth intently, feeling the other man's eyes upon him. Finally Steele spoke up, breaking the tension.
"Just to set the record straight, I left around eleven o'clock."
It was Murphy's turn to glance up in surprise. Then his eyes narrowed in disbelief. "You expect me to believe that?"
"Believe it or not. You wanted the truth. If I were going to fabricate a story for your benefit, I would be more inclined to exaggerate my welcome at Laura's. It does nothing for my ego to be asked to leave a lady's house."
"She asked you to leave?"
Steele's mouth twisted in a wry smile. "That's a polite way of putting it."
Murphy had to fight to keep an idiotic grin from spreading across his face. There was still a murder to unravel, but for some odd reason, he felt better than he had for the past two days.
"It's not considered good manners to gloat," Steele observed drily. "Although I think I can understand the sentiment."
"Sorry," Murphy apologized, not really repentant. Then he grew serious. "Where did you go after you left?"
"I didn't feel like going home, so I had Fred drive me around for a while."
"And he can attest to your whereabouts?"
"Only for so long. I had him drop me off at the beach. I walked and watched the water."
Steele shrugged, obviously uncomfortable about explaining his behavior. "I wasn't tired."
"I don't suppose there was anyone else there who we could use as an alibi?"
"Afraid not. At least, I never saw anyone."
"What did you do all night?"
"Just sat and thought -- watched the sunrise. I had a lot on my mind. Finally I called a cab and came home."
"Then I strolled into my apartment and found the dead man stretched out for a snooze on my living room carpet. I hardly had time to get used to him before the police barged in as if they'd been expecting me."
"Sounds pretty convenient," Murphy observed. "You don't happen to know anyone who'd want to set you up?"
Steele started to shake his head, hesitated a fraction of a second, then twisted his face in a thoughtful pose.
"Do you?" Murphy repeated.
"Well..." Steele drawled reluctantly.
"Come on. We're telling the truth, remember?"
"Yes, well, I suppose there might be someone, although I didn't think this was quite his style. But who knows what a person might become after ten years."
"Would you care to share the information?" Murphy asked in exasperation when, after a time, Steele still hadn't offered the name.
"I don't know his real name," he began.
"Why am I not surprised?" Murphy interjected with rolled eyes.
Steele ignored the comment. "To me he was just Maurice. Our paths crossed many years ago. It was a brief association and, sparing you the gory details, one I did my best to forget. Yes, believe it or not, even I have principles."
"I didn't say anything," Murphy protested.
"No, but I'm all too aware of your opinion of me, ol' boy. At any rate, being Remington Steele has lent a bit of notoriety to my life. Seems Maurice saw my picture in the paper and, knowing I'm not Steele, saw the chance to cash in on his wisdom."
"Ugly, isn't it?" Steele commented.
"Why didn't you say anything?"
"I didn't want to burden you or Laura with my problems. Since I do seem to be a constant source of trouble to the both of you, I was going to spare you this if I could."
"You were just going to handle it in your own inimitable fashion, eh?" Murphy smiled, though not unkindly.
"I was going to deal with it, yes," Steele answered.
"I won't bother asking how. What were his terms?"
"One hundred thousand up front, and he made it clear he'd be back for future installments."
Murphy chewed his thumbnail thoughtfully. "A hundred grand... hmmm. That's how much cocaine there was in the briefcase."
"Hardly. Looks like maybe an opportunity came up to get even with you for not going along with him. First order of business is to track down good ol' Maurice -- see what he's up to."
"You think Maurice killed that poor man in my living room?" Steele considered a moment. "I never would have thought it of him, but perhaps you're right. We'll have to find him."
Murphy shook his head. "Not we. You poke your head out on the streets and you're had."
Steele did not look happy at that statement. "You don't expect me to merely loiter around your apartment waiting for you to find Maurice, do you?"
"No. You can't stay here. It's too obvious, especially since I'm under surveillance." Murphy thought a moment. "No, we need someplace safe and out of the way." He rubbed at his chin and then smiled slyly. "I just might know of a place."
"Up in the mountains where I go fishing sometimes. I seem to remember an old abandoned cabin. I've never seen anybody else around."
"Sounds terribly remote," Steele hedged.
Murphy chuckled. "You'll love it." He got to his feet. "Stay here today. I'll pick up some things for you and we'll go out there tonight. We'll have a better chance of losing any tail in the dark. I have to go into work now. Laura probably thinks I've deserted her."
Steele rose from his chair. "Murphy, I..." He shifted his feet uncomfortably. "I want you to know I appreciate this. I realize it isn't easy between us..."
Murphy held up a hand to interrupt. "You don't have to say it. We'll wait and argue the finer points after it's all over."
Steele nodded gratefully. "Yes. Very good."
Laura stood outside the apartment door and stared thoughtfully at the knob. It was at last devoid of the police lock it had been sealed with. Apparently the authorities were now satisfied they had learned all they could here, but she was determined to inspect it anyway. With a sudden movement, she bent down to work at the lock with her small pick. After a moment, the door opened and she stepped inside, closing it behind her with a soft click.
She let her eyes grow accustomed to the dark, reluctant to turn on the lights. The police had been tailing her, and while it was probably obvious to them where she was, she didn't think it would hurt to keep them guessing.
She sighed wearily as she reached into her handbag for a small flashlight. It had been quite a day. The police couldn't have been any less helpful or more antagonistic in their attitude -- and Murphy hadn't been much better.
When he'd at last put in an appearance at the office, it had been an almost conscious effort for him to keep his mind on what they were doing. It was clear to Laura that Murphy's heart had not been in their feeble attempts to scrounge up some leads, and Laura wondered if that painful subject he'd brought up and apparently dropped for now had anything to do with his attitude. He'd never let his feelings for her, or Steele either for that matter, interfere with his work before.
No matter the reason, Laura had decided that whatever work was to be done to find and clear Remington Steele would be left up to her. She would have to put any personal concerns aside and, for the future of the agency, concentrate on being the best detective she could be.
She let the small beam guide her around the familiar apartment. Everything was in disarray, a startling contrast to its usual state of precise order. The investigating officers had cared little for how they left anything, obviously convinced its resident would never return to complain.
She gingerly picked her way over the papers, books and pictures strewn across the floor, looking for anything at all and nothing in particular, just something out of the ordinary -- something not right. She would have to trust her instincts on this one since she had no idea whatsoever where to begin.
She had wandered over toward the kitchen, stopping occasionally to study some item or another that had caught her eye, when a muffled noise from the bedroom froze her in her tracks. Who could possibly be in the apartment? Some guilty culprit trying to cover his trail? Or maybe... No, she squelched that thought. She couldn't allow herself to build up foolish hopes. Why would he come back here? He was too smart to do that.
Tightening her grip on the flashlight, ready to use it as much for defense as well as light, she made her way to the bedroom door. It was slightly ajar. She stopped and listened intently, but the only sound was the hum of silence and the barely discernible street noises. She tried to convince herself that she had only imagined the noise, but she knew better than that. All her senses were alert and flashing danger signals. There was someone here.
She pushed the door open cautiously, wary of being pounced on by someone lurking behind it, and shone the light around the room, pausing briefly at each corner. She saw nothing, but whoever was in here would hardly be standing out in the open, waiting for her to find him. She took a deep breath and proceeded in slowly, wishing her light was about a hundred times brighter.
She moved carefully, trying to keep her eyes everywhere at once. She could feel her heart racing and she swallowed hard in an effort to calm herself. She reached the end of the bed and leaned over to peer at the other side of it.
It was then that she more or less felt the presence behind her. She hadn't heard a sound, but the hairs on the back of her neck rose and her scalp tingled with goose bumps. She acted on impulse, without stopping to think. Whirling about, she swung her arm, bringing the flashlight up, and she felt it connect hard with the shadow she could now see. The impact jolted her arm and she heard a loud, masculine moan as the man staggered backward. He hit the wall and slid down.
Laura moved after him, fumbling to turn on the battered flashlight, praying it still functioned. Miraculously the beam shot out and Laura pinned her assailant with it. She gasped out loud when she saw the man who sat clutching the side of his head and squinting up at the glare.
"Laura?" Murphy's voice held just as much surprise as hers.
"What are you doing here?" they both cried in unison.
"Looking for some answers." Laura knelt beside her friend, concern that she'd hurt him replacing her shock at finding him. "I'm sorry. I had no idea it was you. I just... Here, let me see." She moved Murphy's hand and tried to examine the wound she'd inflicted upon him. "I can't see a thing in here. Let's go into the bathroom so I can fix it up."
"No, that's okay. I'll be all right."
"You don't know that. Now, come on." She stood and took hold of his arm to help him to his feet.
"Really, Laura, I'd rather you didn't bother."
"It's no bother, Murph." She pulled on his arm and he got to his feet -- rather reluctantly, she thought, although she dismissed it as unimportant. Murphy had been acting strange all day, but by the time they reached the bathroom, she was practically dragging him after her.
"Murphy, come on. What's the matter with you?"
"Nothing. I just don't want you to go to a lot of trouble."
"It's no trouble," she assured him, beginning to lose patience. She propelled him into the bathroom ahead of her, closing the door and flicking on the light. There were no windows here to worry about. She gave him a firm push and sat him down on the laundry hamper, then she took his chin in her hand and tilted his head to the side so she could see better.
"Looks a little nasty," she commented to her fidgeting partner. "It's bleeding a bit here by your eye." She reached for some tissue and dabbed at the cut gently.
"Ow," Murphy winced, jerking away from her.
"Sorry. Hold still and let me find something to put on it." She went to the sink and pulled open the medicine cabinet.
"It's okay, Laura," Murphy stated. "You don't have to worry."
Laura wasn't hearing any of his protests. She'd caught sight of the open leather shaving kit on the sink and the personal items scattered around it, as if someone had been interrupted in the middle of packing. She frowned at it, perplexed, then she picked up the small bottle of antiseptic and returned to Murphy's side.
She worked at the cut in silence, the only sound that of Murphy's sharp intake of breath each time she touched his temple.
"I'm afraid you're going to have a black eye," she told him distractedly, her mind still pondering the mysterious shaving kit. "I need a bandage," she murmured to herself as she once more rummaged through the cabinets. As she bent to open one of the lower doors, Murphy suddenly sprang off the hamper and reached down to stop her.
"No, wait," he cried.
Laura halted and fixed her associate with a quizzical stare. He smiled broadly and shrugged his shoulders.
"I just don't want you to worry about it," he offered lamely.
Laura studied him without saying anything. Murphy had never lied to her before, but he was definitely doing it now -- and having a difficult time with it. He was not the type who practiced deceit, so it was not easy for him.
After a long time of heavy silence, Murphy finally heaved a sigh of resignation and released Laura's hand, straightening up and gesturing her to go ahead and open the cabinet.
Laura did so, pausing before she reached in to pull out the small travel case. Without a word, she set it on the sink and flipped it open to reveal the crammed in shirts and underwear. She stared at them for a long moment, then turned around, leaning up against the sink, and folded her arms in front of her.
"What are you doing here, Murph?"
Murphy couldn't meet her eyes. His gaze was fixed on the floor. Studying him, Laura noticed his eye had started to swell and his cut was bleeding again. She reached for the band-aids and applied one to his temple, but as she was doing so she stopped suddenly and her face took on that "look" that Steele always talked about and Murphy knew so well.
"You know where he is." It was a statement, not a question.
"Know where who is?" Murphy asked weakly.
"No more games, Murph," Laura demanded determinedly.
"Then don't ask me any more questions." Murphy went to the sink and stuffed the shaving gear into the case. "I can't answer them."
Laura watched him, not sure whether to feel relief or anger. On the one hand, if Murphy knew where Mr. Steele was, then at least he was safe and probably close by. On the other hand, why were they leaving her out of it? Didn't he realize by now that she would have helped him out of anything?
"Why, Murph?" Laura rested a hand on his arm. "Why can't you tell me? I've been so worried."
Murphy at last met her confused eyes. "I know you have," he answered gently, "but you'll have to trust me on this one. The less you know, the better."
"But why you?" Laura demanded. "Why is it okay for you and not me?" Her voice sounded shaky, even to herself.
"Because however things turn out, it's still aiding and abetting. For once, he and I are in complete agreement. You're out of it."
He picked up the case and started to leave, but Laura grabbed his arm to stop him.
"Murphy, wait. Answer me one question."
"If I can."
"He didn't kill that man... did he?"
Murphy shook his head. "He says he didn't. And for what it's worth, I believe him."
Laura smiled. "It's worth a lot, Murph. Thanks." She reached up to kiss his cheek, but Murphy impulsively turned his face to meet her lips with his own. It wasn't the world's greatest kiss, but Laura didn't pull away.
He smiled at her and pointed to his head. "You owed me that one," he explained.
Laura's eyes were only slightly reproachful.
"Take care of him, Murph," she called softly as she tuned off the light and watched his dark shadow disappear out of the bedroom. She would wait a few minutes in consideration of the police outside. No sense in inviting trouble. She wondered if they were tailing Murphy too.
At that thought, an idea struck her like a ton of bricks. Men and their macho ideas of protecting her. They were her friends and she had a right to share their dangers. And if they wouldn't let her in on things, then she would invite herself. Murphy would be wise to watch his back because she would be right behind him all the way.
Steele relaxed in the passenger seat of Murphy's car and stared idly at the dark night, the whizzing of passing headlights, the intermittent glare of freeway lights. As much as he disliked the thought of hiding out like a rabbit, he had to admit that Murphy was right. He probably wouldn't be much help trying to clear himself, and he couldn't afford to get arrested. He'd avoided a record for all this time; he didn't plan on starting one now.
He glanced over at Murphy who was intent on his driving. The detective hadn't said much since he'd come back to the apartment this evening, and Steele didn't press it. He was mildly curious about the bruises and bandage but since Murphy hadn't seemed to want to talk, Steele hadn't pressed.
Things had been a little touch and go getting out to the car without the police seeing him, and there had been some fun while Murphy did some fancy maneuvering to lose the tail. Now it had settled down to the quiet monotony of the long drive to the mountains, and Steele found it rather enjoyable to just sit and not worry about anything for a while -- rather like it used to be before he'd traded in his freedom for responsibility.
He must have dropped off, for he jerked awake suddenly as he felt himself being thrown forward. He threw his arms up and braced against the impact with the dash as he heard Murphy swearing to himself.
"What the hell is that guy doing?"
"What is it?" Steele was alert now and peered out the windshield for the problem. All he could make out was a pair of tail lights up ahead of them.
"That maniac. He's been practically right up my tailpipe the last ten minutes. Then he raced ahead and nearly ran us off the road."
Steele frowned at the red lights. They were growing nearer. "Don't look now, but I think he's coming back."
"What?" Murphy stared open-mouthed at the car they were rapidly gaining on. He switched to the fast lane and floored the accelerator, throwing Steele off balance.
"You and Laura must have learned to drive at the same place," he commented as he straightened up in the seat.
Murphy deigned not to answer as they sped by the menacing vehicle. The sound of a shot rang out and the back window cracked ominously. Murphy and Steele both instinctively sank down, Murphy barely peering over the top of the steering wheel. His foot pressed harder on the gas pedal, urging more speed from the already taxed engine.
"Damn," Murphy breathed out softly. He glanced angrily over at his passenger. "You wanna tell me who those guys are?"
Steele's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "I thought they were friends of yours."
"I told you, no games!" Murphy shouted. "If you're holding out on me, I'll let you off right now."
"Take it easy, ol' chap. I've been honest with you. I have no idea who's back there. Maybe the dead man had some friends."
"Yeah, maybe, but one thing's for sure -- we better lose these guys quick and we can't do it on the freeway." He spun the wheel and moved the car across three lanes and onto the off ramp.
They're still with us," Steele observed as he turned to look behind them.
Murphy's eyes darted to the rear-view mirror then returned to the road ahead of them. "Not for long," he muttered and took a corner sharply enough to throw Steele against the door.
"Ahhh!" Steele winced as he moved his ribs from against the armrest.
Their pursuers were relentless, and in spite of Murphy's best efforts and hair-raising moves, they could not shake their tail.
"Damn it!" Murphy swore again. "There's just not enough traffic to lose them. We're the only cars out here."
"Not the only two," Steele corrected, gazing out behind them. "There's someone behind them."
Murphy took a quick glance over his shoulder. "We don't even know who the first guys are," he lamented. He glared sideways at Steele. "Are you sure you don't know who's following us?"
"I told you I didn't." His brows knit together for a moment in concentration and then, as they passed under a glaring street light, they raised in astonishment. "It's Laura!" he exclaimed.
"That's crazy," Murphy scoffed. "She didn't know where I..." He turned around again. "Damn it! What does she think she's doing?"
"Helping, I presume," Steele commented. "I thought we agreed to keep her out of it." His voice was cold and accusing.
"There wasn't anything I could do," Murphy retorted angrily, definitely on the defensive. "She caught me in your apartment. She's a very smart lady, you know. She added it up pretty fast."
"Mmmm, I suppose." Steele's eyes were still riveted to the road behind them and the two sets of headlights.
"You don't sound convinced." Murphy was trying to divide his attention between the road ahead the rear-view mirror.
"I don't think it matters much now. She's in the thick of it right enough."
Murphy drove on in tight-lipped silence until he caught sight of a freeway entrance. On sudden impulse, he headed onto it.
"I thought you said you couldn't lose them on the freeway," Steele noted.
"Well, maybe we can think of something different. Besides, if we do lose 'em, I don't want Laura left behind on some dark road with them." He punched the accelerator and merged onto the nearly deserted interstate. "They still with us?"
"Like glue," Steele answered.
Steele craned his neck. "Right behind them," he announced as he spotted the Rabbit's headlights. "Wait a minute," he muttered and squinted to try and see better.
"What's the matter?" Murphy demanded, casting a quick glance over his shoulder.
"She's up to something." Steele didn't turn. "I'm not quite sure..."
"Good God!" Steele exclaimed. "She's cutting them off!"
Murphy allowed himself a quick look just in time to catch sight of the VW veering in front of the larger sedan, causing both cars to move sideways across the freeway and slide to a stop. As Murphy kept going, the sight faded rapidly in the distance.
"What are you doing?" Steele tore his eyes from the view behind to stare at his companion in disbelief. "You can't leave her there alone."
"She can take care of herself," Murphy assured him.
"But you can't be serious!" Steele was outraged. He gestured frantically behind them, unable to even see the headlights anymore. "Those men tried to kill us. Laura doesn't even carry a gun."
"You don't have to tell me that." Murphy never took his eyes off the road.
"Well then -- go back!"
Murphy didn't answer, his determined gaze never wavered; the indecision he was feeling showed only in the workings of his jaw muscles.
"Murphy!" Steele could restrain himself no longer and he moved to grab for the wheel.
Murphy straight-armed him in the chest and pushed him roughly away. "Stay on your side of the car, man," he ordered fiercely.
"Sorry, ol' chap." Steele was more calm now and regarded Murphy quizzically. "I just always assumed you harbored a certain amount of feelings for Laura."
"My feelings aren't open for discussion," Murphy stated hotly. "What Laura just did, she did for you -- to buy you time to get away. And that's what we're going to do, so you just sit back and shut up."
Steele glared at him, unaccustomed to such outbursts from his associate, but he didn't say any more. He cast one more glance out the back before he settled down sulkily to stare out the window. He'd never felt so out of control of his own life before, and he was not happy about it, but for the moment the only thing he could do was to go along for the ride.
Laura skidded the Rabbit to a sideways stop and took a quick instant to gather her wits about her. She had succeeded in forcing the dark sedan off of Murphy. Now, as she watched the vanishing taillights, she almost regretted her impulsive action. But there was no time for regrets. She would have to act fast if she was to get out of this situation in one piece. She dug into her purse, snatching her glasses and hastily put the on. Then, assuming her best Allison Wertner air, she got out of her car and stormed angrily over to where two men were emerging from the other vehicle.
She gulped silently at the sight of the two dark-suited men. Everything about them fairly shouted "mob." Her instincts told her to turn and run but she couldn't very well do that at this late stage; the game would have to be played out. She knew if this was going to work, it depended on her own forcefulness. She took a deep breath and took the plunge.
"You gentlemen have a lot of explaining to do," she declared loudly, adding that slight nasal twang that grated so effectively on people's ears.
She stepped up to confront the two ominous-looking strangers, all too aware that she had to crane her neck to see their faces. Her detective's eyes also spotted the bulge under their coats that told of hidden weapons. Steeling her nerves, she cleared her throat and pressed on.
"I am a representative of the Citizens Against Reckless Driving." She jabbed an accusing finger at the nearest man. "You were speeding and weaving all across the highway."
The man looked taken aback at this unexpected confrontation and he glanced at his partner in bewilderment. The second man stepped forward.
"Who're you kidding, lady? You were dogging us all over the road. I wanna know why. Couldn't have anything to do with that European dogmeat we were chasing, could it?"
"Sir, I don't know what you're talking about. If you have a grievance with someone, the public highway is no place to settle it. I only flagged you down in order to prevent innocent people from being hurt by your careless driving habits." She pulled a notebook out of her jacket pocket and walked over to the sedan. She began jotting down the license plate.
"Hey!" The first man rushed to her side, grabbed the paper from Laura's hands and crumpled it up. "Whaddya think you're doing?"
"I'm going to report you to the proper authorities, as is my right as a conscientious citizen."
"I don't think so, lady." The other man had moved up beside his friend. He studied her for a moment, then looked at the Rabbit. Laura prayed silently that they didn't know enough about Remington Steele to connect him to her car. She did her best to look annoyed as his gaze returned to her. Finally he came to a decision. He grabbed her arm and led her back to her car.
"If you know what's good for you, lady, you'll go home and forget you ever saw us." He opened the door and pushed her roughly inside.
"You'll be hearing from C.A.R.D.," she stated, still keeping the act going to the last, though she didn't know where she dredged up the courage. Very much the affronted Allison Wertner, she slammed her door and pulled out onto the freeway.
She held her breath and watched the rear-view mirror for a while, but there was no sign of pursuit. Apparently she'd played it fast and forceful enough that they hadn't questioned her charade.
She gazed out at the stretch of freeway ahead of her. It was a pity that those men had forced her to lose track of Murphy, but at least he'd had the sense to keep going and get Mr. Steele away. She could be grateful for that, even if she was disappointed that now she would have to figure out another way of finding out where Murphy had stashed their boss. And she would find out. She and Murphy had worked together for too long for him to keep things from her indefinitely. She knew how he operated. Sooner or later she would be able to make her move, and then she would persuade him to let her help.
Murphy strained his eyes, trying to see into the blackness of the forest. Even the headlights cut through the dense foliage only faintly. He lifted his gaze skyward to peer up at the myriad of stars, so hard to see in the lights of the city. They were beautiful all right, right now Murphy would have traded them for a bright light.
"I know the cabin's around here somewhere," he muttered, swinging his flashlight around.
"Wonderful," Steele commented sarcastically. "I thought you'd been up here before."
"In the daytime, yeah," Murphy snapped in an annoyed tone. "I don't usually go creeping around in the middle of the night. That's more your style."
Steele didn't comment. He merely stood next to the car, occasionally rubbing his arms against the crisp mountain air.
Noting his efforts, Murphy snickered. "Be glad it's not winter."
"I'm thrilled beyond belief," Steele answered drily.
"Why do I get the feeling you're not exactly the woodsy type?" Murphy speculated with an amused grin. It was always satisfying to see Steele at a disadvantage.
"I never did like Smokey the Bear," Steele replied.
Murphy chuckled and then stopped, bringing his beam back to a spot he'd previously scanned. "Hold on. I think I..." He walked over toward a particularly dark clump of trees and brush. "Yep, here it is," he called. "The path's just a little overgrown. Couldn't see it from the road." He trotted to the car. "The cabin's a ways up the trail. Let's get the supplies." He opened the trunk and began lifting out grocery sacks. As Steele turned slowly toward him, Murphy tossed a rolled sleeping bag. "Catch."
Steele caught it deftly and tucked it under his arm, bending down to pick up one of the bags of food. "How long do you think all this will last?"
"Not long," Murphy answered vaguely, leaving it up to Steele to interpret whether he meant the food or the ordeal. "I won't be able to come up here very often without getting caught." He hefted a small duffle over his shoulder and picked up a sack with his free arm. "Come on," he ordered and led the way, his flashlight awkward in his full hands.
What was left of the path was rough going, steep and strewn with rocks. With their arms laden, it was all Murphy and Steele could do to keep their balance but they finally reached the top, out of breath and sweat-streaked despite the cold. Murphy focused his flashlight at the ramshackle excuse for a cabin. The windows were gone and the chimney sagged at a precarious angle; the overall impression was one of a house of cards that a slight wind would collapse at any moment.
"Lovely," Steele breathed softly, giving Murphy a sideways glance.
The detective merely shrugged. "Any port in a storm, right?"
Steele didn't answer.
"Well, I don't see where we had much choice."
"No, I suppose not," Steele finally agreed. Then, as if he'd come to some sort of decision, he walked toward the cabin with a determined stride. Murphy followed, the darkness hiding the amusement on his face.
Steele set his load down and faced the entrance speculatively. "Sure you wouldn't want to kick it in?"
"Very funny." Murphy's hand unconsciously rubbed his shoulder at the memory of his last fiasco with a door. "Just open it."
Steele took a firm grip on the rusty knob and tested it gingerly. It turned easily, although it squeaked its protest loudly. Keeping his hold on the handle with one hand, he braced the other on the rotted wood panels. He glanced at Murphy and gave him a wry smile.
"Here goes." He gave the door a cautious nudge and then, more forcefully, pushed with both hands. The wood gave a little but stubbornly remained closed.
"Damn," Steele swore under his breath, then spoke up louder. "Looks like we do it your way, Murphy." He gathered himself up, took a firm grasp on the knob and hurled himself against the door, making contact with his shoulder.
The boards, old and rotting, gave under the force of his weight. With a crashing thud, Steele found himself sprawled out on the dirt floor of the cabin amid a pile of splintered wood. Exasperated, he held up the knob he still grasped in his hand for Murphy to inspect.
"Is that how it's done, ol' chap?" he asked, trying vainly to hold onto some shred of dignity.
"Couldn't have done it better myself." Somehow Murphy kept a straight-face as he squatted next to Steele and picked up a piece of the door. "And you've got firewood to boot. Now that's an accomplishment. Course, it won't help much since you probably shouldn't be building any fires. Wouldn't want to call attention to yourself."
Steele got to his feet and dusted himself off, giving Murphy a glare. "Let's get the rest of the supplies," was his only comment.
After a few hazardous treks up and down the trail, the gear was all laid in. They'd even managed to piece together enough of the door to fit back into the frame. It was only then that Murphy paused to examine the interior of the cabin with his flashlight. It didn't offer a promising sight. There were gaping holes in the roof through which the starlit sky was visible, and the mountain breeze could be felt through the weather-worn walls.
"I guess you'll just have to make the best of it," Murphy suggested lamely. "Hopefully it won't be for too long." He found Steele with his beam and moved toward him. "I've gotta go now. I suggest you avoid traipsing around too much. Chances are slim anyone would see you, but why risk it? Probably shouldn't build a fire either."
"I suppose you're right," Steele agreed. "Just make things go as quickly as possible. Never could stomach confinement much."
"Right. I guess that's it then." The detective started to leave, but Steele reached out a hand to stop him.
"Murphy, wait. I... you and I both know Laura can take care of herself -- no need to worry, of course. But... well, if by some remote chance something happened -- or were to happen -- I don't think I'd want to wait around up here not knowing. Even if you were followed, I'd want to know."
"You've got my word," Murphy promised. "But only if something's wrong. If you don't hear from me, take it as a good sign."
"Righto," Steele said brightly and Murphy could tell he was smiling, even though he couldn't see his face.
"Righto," he answered with his own smile and reached out to grasp Steele's arm in a farewell gesture.
The first thing Murphy noticed as he pulled up to his apartment building was the now familiar sight of a police car parked on his street. He supposed they'd decided to try and pick up the tail again after he returned home. They were certainly determined. He resisted a whimsical urge to wave at them as he drove past.
The second thing he saw was a wonderful sight for his bleary eyes and drove all thoughts of police from his mind. Laura's little VW was parked in one of the empty stalls. He breathed a sigh of relief, feeling at the same time a tug of sympathy for Steele, who had no way of knowing that Laura was okay. Well, some things just couldn't be helped. He would hardly be able to venture up to the mountains very often, that was certain. Ideally there would only be one more trip -- the one at the end of the case.
He slowly got out of his car, pulling his windbreaker tighter against the pre-dawn chill. The sun would soon be up. The drive to the cabin and back had taken all night and it was starting to tell on him. Right now there was nothing he wanted more than to find some place and collapse. As much as he would be glad to see Laura, he hoped she wouldn't demand any long explanations, at least not until he got some shuteye. With any luck she would already be asleep.
The apartment was dark as he entered, but he knew his way well enough so that he didn't bother to flick on the lights. Besides, judging from the bit of blanket draped over the edge, Laura was stretched out on the couch. He didn't want to startle her by flooding the place with light.
Tossing his jacket carelessly onto the bar and slipping out of his shoes, he padded softly through the living room, careful not to bump into anything that would make a noise. As he reached the stairs leading up to his bedroom, he paused and let his gaze rest fondly on the woman sleeping on his sofa. He heaved a grateful sigh for her safety, only this moment realizing just how worried he'd actually been. There had been too much happening before to really do more than react blindly to circumstances. He supposed that if he'd thought about it at the time, he never would have left her. No wonder Steele had made a grab for the wheel.
Right now however, fatigue was washing over him like a drug. Setting aside all thoughts of anything but how good his mattress was going to feel, he started slowly up the stairs.
"Murphy?" came a sleepy voice, halting him. Stepping back down to the bottom, he stood facing Laura as she sat up to a cross-legged position on the couch, the blanket wrapped around her shoulders. The pale gray light filtering in through the drapes made it hard to see her face.
"Sorry if I woke you," he apologized.
"No, no, Murph. Don't worry about it." Laura drew the blanket closer and pushed her hair away from her face. "I wanted to talk to you; I didn't mean to fall asleep."
"Look, Laura," Murphy began wearily, "there's nothing that won't wait a few hours. It's been a rough night. You probably need some sleep. I certainly do."
"Murphy, please, I've been waiting for you all night. You don't know what it's like to just sit around for hours and not know if the people you are about care all right -- if they'll ever come home..."
"You don't have to tell me," Murphy interrupted softly. "I didn't know 'til just a few minutes ago if you were alive or dead. He still doesn't know."
Laura drew her knees up, wrapping her arms around them tightly, and rested her forehead against them. When she finally raised her head, it was to beckon Murphy toward the sofa. He came, realizing that her need to talk right now was more important than his body's need for sleep. He could always catch a nap later, he supposed.
As he drew near her, Laura patted the cushion beside her, urging him to sit. He sank down, grateful to be off his feet, too tired to even appreciate her closeness. He did notice, however, that her eyes were extra bright, and he wondered if she'd been crying. Impulsively, he reached out a comforting arm to encircle her, realizing as she lay her head against his shoulder, that it was affection and not passion he was feeling. He wasn't sure what to make of that, but he stored it away to deal with later when his mind was clearer.
They sat that way for some time, each drawing comfort from the other, until Laura finally broke the silence, broaching what weighed heaviest on her mind.
"Is he okay, Murph?" she asked quietly, without lifting her head. "Do you think he's going to be okay?"
There was such a child-like quality to the question that Murphy almost pulled back in amazement. Laura was usually such a strong person, always so confident. The woman he held now was a different Laura, one who desperately needed some reassurance that the man she loved was not gone from her life.
The man she loved. It suddenly struck him that he'd unconsciously used the phrase, but it was true. Laura did love Steele -- to what depths, Murphy was only just now glimpsing. He'd always reckoned that Steele had beat him out, but he hadn't lost anything to Steele. You can't lose what you never had. It was a hard truth to accept.
"He's all right," he finally assured her, after a long silence. "He's got food, and shelter -- after a fashion, but he's pretty worried about you. He wanted me to stop; I'm not sure why I didn't."
Laura at last raised her head at the tone in Murphy's voice.
"You did the right thing, Murph," she hastened to assure him. "Alone, I could pull off getting away on a fluke. If you'd stopped, we'd all be dead. They had guns."
"I know." Murphy remembered grimly the condition of his rear window. "Do you have any idea who they were?"
"I thought maybe you did," Laura answered. "Or maybe Mr. Steele did."
Murphy shrugged, grateful they were back on track now, talking about the case and not dwelling on emotions. "He says he has no idea. The only thing he knows is..." Murphy stopped abruptly, remembering his resolve to keep Laura out of things. It was habit to talk things over with her, and it was a tough one to break.
"He knows what?" Laura prompted, seeing Murphy's jaw clamp tightly shut.
Murphy stubbornly shook his head. "I almost forgot. You've out of this one."
Laura sat up straight and threw off Murphy's arm angrily. "I'm in it up to here," she said, pointing to her neck. "It won't matter to anybody else whether you let me help or not; they'll think I know everything. If it's going to be dangerous, it will still affect me, maybe more so because I won't know what to watch out for, who to..." Laura stopped, comprehension dawning on her face.
"What is it?" Murphy asked in confusion.
"I finally understand what we put him through," she explained. "What it must be like to always have to second guess." She slowly shook her head in amazement. "I don't know how he put up with us."
"He didn't exactly get the short end of the stick," Murphy pointed out. "He spends more money than both of us together. He's hardly a candidate for sainthood."
"I know, Murph," Laura placated. "I know."
"I just wanted to keep the record straight," he added, a little defensively.
Laura gave him an understanding smile which he gladly returned. This was a long-standing argument they each realized had no resolution.
Laura was determined, however, not to give up about helping clear Steele. "Listen, Murph, I'm serious about this. You might as well let me in on it because I'm going to be right behind you all the way. So we either do it together, or you have me dogging your heels."
Murphy studied her face. The sun had come up and he could see her clearly now, the resolve in her eyes, the set to her jaw. This was the Laura he knew. This was the Laura who was a better detective than he was, who accomplished whatever she set out to do. The other Laura he could shelter and protect. This Laura he wanted to have around when things got tight. He knew Steele wouldn't like it, but he was also aware there was no way he could keep her out of it. He heaved a heavy sigh, gave up all hope for forty winks, and began telling her all Steele had told him of Maurice.
With his sleeping bag pulled over his head for warmth, Remington Steele rolled onto his side awkwardly, terribly annoyed at whomever had invented the blasted things. He winced as he found yet another rock on the hard-packed dirt floor of Murphy's excuse for a cabin. He wasn't sure which he would do first -- freeze to death or die of massive contusions. The one thing he was certain he wouldn't be doing was sleeping. All this shivering and tossing about wasn't accomplishing anything.
He reached up and tugged a bit of the sleeping bag away from one eye, enabling him to peer up at the sky through the huge hole in the roof. It looked more promising than the last time he'd ventured a peek. Hopefully the sun would soon be up to warm everything, himself included. Maybe then he would be able to get a bit of rest.
To be honest with himself though, he didn't suppose he could blame his inability to sleep entirely on the elements. Too many troubled thoughts plagued his mind, and even if he'd been lying on the softest mattress in Buckingham Palace, he doubted he would have gotten much more sleep than he had tonight.
Thoughts of Laura were uppermost in his mind -- fear for her safety, concern for what he was making her endure. She hadn't asked for him to barge into her life. She certainly didn't deserve all this grief. He tried to shut out the gruesome conjurings his imagination was feeding his brain about what had transpired on the highway after they'd left Laura behind to handle whomever was chasing them. The worst part was the uncertainty -- the not knowing. But he had Murphy's word that he would let him know if something had happened. He had to cling to that.
Finally giving up all hope of sleep, he crawled from the confinement of the sleeping bag, his body shivering uncontrollably, his fingers hardly able to undo the long zipper. He got it about halfway down before it stuck, caught in the nylon fabric.
"Damn!" he swore aloud, jerking the mechanism free and wrapped the open bag around his shoulders. He paced the length of the cabin a few times to help the circulation in his legs, then finally sat down in a corner, bundled up and propped against the old, rotting wall. His teeth still chattered and he struggled to consciously relax his body.
He tried to focus on something else, but if he didn't let his thoughts dwell on Laura, the only other thing that came to mind was the whole set of circumstances that had brought him here. He'd racked his brain about that almost constantly since he'd walked into his apartment that morning.
He could think of no possible reason why Maurice would try and pin a murder rap on him. The man would have known any hope of blackmail would disappear if he were arrested. Those men chasing them tonight only added more confusion to an already hopeless tangle.
It was no use thinking about it anymore, but he couldn't stop. He was exhausted, but he couldn't sleep. He leaned his head back against the wood. He wanted out of it all, to be in the office where it was warm -- getting in everybody's way and loving it, playing that wonderful game of wearing down Laura's resistance. Laura... He squeezed his eyes shut tightly. God, he hoped she was all right.
"This has got to be the place, Murph," Laura announced, peering out the windshield up at the run-down tenement. "Everything we've got on this Maurice says he's here."
"Let's hope so," Murphy murmured fervently. "I'm not sure how long we can keep ditching the police." He rubbed at his bloodshot eyes. "Or how long we can keep this up."
"As long as it takes, Murphy," Laura informed him matter-of-factly.
"I know." Murphy sighed wearily and stepped out of the car onto the littered sidewalk.
No sooner had he closed the door, when he felt himself shoved up against the car. Instinctively he tried to turn, to face his attacker, but he felt his legs tangle with someone else's. Unable to keep his balance, he fell heavily to the pavement, knocking his breath away. He barely had time to register the two thugs towering over him, when they each grabbed one of his arms, pulling him roughly to his feet. He grit his teeth at the pain as they twisted his arms up behind his back and propelled him forward ahead of them. He stumbled along, trying to locate Laura, but one of them had a handful of his hair. Each time he moved his head, the man would wrench it painfully forward.
They finally came to a stop in a deserted alley, dark even in the afternoon sun, and a third man stepped in front of Murphy and regarded him curiously.
"You must be the driver who fled with Steele," he commented, slapping a glove against his open palm.
"Where's Laura?" Murphy demanded, only to be silenced by a swift blow to his abdomen. He doubled over, gasping for breath, until his escorts pulled him upright again.
"I'm asking the questions here," the man informed him coolly. "But if you're referring to your lady friend..." He made a gesture to someone Murphy couldn't see, but he could hear the scuffling of feet and soon saw a burly-looking man bring Laura to them. His hand was clamped over her mouth and he had a gun to her head.
Murphy's first impulse was to go to her, to help her, but he was held fast, almost crying out at the pain that shot through his arms as the men restrained him effortlessly.
"Foolish move, young man," was the leader's only comment. He moved to Laura and ran his hand down her cheek, along her throat -- tracing the V neck of her sweater.
Murphy thought his arms would break this time as he fought to free himself.
"What do you want?" he demanded in desperation, fearing that whatever it was really wouldn't matter and, in the end, they would do whatever they intended to anyway.
The man chuckled and turned again to Murphy. "Pretty thing. I don't suppose you'd want to see her hurt. It's very simple. We want Steele. You know where he is. You tell us and you go free."
"And if not?"
"If not, well..." The man gestured to his henchman, who cocked back the firing pin of his gun.
"No, wait!" Murphy's eyes caught Laura's, recognizing the expression there. She was pleading with him not to give Steele away -- pleading as if she wasn't sure she could trust Murphy not to. He felt the sweat break out on his forehead and he swallowed hard. He had to stall, to put them off somehow, but that was Laura's department. She was the fast thinker, the glib tongue. Now it was up to him, and the stakes were high. Laura's life depended on him.
"What's Steele done?" Murphy hoped his voice sounded calmer than he felt. "I mean, he says he hasn't done anything. I just wanted to know."
"Okay. Simple enough request. He stole a hundred thousand dollars worth of cocaine from us and iced one of our boys. He's gotta pay."
"But the police have the coke. Killing Steele won't get that back for you," Murphy pointed out.
"True, but it's more of an example. Nobody cuts in on us and gets away with it."
"But he says he didn't do it." Murphy was thinking furiously. "He says he was framed."
The man yawned behind his hand. "So, what else is new?"
"So, do you want to really set an example or do you just want to kill Steele?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, if you kill Steele and he didn't do it, then where's your example? The guy who really did it will be free as a bird, laughing his head off at you. He'll have made fools of you."
The man narrowed his eyes at Murphy. "So what if there is this guy? So?"
"So, we can find him for you. It's what we do."
There was a long, heavy silence while the man considered. During it, Murphy could swear he could hear his own heartbeat. Then, at last, the man came to a decision.
"Okay. For the principle, let's say there is this guy. You got twenty-four hours to hand him over."
"Where will you be?" Murphy asked.
The man snickered. "We'll find you." Then he nodded and he men released their hold. They were gone before Murphy could even take a breath.
"Laura," he gasped and staggered toward her. His blood-starved arms stung with the renewed flow and wouldn't work well, and his legs were trembling.
"Oh, Murphy, are you okay?" Laura reached for him as he nearly stumbled.
"I was about to ask you the same thing." He gazed at her in amazed appreciation.
"I'm fine," she assured him as they made their way out into the daylight and the car. "I'm proud of you, Murph," she told him, smiling. "I thought for a minute... Well, you sure fielded that well."
Murphy returned her smile, knowing full well what she had thought, and was surprised at himself for never even considering it. "Now all we have to do is find Maurice."
"That shouldn't be too hard," Laura said confidently.
"I certainly hope not," Murphy stated. "I think I've had just about all the surprises I can handle for a while."
Steele sat perched on a large boulder, watching the small stream as it meandered down the hillside, and let the warmth of the sun soak into his skin. Strange to think that only a few hours ago he'd been on the verge of hypothermia. He'd survived it, though thinking of enduring it again sent a definite chill down his spine.
It was pleasant enough now. There were no sounds but the chatter of small animals and the running water -- nothing to tell that he was up to his proverbial neck in troubles. No, there was only a sense of tranquility and he wished Laura were here to share it with him.
The thought of Laura brought all of his problems rushing forward to plague him. Murphy hadn't returned. That was a good sign, but the uncertainty was gnawing at him. It was difficult being so ignorant while miles away, his life's hand was being dealt out.
He stood up slowly and began once more to explore the vicinity around his meager shelter. He had been in the middle of doing that when the scenic allure of the stream had caused him to rest for a while. Now he resumed his task. He was intent on finding a few good hiding places -- just in case. They always seemed to come in handy and he would hate to be caught unawares. He'd already found a few loose boards in the rear wall of the cabin that might prove useful in a pinch. Now he needed a place to run to.
The trees began to thin, and up ahead an outcropping of rock caught his eye. With long strides he climbed up onto the rocks, peering into cracks and crannies, mindful of snakes and other surprises. Near the top his efforts were rewarded.
It wasn't a big cave, merely a hole in the rocks, but it was deep enough to be safe from prying eyes. It was also near enough to the cabin to be gained in a reasonable amount of time. After satisfying himself that it wasn't already occupied, he crawled out and stood up, dusting off his hands triumphantly. It was a good alternative. Not that he was ever planning to make use of it, but it made him feel more secure, knowing he had a second choice to fall back on.
I'm not sure this is going to be so easy," Murphy whispered as he and Laura crouched behind an extremely dented trash dumpster waiting for Maurice to make an appearance. That wonderful fragrance peculiar to garbage assailed their nostrils so that breathing had definitely become an unpleasant experience.
"He's got to come out some time." Laura's own impatience sounded loud and clear.
"Yeah, but we can hardly turn this guy over to those thugs. He's the nearest thing to an alibi Steele's got."
"I know that. But I figure if we can just get a hold of him, explain his options to him, then he'll cooperate with us."
"Options?" Murphy queried.
"Sure," Laura explained confidently. "He either takes his chances with us and the police or with those guys out there. Who would you choose?"
"That would all depend on how guilty I was," Murphy decided.
"That's what I like about you, Murph. You always have an answer for everything."
"Yeah?" Murphy raised an eyebrow. "What else do you like about me?" he asked, smiling broadly.
Laura jabbed him affectionately in the ribs. "The fact that you don't push," she informed him sternly.
Murphy winced a bit, even though her touch had been light. His midsection was still pretty tender.
"Sorry," Laura apologized upon seeing his smile fade to a slight grimace.
"Don't worry about it," Murphy chuckled drily, then grabbed Laura's arm and nodded toward the steps leading up to the crumbling apartments. "Look there."
A diminutive-looking man had come out the main door and stood gazing up and down the street. As they studied his actions, Murphy noted that he wasn't showing the nervousness of the mouse. It was more the caution of the fox. He might prove difficult to deal with.
He was apparently satisfied with conditions on the street for he jammed his hands into his coat pockets and trotted down the stairs, heading off away from where Laura and Murphy sat hiding.
"C'mon." Murphy took Laura's arm and led her along the street, trying to act as if casually strolling.
"We've got to get him headed towards the car," Laura observed quietly. "If we corner him too far away from it, we'll never get him out of here."
"I know, I know," Murphy agreed. "But how do we do that?"
Laura's brow wrinkled a bit in concentration. "Do you think he knows our faces?"
Murphy shrugged. "Probably. At least yours. He was blackmailing Remington Steele."
"Okay. Don't you think he'd panic a little if he was confronted by one of us?"
"Yeah, go on," Murphy prompted.
"I'll cut around him, get ahead, then let him see me. He'll come back this way. I can herd him to the car where you'll be waiting to escort him on in."
"Sounds good." Murphy pointed out a side street nearby. "I think if you go that way, you'll end up in front of him."
"Right. Meet you at the car."
With that, Laura disappeared down the unsavory-looking road. Murphy watched her go then hurried back the way they'd come.
Heading off Maurice proved to be an easy task after all. It only took one quick wide-eyed glance at Laura to set him spinning around and running in the opposite direction. Laura followed after him.
Their luck held and the man ran straight down the street, coming up short in shocked surprise when Murphy popped out in front of him. He started to back up, but Laura was right behind him. His head whirled around to gape open-mouthed at her.
"What's going on?" he stammered. Murphy put a hand to Maurice's neck and pushed him up against the car.
Laura frowned at the cultured accent, so familiar now, and Murphy knew it was probably an unpleasant reminder of what her Remington Steele could once have been.
"We're about to save your skin," Murphy informed him.
"My skin?" An innocent smile appeared on the man's face. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Stow it," Laura ordered firmly. "That's the mob out there, ready to eat you for breakfast."
"Not me," Maurice corrected slyly. "They want Remington Steele."
"Maybe," Murphy conceded. "But it seems a little bird dropped a bug in their ear that just maybe they're after the wrong guy. That maybe somebody else did the dirty deed."
Maurice paled a bit but didn't reply.
"Well, Laura," Murphy went on, "maybe we can just hand him over to them like they want."
"No, wait a minute!" Maurice blurted out. "You can't do that. They'd kill me first and ask questions later."
"Possibly," Laura admitted coolly.
Maurice's fearful gaze darted from one detective to the other. "What do you want from me?" he finally asked.
"You deal with us," Laura stated, "and we take you to the police."
"The police!" The voice rose several octaves. "You might as well hand me over to the mob."
"But the police won't kill you," Murphy pointed out reasonably.
Maurice was definitely caught in a dilemma, his fingers drumming nervously on the car's vinyl top. His eyes moved from Laura to Murphy.
"It was an accident, you know," he began in his own behalf. "Killing that chap. I didn't know he was going to follow me to Brody's apartment."
"Brody?" Laura grew alert for a possible revelation.
"Steele, you know. I knew him as Matt Brody. What's in a name anyway?"
"That's a familiar refrain," Murphy commented.
"So what happened?" Laura prompted.
"I brought the cocaine to Bro ... I mean Steele's apartment. I thought maybe he'd go in on a split. I was having trouble selling it and he mixes with a lot of bigwigs now. I figured maybe he would because I knew he wasn't Remington Steele. But this guy comes in and is going to shoot me. Well, it came to a fight and he got my knife in his chest."
"And you let Mr. Steele take the fall," Laura declared.
"Well, why not? I certainly wasn't going to hang around. Things were already too hot."
"You tell that to the police and maybe they'll make you a deal," Murphy offered.
"Maybe?" Maurice didn't sound impressed.
"What kind of a deal will those guys offer you?" Laura inquired.
Maurice hesitated, then nodded resignedly. "What choice do I have?" he asked despondently.
"None," Laura answered flatly and opened the car door, gesturing for the man to climb inside. He did so, with only a little push from Murphy. Soon they were speeding off in the direction of police headquarters.
They'd been driving for only a few minutes when Murphy chuckled. Laura caught his eye in the rear-view mirror.
"What's so funny?"
Murphy shook his head with a grin. "I was just thinking how glad he'll probably be to get out of those woods."
"Woods? You left him out in the woods?"
"Basically. An old cabin up at Big Bear. I found it one time while I was fishing. It's not too far from the lake."
Laura smiled into the mirror. Relief that things would soon be over allowed her sense of humor to return. "That wasn't very nice, you know."
"What else could I do?" Murphy asked. "It was kinda short notice."
Maurice hadn't been paying attention to his abductors' banter. Lost in his own thoughts, he'd been toying with the ashtray in the door. Suddenly though he raised his voice in indignation, silencing Laura and Murphy.
"Hey, you've been taping me. I want a lawyer," he demanded.
"What are you talking about?" Laura asked.
Maurice held up a thin electronic disk. Murphy reached over to take it in his hand, staring at it for a moment. He slowly looked up to meet Laura's gaze, comprehension hitting them both at once.
"Oh my God," Laura breathed out.
"My car's at the office," Murphy stated. "Drop me there and get this guy to headquarters."
"Where are you going?" Laura stomped on the accelerator, throwing her passengers hard against their seats.
"Where do you think? To get him out of there."
"I'm coming with you," she announced.
"No way," Murphy informed her. "You have to keep this guy's head on his shoulders or it won't matter what happens to Steele."
Laura wanted to argue, but there was no way out of if. Murphy was right. When at last she screeched to a halt in the shadow of the two tall towers, Murphy sprang out of the car. Laura felt a terrible wrenching inside and tried to fight down the panic. Things just had to turn out right after all they'd been through.
"Be careful, Murphy!" she called after him, but wasn't sure he'd heard as he went running to his car. Deliberately shifting her eyes to the road, she threw the car into gear and headed off again, all the while feeling like she was already far too late and would never be able to catch up.
Murphy pressed the accelerator closer to the floor, trying to ease even the tiniest bit more speed out of his car's engine. He really should've gotten it tuned, but he'd just never found the time. Now, as he felt the shimmy in the rear end, he wondered what else he would need to have fixed after this was all over.
He wove in and out of traffic expertly, all too aware he would never be able to overtake them. They'd had at least half an hour's jump on him. His only hope was the fact that he knew exactly where to go, and they only knew the general vicinity. It was his only edge and Steele's only hope for survival. He hoped it would be enough.
Funny that he should be tearing madly across the countryside like this to save his neck. Never in a million years would he ever have pictured it. Since Steele had walked into their lives, Murphy had avoided him whenever possible, goaded him at every opportunity, beefed about him constantly, been embarrassed by him frequently. His fondest wish had been that the guy would eventually grow bored and move on, out of the picture entirely.
But now, without a second thought, Murphy had hopped into his car to go charging in like the cavalry and pull his irons out of the fire. He sighed deeply, bewildered at his own behavior. Natural born stooge, he supposed. No matter what, he always seemed to end up doing these hare-brained kind of things.
Of course, he'd hardly had much choice. He couldn't very well have sent Laura up here while he escorted Maurice to the safety of the police department, even though she had desperately wanted go. That just wasn't in his nature.
He cut around a chugging Datsun and veered to the right as he spotted the off ramp that would take him up the mountain. The roads would slow him down now, but, glancing at his watch, he still figured he'd made pretty good time. He marvelled that he hadn't picked up one police car, something he actually would have welcomed. The old saying was certainly holding true: never around when you need one.
He drove the winding curves more recklessly than he cared to, urgency adding daring to his usually more conservative nature. He wondered where the gangsters were headed, what Steele would be doing at this moment, what he would think when he saw Murphy come tearing in, or would he have the sense to run at the sight of a stranger. It seemed likely, given his uncanny sense of self-preservation, but that too, depended on whether or not he had any advance warning that something was amiss. It still all boiled down to Murphy getting there ahead of the mob.
His eyes, watching alertly, suddenly caught sight of the turn off, blessedly obscure to a casual observer. He nearly fishtailed as he swung onto it, cursing the dust his tires churned up on the dirt road. He knew it was probably visible for miles, but it couldn't be helped. Speed mattered more than stealth at this point. His eyes flitted to his rear-view mirror, taking in the red blaze of the setting sun, not sure if the approaching darkness would be a blessing or a curse, but knowing that it too was inevitable and something he would have to deal with soon.
A sudden idea came to mind and he screeched the car to a skidding stop. A bit of cleverness now might not hurt anything. If they'd caught that cloud of dust, and he didn't see how they could've missed it, it wouldn't do to lead them to Steele's front door. Let them have to search a bit. It would possibly buy him some extra time. The chance that his walking the rest of the way would put them there ahead of him was a gamble he'd have to take. He reckoned the odds slightly in his favor.
Dusk was full upon the mountainside now and it was hard to see very well. He jumped out of his car and surveyed the road behind him. So far it seemed empty. If he hadn't known better, he would have supposed he was the only person up here, but it had to be otherwise. The evidence and a keen inner sense told him that. Pushing away whatever apprehensions he might be feeling, he turned and began jogging up the road, the steep incline and rocky surface keeping him from the breakneck pace he would rather have run. A short way up he left the main road for the cover of a small trail that paralleled the larger thoroughfare. Let them try and follow him now.
Steele held his hands out toward the small fire, grateful for the warmth. With the setting sun had come the return of the bone-penetrating cold. Murphy would probably be angry with him for building the fire, but the prospect of facing another freezing night seemed far worse than Murphy's possible wrath. Besides, he doubted there was anyone else within miles who might see it. The only living creatures he's observed had been chipmunks, squirrels and a few raccoons.
His eyes drooped a little in the warmth. He'd snatched a bit of sleep during the afternoon but he'd been too much on edge to really slumber deeply. Now he felt himself drifting ever so slightly. Rousing himself enough to fetch the sleeping bag, he brought it near the fire, made it as cozy as possible, then crawled into it. He was more than ready for a long night's sleep.
Murphy crouched in the brush and rubbed his arms briskly. Too bad he hadn't brought a coat, but there'd been no time. He'd have to endure it. Shivering slightly, he crept softly forward. He was very close to the old cabin. It was now totally dark and he was having no little difficulty seeing. Suddenly, he saw something that froze him in his tracks. He could see the cabin. He could see it because there was light shining through the many cracks and holes in the walls. It was the dim flickering of firelight and Murphy didn't have to guess who'd started it.
"Oh, Lord," he moaned to himself. "He might as well have lit a beacon."
He scanned the immediate area, trying to see if there was anyone else nearby, but he couldn't tell. It was far too dark. The forest could be crawling with men and he wouldn't have been able to pick them out. Perhaps then Steele was as yet undiscovered. Perhaps he could still get him out, get them both out of this. Murphy didn't think that if they'd already killed Steele they would hang around, and thus far he hadn't heard any shots. He took some comfort in that as he silently made his way to the cabin.
Steele awoke abruptly, sensing he was no longer alone in the cabin. He lay still, his eyes cracked ever so slightly, his body tensed for action, not knowing what kind of danger he faced or how much time he would have to react. Murphy had been right about the fire; he should have listened.
Suddenly, his ears picked up a sound. He waited only a beat. Then, without warning, he rolled away from the flames, shedding himself of the sleeping bag with a speed that even amazed himself. At the same instant, a foot kicked at the fire, sending burning logs scattering across the dirt floor. Steele stared up at the intruder, only to find his associate stomping at the fire and kicking dirt over still burning logs.
"Murphy!" Steele exclaimed, both relieved and indignant.
"Shut up!" Murphy ordered in a hoarse whisper. "What the hell were you thinking of?"
Steele, all fear now vanished, was beginning to feel angry. That anger only increased as more and more of his source of heat disappeared under Murphy's rapidly working feet. It was all but gone. Only a faint flicker of light remained to cast Murphy's shadow on the wall.
"What do you think?" Steele retorted, taking his cue subconsciously and whispering as well. "Trying to keep from freezing to death. No reason for you to come sneaking up and..."
His tirade was interrupted by the loud report of several guns ringing through the forest stillness. Both men dove to the ground.
For what seemed an eternity, gunshots whizzed through the cabin, sending chips of wood flying. Even after the firing stopped, and the night sounds of the mountain had resumed, Steele lay with his arms over his head, listening to the ringing in his ears. They must have followed Murphy up here. Steele lifted his head a fraction and listened. He could hear the distant, muffled sound of someone talking. He knew they had to get out of here before someone, whomever it was, came in to survey their handiwork.
"Murphy?" he barely whispered. There was no answer.
Neither was there any light left to see by. Only a couple of faint red embers told him where the fire had once been.
"Murphy?" he breathed out again. His heart began to pound faster when there was still no response from his partner. He didn't even want to think about why Murphy might not be answering him. The voices outside became more audible.
"Murphy," he murmured again, more a plea this time.
When there was still only silence, Steele began a slow, desperate crawl across the dirt floor toward those faint embers where Murphy had been standing, an easy target. As he made his way carefully, he swung his arms out in wide arcs around him, trying to cover spaces where a man might have fallen. He could hear his heart thumping loudly, but it nearly stopped when his hand struck something and froze.
It was a leg, denim clad by the feel of it. Steele strained his eyes trying to see Murphy in the total blackness, but to no avail. He had to rely on touch and moved his hand along the still figure, checking for signs of life. He recoiled for an instant at the warm stickiness on the upper thigh -- at least one wound, and it was bleeding profusely. Grimly wiping his hand on his own pant leg, Steele continued his examination until he finally found the shaggy head. It was face down in the dirt.
"Murphy." He felt for any sign of life, finding first a warm breath, then a racing carotid pulse. Alive, but there was also blood and no way to determine its source.
More sounds outside brought Steele up sharply. He had to get out of here, but what to do with Murphy? If it was the authorities out there, better to leave his friend here where help could be obtained. But something about this whole evening didn't click right in his brain. It didn't make sense that the police would have just mowed them down like that. In every movie ever made, they always shouted repeated warnings and ultimatums. Whoever they were, Steele didn't plan on hanging around to find out for sure, and he couldn't risk leaving Murphy to the mercy of people who apparently didn't have any. It would have to be the back door for both of them.
He quietly got to his feet, then bent to grab Murphy by the arms. He pulled the fallen detective to a sitting position, praying that he didn't make worse any as yet undiscovered wounds. He carefully slung Murphy across his shoulders, the old fireman's carry still the most useful. He staggered a bit under the weight, shifted his partner just a little, then moved noiselessly to the wall.
He found the loose boards with his feet, and pushed them aside slowly. The stars in the night sky offered a little light, making it easier to deal with than the dark of the cabin. He ducked out and let the boards fall back into place. He stood still for an instant, checking for any intruders. There were none he could see. In any case, he would have to take the chance they were all toward the front.
As quickly as he could, he carried his burden away from the cabin and into the cover of the trees, trying to ignore the flicker of flashlights from the front of the cabin. He let instinct guide him as he moved deeper into the woods. He'd memorized the way to the small cave thoroughly, as was his habit to do with escape routes. Hopefully, his feet could remember what his eyes couldn't see.
He quickened his pace as he felt a warm wetness on his arm. Murphy's leg needed immediate attention, but he took hope in feeling the detective's quiet breathing on his shoulder. At least he wasn't in any distress at the moment. Steele's own breath was beginning to rasp and he heaved a sigh of relief when the rocks under his feet told him he'd followed the right course.
Reaching the cave was no easy matter, but finally he came upon the entrance. He carefully lowered Murphy to the ground, his back and neck cracking in relief. Then he crawled into the small opening, twisted around and, grabbing the wounded man under his arms, pulled him inside.
When he thought he'd retreated far enough, he stopped. Nothing to do now but wait for daybreak and a chance to find Murphy's car. Hopefully, they would be safe here until then. That was providing of course, that Murphy survived until morning.
Steele once more moved his hands to examine Murphy's wounds. The leg was still bleeding heavily and he could detect a slight rhythm to the flow. He knew that meant an artery had been nicked. If it went unchecked, Murphy would very likely bleed to death.
Mentally going through what he had on him, Steele decided the only bandages he could scrounge would have to be pieces of shirt. He stripped off his coat, remembered something vaguely about shock, and covered Murphy's torso with it. It was the only warmth he could offer; all the blankets had been left behind at the cabin. Then, he removed his shirt and began tearing it as best he could, folding the strips into makeshift compresses.
It was when he was trying to figure out how to cut the material away from the wound that Steele remembered the knife in his coat pocket. Quickly retrieving it, he slit open the pant leg. Locating the actual bullet hole, he held the compresses against it. Distantly he registered that his own hands were trembling, but he attributed it to a combination of cold and exertion.
As he applied more pressure, he heard Murphy moan softly, probably from the pain of contact. It couldn't be helped. There wasn't any other way to control the bleeding except perhaps a tourniquet, something Steele was not even willing to consider. He pressed harder and the pulsating flow began to slow, but he heard Murphy moan again and could feel him stirring. He wondered which was going to hold out longer, his strength or Murphy's tolerance for pain.
Murphy was aware of only blackness. Funny, but he thought he'd opened his eyes. Maybe he was asleep and dreaming -- no, make that a nightmare. He could remember images: a fire, gunshots -- and pain. Pain. It was there suddenly. He moaned involuntarily. He wanted to move, to do something, but he was held fast. Someone had a death grip on his leg and his mind told him it was there the pain came from. He tried to kick loose, to cry out to whomever had a hold of him to let him go, but abruptly, he felt a clammy hand clamp over on his mouth, stifling any sound he might have made.
"Quiet, ol' chap," came a familiar though fierce whisper close to his ear. "You'll be handing us over on a platter if you can't keep it down."
It was Steele's voice. Murphy blinked in the darkness. So he had opened his eyes after all. He must have died then. All the pain and blackness and Steele to boot. He must have died and gone to hell.
Gradually Steele's hand loosened on his mouth and pulled away. Unexpectedly, Murphy felt lost at the lack of contact -- lost and alone in the blackness.
"Are you still here?" he whispered to the dark.
"Where else would I be?" came the comforting reply.
"Are you the one pinching my leg off?" He grit his teeth against the stabbing.
"Can't very well let you bleed all over me, can I?" Steele answered with false cheeriness.
Once more he remembered the guns. Bleed? Am I bleeding? Murphy wondered. "Did I get shot?"
"You've got it right there, mate," Steele said gently. "The leg seems to have gotten the worst of it, but also somewhere in the scalp, I think."
Murphy instinctively raised his hand to his head, meaning to probe for a wound, when another spasm of agony shot through his leg and up his spine. His whole body arched and the hand that had been moving flailed wildly, searching for something to hang onto. He made contact with something and gripped it hard, focusing on it instead of the pain, biting his lip bloody in order not to scream.
Slowly the pain began to ebb and his ragged breathing became more normal.
"Easy there, Murphy. Easy now," came the soothing words from Steele and Murphy realized, a little embarrassedly, whose hand he was clutching, but he didn't let go. He was too grateful for the touch, the link to someone else.
"Why does it hurt so much?" he asked in a small voice. "If it's just a bullet wound, why does it hurt like that?"
"That's me," Steele answered truthfully. "I'm trying to stop the bleeding." He paused as if deciding how much to tell. Then he went on. "I think the bullet's still in there, touching a nerve of something. Every time I put any pressure on it, that triggers the pain. I've eased off now, but the bleeding started again." There was another pause in the darkness before Steele continued. "I'll leave it up to you. I have to renew the pressure."
Murphy was quiet a moment, considering the two alternatives. Neither was very appealing. "Okay," he finally whispered. "But talk to me. Keep my mind off it."
Immediately the pain returned, much more intense than before. Murphy gasped out loud as it burned through his leg, but there was the hand to hold onto. He clutched it tightly with both of his own, and out of the darkness came that cultured voice, calm and quiet, offering a flood of speech to focus on.
"All right now, Murphy. Don't think about the pain. Why don't we talk about our friends out there. Who are they anyway?" For a moment there was only the sound of half-stifled groans. "Come on, Murphy," Steele urged. "Don't think about it. Those men, who are they?"
"Buncha thugs," Murphy finally answered hoarsely. "Mob sent 'em."
Murphy could imagine the surprise on those fine features, and the humor distracted his mind for a while. "Yeah. They think you ripped 'em off -- the cocaine. Think you iced their runner too."
"The corpse in my living room, eh?"
"Yep." There was a pause as Murphy winced between clenched teeth.
"So who did it?" Steele continued. "Good ol' Maurice?"
Murphy nodded, an effort wasted in the dark. "Yeah, but only because the guy surprised him at your place. Course, he didn't see any harm in letting you take the heat."
"Oh, of course not. What are friends for anyway? I presume he did steal the cocaine, though."
"Yeah, he's guilty there. But we made a deal with him. Better jail than the deep blue sea. Laura's got him at the police station right now. Hopefully he's spilling his guts. You'll be off the hook with the local law enforcement." Another sharp stab of pain shot through his leg, and Murphy's grip on Steele's hand tightened until he thought he must be breaking it.
"Steele?" Murphy whispered, uncomfortable in the brief silence. When he heard his companion's voice again, there was a different quality to it, and the subject had altered radically.
"Laura's all right then?" The question sounded amazed, relieved, overjoyed all at once, even to Murphy's distracted senses, and he abruptly remembered that Steele had not known until that moment, could not have known, that Laura was even alive. He hadn't asked; maybe he'd been afraid to. Murphy remembered his own fears on that score. It must have been unbearable.
"She's fine," he reassured, trying desperately to ignore the burning in his leg, but he couldn't ignore the heartfelt sigh of relief he heard from Steele. It spoke volumes to Murphy's own heart, tearing at it a little. He had to admit to himself that it was just possible that Steele did care for Laura. Why else would he have stuck around for so long? Murphy felt his own foolish hopes squelched. If this were truly the case, then the flame he'd kept kindled for so long was doomed. He'd been so positive that Steele was only out for a quick conquest. He'd been so fearful of Laura getting hurt. But now he only felt foolish -- foolish and tired and cold.
Steele's arms ached terribly, and he wished he dared release his hold on Murphy's leg. The hand Murphy grasped throbbed from the pain-strengthened grip, but he supposed he could withstand it, since it seemed to help Murphy fight the waves of agony. He felt himself shivering, and finally realized how cold it was. He tucked his coat tighter around Murphy's shoulders, aware the wounded man must be suffering from it worse. He could feel Murphy frequently convulse with chills.
He wondered how realistic he was being, hiding up here like this. What were the real odds on Murphy making it through the night? And if he didn't, Steele wasn't sure he could ever face Laura. Or himself, for that matter. Like it or not, he'd come to care for Murphy in spite of their frequent vocal sparrings. It had never been in his plans to have anyone die on his behalf.
"Steele?" came Murphy's hoarse whisper and Steele realized he'd been silent a long time. "You still there?"
"Hmmm? Just thinking."
Steele smiled sympathetically at the hesitancy in Murphy's voice. This must be as hard for the detective as it was for himself. For the first time all evening, Steele was grateful for the darkness. It gave one a sense of freedom -- to be open and honest.
"About Laura and a lot of things."
"You know, it's okay about you and Laura," Murphy stammered. "I mean, I don't think quite the same as I..."
"I think I understand," Steele interrupted, sensing Murphy's distress. "You care a lot about her, don't you? More than just an associate, more than just a friend."
"Yeah," Murphy admitted with a sigh. "But I never had a chance. I'll always be like her brother or something -- not like she feels for you. I'm not being a martyr or anything," he hastened to add, "just stating facts."
Steele was quiet for a moment, then he sighed. Introspection was so depressing, but he wanted Murphy to know how he really felt, just in case -- no, scratch that thought -- just to set everything straight.
"I'll tell you something, Murphy. There are times when I'd gladly trade places with you. Laura may have a certain amount of feeling for me, but when she needs someone she can count on, someone to trust, she turns to you first. She depends on you, Murphy. That hurts me terribly at times, that she doesn't trust me."
Murphy didn't say anything for a minute and Steele wondered what was going through his mind.
"You outta know," he finally spoke up, "I was on my way out."
"Yep. Leaving. More like running away, I guess."
"Because of Laura and..."
"Yeah. I guess so. I'm not really sure anymore."
Things grew quiet and Steele decided to steer the subject away to other areas. "How's the leg doing?"
"Still there." Murphy seemed glad to talk about something else. "Doesn't seem quite so bad now. Is that good or bad?"
"I wish I knew." Steele wished he felt more certain. He'd already noticed Murphy's grip had loosened on his hand. "How are you feeling otherwise?"
"Cold and kinda numb," Murphy responded quickly. "My head is pounding and I'm awfully thirsty. Don't s'pose we've got any water?"
"Sorry, wasn't any handy." Steele chuckled, trying to make light of what he figured was a pressing need. Of course Murphy would be thirsty. He'd lost so much blood that his body was probably crying out for fluids. He wondered if he dared risk leaving Murphy to go and steal some things from the cabin, but he couldn't be sure of finding him alive when he got back. It was a no-win situation. Whatever decision he made was bound to turn sour and he didn't want the responsibility. He'd avoided it his whole life, run away from it, flaunted it in other's faces. And now it bore down on him heavier than he ever imagined it could. Maybe it was justice for never facing up to it before. Still, it didn't seem quite fair that someone else's life should hang in the balance in order to punish him.
"Steele?" Murphy sounded more distant.
"Steele, if things don't go right... I mean... well, you know what I mean."
"No. I don't," Steele cut in. "No deathbed scenes, please. Nobody's dying around here."
"Okay," Murphy acquiesced, sounding too tired to argue. "Whatever you say."
Laura fidgeted nervously in the passenger seat of the squad car as it wound its way up the mountain roads. Any moment now the helicopter should be finding Murphy's car and signaling its location. She hoped they were in time to be of some help.
It had taken three lifetimes to get things rolling at headquarters. They'd listened to Maurice's story half a dozen times, checking this and that against something else. Of course, she'd convinced Maurice that he really didn't want to add blackmail to his list of crimes. He'd blessedly omitted any reference to the false identity of Remington Steele; at least that was taken care of. All that remained was to make sure there was still a Remington Steele alive to live up to his newly restored reputation.
She craned her neck to peer up at the helicopter as she saw it circle over them and disappear into the glare of the newly-risen sun. How she wished she could've come up here with Murphy. At least then she would know what fate had befallen the two men she cared most about in the world. Patience had never been her strong suit.
Static crackled over the radio, bringing her attention back inside the car. The officer with her fiddled with the dial, and she heard the best news she'd had for days.
"We've spotted a car matching the description. It's on a fire trail -- #105 on the map. There's an old cabin up there too. Could be the place."
"Any sign of life?" the policeman asked into the mike, and Laura shot him a glare at his choice of words.
"Negative," came the reply. "No movement visible from up here."
Laura chewed her lip in consternation, wondering where Murphy and Steele could be. The thought that they might be dead strayed unbidden into her mind, but she quickly rejected it. She refused to dwell on morbid possibilities.
It wasn't long before they found the old fire road and were skidding to a stop behind Murphy's car. A whole retinue of squad cars pulled up behind them, each spilling out two or three officers who were quickly organized into several search teams. Laura sidled up to the officer in charge, determined to be with the first group. The policeman gave her a curious look, but said nothing. He had his orders that she was allowed in on this.
It took roughly fifteen minutes of steady hiking before they came upon the ramshackle cabin. It was far worse than Murphy had described, and she allowed herself a small smile at the thought of him getting along in the wilderness.
She watched the officer pull out his bullhorn. All of the men were still hidden in the foliage, but she could hear guns being readied for possible action.
"Wait," she said, a little panicked at the thought of a shootout. "They're not criminals; they don't have any guns."
"The men who were after them do," the officer replied evenly. "We don't know who's in there."
Laura said nothing. What was there to say?
"This is the police." The bullhorn blared so loudly that Laura winced at the sound. "Come out of the cabin with your hands in the air."
There was no sound but the distant hammering of a woodpecker.
There must have been some kind of signal given for she saw two officers emerge from hiding, weapons drawn, making their way quickly to the side of the cabin. Unconsciously, she held her breath, more than a little fearful of what they might find inside. She watched nervously as they peered in through the cracks, then moved to the far side of the building.
"It's empty, Lieutenant," came the call at last. "There was somebody here, though."
Laura exhaled noisily, but could find no relief for her fears just yet. She only knew that they weren't lying dead on the floor in there.
She followed the lieutenant to the cabin to check things out. Maybe they'd left something to tell where they'd gone. When they reached the opening where the door had once been, Laura made sure she was in front, and the first to enter.
The sight that met her eyes was not an encouraging one. Things were scattered everywhere -- food, blankets, a sleeping bag, clothes... his clothes. Laura reached down and picked up a silken handkerchief, damp and soiled with dirt, but she could still make out the monogrammed initials RS. She clutched the handkerchief tightly and moved, tight-lipped, to where the lieutenant was studying the ground.
He glanced up as she approached and seemed about to stop her, but apparently something in her face made him decide otherwise. He stepped aside and gestured to a darkened stain in the dirt.
"It's blood," he announced grimly and she felt her heart stop beating. "A lot of it." He waved his hand at the flimsy walls. "There're bullet holes everywhere, and my men found cartridges outside."
"But no bodies." She swallowed hard, trying her utmost to remain professional.
"Not yet," the man answered.
She nodded and her eyes moved to take in the grisly sight. Then she spotted something else. She took a few steps, then bent down to peer intently at the ground before she moved a few more steps.
"What is it, Miss Holt?" the policeman asked quizzically.
"More blood," she answered as she kept moving from spot to spot. When she arrived at the wall and found an apparent dead end, she began probing the boards. After testing several, she found the ones that slid away. Then, much to her satisfaction, she found more blood on the ground outside. "Lieutenant, whoever got shot was on the move. He made it out of here." She felt exhilarated, discounting the fact that it was still a trail of blood.
The officer moved to stand next to her, studying the boards and the blood splatters. She watched as his brow wrinkled in concentration. He looked back over his shoulder at the larger stain.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"It doesn't fit." He scratched his head. "All that blood there and only a little here. Somebody hurt that bad could hardly have gotten up and walked out."
"But there were two of them," she burst out. "Maybe one was hurt and the other was helping him."
"Carrying would have to be the case," he observed. "Only one set of footprints anyway."
"In any case, they could still be out there hiding someplace."
"You may be right, Miss Holt."
She didn't wait around to hear the man order his forces to concentrate in an easterly direction. She'd already slipped through the boards and was on her way into the woods, straining hard to find the elusive blood trail. She pushed from her mind all thoughts about whose blood she followed, which of her friends might be near death. She concentrated solely on following the trail.
Steele's head jerked with a start, and he realized he must have dozed off. He glanced down at his hand in alarm, fearing for Murphy's wound, but he still held firm over the artery. He wondered if he would ever be able to relax that hand again. They were linked together, he and Murphy, as firmly as if they'd been Tony Curtis and Sidney Potier in The Defiant Ones. It didn't take manacles to bind your life to someone else.
His other hand was still holding Murphy's, though it was more for his own reassurance now than for any comfort it might offer Murphy. The detective had been fading in and out all through the long hours of the night, sometimes lucid and wanting conversation, more often rambling incoherently about things Steele could only guess at.
Abruptly he blinked in dawning comprehension. He was staring at his hands, and he could see them. The sun must have come up while he slept. The bit of light reaching them was pale, but it seemed glorious to him after sitting for so long in the dark. Perhaps now he could find his way to Murphy's car and get the wounded man some much needed help.
He needed to check out the area, to see if things were clear. To do that meant letting go of Murphy's leg. He racked his brain for a moment, then decided he would just have to use some of the cloth to tie the dressing in place as securely as it could be made. Hopefully, it wouldn't be for long.
As he went about making the bandage, he cursed at the stiff clumsiness in his hands. They were shaking violently, and he at last became aware of just how cold he was. He got the bandage in place, a little relieved to note that, although the bleeding had started again, it wasn't as bad as it had been last night.
"Okay, Murphy," he said softly, hoping his friend could hear him, "hang in there, mate. I'll be back before you know it."
He got to his feet, crouched at the waist because of the low ceiling, and groaned at the kinks in his legs. Then, shivering uncontrollably, he crept toward the small opening of the cave and peered out into the glaringly bright sunlight.
Immediately, he ducked away from the opening. He'd heard a helicopter. Damn, but they were persistent. While he'd sat trapped like a badger, they'd gotten reinforcements. What to do now? What to do? He tried to think; he'd always been able to come up with alternatives, gotten out of tough scrapes at the drop of a hat, but his brain wasn't functioning well at the moment. He just couldn't think what to do, and he was convinced that both he and Murphy would die up here in this rat trap.
And then he thought he saw Laura. Hallucinations. The cold must have really affected him. He looked again, and she was still there. He rubbed at his eyes, hoping to clear them, but he heard her call his name -- and Murphy's. Then she was surrounded by what seemed hundreds of uniformed men. He must be losing his mind. The helicopter flew by again, directly overhead, and he found himself calling out her name, hoping the sound of his own voice would end the hallucinations.
"Laura!" he called out, his hands covering his ears against the terrible noise of the helicopter.
The sound faded away quickly, leaving a deathly stillness. He slowly lowered his hands, and heard Laura's urgent call again.
Against his better judgement, almost as if drawn, he followed her voice. Crawling out of the cave on hands and knees, body trembling and teeth chattering, he at last stood up straight, steadying himself on the rocks. He would face the illusion upright at least.
She was there, had spotted him, and was running toward him. At long last his weary mind registered her face, her running figure, and finally acknowledged that she was here.
"Laura!" he called hoarsely, and his legs grew weak with relief. He slipped and slid down the rocks and stumbled into her eager embrace, soaking up her warmth, her softness, the tears she spilled on his bare shoulders. She was alive and here and the long, terrible night was over.
But it wasn't over. He straightened suddenly and shot a glance back up at the cave.
"Are you all right?" The concern in her voice caused him to study her. She was holding both his hands, and he could tell well enough what she must be thinking. But it wasn't his blood all over him, covering his hands, his pants, his shoes. He hadn't realized there was so much of it.
"It's not me," he blurted out. "It's Murphy. He's up there. He's been shot." He was stumbling over his words in his haste to get everything out. "He needs help, Laura. Right away."
Instantly Laura was all efficiency. She called to a nearby police officer who had been standing off at a discreet distance. Now the man came forward.
"My associate is hurt in that cave up there. We'll need some help getting him down. Do you think we might make use of your helicopter?"
The man nodded crisply and motioned to some other officers. Laura took Steele's hand and headed up toward the cave.
"Show me," she instructed calmly.
Steele started back up the rocks, not at all sure he was going to make it. Laura must have noticed, for she kept a supportive arm at his elbow.
"He's lost a lot of blood," Steele advised, short of breath from the climb. "Shot in the leg. I'm pretty sure it got an artery."
He watched Laura for some kind of reaction but she showed none. Perhaps, in its own way, a reaction, not dealing with anything until all the facts were in.
When they reached the cave Steele allowed Laura to precede him into the opening. There wouldn't be much room in there, so he followed her in only as far as the entryway, from where he had watched the helicopter.
He heard Laura call Murphy's name softly when she found him, heard the catch in her voice as she gazed upon that pale, drawn face. Her hair had fallen forward, obscuring her face from him, but he saw her pick up one of Murphy's hands and hold it between hers.
"He's cold as ice," she observed anxiously.
"Shock, most likely," Steeles answered, trying to sound clinical and detached. "It was terribly cold in here last night."
He saw Laura finger his coat, then glance over at his own shivering frame. He was suddenly embarrassed. "Let's get him out of here," he said brusquely, and came forward to take Murphy under the arms as he had the night before. "Watch his leg," he cautioned as he began to pull.
When they emerged from the cave, there were a half dozen policemen ready to take over, and Steele was only too glad to have things out of his hands. The trip down the rocks was a bit of a blur. Unnoticed, someone had draped a blanket across his shoulders, and he clutched it gratefully. Laura walked beside him in silence. Her thoughts were far ahead with Murphy, but he could feel her arm as she slipped it around his waist, letting him know she was there. He was glad of it, for things were definitely starting to haze up.
When they finally reached the helicopter, Murphy was already bundled in. Some unknown officer provided Steele with a helpful boost into the craft. He didn't know how he made it; his body was giving out on him. Taxed to the limit and beyond, it was time to fold. He barely cleared the doorway before he collapsed, curling up protectively as he heard the engine whine. He saw Laura sitting nearby, and he saw her take Murphy's head into her lap, absently stroking the blond hair. Now it was up to others; there was nothing more he could do. He let the blackness come, and this time he welcomed it.
It was cold -- achingly cold -- to the very marrow of his bones. Murphy couldn't remember ever feeling like this in his entire life, not even the time he'd been skiing and gotten stuck in a snowdrift for an hour or so. That cold had been uncomfortable, an annoyance. This cold hurt, its penetrating fingers spreading over every part of his body, making it harder and harder to move.
He wanted to call out to Steele, to hear that voice again, to know that there was still someone alive here in the dark with him. If this icy grip was death, then he didn't want to face it alone. But try as he could, he couldn't make his voice work.
He wondered if he was already dead. He couldn't feel his legs, and Steele's voice had ceased what had become only droning to Murphy's ears a long time ago. But maybe, Murphy thought, he was just beyond hearing anymore. He wished he knew for sure. He'd always supposed that, no matter what happened to a person after he died, at least a guy would be aware that he was dead -- or else not know anything at all. This paralyzing limbo couldn't be it. What happened to all the bright lights people talked about -- the long tunnels and familiar faces? It was disappointing that it should all come down to this vast nothingness that wasn't even free of pain.
Then he heard something -- a stirring quite near him, if he could trust his fogged senses. There were voices, indistinct, but very near. He struggled to open his eyes, to see who had come at last, but his lids remained stubbornly closed. He felt something or someone brush at his hair, a soft touch that for some reason, tugged at his heart. Who was it? It wasn't Steele, though he was certain Steele was nearby. Then, he could have sworn someone took hold of his hand. Something warm and wet dropped lightly on his forehead. Oh, how he wanted to open his eyes, to see the angel with the loving touch who had come to sit beside him.
Then, the angel was gone, and he felt himself being moved. All the pain that the cold had driven away returned at the movement, in all its agonizing ferocity. He wanted to cry out for whatever force was doing this to him to stop, for the merciful angel to return, but if he managed to make any noise at all, it was only a sad, soft moan. He had no strength left to fight. He thought he heard Steele's voice, but couldn't be sure.
Suddenly, there came a blinding glare, as if someone had flicked on a floodlight in his face. The brightness bore through his closed eyelids as if they weren't there, and this time he knew he groaned audibly. Whoever or whatever had him paid little heed, and he wondered where they were bound and how long they would go on punishing him like this. All he wanted was for the pain to stop.
Then, as abruptly as it had come, the glare was gone. The pain subsided as well, but he became aware of an ungodly noise all around him for a moment, then it was subdued to a more tolerable level. What else can they do to me, he wondered, distantly curious.
Once again he felt the soft touch on his brow. Had that angel returned? He had to know. Gathering all his will and what little strength he could dredge up, he ordered his eyes to open. It was a struggle; they didn't want to obey, but he forced them, managing to crack them just a bit.
It was enough. Murphy felt something unexplainably warm well up in his chest and spread throughout his whole body as he looked and beheld the face of the angel.
He wasn't even sure if he said it or just thought it, but it didn't matter. She heard him in either case and a smile broke out on her face that, for Murphy, rivaled the sun in brightness. If the dark and silent cave had been hell, then surely this noisy place must be heaven. He figured that, even if he did die, it wouldn't matter anymore, for he'd had this moment when heaven had reached down and touched his face.
Laura stood outside the closed doors of the treatment room and fretted in irritation that they hadn't let her stay. She knew full well that she couldn't be of any help, but it was frustrating that after all you could do was done, it all boiled down to waiting.
Snapping her fingers out of nervousness, she pivoted on her heels and began to stroll toward the lobby. She wasn't going to pace. No, it was just a nicer place to wait, and if her stride was a bit too casual, well, that was only because she didn't want to bump into anyone.
When she rounded the corner to the lobby however, a sight met her eyes that froze her in her tracks and stopped any urge to pace. There, slumped in an old armchair, was her own Remington Steele, but looking less like Remington Steele at the moment than anybody could have. Bedraggled, unshaven, still covered with dirt and a friend's blood, he presented a forlorn picture indeed and she felt something wash through her that wasn't exactly pity; it was more in the nature of love and tenderness.
He noticed her and stood up on unsteady feet, still clutching the blanket she'd thrown across his shoulders. She felt terrible that in all the rush and urgency over Murphy, she'd forgotten about him. He must have had a pretty bad time of it as well.
She went to him, wanting nothing more than to take him into her arms, to hold him, to comfort him, to soothe away the fear and pain still evident in his eyes. She wondered if he was even truly aware that the trouble was over. Since they were in a public place, she contented herself with taking his arm and reaching up to kiss his cheek, ignoring the scratchy stubble.
"How's Murphy?" His voice was concerned, all defenses down. There was no facade now; he was truly worried about a friend.
"They're giving him blood to stabilize him. Then they'll take him to surgery. They told me he's got pretty good odds," she added, seeing the creases deepen in his brow. "He's young and strong, and you kept him from bleeding to death. That's what they're saying in there -- that you saved his life."
"Yes... well, don't forget who it was who got him shot," Steele murmured wearily.
"That wasn't your fault," Laura chided kindly. "You couldn't know what would happen. She could see her words were having no effect. "Fred's here with the limo. Why don't you go home and clean up, get some rest, something to eat? No, wait," she paused, remembering the state of his apartment. "Don't go to your place. It's not very presentable. Have Fred take you to Murphy's. You can borrow some things."
"What about you?"
"I'll stay here. I want to be here when... well, whenever something happens."
Steele nodded silent understanding and let Laura guide him to the door and the waiting Fred.
After he climbed into the shiny limo, Laura caught Fred's eye. "Stay with him?" she asked quietly. "It's been a pretty rough night."
Fred smiled assurance and got in behind the wheel. Soon the limo was speeding off down the street. Laura watched it disappear and then turned inside with a sigh. It was back to waiting again.
Steele walked down the long hospital corridor, amazed that he was still on his feet. Laura, of course, would be upset that he hadn't stayed at Murphy's and gotten some sleep, but he just couldn't wait there. So, he'd showered and changed and cajoled Fred into bringing him back to the hospital.
When he reached the small waiting room he'd been directed to, he found Bernice, gazing disinterestedly at a movie magazine. Laura was nowhere in sight. Bernice glanced up as his shadow fell across her light, and he wasn't quite sure how to read the look she gave him. Perhaps it was his own guilty conscience working overtime, but he thought he detected a bit of resentment in her eyes.
"Where's Miss Holt?" he inquired conversationally, taking a seat across from her.
"She's in with Murphy," Bernice answered.
"He's all right then?" Steele leaned forward eagerly.
Bernice studied him intently before she nodded. "He came through okay, even woke up a little bit ago and asked for Laura." Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. "For you too."
Steele let out a sigh of relief, then moved over to sit next to Bernice. She eyed him warily, not quite willing to trust.
"Miss Wolfe... ah, Miss Foxe..." He covered one of her hands with his own. "Bernice, you have my solemn oath that I never meant for Murphy to be hurt on my account."
Bernice gazed at him, seemingly measuring the honesty in those killer blue eyes and then offered him a small smile.
"But you hurt him every day, just by being around," she commented, not cruelly, just being honest, since he seemed to be in favor of it at the moment.
"I'm all too much aware of that," Steele confessed in a troubled voice.
"He was planning to leave the agency," Bernice added.
"I know." Steele stood and wandered over to study a horrid painting on the wall.
"I don't think working in the office would be the same if Murphy wasn't there too," Bernice commented in a thoughtful voice.
"I know," Steele repeated absently, feeling very much like an intruder who'd slipped in the back door and broken apart a very nice little family. He wasn't quite sure what he would do if Murphy did go. The shoes he would leave vacant would indeed be difficult to fill.
Murphy lay in the large hospital bed, unmindful of the starched sheets, blessedly numb from medication and still a bit hazy after surgery. Laura sat next to him, filling him in on all her adventures with Maurice and the police. He really wasn't listening to what she was saying. It was too difficult to focus. Having her here was enough. He kept his eyes intent on her as she talked, taking in every feature, memorizing everything about that lovely face, storing up images for a time when he wouldn't have her near.
A slight rap sounded at the door, then it opened and Murphy saw Steele stick his head in.
"Not intruding, am I?"
Murphy looked back at Laura, saw the love in her eyes, and shook his head. "No... no intrusion," he mumbled thickly, still too doped up to speak very clearly.
"Fine, fine." Steele came all the way in and moved to stand next to where Laura sat. She quietly slipped her hand into his, and Murphy pretended not to notice.
"Just wanted to see how you were doing, ol' chap," Steele explained. "Seems you're going to make it through after all."
"Seems that way," Murphy answered with a smile. "Thanks to you."
Steele returned the smile, but waved the comment aside with a flourish of his hand. "Wasn't all that much."
There was a long pause, then Laura, as if sensing the two men wished to talk privately, got to her feet and made an excuse about needing a drink of water. After she left the room, Murphy addressed Steele again.
"I want to tell you something while it's just us. I tried to in the mountains, but you wouldn't let me."
"First of all, thanks for what you did. You saved my life up there."
Steele didn't say anything. He merely pulled at his tie in embarrassed discomfort.
"And then, I wanted to tell you..." Murphy stared at the foot of the bed, then regarded Steele thoughtfully. "I wanted to tell you to take care of Laura for me after I'm gone. She thinks she's pretty independent, but she needs someone to watch out for her."
"Was that your job, eh? To let Laura run ahead, but be there to keep her from stumbling?"
"Well, she didn't always see all the dangers," Murphy explained. "I guess you can do that for her now."
Steele's eyes narrowed. "You're still going through with it?"
"Yep." Murphy swallowed. "Not quite for the same reasons as before but, yeah, I think I should. It'll be better all around -- for me as well."
"Oh, Murphy," came the soft exclamation from the door, and both men turned to see Laura standing there dismayed. She rushed to his bedside, ready for an argument.
"Please don't fight me, Laura," Murphy begged. "I've already made up my mind."
Laura's brown eyes darted from one man to the other in hopelessness, but they all knew this was how it would have to end. There could be no other solution. Finally she bent down and gave Murphy the best hug she could, mindful of the IV's, then kissed both his cheeks.
"I sure don't know what I'll do without you, Murph," she said in a shaky voice, tucking her hair behind her ear. "Who's going to be my partner?"
Murphy's own voice was husky with emotion. "What are you talking about? You've got the famous Remington Steele. He's turned out to be a pretty damn good detective."
Laura shifted her eyes to Steele. He seemed at a loss for words for the moment at the hard-earned compliment. At last, he reached down and took Murphy's hand in a firm grip.
"I had good teachers," was all he could manage.
Murphy smiled and returned the handshake, reminded of the night he had reached out for help and found this same hand. It was comforting to know the hand would still be there for him if he ever needed it, but for now it was time to let go and stand on his own.
Steele stood leaning against the railing, watching his friends take their leave of each other, feeling more like an outsider now than when he'd first walked into their lives. Murphy's plane had already been called for boarding, but the long line of people waiting to get on had given the three friends a little extra time to delay the departure.
They'd all come to LAX, in spite of Murphy's protests that it would only make it harder. Laura and Bernice were both adamant; they'd been together too long to let Murphy slip away. Steele could feel for both sides. If he were in Murphy's position, he would want to take his leave as painlessly as possible. He probably would have just left in the night, but he also knew how much both women would have been hurt by actions of that kind.
So here they all were, each awkwardly trying to say so much in such a short amount of time. Steele had kept to the background. This old friendship had not included him; he had no part in its ending, except perhaps the responsibility for its demise. He would carry that guilt around with him for quite some time.
The final boarding call sounded over the garbled loudspeaker. The inevitable could no longer be put off. Steele watched as Bernice threw her arms around Murphy in an exuberant hug, almost knocking the detective off balance. He returned it as best he could and still hold onto the cane he carried to help him walk, another bit of guilt for Steele's already burdened conscience. Athletic loving Murphy would never quite lose the limp that was now so pronounced, thanks to the bullet that had lodged in his leg for so long. No one had said anything, but Steele accepted the blame for that as well as everything else.
Bernice released her hold on Murphy and began dabbing at her eyes with a tissue as Laura stepped up to make her farewells. This was the hardest part for Steele to watch. This was the oldest and dearest bond. For seven years they had worked together, side by side. First at Havenhurst, then in trying to make a go of the agency. It was their cleverness that had made Remington Steele a living presence even before he arrived on the scene.
Steele averted his eyes as Laura reached up to kiss Murphy goodbye, and the affectionate peck turned into something deeper. This was a very private moment that, sadly, had to take place in a most public area. There was longing and regret and sadness in that kiss. Steele felt no jealousy, only a stirring of sadness in his own heart. He too would miss Murphy.
The kiss ended and a long embrace followed. Steele could see only Murphy's face. The detective's eyes were screwed up tight as he held Laura for the last time. Steele thought he caught the glint of tears. Evidently Bernice saw them too, for she whirled suddenly and headed for the ladies room.
Laura and Murphy let each other go, each a little awkward after so much emotion. Murphy glanced around, caught sight of Steele hanging back, and made his way over to where he stood.
They faced each other in silence, neither sure exactly what words to say. Their eyes met, for the first time free of any enmity, mistrust or wariness. They had at last come to terms with each other, and now they had to say goodbye.
Murphy finally just held out his hand and Steele took it, holding it for a long moment, then let go. There was nothing to say; it had all been said in the hospital, but Steele felt compelled to put in one last reassurance. "I'll watch after her, Murphy. I promise."
Murphy nodded his appreciation as Steele felt Laura step up beside him. Murphy smiled at both of them. He said nothing, perhaps not trusting his voice, but he waved a farewell, then turned to board the plane, disappearing down the long access way.
Steele watched for a moment, and then looked at the woman next to him. She must have felt his gaze for she glanced up at him. She wasn't crying, but her eyes were filled with unshed tears. A wave of tenderness washed over him as he took her into his arms, holding her close.
She seemed to take strength from his touch. She pulled away and smiled at him. "Thank you," she whispered.
"For what?" he asked, a little bewildered.
"For just being here," she replied.
He wanted to assure her that he would always be here for her, but the words stuck somewhere between his heart and his mouth. He cursed his own ineptness, but Laura seemed to understand. She slipped her arm into his, and they walked in comfortable silence over to the big glass windows. Standing together they watched the plane taking Murphy pull away, then taxi down the runway. They stood that way, arm in arm, for a long time, even after they lost sight of the plane as it climbed into the clouds.