EDGE OF STEELE

Remington Steele was bored. His nocturnal excursions, a frequent part of his frantic life, were profitless on this quiet, moonlit night. It was a story he was becoming horribly familiar with, and he was bored with it. Bored with sneaking about in the dark, bored with trying to hide his extracurricular activities from his colleagues, bored with playing the same part all the time. It was like being an actor, stuck in a play he had never chosen, forever haunted by the same rôle. He was treading on eggshells at the agency where he worked as it was; and here he was now, creeping into his own apartment - well, more or less his own - just because he didn't want the news getting back to Laura Holt that he had been out, without good reason, so long after business hours had ended. The secret head of the Remington Steele Detective Agency liked to keep an eye on him, as though, for some inconceivable reason, she didn't altogether trust him. She was still labouring under the misapprehension that Steele was an employee - somebody that she had taken on to work under her. If Steele was perfectly honest - and he had quite a few difficulties in ever being that - she was probably right. It was her agency, after all. She had created it, she had built it, she was the one who solved all the cases and did all the industrious thinking. Having created the enigmatic Remington Steele as a boss to please her sexist clientele, she had become one of the most successful detectives in Los Angeles, whilst Steele himself had assumed the mantle of the non-existent millionaire without ever being invited. He was a tolerated burden; the face that everybody knew. He was the celebrity the press flocked around; the figurehead every prospective client looked enthusiastically towards. To the world he was the employer, and to Laura Holt he was the employed. He could live with that.

But right now he was bored. He was too keyed up to sleep, too lost in the heightened sense of tension that came with a scam - successful or otherwise - and there was little else to do to fill the lingering small hours. It was always hard to sleep, always hard to come back to earth, when events didn't follow the carefully laid out plans governing his alternative lifestyle. He had been trying for weeks now to persuade the manager of a local night-club to join him in a business venture. For once it was something that was almost entirely genuine, and with almost no risk of losing capital; but the manager was a grey, unimaginative soul. He owned a huge club in downtown LA, with the kind of dance floor that set trends. Young people crowded there in droves, anxious to be seen in the hottest joint in the neighbourhood - and yet the man who owned it was dreary to the point of disbelief. He could not see the future in Steele's planned business ventures, even though they were guaranteed to make the week's takings rocket through the roof. Steele needed that money. He had fallen into a small dilemma over a previous deal which hadn't gone quite according to plan. Another night-club manager, one who had not been impressed with Steele's 'improvements' to his venue, was anxious to regain his investment. There had been talk of kneecaps, and collar bones, and of things going snap! when he was least expecting it. People like that took a lot of dissuading, and a lot of bribing to make them go away. They wore tuxedos and carried baseball bats, and were filed away in the section of his brain firmly set aside for Damage Limitation. He could deal with them if necessary. There were always ways of getting rid of such people; but he didn't want to attract any attention towards the agency. Laura didn't deserve that. So therefore it was back to the old schemes, the old deals, the old dealers. Trying to juggle a hundred different scams without dropping any. Usually it made his blood run all the better, cleaned the cobwebs from his mind. Tonight it was just making him feel strangely aloof.

The apartment seemed empty, unusually quiet and friendless. Steele lay back on the settee, loosened his tie, and tried to shut out the worst of the negative thoughts. Things were better than they had been. He had a steady income, a nice apartment, a wonderful friend in Laura - most of the time. There was no reason for the nagging feelings of doubt, for the sad sensations of loneliness. He rolled over onto his side, staring into the fire. It was restful and quiet, peaceful and warm, and usually it lulled him to sleep. Tonight it just sat there and flickered at him, mocking him with its exuberant energy. He sighed and sat up. Maybe there was an old film running on the television; that was usually just the thing to snap him out of a bad mood. A couple of hours spent with Humphrey Bogart or Cary Grant, or a hundred other representatives of the glamorous and not-so-glamorous world his subconscious had chosen to inhabit. Many was the night he had spent pretending to be the Saint, or Sam Spade, or Raffles the great jewel thief. Many were the long and involved daydreams concerning rewritten versions of favourite classics -The Prisoner Of Zenda, perhaps, in which the hero was no longer a suave English huntsman, but instead was an equally suave Irish con-man. It had begun years ago, when he had tried to soften cold nights on the streets by pretending to be lost in a modern day version of Treasure Island, playing the heroic cabin boy finding buried gold hidden in the foothills. He had long ago graduated to playing Long John Steele instead of Jim Hawkins, and Ben Gunn had been transmogrified into a beautiful pirate queen, but the effect was the same. Escape, magic, adventure. A pathological fear of one day getting stuck in a normal life.

He clicked on the TV set and began scanning through the channels. One was showing Casablanca, and he almost decided to stay and watch, but a desire for something a little more upbeat dragged him onward. Most of the channels were showing colour movies tonight; seventies blockbusters, whichever way he turned. He scowled at the television, as though it were all the fault of the box itself, but it refused to be drawn on the subject and merely flickered at him in tandem with the fire. Frustrated by the limitations of the small screen, he clicked the sound off and headed towards the bar for a drink. The television remained a silently flashing presence in the corner of his eye, however, and he was just taking a sip from a suitably sophisticated-looking glass when the sudden change in colour of the persistent flickering attracted his attention. The greys and greens and reds of a cheap, late-sixties sci-fi chiller had given way to white and cool blue. A newscast, featuring a harassed looking junior reporter in a jacket that looked like it had been slept in. He had a wild sprouting of ill-disciplined black hair, brown in patches, which burst forth from the top of his head as though it were determined to get itself noticed by whichever talent scouts might be watching at such a late hour. Whatever its motives, it contributed towards giving the unfortunate young journalist an expression of permanent surprise, not helped by his wide eyes and slightly outward-slanting teeth. He shuffled his papers rather anxiously, swallowed, glanced off camera several times as if refusing to believe that he was actually on the air, and then finally launched into his bulletin. Steele watched him, glad that the sound was turned off, alternating sips of whisky with half-hearted pondering. What was he doing up at this hour of the night - make that morning - drinking whisky and watching a less than second-rate reporter making a fool of himself on late night television? Surely even wandering the streets had to be better than this - at least out there there was a certain sense of comradeship and camaraderie. The screen shifted to show a scene of streets that he recognised, and he threw aside his thoughts of boredom. Maybe there was something of interest here after all.

The camera was looking at a jewellery store - the sort of small, downtown place where genuinely attractive pieces vied for space alongside spectacularly garish monstrosities, of the sort favoured by people who ought to have known better. A small, bespectacled soul in a rumpled grey suit, identified by the on-screen caption as Bruce Huggins - Store Security, was speaking to a woman with an over-sized microphone. He looked very doleful, very withdrawn. Steele contemplated turning up the volume, so that he could at least hear what the little man was saying, but he decided against it. Given that the little man's nameplate clearly identified him as Stephen Blackburn - Store Manager, and definitely not as Bruce Huggins, he wasn't altogether sure that listening was going to improve the quality of the broadcast any. They were probably running the pictures alongside the soundtrack of last night's Laker's game.

"She was very beautiful." Blackburn was looking straight at the camera now, and his precise speech was easy to read from the patterns of his lips. "She was very confident." The interviewer clearly asked him a question at this point, for all of a sudden he shook his head emphatically, then hesitated, nodded, and resumed the violent shaking.

"No, no, no," he was saying. "Definitely not. She asked to see a piece from the window, and when I turned back after reaching for it, she was gone - along with a display case full of necklaces." He seemed to be saying something else at this point, about value and rarity no doubt. Steele wasn't interested. It was such a simple manoeuvre, and one that, by rights, should never have worked - but he had played it himself often enough in the past. All that it needed was the confidence to pull it off, as well as the right image - the power to project that confidence, to convince the storekeeper that you truly were in earnest. Of course it only worked when there was one lone shop assistant, and it helped if they were old and stiff, like the woebegone looking Blackburn. Steele smiled. It almost made him long for the days when he had been playing those old scams, stealing to survive when his silver tongue had failed him. It wasn't a life he would have chosen for himself, but it was the only one he had known.

The screen changed, with the sort of sudden, sloppy action that suggested the person in charge was as inexperienced as the nervous young front-man. Jittery, black and white shots, taken by a time delay camera, now replaced the colour motion of the store manager and his largely unseen interviewer. Steele saw the interior of the store, saw the rumpled Stephen Blackburn, saw a young woman enter and begin talking to him. She was in her late twenties, with an athletic build; a figure that he saw quite well as the stop-motion photography marked her path across the shop. Steele gazed at her dark hair, not at all done justice by the black and white film. In his mind's eye he was filling in all kinds of details, even as his numb hand was reaching for the volume control. He was seeing cat-like green eyes, skin the colour of coffee au lait, a love for the colour red. Her voice echoed in his head, surprising him with its clarity, jarring with that of the newsman as the jumpy young man came back onto the screen. He was babbling on about police involvement, and no leads, and no identification as yet. There was talk of the usual suspects, the usual procedure. Steele might just as well not have turned the sound on at all. All that he could hear was the voice of a young woman, with a faint Liverpudlian accent that got stronger in moments of anger or outrage. He remembered the way that her eyes had flashed at such moments, and the way that her chin had jutted, challengingly, determinedly. He was already reaching for the off switch of the set, his eyes closing as pictures came unbidden to the forefront of his memory.

"Anna," he whispered softly, his voice tinged with an ancient pain. The TV set clicked off, plunging the room into a darkness that was almost complete. Remington Steele did not move. Lost in the past, he stayed where he was, eyes closed, brow furrowed. The glass was forgotten in his hand, its whisky trembling slightly with the motion of his tense body. Anna. Here. He had to find her. He had to get to her before she was gone again, before she moved on somewhere else. He had to speak to her. No matter how much his instincts told him that it was dangerous to get involved, his heart screamed something different in a much louder voice. He had to see her, he had to be with her. He couldn't let her walk out of his life again.

**********

It was a particularly bright and cheerful Laura Holt who breezed into the office first thing the next morning. Bernice Fox, the firm's receptionist/general assistant/walking filing cabinet, greeted her with a preoccupied nod over the top of a copy of the newest beauty magazine to hit the shelves. A slow day then, obviously.

"Murphy in?" Laura asked, already halfway to her partner's office door. Bernice shook her head.

"He's in court today. He's been called in as a witness to the Walken divorce, remember. I think he said he'd be in around midday."

"Oh yeah. Right." The Walken divorce hadn't actually been one of the agency's cases. They had been assigned to find out which of the many employees of Stan's Super Sailboats had been dipping into the till, and had discovered to their surprise that Oscar Walken, the mild-mannered accounts manager, had been supporting upwards of three very demanding mistresses. His wife, hearing all of the details after her husband's subsequent arrest, had filed for divorce; and her overeager lawyer had subpoenaed Murphy Michaels. He had been moaning about it for weeks. "How about You-Know-Who?"

"He does have a name." Bernice was smiling. The tendency to refer to Remington Steele as 'You-Know-Who', or 'Him', or - Murphy's particular favourite - 'Tricky Dicky', came about from the fact that none of them had ever really got into the habit of using a name that they knew to be false. Remington Steele was their creation; their mythical boss, constructed lovingly to their exacting specifications. He wasn't a blue-eyed con artist of untraceable origins.

"Yeah, I know. And as soon as I find out what his name is, I'll be sure to use it." She sighed. "I assume he's in his office, running up the phone bill?"

"Actually I haven't seen him yet. I called Fred, and he hasn't seen anything of him either." She grinned. "Maybe he's left the country?"

"Somehow I doubt that." And for some reason I hope not. Laura shrugged. "Never mind, we'll worry about our illustrious Mr Steele later. Do you have that report from Sutton's Jewellers?"

"I put it on your desk last thing yesterday."

"Right." She smiled, looking almost rueful. "I suppose I'd better start earning the ridiculously large fee they're paying us then. I'll see you later."

"Half-past ten, one sugar, no milk."

Laura laughed. "Am I really that predictable?"

"No, but I'm a creature of habit, and I don't like my routine disturbed." The receptionist gestured at the telephone. "Mr Sutton called earlier, incidentally. There was another robbery last night. Minor one, but the pieces taken were pretty valuable. They reckon the thief was a real pro."

"Oh. In that case, maybe we'd better make the coffee a little less of a priority." Laura sighed. "To work. And if Mr Steele should call..."

"Tell him to take a holiday?"

"Tell him I want to see him. Much though I hate to have to admit it, he does seem to have a particular ability in the field of jewel theft. He might be useful on this one."

"Or he might turn out to be the culprit."

"True." Laura didn't want to think about that one. "But either way, it might turn out to our advantage. See you later."

"With donuts. At midday."

Beyond the glare of the outer room, Laura's own office was dark. She headed for the windows, anxious to raise the blinds and let in a little sunlight in order to get to work. Halfway to the nearest window a movement caught her attention, and she froze in mid-step. For a second she was not sure what it had been, but as she waited, still and silent and intensely watchful, the movement came again. The connecting door, which led between her office and that of Remington Steele, was open a crack, and it swung to-and-fro in a barely perceptible breeze. She sighed, allowing herself to breathe again, and went over to close the door. Shadows in the office beyond, or maybe just an in-built sensor in her own mind, made her look into the adjoining office first. Like her own, it was in darkness. The blinds effectively cut out most of the daylight, striping the room in shades of black and grey. A few stray fingers of light had forced their way under the main door, creeping in from the outer office, where Bernice was bathed in sunlight. They illuminated a dark figure, sitting at the desk, his back to the woman in the doorway. His head rested on the back of the chair, and from the almost total silence, Laura guessed that he was asleep. She crept a little further into the room. Sure enough, his eyes were closed. A single stripe of yellow light fell across his face, showing her who he was, allowing her to see that he hadn't shaved that morning, and that his clothes were far from their usual, immaculate selves. His tie was undone, and one hand, resting half in and half out of his lap, was gripping a sheaf of paper. Laura recognised the crest of Sutton's Jewellers straight away, and a frown made her brow darken.

"If the wind changes, you'll stay like that." She hadn't noticed his eyes slip open, and the sound of his voice made her jump. He sounded odd, she thought - tired perhaps, or maybe just heavily preoccupied. Somehow she wasn't at all surprised to find out that he hadn't really been asleep.

"Have you been here all night?" She recovered her poise quickly, folding her arms and trying to look brisk and unshaken. He shrugged.

"No. Not all night. I got here at about five o'clock."

"Why?"

"Bernie's Bar And Grill was closed, and I got cold wandering about in the park."

"That's not what I meant."

"I know." He sighed, then turned round to face her properly, swinging his legs off the tabletop and sitting up straight. He looked tired, she realised. Tired and strung out. Clearly now was not the time for awkward questions about his possession of the Sutton report. She couldn't help wondering, though, if it was entirely safe in his hands. "I saw somebody yesterday."

"Blast from the past?" Given his past, that was likely to be a shock. He smiled at her, a grim, uneasy smile that dripped subtext.

"Something like that." He waved the report at her. "Do I take it from this that the jewel robbery last night falls under our jurisdiction?"

"My jurisdiction." She frowned at him. "Do you know who was responsible?"

"No. I thought that I recognised the MO, but it seems that I was mistaken."

"And you can tell that by reading a report written before last night's robbery, which doesn't even mention it?"

He shrugged. "Call it instinct, Laura. You're not the only one who possesses them."

"And knowing as I do what kind of instincts yours are, I have to ask again. Do you know who was responsible for the robbery last night?"

This time he took longer to answer, staring thoughtfully past her into her own darkened office. In the half-light his eyes looked even more secretive than usual, filled with shadows of an exceptionally mysterious past. His fingers toyed with the edges of the sheets of paper making up the report, and the gentle rustling scraped at her patience.

"Well?"

He looked surprised at her repetition of the question, and his eyes widened slightly. Instead of answering, though, he rose to his feet and headed towards the door. She stepped purposefully into his path, certain that he would not push past her. True to form, he slowed, making no move to negotiate the obstacle of her presence.

"I don't know who was responsible for the robbery, Laura." He sounded so genuine, so completely believable, that she could not help assuming his guilt. He knew something, she was sure of it. She held out a hand for the report and, after a second, he gave it to her.

"Where are you going?" she demanded. His eyes lowered.

"I have some errands to run. Business deals to make."

"Your business is with this company. You're supposed to be Remington Steele. You work for this agency, not for yourself." The harshness of her tone surprised even her, and it certainly surprised Steele. He frowned.

"Is something wrong?"

"Yes, I think it is." She brandished the report at him, feeling oddly like a schoolteacher. "This agency is working for Sutton's Jewellers. We plan on finding out who's responsible for these robberies - and that includes last night's."

"I'll bear that in mind." He stepped around her, nodding politely as he did so. "And I'll see you later."

"Steele, damn it. Don't walk away from me."

"Goodbye Laura." He sounded bright again, almost cheerful, and for a second her fears were allayed. But just for a second. As she looked down at the report she was holding, she realised that a page had been torn from it; and that Remington Steele was walking away from her, a piece of paper gripped tightly in one hand.

**********

There was an earnest look on Laura's face as she left Steele's office and headed back out to the main reception room. Bernice, still behind her desk, recognised the look - and her gaze switched to the figure of Remington Steele, now departing at speed down the corridor.

"Trouble?" she asked, not really wanting to hear the answer. Her hand strayed to the telephone. If they called building security now, they might just be able to get Steele back. Laura sighed.

"Let him go. I don't know what's going on, but I don't like to think that he's up to anything. Not anything major anyway." She waved the report in the air. "Do we have another copy of this?"

"There's one on Murphy's desk." Hurrying around the side of the desk, Bernice followed Laura to the door of the other office. "Why?"

"You-Know-Who took one of the pages from this one." Quickly Laura flicked through Murphy's copy of the report, eventually finding the page missing from her own. It was a list of the branches of Sutton's Jewellery, all the stores arranged in alphabetical order beside their addresses, the names of the managers, and the number of other employees licensed to be on the premises. Bernice peered over Laura's shoulder.

"That's the one that was robbed last night," she announced, pointing out one particular store from the list. Laura nodded slowly.

"Small store, one employee. Must have been an easy target."

"So do we watch all the other small stores? Maybe that's the pattern."

"If it was that simple we wouldn't have been called in." Laura tapped another store with a fingernail that showed signs of having recently been bitten. "This one has just been robbed too, and it's anything but small. Seven employees on the premises during the day, four at night; all the most modern security equipment." Bernice looked deflated, and Laura smiled. "Don't worry. We'll hit on the answer."

"And what about Steele?"

"What about him?" Laura wandered over to the window, staring down into the street. The tall, slim figure of the infuriating charlatan was just visible, far below her, hailing a taxi. A hard frown crept onto the detective's face, and she drummed thoughtfully on the window frame with her fingertips. "So long as he behaves himself, I'm happy to let him carry on with whatever he's up to. If nothing else it'll keep him out of our hair."

"And if it turns out that he's mixed up in all this?"

Laura sighed. It was all too easy to suspect Steele of such a crime. When she had first met him he had been trying to steal a famous collection of jewels, and from what she had seen he had been very good at his art. It certainly wasn't too difficult to imagine him reverting to type, especially since she still knew so little about him. She made a face, turning her back on the window to stare at her friend.

"I really am starting to like him, Bernice. I know he drives us all mad, but I've honestly been getting used to having him around."

"Me too." Bernice offered her a smile that was meant to be reassuring. "But what can we do? If it turns out that he is involved..."

"If it turns out that he's involved, I'll have his head." Laura forced a smile. "But I really can't believe that he is. In the meantime I've got to start visiting some of these stores, see what's been going on. Try and get a call through to Murphy. Tell him I'll pick him up outside the court house at noon."

"And?"

"And get on to the manager of the store that was robbed last night. I want every little detail, no matter how small." She was halfway to the door before she stopped and glanced back. "And ask him about our great leader. If he's seen Steele there any time this decade, I want to know about it."

"I thought you said you trusted him?"

"I never trust him." Laura could do little save offer her colleague a knowing, wry smile. "I believe in him, I think. But I never trust him." She looked grim. "See you later Bernice."

"Yeah." The receptionist watched her go, shaking her head sadly from side to side. Personally she didn't believe for one moment that Remington Steele - or whatever he was really called - was involved in the jewel robberies; but seeing the effect that the suggestion had had on Laura was enough to tell her that her employer was beginning to fall for his charms in a big way. She hoped that that wasn't going to be a problem, for any of them; but she couldn't shake the feeling that it already was.

**********

Long years of hard-won experience had taught Steele to see patterns - in lists, in events, in the comings and goings of people and things. As he sat in the back of his taxi cab, staring out at the passing streets, his mind was already working over the list of jewellery stores. A few telephone inquiries during the night had told him that seven stores belonging to Sutton's had been robbed lately; and in the cases when someone had managed to see anything, they always seemed to have seen a young woman, more than once playing the scam he had seen on the news just a few hours earlier. His task now, so far as he could see, was to be sure that Laura and Murphy did not find her; which meant that the trick was to decide which of the stores would be next on her list. Given that she had already hit seven stores in the chain, and in a relatively short space of time, there was more than a passing chance she was specialising in this one firm. Her reasons for that didn't interest him, any more than it interested him why she had come to America. All that he cared about was second-guessing her - finding out which shop she was most likely to strike at next, and being there to catch her in the act. He pulled the list from his pocket and unfolded it, scanning it again and again even though he knew it now by heart. The taxi driver was staring at him in the rear view mirror, uneasy about the strange customer who had so far given him no instructions more precise than 'head east'. Steele didn't care. Let him stare, let him wonder. So long as he drove, nothing else mattered.

"You do realise this is costing you?" The driver's accent was from Brooklyn, via Hungary. From his partial reflection in the rear view mirror he appeared to be a black-haired man, sporting sallow skin, and misty green eyes suggesting a history of drug abuse. At least Steele hoped it was a history. After all, the man was driving.

"I know." He turned his attention back to the list, staring at the store names so hard that his eyes hurt. The driver shrugged his meaty shoulders, turning to gaze out of the side window.

"Fine. S'your money, son."

"Yeah." Well actually it wasn't, it was Laura's - but the taxi driver didn't have to know that. Neither, hopefully, did Laura. He had used to believe that the world owed him money, and that it didn't matter whose he took, and when. Times had changed since then, a little, but the sentiment was still the same; and thinking of it brought back recently-buried echoes of the past. In his head, echoing round amidst the racing, chasing names of Sutton's infernal jewellery stores, was the voice of Anna Crawford.. The world owes us something, can't you see that? Why shouldn't we take it? All those people out there, they've never gone hungry, they've never had to sleep in the gutter, freezing cold, scared all the time that somebody's going to come and give them a thrashing. They're the kind of people who wish for a white Christmas, and never give a thought for all the people it'd kill. Why shouldn't we take a little something of theirs?

"Why indeed?" It startled him to hear the sound of his voice in the small car, and clearly it startled the driver just as much.

"What you say?" the big man asked him in surprise. Steele ignored the question and met his gaze in the mirror. This time he had a destination to request.

"1630, Quentin Street." He leaned back into the PVC-coated lumpiness of his seat, and stared down at the list in his lap. It was obvious to him now. All that was left was to get there - and wait for Anna to make her move.

**********

"Is it true? Is Steele really a jewel thief? Can we really arrest him? Please?" Murphy put on his best little boy voice, widening his eyes to emphasise his excitement as he climbed into the car next to Laura. She glared at him.

"If it turns out that he's really a jewel thief it's going to take every IQ point we have between the pair of us to make sure that our company doesn't go down with him." She saw that her concern had dampened his enthusiasm a little, and sighed. "Although there are times when I would love to be the one to arrest him. And lock him up."

"And throw away the key," Murphy threw in cheerfully, his excitement happily renewed. "Is it still possible to buy Iron Maidens anywhere? Or thumb-screws?"

"Murph..."

"I'd settle for a ducking stool."

She increased the tone of authority. "Murph..."

"Or a set of stocks? I could throw rotten tomatoes at him then."

Laura sighed. "I should have left you back at the court house."

"You wouldn't do such a thing." Switching to business mode he picked the report up from the dashboard and began flicking through it. "Bernice said he swiped the list of jewellery stores."

"That's right. And when I asked him if he knew who was responsible for the robberies he acted very strangely."

"Even more strangely than usual? Boy, that's strange." He grinned, obviously finding it hard to be too serious when there were jokes to be told at Steele's expense. "So do we assume he knows something?"

"I think we have to. He said something... something about having seen a face from his past last night. I'd like to think that that means it was a surprise to him - that he might have seen who committed last night's robbery and was thrown by it. That means he isn't directly involved himself."

"Which is good for the company, if not for my personal satisfaction." Murphy nodded. "Although if he doesn't do anything, that makes him an accessory."

"I know." She sighed. "Murph, why is life so complicated just lately?"

"I don't know for sure, Laura, but I think it's got something to do with the fact that we share our lives with a con-man these days. And a sneaky con-man at that." He frowned at the list on his lap. "The ones you've circled are the ones that have been robbed, right?"

"Right."

"Why so many? And why just the one firm?"

"I don't know." She shrugged. "Unless our mystery woman is hitting other stores too. If she is, though, they're being pretty quiet about it."

"Must have a pretty heavy grudge against the company. What has Sutton's Jewellers done to warrant such a sustained campaign?"

"According to the company director, nothing. But then I didn't really expect a different answer when I asked him." She shrugged again. "I was planning to investigate the company alongside the thefts. It's likely to be the only way we can get to the bottom of this."

"Then let's start with the store at the top of the list." He tapped at it with his finger. "Unless there's somewhere else you'd rather begin?"

"The top's good to me. Has it been robbed yet?"

"Nope."

"Then what's the address?"

He glanced along to the next column on the sheet of paper. "1630 Quentin Street. Old part of town."

"Upmarket." She smiled. "I hope your shoes are clean and your socks match."

"Would I let you down?"

"I don't know." She turned the car at the next intersection, and slowed her speed to move into a crowded lane. "Do we play it straight or use a cover?"

"A cover - maybe the married couple. I like that one."

"Engaged couple. We could be looking for a wedding ring."

"I like that even better." He moved closer to her and grinned. She smiled back. One of these days she was going to have to find out whether he really did fancy her as much as he pretended to - or maybe she was better off not knowing. Somehow she couldn't imagine ever getting it together with Murphy. But then, on the other hand, neither could she imagine life without the possibility of it one day happening. It was horribly like her relationship with Steele, only without the danger. That only left her with one decision to make - was it the danger that she wanted? The trouble was, she really didn't know.

**********

Quentin Street was a narrow road flanked with houses that came in an eclectic mix of the old and the new. It reminded Steele oddly of London, with its uneasy blend of picturesque old buildings and newer, steel and glass creations. The shops that mingled with the houses all looked as though they had been in situ for generations, run no doubt as family businesses handed down over the years. The jeweller's was a small place, built into what appeared to be an altered residential building, with walls the colour of sand and a grey slate roof. It was only two stories high, and was dwarfed by the newer tower block nearby. There were curtains in the windows, suggesting to Steele that the manager was very likely near retirement age - if not already there. He was probably small and bespectacled, with a pocket watch on a chain. Steele grinned at the image. It was dangerous to make assumptions, but from what he could see through the window of the store, he wasn't far wrong. He could see earnest movement close to the glass, and he watched for a while, trying to get the feel for what was going on. The last thing that he wanted was to walk in and interrupt a legitimate business deal.

"Which one is it exactly?" Bent into a very uncomfortable position in his cheerful enthusiasm to fetch his customer the ring of her choosing, the ageing proprietor of the Quentin Street branch of Sutton's Jewellers tried to ignore the imminent threat of cramp in his side. A twinge erupted along the length of his right calf, and he did his best not to wince too noticeably. The woman came a little closer, peering over his shoulder.

"It's the one on the right. No, not that one - further along. Much further along. The one with the sort of white stripe around it."

"White stripe?" He had seen that piece in the window display before, and had been impressed by the price tag. Well if that was the one that she was after he didn't mind a bit of cramp. Apparently this lady was beautiful and rich - definitely his favourite combination. "Was it this one?" In all honesty he couldn't see which ring he was pointing out now. The tips of his fingers were just scraping the very edge of a tray full of rings from the most expensive section of the range. The burgeoning cramp in his right calf was becoming less of a threat now and more of a painful, lung-wrenching reality. The girl sighed.

"I can't see. What about those ones just over there. The ones a little further to your right?"

"I don't think I can reach any further to my right. I don't think my arms can take it." He tried to sound apologetic and contrite, but the young woman's sigh of disappointment was easily detectable, despite her attempts to hide it. He felt his heart skip a beat, and begin to melt. "I suppose I could stretch a little further..." Damn it. He was going to need physio for a month after this. He only hoped that the woman actually bought something after all of this painful exertion.

"Perhaps I can help?" The voice was young, male and well-spoken. The proprietor thought that he caught a faint inflection of Irish, suppressed perhaps, or just faded through years of life somewhere else. It was still there though, clear to those who were attuned to such things. There was the sound of a gasp; a surprised intake of breath that could only have come from the woman.

"Hello." The male voice again, filled with sweet sentiment - a genuine fondness touched with something deeper. The manager tried to stand up in a hurry, and his cramping muscles screamed in abject fury. Strong hands caught his arms, helping him up, assisting him to his counter where he could sit down. He was so grateful, so relieved at the sudden lessening of pain in his legs, that it was several moments before he thought to look up at his saviour. A man, young just as he had thought, with thick black hair and concerned blue eyes. He looked very earnest.

"Are you alright?" His voice sounded worried, and vaguely amused. "You should get somebody in to help you. Somebody with longer arms."

"You're probably right." The proprietor shook his hand. "Thankyou. You're a life saver."

"Not at all, not at all." For a second the Irish accent was very strong, then the young man had turned back to the girl, and in speaking to her he sounded almost entirely English. "Anna?"

"Sean." She sounded dumbfounded. "What - I mean... How?"

"I'm never far behind, you know that." He took her hands, but to the proprietor's eyes it looked as though it were shellshock rather than pleasure that stopped her from resisting. "I wanted to talk to you."

"And you couldn't have waited half an hour? You must know why I'm here."

"I know. And that's why I'm here."

"I'm not sure that I understand."

"Good." He was smiling now, although the manager could not see any reason for it. Neither, apparently, could the woman. "Why don't we go somewhere where we can talk about it properly?"

"I think I'd like that." There was such open fondness in the woman's eyes now that the manager found himself growing almost jealous. He thought about the trays of rings in the window, and about how close he had come to making a very profitable sale. He scowled at the young man, who until so recently had been his benefactor - and now seemed to be his nemesis and rival.

"What about the ring?" he asked the woman, trying not to sound too plaintive. She glanced across at him as though having almost forgotten his presence.

"Ring? Oh." She smiled, looking oddly sheepish. "I won't be buying it today. Keep it for me though. I might well be back."

"We both might." The young man was smiling in a way that gave the proprietor the distinct impression he was missing something. He managed rather a weak nod.

"Oh. Okay. I'll er... I'll be seeing you then." He tried not to make his smile too bitter. The young couple were oblivious to his frustrations anyway, and merely smiled their farewells before leaving arm in arm. He went to the door, watching them go, seeing them put their arms around each other as they walked. The young woman was leaning on the man's shoulder, her body language that of sheer bliss. All thoughts of expensive rings were clearly forgotten. The proprietor scowled. Just his luck.

"So why are you here?" The park was almost entirely deserted, and it seemed the best place in which to walk and talk. Steele smiled at the question, almost content just to wander in the close company of his old friend, without bothering to speak at all.

"Business brought me here originally." He pulled her closer into his embrace, if that were possible, and rested his chin on her head as they walked. He felt her shake slightly with laughter.

"Need I ask what kind of business?"

"No, not really. The usual kind." It was his turn to laugh. "It opened up an entirely new avenue - a very unexpected one, but quite pleasant." He felt her slowing her stride, and frowned in surprise as she came to a complete halt and pulled away from him. Her eyes were very serious as she stared at him, their astonishing greenness emphasising the power of her gaze.

"It's good to see you again, Sean."

"It's good to see you too." He reached out for her hands but she pulled back, her eyes still serious. "What's wrong?"

"Why did you stop me in that store? Why didn't you let me finish what I went in there for? And what were you doing in there anyway?"

"Ah." He took her hands again, and this time she made no move to stop him. She resisted his attempts to pull her onward, though; to resume their walk through the park. "I saw you on the news last night. I realised the sort of scam that you were operating."

"You saw me on the news?"

"Security video." He smiled as she flinched slightly. "You really should be more careful."

"I should, shouldn't I. So how did you know I'd be hitting that store today?"

"How do you think? Today's date, the store's street number... You were using our numbers system."

She smiled a distant smile. "I always do." The smile hardened into a frown. "But that doesn't answer my original question."

"I've been working with some people - security, investigations, that sort of thing. They've been assigned to this case." He raised his eyebrows. "So are you going to tell me why Sutton's Jewellers are receiving your special attention, or do I have to guess?"

"They deserve it. Everybody knows that they're crooked. They make massive profits on the backs of ill-paid and under-fed workers in the third world."

"Jewel companies very often do. It's the business, you know that."

"Sutton's are worse than the others. I don't especially care who I steal from, but if it can be someone who deserves it rather than somebody who probably doesn't... well I prefer it that way, that's all."

"It's going to get you locked up. My friends are very persistent, and very good at what they do. They'll find out about you, and they'll catch up with you. I don't know how well I can protect you."

She gazed steadily at him. "Sean O'Connor, working for the authorities. I certainly hope they're paying you well."

"The job definitely has its perks." He pulled her into his embrace, revelling in the closeness of her body; in its smell, its warmth, its presence. "But I'm not working for the authorities. Not really. Have you heard of Remington Steele?"

"Remington Steele? The millionaire?" She laughed. "You're kidding. You're working for him?"

"I am him." He laughed too. "I know. I didn't believe it either at first."

"People honestly hire you to look after their interests? Their valuables?" She shook her head. "Talk about a dream set up. You could be the one doing these robberies - you'd never solve your own crimes. I've got to hand it to you, Sean; you're good."

"Better than you think." He looked vaguely awkward. "I'm on the level with this one - more or less. I really do try to solve all the cases. I work with professional investigators - people who know a little something of my background, know I'm not exactly who I claim to be. We make a good team."

"I don't believe you."

He broke the embrace looking faintly guilty. "I'm not sure I believe myself. But it's why I had to come here, to stop you. Laura will find you if you carry on doing this. It's what she's been hired to do, and she's one of the best detectives I've ever encountered."

"You sound quite swept away." There was jealousy now in the refined voice, and the traces of Liverpool were stronger. Steele shrugged.

"It's you I came here to help."

"Of course it is." This time it was her turn to pull him into her embrace. "And I appreciate it. I honestly thought I was never going to see you again, Sean. Not after Monaco."

"Monaco?" He feigned innocence. "What was so special about Monaco?"

"Er... international hitmen? A member of the British Security Services sent after you?" She rested her head on his shoulder, apparently unwilling to let him go as the memories returned to her. "The last time I saw you, you were onboard a yacht that exploded three minutes later. They pulled a body out of the sea. It was wearing your tuxedo."

"And you honestly thought it was me?"

"At first, yes - until I heard that the body was wearing brown socks." He felt her head move slightly as she laughed. "I guessed then, that it wasn't you. I didn't think I'd ever see you again though. I thought you'd stay out of the limelight, maybe look for another profession."

"Me?" He sounded shocked. "I'll admit that the accident was a useful diversion, but I had no intention of leaving you in the lurch the way I did. I didn't exactly leave Monaco willingly, either. The body wearing my tuxedo wasn't even my idea, and by the time I could get away you were long gone. I spent two weeks looking round Monaco in the most uncomfortable of false beards and the most tasteless of apparel, but I couldn't find you anywhere." He held her away so that he could look into her eyes. "You know it's true love when a man's prepared to dress in corduroy shorts and a flannel shirt in order to look for you."

"Flatterer." She gave a sorry smile. "And now we're on opposite sides. Who would have thought it, after everything we got up to in Monaco."

"And Brazil." He pulled her closer again. "Don't forget Brazil."

"Don't even talk to me about Brazil." She shuddered. "I hate snakes. You know I hate snakes. So why did we have to go to a country with the biggest in the world?"

"I didn't ask you to jump in the river."

"There were six men standing on the banks shooting at us. Jumping in the river seemed like the best idea." Her shudder became almost powerful enough to be a convulsion. "Until I saw that long, snaky thing swimming past me. It must have been five hundred yards long."

"No, not quite."

She slapped at him in response to his teasing tone of voice. "Well it looked it. Ugh. Anyway, we didn't get up to that much in Brazil. There were too many... distractions."

"Way too many. Manchester was much more profitable."

"Manchester was a disaster. I was arrested."

"So was I."

"True." She frowned. "But we're losing the point."

"I know. It was intentional." He pulled her into a tight embrace and spun her in a circle. "I've missed you."

"Enough to want to help me now? No more playing at detective and trying to hunt jewel thieves; or pretending to be a multi-millionaire do-gooder?" Steele sighed, turning away slightly, unsure how to answer that one. Anna frowned. "What is it? I'm good enough to reminisce with, but not good enough to come back to? What's happened to you Sean?"

"Nothing."

"You're lying. All this hanging around with private detectives has got to you, hasn't it."

"Anna..."

"Don't try to deny it." With sudden strength she pulled away from him. "You stopped me in that shop because you didn't want me to steal from it. You're working for the other side."

"I came here to help you. The people I work with are on this case, and they're going to find out who you are if you're not careful."

I'm always careful." Her eyes glittered. Steele shook his head.

"What about that security video? It's only a matter of time before somebody identifies you. The police are working on this too you know."

"The police have never been a problem before." She reached out, running a gentle hand down his arm. "We've always dealt with them in the past, you and I. We could take a fortune from this city, and then be out of the country before it knows what's hit it. We've both got enough contacts all over Europe for there to be no danger of us getting caught. Edward would hide us, or Claude, or a hundred others from before. We'd be rich. Or does playing detective matter more to you than what we had?"

"You know it doesn't." He gripped her hands then, more tightly than before. "Of course it doesn't."

"Then you'll do it? You'll help me? It could be like it was."

"Yes." He smiled, and for the first time since he had greeted her in the jewellery store, she saw a light in his eyes that she recognised. "It could." His smile grew broader, and he squeezed her hands more tightly than ever before. "Except..."

"Except nothing Sean. You're either with me or you're not. You should know better than most that there's no halfway; not in our trade." Her eyes narrowed. "Or is that it? It's not our trade anymore?"

"I haven't changed, Anna. Not that much."

"Then you're with me."

"Yes." He felt a brightening in his heart, a lightening of his spirit, and he knew that he had made the right choice - the only choice. "Yes, I am."

"Then we can start by going back to that store, and finishing what I started. That's if you can still remember how it's done?"

He leaned forward, resting his forehead against hers, and quite suddenly felt more alive than he had for some time. "Oh I think I can."

"And no more talk of Remington Steele?"

"If that's the way we're to play it." A warm, happy feeling was spreading through him, and although it was accompanied by a certain sense of unease, he knew that it was a feeling he could not deny. "From now on, there is no more Remington Steele."

**********

"Here we go. 1630." Murphy glanced up at the sign above the door. "What kind of wedding ring would you like, gorgeous?"

"We'll choose when we get inside." She took his arm, and smiled at his show of apparent surprise. "We have to make it look real."

"Naturally." Clearly happy to play the part, he pulled her closer to him, then opened the door and led the way inside. An ageing man dressed in a black suit was sitting in a chair beside the counter, and he looked up as they entered as though expecting somebody. Laura smiled at his apparent disappointment.

"I'm sorry. Are we supposed to be someone else?"

"No. No, not at all, I'm sorry." He rose to his feet. "There was a young couple in here earlier, that was all. They were interestd in a particular ring in the window. I thought that they might be coming back to complete the sale."

"A ring in the window?" Laura's eyes met Murphy's as she asked the question. "They didn't ask you to reach for it by any chance? An awkward ring, that wasn't easy for you to get to?"

"That's right." His eyes narrowed. "Why do you ask?"

"My name is Laura Holt, I work for the Remington Steele Detective Agency." Laura did not notice Murphy's disappointment at this destroying of their promised cover story. All the same he stepped back, giving her some space now that they were no longer playing at being engaged. She didn't even look at him. "Please tell us everything about this couple, sir. My colleague and I are working for Sutton's Jewellers, and we have reason to believe that you've just narrowly escaped being robbed."

"Robbed? You're joking? They were such a nice pair." He scowled. "Well actually I didn't like him very much. As soon as he turned up the young lady wasn't interested in jewellery anymore - just in him."

"They weren't together?" Laura was surprised, and not least to find her heart skipping a beat. Was Steele involved in this or wasn't he? The proprietor shrugged.

"I don't think so. Not at first. She came in, had me hunt for the ring she wanted to buy, and then all of a sudden he turned up, and they went off together. They looked like long lost lovers or something - she was surprised to see him." He coughed, clearing out his throat in what appeared to be a long and painful process involving much hoarse hacking. Murphy went to the window, peering out at the jewellery on display. It was easy to see how somebody might become very distracted, reaching for some of the pieces. It would be easy, then, for a nimble, fast-footed thief to grab some of the more easily accessible items, and to make his or her getaway before they could be stopped. All you had to do was know which were the best pieces to grab. He was willing to bet that Steele knew all that, and more.

"Doesn't your head office ever tell you anything?" he asked, his back still to the room. "This system has been worked before in other branches. I'd have thought that there'd have been some kind of a warning posted."

"All that rubbish?" The proprietor shook his head. "So I'm supposed to refuse every customer who wants me to fetch something out of the window? Wouldn't be very popular then, would I."

"And there's been no description circulated? The security cameras at the last store to be robbed came up with a few pretty good shots of the culprit." Laura made a show of trying to remember. "Young - thirty maybe. Fairly dark-skinned. Pretty."

"Well that could have been her." The store manager looked faintly abashed. "The description they gave me this morning could have been of anyone. Young, dark hair, pretty. That's most of the people I get in here. I can't suspect everyone, or I'd never do any business."

"What about the man?" Still staring at the window, perhaps because he didn't want to have to face Laura with this question, Murphy stared at the manager's reflection in the glass. "The man she went off with - what did he look like?"

"Young; about her age, I'd say. Black hair, blue eyes, voice from somewhere between England and Ireland. Sometimes more one than the other. Her accent was odd too, now I come to think of it. British I think, but not one I'm familiar with. Not like you usually hear them talk on television. This was more like..." He frowned, trying to think. "More like the Beatles. Remember them?"

"More or less." Laura frowned. "You mean she was from Liverpool?"

"Maybe." He shrugged. "I know jewels, Miss Holt. Jewels and precious metals. I don't know what accents they speak with in Britain. All I can say is that she sounded like the Beatles used to, when they did all those interviews on the radio and the television, back in the sixties. Not that I was into that kind of music, mind. Too old for it even back then."

"Yes. Well." Trying not to let his wandering prattle antagonise her, Laura went over to join Murphy at the window. "What do you think Murph?"

"I think our friend saw the news last night, recognised the thief, and somehow found out that she was going to hit this place next. Either that or he just got lucky. And now he has no intention of turning her in." He shrugged. "Old flame probably. Old business partner perhaps. Either way he's out there somewhere with her, probably with a couple of suitcases full of stuff she's already stolen. I'd say that that's a mighty big temptation to a man like our Mr Steele. A beautiful woman, a fortune in expensive jewellery, and a head start on us. His feet won't touch the ground until he's on the other side of the country - maybe even the world."

"You think?" From the tone of her voice it sounded as though she thought so too - but that she hadn't wanted him to confirm it with such steadfast certainty. In the end, though, he couldn't think of any way to let her down more easily. It had to be said.

"You know the sort of life he used to lead, Laura. You know the sort of things he used to get up to. He's got links and ties in every country you can name. He's got a stack of false passports and other documentation, plus the knowledge and the wherewithal to get no end of others. He's got friends who'll shelter him wherever he goes."

"And enemies who'll try and do exactly the opposite."

"Worried about him?" Murphy was surprised at the extent of the jealousy that burned suddenly in his chest. Laura didn't quite meet his gaze.

"I suppose I am, a little. I know you haven't exactly been his biggest fan since he gatecrashed our lives, but he's been around for quite a while now, and... well he does make quite an impact. I can't help worrying about him."

"Maybe he's not worth worrying about."

"And maybe he's innocent."

"Innocent? Innocent of what? He's out there somewhere, with a known jewel thief. He's not bringing her in, is he. That means he's involved."

"I know." She forced a brave smile onto her face. "Come on Murph. Time to get back to base."

"Yeah. Course." He took her hand. "It'll be okay, Laura. If we have seen the end of him, it's probably for the best. He won't ruin Remington Steele's reputation. Even I trust him that far. We can just pick up where we left off, and nobody need be any the wiser."

"I suppose." She glanced over at the store manager, who had returned to his chair and was looking faintly grey. "You, I take it, will be a little more aware in future?"

"Yeah." He rubbed at his head, looking very relieved, then rose to his feet to follow them across the floor. "Thankyou. And please don't mention this to head office. I could lose my job."

"We won't mention it to anybody, don't worry." Murphy pulled open the door and stepped out into the street. "Come on Laura. We still have a lot more stores that need protecting."

"Of course." She wanted to get to work, and to immerse herself in thoughts of anything other than the infuriating Mr Steele - or Mr Whoever-The-Hell-He-Really-Was. She managed a smile for her oldest friend, and he returned it gratefully. At least she would always have him to fall back on. Caught up in their individual thoughts, their minds on any number of unconnected and interconnected things, neither of them was looking at anything other than their car. They were halfway to it before the doddery old manager called out in surprise, pointing across the street.

"There!" His voice cracked with the sudden volume. "Over there! That's them!"

"What?" Laura and Murphy looked up as one, staring across the road. There, less than thirty feet away, stood Remington Steele. He was still dressed in the rumpled suit of earlier, still unshaven, still looking tired - but there was something about him that was different now - something that Laura could not put her finger on. Perhaps it was the beautiful young woman he had his arm around. Perhaps it was the stricken expression on his face at the presence of his associates. Perhaps it was something else altogether. He looked, thought Murphy, very like a cornered animal.

"Steele!" He shouted the name with real fury that went past their usual, almost pantomimic antagonism. The woman beside Steele froze, her stance like that of her companion's, her muscles instantly on the alert. Murphy had the distinct impression that he was seeing something special here - a well greased machine leaping into action; a well-rehearsed plan coming into play. It didn't matter if the storekeeper was right, and these two had only just been reunited - something about them suggested to him that once they had thought as one - and that they very likely still did.

"Steele, wait!" Was that anger in Laura's voice, or just desperation? Murphy didn't want to think about it. He could see that her words would not have any effect. Already Steele was turning, already he and his companion were running away. Murphy dashed after them, putting on the greatest turn of speed he had ever come up with. Murphy had always been able to run fast; had always won the sprint at school, could always be counted upon to catch his prey. But not this time. Already Steele and the young woman were far ahead of him, and as he reached the entrance to the nearby park, he realised that he had lost them completely. He scowled, leaning on the gate to catch his breath. He heard Laura's footsteps coming up behind him, but he did not bother turning to look at her.

"Have they gone?" she asked him. He nodded, unable to see any sign of his quarry.

"I'm sorry."

"Maybe it's for the best." She took his arm. "Come on, Murph. We have work to do."

"Are we going to stay on the case? Even though we know he's involved?"

"Of course we are. It's what we were hired for."

"But we could wind up hunting him down. We could have to bring him in."

"I know Murph." She gave his hand a squeeze and turned back towards the car. "I know. But if that's what we have to do, then we'll just have to do it. Won't we."

**********

"Was that them - your new friends?" Stretching out on the bed in her tiny, one-room flat, Anna sipped at her hastily made instant coffee, and peered searchingly at Steele over the rim of the mug. Steele nodded.

"Yes." He felt restless, but the flat seemed safe. He sat down on a chair beside the bed and toyed with the curtain cord. Something about the way in which Laura and Murphy had looked at him was oddly disturbing. There was no reason for that, he told himself. It wasn't as though he had betrayed them.

"She's very pretty."

"Yes, she is. Her name's Laura." He smiled. "There's nothing between us though. Not that I haven't tried."

"I'll bet." She set the coffee aside. "I'll understand, if you want to go back to her."

"I don't." It was true that with Laura he had a penthouse suite and a chauffeur-driven limousine at his disposal. Here he had a poky flat with mildew on the walls and a bed with a lumpy mattress. Somehow, though, it felt more like home than the Steele apartments ever had.

"Not even to be a millionaire again? I know I'm rich at the moment, but that won't last for long."

That was true enough. He knew it well, as he always had. You were rich for a while, after a successful scam, or a good business deal, but there were always people who needed paying off - there were always bribes and expenses if you wanted to stay free. You could live the high life for six months, and then spend another six months living in the gutter, eating what you could steal. That was the life, as he was only too well aware. He didn't mind. So long as he could remember how it had felt to have nothing but the gutter - when there had been no scams, no moments of transient wealth - he didn't think he would mind taking the lows with the highs. It had been his life for so long it was just one of the many hardships he had learnt to accept. Already he could feel himself slipping back into the old ways. There was a different frame of mind required for this kind of life; a different attitude. He had thought that Remington Steele had dimmed it, but clearly he had just put it aside for safekeeping. He smiled at Anna, then reached out and took her hand.

"I don't care if you go into a casino tomorrow and lose the lot. Half the fun is in getting it - spending it is never as enjoyable."

"In that case what are we waiting for? Why not go out there now and find another store to work our magic on? The more riches we have, the longer it should take us to lose them again."

"If only it were that simple." He slid onto the bed beside her. "You really want to go out there now, and get to work?"

"If your friends are going to be breathing down our necks, I'd like to stay one step ahead of them. Besides, my time is limited. It won't be long before the net closes in, now that the police have my picture. Before much longer every jewellery store in the city will have a picture of me up on the wall."

"About that..."

"Not now. Let's just get to work."

"I want to know why you'd throw ten years of experience and good sense out of the window - make a mistake that stupid - just to rob one little store of a few trinkets that weren't even worth all that much."

"I told you. I don't like Sutton's Jewellers."

"Don't give me that. You're not in to vendettas, and you never have been. What's going on, Anna?"

She glared at him. "Are you with me or aren't you?"

"After all this time, do you really have to ask that?"

"Apparently so."

He sighed, defeated, and rose to his feet. "Which store is next on the list?"

"Now that's more like it." She stood up, ignoring the quite alarming creaking of the bed springs. "There's a place just around the block. You distract, I'll grab."

"Okay." Despite his previous frustration at her refusal to tell him her motives, he felt his spirit warm now. Thoughts of the job at hand enlivened his blood, and the old, familiar excitement began to relight his old sense of enthusiasm. He went to the cracked mirror in the corner, and straightened his suit and tie as best he could. Right now he felt on top of the world. It was like coming home - and nothing that he could think of was likely to bring him back to earth.

**********

"Channel eight." Bernice stood in the doorway of Laura's office, arms folded in a rigid stance. Murphy and Laura frowned at her, as bemused by her sudden appearance as they were surprised by her obvious seriousness. It was only as she headed towards the concealed television in the cabinet beside Laura's desk that they began to understand what she had meant. She clicked the set on and switched hurriedly to channel eight. An earnest, harassed-looking reporter stood doing a piece to camera, dressed in the almost obligatory long fawn coat and expensive suit. Her makeup was immaculate, with the just the slightest suggestion that it had been applied in a hurry - and undoubtedly at great length, in order to achieve that exact, pressed-for-time look. She fixed the camera with a direct, uncompromising stare, her voice dropping an octave as she moved smoothly into the right tone for a story of deep significance.

"This is the latest in a string of robberies to have befallen this chain of jewellery stores over the course of the past few days. Police remain baffled as to the motive behind this particularly determined assault on one of the city's most respected retail companies, and it is understood that Sutton's Jewellers themselves have now turned to outside help in their search for the culprits. We at Channel Eight News can exclusively tell you that the managing directors of Sutton's have called in none other than Los Angeles based detective Remington Steele in their struggle to find some answers." Here the screen changed to show a picture of the great Remington Steele himself. It was one of the many publicity shots in circulation since the day, some months ago now, that a certain suave jewel thief had first pretended to the world that he was who he most certainly was not. Murphy scowled at the screen and jeered loudly. Laura felt like joining in. Bernice's only reaction was a tightening of her lips, which suggested that her real feelings rested somewhere along the lines of a beheading, or possibly a boiling in oil. The picture of Steele vanished as quickly as it had appeared, and the breathless yet smooth reporter was back again, as always managing the almost impossible task of looking urgent but reassuring, on edge but in control. Her brows slid together into a delicate frown, suggesting that she was approaching another serious moment.

"Meanwhile, as representatives of both the police and the Remington Steele Detective Agency search for clues in this case, insurance investigators estimate that the total value of jewellery now stolen is fast amounting to some ten million dollars - and there is still no sign of the perpetrators being brought to justice." She drew herself up into her end-of-bulletin stance, and smiled at the camera. "Judith Montgomery, Channel Eight News, thirty-seventh and twelfth." Bernice switched off. There was a long silence. It was Murphy who broke it eventually, leaning back in his chair and spinning it slowly away from the TV screen.

"Hell, I know I'm hard on the guy, and I know he deserves it - but this? I never really thought he'd switch sides that easily."

Laura shrugged. "We're always pretty quick to suspect him. Maybe he took it to heart."

"That's not much of an excuse."

"I don't care."

"I've had Oscar Lessing on the phone. He wants to know what kind of progress you're making." Bernice sounded almost apologetic as she passed on the message. Laura winced. Oscar Lessing was the head of the Sutton management team. He was loudmouthed and arrogant and very much of the old school; and his lack of patience was fast becoming a major irritation. Still, his firm was paying the agency a lot of money. The least that she could do was to offer him a conciliatory phone call. She nodded.

"I'll call him back. Murph..."

"What?" He was all eagerness, all willingness to please. She had to smile.

"Get round to Steele's apartment. I want you to go over it with a fine tooth comb. I know he's probably too smart to leave anything damning on show, but if there's the slightest chance that we can uncover something, I want you on it. I'll join you there later."

"I'm right on it." He jumped to his feet. Laura reached out, catching hold of his arm.

"Be careful," she told him. "Just in case."

He smiled. "Don't worry Laura, I'm not afraid. Steele's no threat to us."

"I don't think he is, no. But we don't know who he's working with. There's a possibility that he doesn't, either."

"Blinded by love?" He smiled. "Okay, I'll be careful. See you later."

"Yeah." She watched him go, a sad smile on her face. Bernice frowned.

"Are you okay, Laura?"

"About what?" She sighed. "I've had reason to doubt Steele's sincerity more than once before, and I've always dealt with it. Whatever our suspicions he's always come through for us. This is no different."

"Yes it is. Every day he works with you, you care a little more about him. And this time there's a real rival for his attentions, isn't there. I've heard you and Murphy talking about this woman he's with. She's pretty."

"Yes." Laura averted her eyes slightly. "More than pretty. And she has a history with him too - a lot of things I can't offer."

"Like safe-breaking and lock-picking and a hundred-and-one ways to con unsuspecting citizens? Not exactly what most men look for in a lady."

"Steele isn't most men." The detective smiled, trying not to look to regretful. "I can't compete with somebody who shares his... his..."

"His mysterious past? If old times were all he was interested in, he wouldn't have tried to leave them behind by hooking up with you. If his past was so great, why is it his past? If you ask me, Laura, our great leader spent most of his time dodging trouble and stealing to survive. Otherwise why would he have been so happy to take up a nice, normal nine-to-five job in this place?"

"Nice, normal nine-to-five job?" Laura laughed, although she hadn't thought that she was up to it. "Yeah, well that's one way of describing it I suppose. But it's not as simple as that, Bernice. You know it's not."

"Maybe not. But it made you feel a little better for a while, didn't it." Her secretary smiled. "Now get on the phone to old man Lessing before he starts burning my ear with his messages again. And cheer up. You haven't lost Steele yet."

"Maybe I'd be better off without him."

Bernice stopped halfway to the door, looking incredulous. "You really believe that?"

"No. But maybe he's better off without me."

"Yeah, well that's a decision you can't make for him. But he knows where you are, Laura, and so far he hasn't done anything to make coming back impossible. Wait and see what happens."

"Yeah." Laura nodded and reached for the phone. "Thanks, Bernice."

"No trouble." Bernice left the room, heading back for her own desk in the outer office. "Relationship counselling, that's me." She smiled at the thought, but her expression soon turned hard. Despite her friendly exterior, Bernice was not above thinking uncharitable thoughts, and right now she was thinking them about Remington Steele by the bucketload. Wherever he was, she only hoped that he knew what he was doing; because if he ever did anything - even indirectly - that ended up hurting Laura Holt, Bernice would do her best to make the devious fraudster very, very sorry indeed.

Always supposing that she could find him.

**********

"How much do you reckon it's worth?" Dangling a necklace from her fingertips, Anna held it up for Steele to see. He took it, letting it reflect the best of the light. A myriad of tiny stars flashed back at him, and he smiled.

"Fair bit I should think." He stood up, fixing it around her neck so that the line of sparkling stones lay brightly against her throat. "Several thousand, market price. I'd say... five thousand dollars, give or take a couple of hundred."

"You haven't lost your touch, have you." She displayed the price tag that she had surreptitiously removed. "It was marked at four thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine dollars." She grinned. "And ninety-nine cents."

He smirked. "A whole cent out. I must be slipping."

"Big head." She swiped at him playfully as she went past on her way to the kitchen area. "Coffee?"

"Yeah. Thanks." He turned to look more closely at the items spread out on the table before him, playing with them as though distracted in some way. "Anna..."

"What?" She sounded bright and cheerful, almost like an excited child.

"How many more stores are you planning to rob?"

"I thought a couple. Might as well get the most that I can out of this. Why? Didn't you enjoy it today?"

"It was just like old times." His smile was warm, and very genuine. "I suppose I'd like to head for new hunting grounds, that's all. It's awkward for me in Los Angeles. Lots of people know me here, as Remington Steele, and I'm far too high profile a figure. It could be a problem."

"We'll move on soon." The sound of the kettle boiling distracted her, and she turned away to busy herself with a pair of mugs and a jar of instant coffee. Steele watched her for a while, faintly amused. Twenty-four hours ago he had been making coffee for himself in a fabulous penthouse apartment, using only the finest quality, recently imported Arabica beans and a grinding machine which had set the agency back a couple of hundred dollars. Now he was sitting in a small, dingy flat in a rundown, seedy building, watching a wanted felon make cheap coffee in cracked cups. Anna caught his smile and wandered over, sitting down on the table in front of him.

"Why the smirk?" she asked, handing over one of the mugs. He shook his head.

"Nothing. Just thinking."

"About us?"

"Maybe." He took a sip and winced. "Ouch. I think the spoon could stand up in this."

"I like it strong. Keeps you on your toes."

"This won't keep you on your toes; it'll keep you walking on the clouds." He continued drinking it nonetheless. "Got anything to eat?"

"Some bread, but I think it's a little past its sell-by date. I tried to take a few slices out of the bag earlier on, and it screamed for its life."

"You never change, do you. Research companies could run whole new studies on the mould that grows in your kitchen. Open the fridge and you can discover entire new species."

"I have more important things on my mind than running down to the corner shop for a pint of milk every morning. And anyway, cash flow's been a bit of a problem just lately."

"You're sitting on close to a quarter of a million in jewels and you don't have change for a fresh loaf of bread?"

"I can't give the shopkeeper a diamond bracelet and ask for change, can I." She scowled at him. "You're still the same, too. Still a smart mouth."

"Missed me, though, haven't you."

"Yeah." She sounded as though she was reluctant to admit it, but it was with real fondness that she reached for his hand. "Come with me Sean. Today. We'll leave LA, we'll forget about robbing any more stores - we'll set up somewhere new. Somewhere neither of us has ever been to before."

"Hmm. Narrows it down some." His eyes glinted teasingly. "How do you fancy the Arctic Rim?"

"I'm serious, Sean." She turned away slightly. "You and me. Together, like in the old days. We could run that gambling scam again, like we did in Hong Kong."

"Only this time without the bit where we got caught." He still sounded far from serious, and a flash of irritation showed in her eyes.

"Fine. It was only a suggestion." She stood up and turned away, but despite his surprise he managed to block off her escape route in time, holding her firmly.

"What's wrong?"

"Wrong?" She shook her head, trying and failing to turn away. "Nothing's wrong. I try to open my heart to you, and you treat me like I'm just a big joke. What could possibly be wrong? Sean, I want to leave here. I want to go right now, with you, and I don't want to come back to Los Angeles ever again. I don't like it here. Every moment we stay, you might decide to go back to being Remington Steele."

"I told you, there is no more Remington Steele. I've been happier with you today than I have been in months." His eyes narrowed. "There's something else, isn't there. Something you're not telling me."

"No." She didn't meet his gaze, and he frowned.

"Anna, speak to me. I think you at least owe me the truth."

"I don't owe you anything. You ran off and left me thinking you were dead. I spent six months wandering around Europe on my own, convinced I was never going to see you again."

"I explained that. And anyway, it's not as though we were ever full time partners. It was always just a job here, a scam there. Chance meetings, lucky coincidences. I tried to make it something else and you weren't interested."

"I am now. That's why I want to leave."

"No." He let go of her, turning away. "You're lying to me. This has something to do with why you're committing these robberies, doesn't it. There's something going on here. You're scared."

"Scared I'll lose you?" She voiced the suggestion as a question, as though sounding it out as a possible excuse. He smiled.

"I don't think so. Do you?"

This time when she smiled, there was a cold, grim kind of humour in her eyes, and he saw the shadow of truth in her face. She shrugged. "I am scared. Really scared. I'm in real trouble this time."

"What constitutes real trouble?" He still managed to make it seem like some kind of a joke. She almost found that a comfort, but still it seemed to make her cross. "I thought Monaco was real trouble, but you hardly broke a sweat then."

"This is different." She closed her eyes momentarily, then turned to stare towards the jewels on the table, fiddling awkwardly with the necklace Steele had fastened around her neck. "This is... Jacques LeRoux."

"Jacques LeRoux?" All trace of humour had gone from Steele's face and voice. "As in 'All Europe is mine' Jacques LeRoux? As in 'Fingernail removal for the under-fives'? You've got to be kidding."

"No, I'm not." She was trembling slightly, although it might have been just a trick of the light. He fervently hoped that it was. "I got into trouble in East Berlin about six months ago. People were asking some very awkward questions. There was talk of show trials and summary executions." She looked faintly embarrassed. "They thought I was a spy."

"That'll happen, when you use aliases and fake ID in sensitive countries."

"I know. But I was in trouble in West Berlin, and the east side was the only place to run to at the last moment. I don't even know how I got there alive. I'd been trying to scam a club, and it turned out that the local Underworld were heavily involved on the management side of things. They were going to send me for a swim in the foundations of their new tower block."

"So you found yourself stuck in East Berlin with the authorities after you, and Jacques LeRoux offered you a hand."

"I was at my wit's end. I didn't know where else to turn. A couple of his men saved my life when I was in a tight spot, and he offered me a chance to pay him back in one go. Otherwise I could have been in debt to him for the rest of my life, and you know the sort of trouble that's got people into before."

"Yeah, I know." Steele had seen it only too often. Jacques LeRoux was the sort of person that the Underworld was afraid of; a leader of a sort of Under-Underworld, which terrorised Europe with no regard for the Iron Curtain and its tangible barriers. Steele himself had only met the man once, in Hungary in 1979. An old con artist, rather well known to him, had found himself the subject of impossible demands being made by the crime kingpin. There had been a concerted effort on the part of some fifteen members of the fraud fraternity to make LeRoux back down, but when seven of the fifteen had wound up dead, along with a fair sprinkling of innocent bystanders, the rebellion had petered out. LeRoux had got his way, and one of Remington Steele's most trusted associates had been fished out of the Danube a fortnight later. His usefulness at an end, he had been sent to join the seven men who had tried to help him. "I just don't understand what he wants from you here."

"That's simple." She looked lost, afraid; and strangely cold. "LeRoux owns Sutton's Jewellery. He's got me robbing his own stores, as a - hopefully - untraceable thief."

"But an expendable one, should it become necessary," Steele interjected with feeling. Anna nodded.

"Yes. He's going to make a fortune from the insurance companies on this, and of course he also gets to keep the jewels. He called in your friends to investigate as a way of keeping the insurance people happy. The plan is to make it look as though somebody somewhere has a real grudge against the firm - and then anybody trying to get to the truth will be heading in completely the wrong direction." She smiled, apparently filled with grudging respect. "He's pulling it off perfectly."

"But you're the one running all the risks." Leaning forward he took her hands, staring earnestly into her eyes. She seemed to be trying to avoid his gaze, but he persisted nonetheless. "Anna, Anna, Anna... please think about it. Remember all the others who have got themselves tied up with Jacques LeRoux. Once you've done what he wants you to do, you're surplus to requirements. More than that - you could be dangerous. You know too much. He'll kill you."

"He'll try, certainly. But I'm too clever for that. I'm expecting his move, and I'm ready for it."

"Peter Casey thought that when he went to work for LeRoux. He'd been in the business for forty years, and he thought he was well prepared - well protected. I went on believing that too, right up until I watched the Hungarian authorities dragging his body out of the Danube." Steele sighed. "Maybe you were right. Maybe we should leave now." He ran a cascade of jewellery through his fingers, watching the broken rainbows that burst forth from the multi-faceted stones. "If we were to put enough distance between us and him he'd never catch up; and if we leave him his jewels he might not bother trying."

"Leave him the jewels? You're kidding?!" She sounded incensed. "Sean, I've worked damned hard for these - and so have you. You've given up your cushy little scam playing at detectives. Why should we leave all of this for some thug who won't even appreciate them? With the ones I've already handed over to him, he'll have plenty to be going on with. He'll have the insurance money as well, so he's got to be looking at a good twenty million dollars by now, in total. He's not going to miss... what? Two hundred thousand in a few cheap party pieces? A little glitzy razzle-dazzle like the stuff they wear in Dynasty? He won't even notice it's gone."

"Cheap? Razzle-dazzle?" He had to laugh. "Who are you trying to kid? This stuff is beautiful, and you don't need to be an expert to see that. If we walk out on him with this stuff, LeRoux isn't going to rest until he's got it back - and us, too. The only way you can beat a man like that is to play him at his own game." He sighed. It had all been so easy, in recent months. Play at doing this, that or the other; and then step aside when it became truly hard, and let Laura and Murphy take it from there. Maybe he was getting lazy. He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. "I wish you'd told me all this from the start, instead of spinning that tale about fighting for some righteous cause."

"Would it have made any difference? Besides, I wanted you back. If I'd told you about Jacques LeRoux you'd have gone running back to your agency friends. You'd be helping them bring LeRoux in, instead of helping me get away from him."

"Maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing. My friends could find a way to shut him down."

"You really believe that?" Her stare was so piercing that he almost failed to meet it, and he felt his confidence quailing under the might of her determination. He had to shake his head.

"No, not really. Laura and Murphy are good, but they can't compete with the sort of power base that LeRoux has. But we have to warn them, Anna. If they get too close, he'll have them killed. I can't allow that."

"He covers his tracks too well. They'll never catch on, not until it's too late."

"They will." He looked terribly serious, terribly afraid. "They're good, Anna. I mean that. If there's any way to trace any of this back to LeRoux, they'll do it - and then he'll send somebody after them. I can't let him do that. I have to warn them."

"You mean you're going back to them. After everything we've said to each other today; after everything we said we were going to do; at the first sign of trouble you're running back to your new life. I thought you said Remington Steele was dead."

"He is. I told you that I was coming with you, and I meant it. But that doesn't mean I can't do one last thing for Laura. As a parting gesture perhaps, or as a... a last token. She's done a lot for me. Saved my life once or twice, stood up for me. If it hadn't been for her, certain parties would very likely have had me locked up in San Quentin by now. Or Alcatraz or some such place." The familiar gleam of the put-upon movie hero was back in his eyes, and she couldn't help a fond smile.

"Alcatraz was closed down years ago."

"Whatever. And you can't escape from prisons half so easily these days as you could before, you know. Richard Attenborough's far too old to do any digging, and Steve McQueen's dead." He leaned closer and took her hand. She felt her resolve start to weaken. "Of course, it's true that I always did want to get the boys in B-Wing together, to strike up a chorus of Jailhouse Rock or lie on a bunk somewhere with a harmonica and play the blues with the trustees in the wash house..."

"Alright, alright. Enough." She sighed. "What do you suggest, exactly? We spill it all to your agency friends, and then I spend the rest of my life on the Witness Protection Scheme?"

"Nothing so unglamorous, I can assure you. We'll just have a quiet word with Laura, she'll get onto her contacts here and there - a quick word with one of two of her friends with the FBI perhaps, or one of those other dreary companies that deal in initials - and then we're away. You and I, a map of the world and a drawing pin."

"The last time I tried that I wound up pointing at the bottom of the Mariana Trench." She smiled, and leaned gratefully into his embrace. "But then I always did want to try my hand at deep sea diving."

"There you are then. The perfect answer - and the last place that LeRoux would think of looking for us." He smiled. "You order the diving bell, I'll pack the picnic hamper."

"What do I do? Dial 100-MARIANA?"

"You can try." He was still smiling as he reached for the soft leather case Anna was using to store the jewels. He scooped them up, stowing them safely away, and then firmly bucked the case closed. A tiny padlock clicked into place, and he spun the minute combination tumblers. Not much in the way of security, but then there wasn't much likelihood that anybody would get the chance to steal it. He was fairly certain that there was more to the padlock than there appeared to be, at any rate, and was just considering asking about it when there was a knock at the door. Anna, busy in the kitchen unit in a vain attempt to get the coffee stains out of the mugs, glanced up.

"Get that, could you? It's probably the landlord. He keeps coming round to make passes at me, and he won't take no for an answer."

"I think I can persuade him to give in gracefully." Steele strode towards the door and pulled it open. There was supposed to be a chain to keep it half-closed, but the screws holding it to the door had come loose, and the chain itself swung uselessly. They would have to do something about that, he told himself, if they were planning to stay in the flat for very much longer. Outside the door he was confronted by a tall man in an expensive-looking three-piece suit. Alarm bells began to blare in Steele's mind. Somehow this man did not have the aura of an amorous landlord. He looked suspiciously like something else.

"Can I help you?" Eyes wide, mouth twisted into his most amiable smile, Steele tried pulling the door shut behind him. If there was to be any trouble, he might just have a chance of leading it away from Anna. A huge, meaty hand shot past him, slamming into the door and blasting it open. A second hand landed painfully on Steele's shoulder. He winced, managing to keep the smile. "Need to borrow some sugar? I think we have a little."

"Shut up." The voice was European, although the simple retort was not enough for Steele to narrow it down any further. A hard push sent him stumbling back into the flat. Anna looked up, startled - and Steele recognised the paling of her face as their guest strode into the room after him.

"Do you two know each other?" He gestured at the large man. "Maybe I should leave you alone to have a chat in private? I don't mind taking a quick stroll around the block. Maybe watch a movie, if you'd like to spend the evening together."

"I thought I told you to shut up." This time the accent came through unmistakably - Belgian, Steele thought. The hackles on his neck started to rise. There were few reasons why a European would be making such a forceful entrance to Anna's flat - and a social call was not high on the list of probabilities. His quick mind skimmed through the options, but he was too far away from the window, and there was the unmistakable bulge of hardware under the big man's tailor-made jacket. A heavy hand gripped his shoulder, as though to discourage any attempt at escape, and the sheer force behind it almost caused his knees to buckle. Anna hurried over.

"Let him go," she said firmly, with as much authority as she dared use. "He's not a part of this."

"He's here isn't he." There was no sign of surrender in the expressive eyes above Steele's head. "This doesn't have to be unpleasant, Anna. All I want is your delivery."

"I haven't got them." Her own eyes were cold, and entirely without emotion. "I haven't done anything today except talk with my old friend."

"I really don't believe you." He sounded amused. Anna looked resolute, determined to press her innocence.

"I swear, I don't have your jewels. I haven't made any more raids since I handed over the last delivery. We can sit down and talk about it if you let my friend leave. There's no sense in letting him hear anything potentially sensitive." There was an edge to her voice that suggested the new arrival should do her bidding, and for a second he seemed likely to do just that. Steele considered beginning a jaunty stroll towards the door, only to feel the grip on his shoulder tighten slightly. A shadow fell across the doorway, just visible in the corner of his eye. A deep voice sounded from the hall, accented with the barest hint of French, the English as fluent and as perfect as that of anybody born to speak it.

"Is there some reason why you're so anxious to have us let your friend leave?" There was an unpleasant suggestion of mockery in that lightly accented voice. Both Steele and Anna recognised it, and glanced towards the door at once. Two men entered, one after the other, the first filling the room with the scent of expensive cologne. It seemed to enter even before he did, creating the impression of a man with more money than taste - somebody who aspired to the finer things in life, and had no idea how to use them when they were his. His suit was made entirely of black silk, with a shirt of the same colour and material, the sheer white tie contrasting sharply with the rich darkness surrounding it. Splashes of gold and silver, lit by the occasional precious stone, brightened up the otherwise dull ensemble. In comparison the man standing behind him looked shabby, despite the good cut of his clearly tailor-made apparel. The tall, lithe man in the black silk suit walked with a stride of greatly affected majesty; and yet such was the air of menace he seemed to exude, that there seemed little danger of anybody finding it funny.

"Mr LeRoux." Anna gave a forced smile as the man sashayed closer to her. She seemed to quiver with suppressed tension - or maybe with something else. "I wasn't expecting to see you."

"Clearly not." He leaned towards her, the tips of his long, lily-white fingers brushing her cheek. Her dark skin emphasised his almost inhuman pallor, but there was nothing about him that suggested ill health. "You have no jewellery for me today?"

"That's what I said." Forced bravery coloured her tone, but he seemed unimpressed by it. Instead his stroking fingers brushed on down to her neck, running lightly across the sparkling necklace that hung there. Steele began to take a step forward, but the grip on his shoulder prevented his move before it could be made. A second hand closed around his arm, and he got the message. Anxious, he forced himself to relax. LeRoux continued, apparently oblivious.

"What's this?" he asked, a sibilant hiss decorating the final syllable. Anna felt her breath catching in her lungs.

"A present," she offered lamely. "From a friend."

"Really." He moved with a sudden, frightening speed, spinning her about and throwing her up against the wall, forcing her head forward in the same easy movement, so that he could look at the clasp of the necklace. This time Steele moved forward regardless of the hold on his shoulder, but the big man beside him easily pinioned his arms. The struggling, would-be detective battled fiercely, but he could make no headway against the other man's superior strength. LeRoux still seemed unaware of his presence, and pushed Anna harder against the wall.

"This necklace is from the Sutton range," he informed her, his sharp eyes surveying the hallmark on the clasp of the expensive piece. Anna tried to shrug, but with one arm twisted behind her the movement was painful.

"My friend shops in expensive places." She didn't try to pull free, only too aware of the likelihood of her captor breaking her arm. LeRoux laughed lightly.

"Indeed." He let her go very suddenly, spinning away and turning to the case lying on the ground nearby. He picked it up and gave it a small shake. "For some reason, Anna my dear, I don't believe a word." He sighed. "I can see that we're going to have to continue this chat elsewhere. Perhaps if you and your friend would be good enough to accompany me back to my office...?"

"I'll come with you, but Sean's got no part in this." Anna sounded defiant. LeRoux raised an eyebrow, regarding her in silence for a few moments before turning, for the first time, to Steele. He stared at the younger man in apparent contemplation of Anna's words, then took a few steps forward. Steele stared up into the lizard-like eyes hovering several inches above his own. He was painfully aware of the recognition that burned so clearly within them. Somehow he got the impression that LeRoux had known who he was even before he had entered the room.

"Well if it isn't--" The crime kingpin broke off, smiling. "But of course I never did know who it was, did I. The last time we met you were going by William Hearst, but I did hear that just a few weeks earlier you'd been calling yourself Cecil DeMille." His smile became very much more acid. "And yet when I had one of my representatives hire The Remington Steele Detective Agency, whose face did I find plastered all over the publicity material? I really am going to have to be so much more careful about who I hire. I rather think that the rest of your agency is going to have to be put into liquidation, Mr... Steele. Don't you?"

"Leave them alone." Cold anger gripped Steele's words. LeRoux laughed at him, a dull, growling chuckle that grew from the back of his throat.

"I don't think you're in a position to tell me what to do, do you?" He shrugged. "Although of course, as I remember it, you have tried before. What was his name now... Casey? There were several of you that time, who tried to make me walk away. I thought you'd learned the lesson then." Steele struggled in fury, but the grip on his arms showed no sign of easing, and LeRoux clearly trusted in its rigidity. He made no move to flinch away from the earnest attempts to break free.

"I'll send somebody to deal with Miss Holt and her associates right away. I think it's best." He slapped his hands together a few times, as though washing them of the affair. "And now I think it's time that we left, don't you?" He nodded at his two associates, and the second of them caught Anna by the arm. She made no attempt to escape. With LeRoux, still clutching the case, taking the lead, the mixed parade made their way down the stairs and out of the building. If anybody noticed their descent, nobody interfered. Steele wasn't expecting them to. In this neighbourhood you kept yourself to yourself, and made no move to help your fellow man. He'd been like that himself once, years ago. Most of his friends had, too. It was all a matter of survival. Laura, though - Laura was different. She was untouched by the kind of taint that filled these places. Stains like LeRoux were unfamiliar to her, even given her involvement in a decidedly unglamorous line of work. He didn't want to think about what LeRoux's men might do to her. He didn't want to think about her at all. Her face kept floating into his mind, though, regardless of his attempts to block it out, and as he and his old friend were pushed into the back of a waiting van at the roadside, he turned his head and looked towards the now distant, affluent part of town. Laura was there somewhere; and she was probably looking for him. The thought alone made him want to curl up and die.

**********

"Find anything yet?" Walking into Steele's apartment as though it were her own - which of course, technically speaking, it was - Laura nodded a greeting to Murphy. Her red-headed assistant was sitting on the floor, surrounded by a swathe of books, papers and other odds and ends, and he spared her only the most cursory of glances as she entered. He shrugged, the papers in his hands rustling in response.

"A whole load of receipts that you definitely don't want to see, about three hundred autographed photos our grandparents would probably kill for, and a remarkable collection of nineteenth century novels that I'd swear are faked early editions. There's something about the look of the covers." He held one up as an example. "I might be wrong, though."

"I doubt it." Laura went over to join him, sitting down on the other side of a broad sweep of piled junk. She reached instinctively for a pile of photographs close to Murphy's right hand, even though it seemed likely that he had already dismissed them. There were six of them, all publicity shots from previous agency investigations. In each instance a smiling client shook Steele's hand for the cameras, in grateful recognition of yet another job well done. In all of the photographs Laura was standing beside Steele, looking every inch the staunch associate. She smiled. In truth she was the one that the clients should have been shaking by the hand. She was the one who had solved their cases, found their criminals, their swindlers, their stolen goods. In all their cases together, Steele had been the enthusiastic pupil who went careering wildly off the deep end and left her to pick up the pieces. His undisciplined approach had more than once come close to getting them killed, and yet strangely he was almost always responsible for finding her the last and most stubborn pieces of the puzzle. He had really turned out to be a useful member of the team - somebody that she could trust, and rely upon. It seemed a shame that she was losing him now, just when she had truly begun to appreciate his worth.

"I don't think we're going to find anything here," Murphy was saying. Laura nodded.

"You're probably right. But we don't have a whole lot else to go on, do we."

"We've got nothing to go on." He smiled sadly at her. "Maybe it's time to hit the streets - see what the word is out there."

"The police will have tried that long ago, and there are bound to be insurance investigators working this case too. If there was anything to be heard on the streets, we'd have heard it by now." She sighed, and began flicking though one of the 'early editions'. It was a Dickens' novel, and of a daunting length to somebody who usually had the time and the patience to read only at weekends - and then only if it was raining. Half-familiar passages oft-quoted by Dirk Bogarde paraded in front of her eyes, and she smiled. Steele probably knew the whole thing by heart.

"There's a full set of Dickens," Murphy told her, apparently noticing her interest, "and what looks like a full set of Stephenson too. Must be five different editions of Treasure Island. He seems to favour older books, and especially ones that Hollywood has a thing about." He held up a few titles as demonstration. The Prisoner Of Zenda, The Wizard Of Oz, The Maltese Falcon and Mary Poppins were the somewhat eclectic succession that flashed before her eyes, along with several others that she didn't recognise. She joined Murphy in flicking through them, searching for anything that might be hidden within their pages, or secreted inside their covers. A vast collection of cinema admittance tickets fluttered from the pages of a copy of A Farewell To Arms, leaving Murphy covered in the small slips of paper. Laura had to laugh. Her partner scowled at her, and began scooping the collection back up again. Some were from local cinemas, others were from movie houses right around the world. He held up a ticket for a showing of Casablanca in that very city. Laura rolled her eyes.

"We're getting nowhere," she announced some time later, as she laid aside the last of the books, and turned instead to the address book thrust at her by Murphy. He had also finished with the books, and was now busy sorting through reams or paper, all computer printouts by the look of it, all filled with row after row of neat figures and words. He looked shell-shocked, as though he didn't have the slightest clue how to interpret the mass of data. The address book was easier to read, but just as useless. There was no useful list of names and addresses under 'C' for con-men, and no similar list under 'J' for jewel thieves. She hadn't been expecting there to be, of course - but it would have been nice to have been pleasantly surprised.

"Anything?" she asked Murphy. The only answer was a rustling of paper. Her companion looked to be in imminent danger of disappearing under the sheer weight of printing paper, and was clearly fast losing his patience. He didn't notice when a small, roughly square-ish object floated from between two pages and drifted dreamily earthward. Laura pounced.

"What was that?" Startled, Murphy promptly dropped the paper. It carpeted itself over the surrounding area, rustling slightly as Laura scrambled over it, eager to share her find with her friend. In the light from the desk lamp resting on the floor nearby, they pored over the object. Relieved to find the tedium at an end, Murphy began to smile.

The object was a photograph; a slight enlargement on the usual standard size, but still not terribly big. It was a colour shot, beautifully composed and staged, with a spectacular sky of restful blue above a sea that sparkled in several shades of purest azure. Tiny crests of white broke up the otherwise seamless water, creating an illusion of movement that bordered on magical. It was enough to make Laura feel an urge to pack up and head for the beach - and yet it was the young couple standing in the forefront of the picture that interested her the most.

The woman was black, with a tan the colour of pale chocolate that set off her striking green eyes to stunning effect. She was dressed in a red shirt that billowed in the beach-side breeze, almost hiding a necklace sporting three perfect rubies across the hollow of her throat. White trousers bore the marks of a stroll along the surf, and red sandals matched the shirt and the rubies to perfection. Murphy gaped.

"She's gorgeous," he announced, in clear admiration. Laura eyed him sourly. It was clear that this was the woman they had seen Steele with earlier, and equally clear that the hazy security camera footage they had been given did not nearly do her justice. Neither had the fleeting glimpse Laura had had of her earlier. There was little wonder that the mystery jewel thief had turned Steele's head.

The second figure, clearly, was Steele himself. His hair was a little longer than they were used to, and not quite so thick, but the expression of amusement and slight restraint was very familiar indeed. He was wearing a white shirt and matching white trousers, which seemed together to create an image of an innocence that was entirely false. His trousers were rolled up slightly, and his feet were bare. Laura couldn't imagine him paddling, and yet obviously that was just what he had been doing with this woman. Their arms were around each other, their heads very close - and she could not help noticing that their watches matched. For some reason that made her feel very uneasy. Murphy, noticing her disconcertion, gently took the picture away and turned it over. Written on the back, in a hand that was not Steele's - although, as Laura was only too aware, she had no idea just how many writing styles he was able to employ when pressed - was a message. Murphy read it aloud.

"The beach at Maracaibo. 1450 - 1720 - 19001. Till the next time, all my love, Anna. PS - Have still got the necklace. Do you still have the bullet? " He frowned. "Wonder what all the numbers mean."

"Probably only Steele or Anna could answer that." She sighed. "We're still not a whole lot closer to the truth, are we."

"Yeah we are." He stood her up, and began to pull her towards the door. "We've got something to show people. This picture's a whole lot better than the stills from that security camera. Don't worry. We'll soon track Steele down."

She sounded doubtful. "And then what?"

"Have you ever seen someone skinned alive?" His eyes danced. "Well, okay. So you get to give him a telling off. Either way, let's find him before the police do. They're going to be getting pretty eager by now. I actually don't want to see Steele get his head blown off."

"You don't?"

"You're kidding? And miss the chance of doing it myself?" Murphy slung an arm around his partner's shoulders and guided her through the waiting doorway. "Come on. By the end of the day we'll have it sorted. Promise."

"I hope so Murph." She leant on him gratefully. "But I can't shake the feeling that there's still a big piece of this we're missing out."

**********

The van jolted over rough ground, and the hard floor in the back gave no comfort from the uncomfortably frequent bumps. Steele and Anna held onto each other, trying to relax and lessen the impacts. Anna was smiling bitterly all the while.

"It doesn't seem fair," she said finally, her head resting on his shoulder as they traversed a relatively level piece of terrain. "All these years, and this is what it comes down to; a bullet in the back of the head on a piece of wasteground. We'll be found next week by some poor jogger out with his dog, or by a couple of kids cutting school."

"Aren't you the cheery one." He smiled at her, taking her hand. "LeRoux isn't going to kill us. He still needs you."

"He could find anybody to do this for him. The only reason he used me was because I was available, and I owed him a favour."

"He does need you. He needs somebody he's sure he can rely on. He'd never trust any of the local hoods to do this kind of work, and his own men aren't exactly the subtle type. They couldn't steal a bottle from a baby."

"I'm not that irreplaceable."

"You are to me." He grinned at her expression. "What?"

"That was your most corny line yet." She settled back into his embrace, and pressed together as they were, each felt the other tense suddenly as the van bounced to a halt. "We're here."

"It would seem so." He took her hand, and together they rose to their feet. "We could always try the move we used in Lisbon."

"I've never been to Lisbon."

"You haven't?" He seemed genuinely surprised. "That must have been somebody else."

"Thanks."

"Oh, Lisbon isn't all it's cracked up to be."

"I hope I get the chance to find out." She glanced up as the doors swung open. "Now would be good."

"Out." The single syllable carried infinite authority, and came from one of the two men who had escorted LeRoux to Anna's flat. Steele jumped to the ground, reaching up to help his companion. She straightened her clothes briefly on landing, and brushed a few specks of imaginary lint from the lapels of Steele's jacket.

"Where are we?" Steele was glancing about, looking the very image of a tourist abroad. He was summarily ignored.

"Get moving." Clearly a man of very few words, their guard gestured for them to follow him across the rough, grassy ground. There seemed no reason for them to do his bidding, and if he was armed he had made no effort to draw his gun - and yet Steele followed on unquestioningly. There was a long, dark-coloured car parked beside the van, and a quick touch told him that it was still warm, and had only recently arrived. LeRoux's method of transport, no doubt. In that case Steele wanted to stick by his tour guide, and with luck get a chance to move against LeRoux. He took Anna's hand, as much to dissuade her from attempting an escape as for any other reason. She frowned at him.

"He's not pointing a gun at us. We're not prisoners."

"It certainly seems that way." He quickened his pace in response to a similar increase of speed from their guide.

"Then why are we still following? Why don't we try and get away? I thought you wanted to warn your friends?" His step faltered.

"I do."

"Then why-?"

"Because." He flashed her a quick, stern glare. "Sometimes the best route isn't the most obvious one."

"Number three in your personal rule book. I know." She sighed. "I think you're crazy."

"No I'm not; I'm just looking for a chance to get you out of this. But you're right - we do have to get word to my friends."

"And you expect me to do it?"

"I was rather hoping that you would, yes."

"I don't even know them. I wouldn't know them if they jumped up and arrested me - which is very likely what they will do if I try and get anywhere near them."

"Laura and Murphy?" He was all false cheer. "No... You might have to talk very fast though. Murphy can get a little... impatient."

"Impatient? Oh good. In that case I might get to have my head blown off, as well as getting myself arrested. You certainly know how to show a girl a good time."

"That's just what you said in Lisbon."

"Whoever that was you met in Lisbon, I hope she realises how much of an impression she made."

Steele grinned at her. "Then you'll do it?"

"And leave you to the tender mercies of LeRoux? No way. I can't do that, Sean."

"Yes you can." He paused, taking her by the shoulders and staring into her eyes. "Insurance scams mean nothing to me. I've pulled off one or two myself in my time. I don't care about Sutton's innocent shareholders, and I don't give a damn what LeRoux is planning to do with the insurance money or with the jewels. I don't care if he's trying to establish a power base in America, and I don't care who he's already got on his payroll over here. All I care about is getting a shot at him for Peter Casey. Peter was very good to me when I hit a bad patch back in '73."

"Meaning that you plan to do this whether I help you or not?"

"Meaning exactly that." His eyes burned through her defences. "Well?"

"You could give courses in emotional blackmail, you know that?"

"I know." His stare did not waver, nor did the pressure ease up. She sighed.

"Okay. Say the word, and I'll go."

"Up ahead, there's a corner. I think we're headed around it. I'll talk to the guard and try and keep him distracted. I don't think he'll try to stop you if you make a break for it, but I'd rather he didn't notice that you're gone. He might figure out where you're going, and that could be very bad for Laura and Murphy."

"I want to get to know this Laura. She must be quite something if you're willing to go this far for her."

"I don't like involving innocent people in my affairs. You know that."

"I know that." She smiled. "Okay, let's get to it. I hope I can get a cab this far from the main roads, or I'm going to have one hell of a walk ahead of me."

"Sue LeRoux for a new pair of shoes."

"Oh I will." She gripped his hand. "Come on. Before your friend up ahead gets too much of a lead on us."

"Of course." They ran to catch him up. About a hundred yards away from his large, looming figure, Steele let go of Anna's hand, flashed her the briefest and warmest of farewell smiles, and then left her behind. She watched him slip into place beside their guard, and heard the sound of his voice as he attempted to strike up a conversation. He really didn't change, she told herself, pleased beyond all measure. He could still chat up a tiger shark, if the moment called for it. There was something reassuring in the knowledge that she could still count on him, even if there were other people in his life now. Without any further glances back, she turned away and ran off across the dry, stony ground.

Steele got no joy from his partner in conversation. The large man had more about him than the usual muscle employed in such situations, and yet he acted steadfastly mute. His large, heavy brows were permanently knitted together, and his water-coloured eyes seemed to focus on nothing. Steele didn't give up, and chatted persistently throughout their walk. He talked about the weather, about the scenery, about the last film that he had been to see at the cinema; he spoke at length about the state of the modern movie world, the benefits of new cinematic techniques and about his own, firm belief that new special effects were no replacements for the idols of his youth. How could C3P0 compare with Humphrey Bogart? Was ET really any substitute for Cary Grant? Warming to his theme he was soon talking nineteen to the dozen, his con-man's silver tongue doing him proud. He could feel the man beside him beginning to swell, like a pressure cooker filled too full, and left cooking too long. Pretty soon there could be only one, inevitable result; and Steele found himself hoping that they reached their destination before the explosion came.

In the event, they reached the grey, crumbling hulk of an abandoned power station just as the large man began to show the first signs of smouldering. Had it been possible for bursts of steam to leak from his ears, Steele felt sure that now was that time. He ducked past the large man, bouncing cheerfully through the door and looking about. He was clearly in the nerve centre of LeRoux's operation. There was a radio set up to listen into police broadcasts; five or six telephones were set up about the room; the walls were festooned with maps of every ilk - even the floor was being used for extra space, with photographs and post-it notes stuck in groups close to one wall. The photographs were all large, and Steele could easily see his own face on some of them, along with Laura, Murphy and Bernice. There were shots of the office block which housed the agency, shots of the local police precinct showing the front and back doors, and several shots of the Kerwin Starr Insurance building. Clearly LeRoux liked to have all his bases covered. There was a pile of newspapers spread across a table, too, bearing headlines that ranged from Daring Raid On Jewellery Store to Ingenious Lady Thief Outsmarts Store Manager. Steele contemplated wandering nearer to the table, to get a closer look, but he decided against it.

"Mr Steele!" The deep, silky voice of Jacques LeRoux made his skin crawl, but he put on his best smile as he turned to face the older man. "Or should I call you Mr Hearst? Or Mr DeMille?"

"Steele will do." Steele clasped his hands behind his back, trying his best to look calm in the face of adversity. He could see his enemy looking about, clearly in search of Anna, and he waited for the breaking of a potential storm. Instead LeRoux merely raised his eyebrows.

"No Miss Crawford? I'd hoped to have a chat with her."

"She had a prior engagement." Too late Steele remembered that his old friend was still wearing the stolen necklace, and he winced inwardly. Just as long as LeRoux didn't want it back in any sort of a hurry. LeRoux's eyes narrowed in a sure sign of his extreme displeasure.

"I was going to be nice," he hissed, moving closer to his increasingly unwilling guest. "I thought that I'd give you both the benefit of the doubt - dispense with the unpleasantries; guns, violence, all that kind of thing. I thought I would give you the chance to act sensibly."

"And we appreciate it." Steele's smile had thinned somewhat, but he kept it going nonetheless, trying to crank it back up a gear or two. "But some things just can't wait, you know how it is."

"Very true. But without Miss Crawford I'm very much afraid that there's nothing left to wait for." LeRoux snapped his fingers, and his two confederates seized firm hold of Steele's arms. "Let's not waste each other's time any longer, Mr Steele. Your friends will be dead before nightfall, so there's really no reason why I should keep you from joining them."

"Anna's gone." He had blurted the words out before he had really had the time to think about them. LeRoux folded his arms, glaring back at him with all the force of a particularly moody rhinoceros suffering from a hangover. "But we work together. We always did. Any deal you had with her, you have with me too. Whatever she was doing for you, I'd be happy to do in her place."

"You would?" He didn't sound terribly convinced. Steele felt himself regaining a grip on the situation, in tandem with the loosening grip on his arms, and he managed the beginnings of a renewed smile.

"Of course I would. We've always had a... special relationship."

"Really." There was interest in the voice now, and more than a little satisfaction. "Well I can't say that I would be sorry to have you working for me, Steele. Your reputation has preceded you, you might say."

"As has yours." If it was an attempt to be polite, it wasn't convincing either man. They spoke with barely concealed dislike, disguised only by a determination on the part of both men not to lose their tempers. LeRoux smiled.

"Very well. Consider yourself hired, Mr Steele. Be my guest - rob my jewellery stores."

"Any of them?"

"You think I mind if they've already been hit once? Just be careful that you don't get caught."

"Oh I never get caught." There was an airy over-confidence in Steele's eyes. LeRoux laughed.

"That's not what I heard. Just do your job, Steele. I don't want fancy stuff, and I don't want any heroics. All I want is my jewellery, here, in my possession. I want no clues leading back to me or to you, and I don't want anything left lying about that might give the police a clue." His eyes narrowed. "Any questions?"

"I don't think so."

"Fine. Just as long as you understand the full commitment."

"I think I do. I steal you the jewels, and I hand them all over." He winced. "I think I can just about manage it. With a little self control."

"That's not the full commitment." There was an unpleasant smile on the face of the crime kingpin, and his eyes were alive with the lights of mockery. "You see, my problem is that I'm going to be at large in a foreign country, cut off from my usual sources, my usual contacts - and I'm going to have a fortune in hot jewels, not to mention a lot of crooked insurance money, all cluttering up my luggage. Now I plan on getting out of the country without attracting any attention. For that, I need a few things. I need low police interest. I need a complete lack of suspicion. I need to be sure that nobody is out there, looking at me as though they might have an inkling what I've been up to. Do you understand now?"

"You mean you want somebody to take the heat." Steele turned away slightly. So that was the extent of the debt LeRoux felt Anna owed him. His people had saved her life, and so now she had to do his bidding no matter what the consequences - just as Steele's old friend Peter Casey had also found to his cost. "You leave the country, secure in the knowledge that somebody else has confessed to the robberies. That's why Anna told me that story about fighting an crooked company. That's the story she's going to tell the police, when she turns herself in."

"That's about the size of it." LeRoux had a smile of infinite self-congratulation spread across his face. "My idea. It's seamless. Nobody questions the antics of a person when they've claimed to be fighting for a cause. They just put it down to politics, and don't even think about looking any further afield."

"But she'll be taking the rap for a lot of raids. She'll get life."

"No." LeRoux rose to his feet. Standing up, he was a good deal taller than Steele himself, although his height was not a robust one. There was little more to his build than a light covering of muscles, existing for show purposes alone. "As far as I can see, Mr Steele, Miss Crawford has now left my employ. That's a career move I don't tend to take too kindly to, but as long as you fulfil her part of the bargain - in every aspect - I'm prepared to let her live. You tried to make a fool out of me in Hungary, Mr Steele. For that I'm willing to turn Anna's debt over to you."

"I confess. I go to jail... or Anna dies?"

"You catch on very quickly." LeRoux's hands descended heavily onto Steele's shoulders, although the slap carried more overtones of friendliness than it did of violence. "Do we have a deal?"

"Do I have any choice?" Steele's tones were clipped. LeRoux laughed.

"Not if you want your charming lady friend to live, no." Quite suddenly he turned away, spinning on his heel, striding off into the darker recesses of the room. Steele, it seemed, was immediately forgotten. As if to confirm that fact, the two guards stepped forward, each seizing an arm. Steele felt himself being dragged backwards, out of the room.

"I can walk by myself, thankyou gentlemen." With an effort he pulled free, making a point of straightening his lapels quite laboriously. He thought about turning back - trying to speak to LeRoux again - but any such attempt seemed doomed at the outset to end in failure. Head held determinedly high, he preceded his honour guard from the room. The walk back to the van seemed shorter this time, and he was surprised to see the familiar lines of the vehicles appear up ahead. he wondered about his chances of being offered a lift back home, but they didn't seem very high. The solid wall of muscle behind him was not especially forthcoming in offers of rides, and neither man seemed about to play chauffeur. He shrugged, smiling merrily at the pair.

"I suppose I should be off then." There was no answer. "Don't suppose either of you is heading my way?" Again there was no response. He sighed. "How do I hand the jewellery over, when I've got it?"

"We'll find you." There was a dark conviction behind those simple words. Steele didn't doubt for a minute that the claim was true. He nodded.

"Right. Fine... er... fine then. I'll be seeing you." There was no farewell from either man, but then he hadn't been expecting one. With heavy feet he turned away and set off across the hard and stony ground. All the way he could feel two pairs of eyes boring into his back, and it was with some relief that he finally turned a corner and left the suspicious stares behind. He still felt uneasy, though, even when he had left both men far behind him. A lingering unease tickled the back of his neck, and worried at his innards. He knew that Anna was on her way to Laura; he knew that everything should now be alright. But worry still gnawed at his chest nonetheless. If something went wrong now, he was going to be looking at a lifetime in prison. For the first time in his life, he had to seriously contemplate the possibility that everything would soon be over.

**********

It wasn't hard to find the offices of the Remington Steele Detective Agency. The agency did not exactly have a low profile, and Steele himself seemed to be known to a good many of the residents of Los Angeles. They spoke of him in varying ways. To some he was a recluse, never seen and rarely heard. To others he was a famous philanthropist. Others talked of him as a friend - the kind who was a frequent face at clubs and bars, who frequented expensive restaurants and yet wandered around in the poorer sections of town without so much as a weapon about his person. Whoever and whatever he was, everybody was in agreement over where to find his offices, and Anna made a beeline straight for them. By the time that she had ridden the elevator all the way to the right floor she was agitated and on edge. Nervousness gripped her. If she was not in time to save these friends of Sean's she would never forgive herself - and yet, did she really want to save them? If they were still alive; still here; would Sean ever really be hers again? She didn't know the answer to that one.

"Can I help you?" The receptionist looked nice and sounded friendly, but Anna was not in the mood for pleasantries. Steele had said something to her about the receptionist, she seemed to remember. He had certainly told her the woman's name. She frowned.

"Er... Miss Wolf?"

"I beg your pardon?" There was a hard edge to the other woman's voice at first, then she sighed and reached for the intercom. "It's got to be. There couldn't be any other explanation."

"I'm sorry? I don't follow."

"Never mind." Bernice thumbed on the intercom and leaned towards it. "Laura, I've got a lady out here who comes bearing messages from Mr Steele. Shall I send her in?"

"We'll be right out." The words had barely escaped from the intercom when one of the inner office doors burst open, and two people emerged from whatever sanctum lay beyond. Anna looked from the tall, red-headed young man to the darker-haired woman standing beside him, and offered them a tentative smile.

"Laura and Murphy?" she asked. The man - Murphy, she assumed - was gaping at her.

"Anna," he said finally, with some authority. Anna felt her heart give a sudden jump. What did he know? Maybe it didn't matter anymore. She smiled bravely.

"Yes. Sean - I mean Steele - has told me a lot about you." That was a lie, but if there was one thing that Anna Crawford knew how to do extremely well, it was how best to disguise the truth.

"We know quite a bit about you, too." Laura sounded hostile, and Anna couldn't really blame her. "You're a jewel thief. Bernice, call the police."

"No!" Anna jumped as if hit. "No, please. You have to listen to me. You're in danger."

"Danger." Laura didn't sound at all convinced. "In what way exactly?"

"The man that I'm working for wants you dead. He's worried that you're getting too close to the truth, so he's sending somebody to kill you."

"And you came to warn us out of the kindness of your heart." Laura folded her arms. "You do realise, I assume, that we know exactly who you are?"

"I doubt that." Anna looked vaguely amused. "Look, Sean is with the real bad guys right now. He could be in danger. I don't think they'll kill him, but I do think he's planning on taking my place, and that carries all kinds of risks of its own..."

"Sean?" Bernice sounded interested. Anna glanced back at her, surprised at the interruption. She frowned.

"Sean, Raymond, Harry, Callum... one name is very much like another in our line of business. I call him Sean because that was the name he was using when we first met." She thought that she registered some disappointment in the receptionist's eyes, and smiled. "I don't think he knows his own real name. Not anymore."

"And he thinks we're in danger?" There was interest in Laura's eyes now. She wanted to think that Steele was worried about her - Anna could see that written clearly across her face. She nodded.

"It was his idea that I come to you. One of us had to stay, and he wanted to be the one. I think he feels that he's looking after me that way." Her eyes lowered momentarily, realising the tactlessness of that comment. Laura didn't want anybody to know how much she cared for Steele, but to Anna the truth was plain to see. She smiled, a little carelessly. "Although I guess the real reason is that he's got an old score to settle. He wanted to be sure of what was going on."

"Old score?" It was Murphy's turn to look interested. Anna thought that he saw the hint of rivalry burning in those intelligent eyes. So Murphy and Sean weren't the best of friends - rivals over Laura? Possibly. Very likely in fact. She shrugged.

"Old story. Long story. We really don't have the time."

"Somebody is coming here?" Bernice cast nervous glances towards the others. "Maybe we'd better make a move."

"It would be for the best." Anna thought hard. "It's best if you don't go home for a while, and I can't say that my place is a whole lot safer, but right now anywhere would be good."

"Er..." There was indecision writ large across the face of Laura Holt. She seemed to be staring down the corridor, as though expecting to see the enemy looming outside the glass doors at any minute. "Okay. Er..." She looked up at Murphy, then back at Anna, nervous about where to place her trust. "Fine. Lead on."

"Thankyou." She was pleased with their acceptance and with their trust. Perhaps it was because Sean cared so much about their wellbeing - or perhaps it was just because she didn't want innocent bystanders getting hurt. Either way she hurried them to the door with all the urgency that she could muster. "Any ideas where we should head?"

"Where's Steele?" There was a steel of her own in Laura's voice, and Anna blanched. She hadn't been expecting that particular question. Save the woman, for certain - but take her straight to Sean? That didn't sound like any kind of sense. She frowned.

"He's just outside of town, but it's not safe for me to take you there."

"If it's safe for Steele, it's safe for us." Murphy, Anna realised, would have backed Laura up if she had suggested leading them all on a one way mission to the outermost dust ring of Saturn. She sighed.

"It's not safe for Steele. He just went there anyway. LeRoux needs someone to do his work for him, so he should be safe."

"He's going to start stealing jewels?" This time the fondness and sense of loyalty to the con-man was gone. Laura was angry. "Has he gone completely mad? How's that going to look - Remington Steele, the private investigator, suddenly taking to robbing jewellery stores?"

"It's not like he's got a whole lot of choice." Anna tried to keep the ice from her voice. Bernice and Murphy shared a look of concern, touched with amusement. Clearly the idea of two women fighting over Remington Steele was something that neither of them was prepared to take entirely seriously. Laura caught the look and glared.

"We're supposed to be in a hurry," she said pointedly. "Somebody said that our lives were in danger."

"Then let's get moving." Trying - although not terribly hard - to appear less than frustrated with the situation, Anna headed immediately for the door. "Where are we going?"

"To Steele." Laura's voice was hard. Anna sighed. Maybe it was a better idea just to leave them here waiting for LeRoux's hitman.

"He probably isn't there anymore."

"Then where will he be?" There was a steely resolution in Laura's voice which reminded Anna oddly of her old friend himself. She sighed, knowing only too well how hopeless it could be at times, to argue with him. She shook her head, then offered the other woman a small, half-questioning smile.

"Robbing a jewellery store?"

Laura's eyes flashed with rage and indignation. "He'd certainly better not be."

"I bet he is." Murphy had meant the comment to come out quietly, but it slipped past his lips at rather a misjudged volume and he suffered the full force of Laura's unchecked glare in response. Bernice, clearly acting a familiar rôle, tried to intersperse herself between them.

"Er... excuse me? Hitmen? Coming here? Remember that bit?" She shook her head. "Can we leave the histrionics for now, please, and do something a little bit more important - like running away?"

"Yeah. Of course." Laura sighed, and seemed to mentally straighten her clothes and her posture, regaining control. "Okay, we leave here. But I'm still looking for Steele. I have to see him."

"He's okay." Leading the exodus, Anna cast quick glances out of every available window as they headed for the stairs. To her, with her fugitive's mind, they seemed safer than the lift. "He can take care of himself."

"I'm not worried about taking care of him. I'm worried about my agency." Laura hurried to catch her up. "Which store is he going to rob?"

"How would I know?" Her innocence seemed too real - just that little bit too genuine to be true. It brought Steele to mind in a way that made Laura flinch inside. They had so much in common, he and this woman. How could she herself compete with somebody with whom he was so very much alike? Her glare was undiminished by her troubled thoughts, and Anna sighed.

"Okay. There might be a way - the same way that he was able to figure out what my next job was. It's kind of a long shot, but it might work."

"Great. We'll take the chance." Laura was in the lead now, speeding up with every step, leading the rest of them round increasingly wild corners, nearly losing her footing at the top of each new flight of stairs in her hurry to descend. "How do we figure it out?"

"It's an old system. A numbers game we devised when we were working a casino in Paris some years ago. It's virtually unbreakable, but it means that Sean and I can always know exactly what the other is planning. It was invaluable on the roulette tables, and it worked when we were playing a poker scam in Monaco a few years ago too."

"And in Maracaibo?" put in Murphy. She frowned at him.

"How did you know about that?"

"Found a photo." He thought back to the idyllic beach scene, a comforting retreat from twisting stairs and possible advancing killers.

"Yeah, well. We do have quite a history." She sounded amused. Disturbed by such an admission, Laura seemed about to ask for further details; but just as her mouth was forming the initial words of a question, they reached the end of the stairs. The lobby awaited, quiet and empty.

"No sign of anyone." Anna peered through a crack in the door. "We move quickly, and we don't hesitate, alright? Everyone keep together, and head straight for the street. We'll get a cab, there's no sense in risking it by heading for your cars."

"Makes sense." Murphy was beginning to defer to the Englishwoman out of instinct, and Laura looked faintly stung. The talk of secret numbers, and codes for ease of thought and understanding had left her head in a whirl. So much that she could never be a part of - so much with which she could not compete. Even though she had always known that there was a whole lot more to Steele's life, somehow it was harder to face those long-hidden secrets than she had ever thought it would be. So many years she knew nothing about. So many memories she could never share. It seemed impossible that he would ever really choose her, and the life she had made up for him, when he had all of this to go back to - old friends, old lifestyles, secret codes thought up in secret moments. Inwardly she smiled, and the smile stung her thoughts. She had denied her true feelings for so long - pretended to everyone including herself that he was a burden, an irritation - even a curse. She had yelled at him, pushed him around, deliberately used her authority to make things hard for him, pulled rank time and time again. Maybe he had come to believe that she really didn't care. Maybe he thought that she would prefer him to head off into the sunset with Anna. Maybe she would prefer it. She was so confused that she didn't really know that one herself anymore.

"I'll need a list of the stores," Anna was saying. Laura reached into her pocket and pulled out a piece of paper, torn from Murphy's copy of the Sutton report. Anna took it, not seeming to notice that the American woman was acting in a daze. They were in the back of a cab now, heading off into the inner city for want of a better direction. Laura didn't even seem aware that they were no longer walking.

"How long will it take you to figure out the next move?" Murphy was asking, but the words sounded hollow to Laura, and they echoed in her head.

"Not long." The paper rustled as Anna pored over it. She seemed to be counting on her fingers. Murphy remembered the numbers written on the back of the photograph, and wondered what part they had played in which scam. "There's no reason to suspect that he'd stick to the system," Anna was saying. "But we often used it when we didn't need to. For luck."

"For luck." Laura glanced down at the list. "Some luck."

"We'll find him." Bernice didn't sound convinced. Anna glanced across at her.

"2270 on ninth and eighty-fourth," she announced, as though in response to the other woman's comment. Murphy took the sheet, frowning at the address. He certainly couldn't see the pattern. Anna smiled at his confusion, then leaned forward and repeated the address to the driver. The cab swung about, heading on its new trajectory.

"There." Anna seemed pleased with herself. Murphy looked worried about Laura. Laura just looked worried. Bernice sighed and looked out of the window. She could have got a job at a normal firm. Right now she could be heading home at the end of another day showing pleasant, well-mannered patients into a dentist's clinic. There were times, in all honesty, when she seriously wondered about her choice of career.

**********

Steele knew that they were watching him. Perhaps he was tired, for he had not been aware of them following him; and yet he knew that they were there now, hidden somewhere in one of the nearby buildings, or possibly in one of the many parked cars that lined the streets. Wherever they were, he knew that they were there. Making sure that he went ahead with his first raid, making sure that he didn't make any stupid, avoidable mistakes. He stood on the pavement opposite his goal, and tried not to think about Laura - of what she would think of his impending actions, of what she was doing now. Of whether or not Anna had reached her in time, and whether either of them was even still alive. He wished that he knew for sure, but he didn't know anything. At that moment he would have given the world just to see Murphy walk along the street. Even he would be a better sight than all this emptiness, and all these strangers.

With sudden, abrupt resolution, he gathered these destructive thoughts into an imaginary bundle and threw them away. Shoulders squared, determination primed, he strode across the street. It was a large store that he was approaching now. Four or five members of staff at least. He could go in, act normally, maybe buy something. Take stock of the place and its wares, its weaknesses and strengths. Then, in an hour or two, when it was dark and the manager was closing up for the night, he would slip back. Burglar alarms... His quick eyes spotted the box on the front of the shop. Nothing sophisticated. Probably something hidden inside, as a surprise to catch out the unwary. Nothing that he couldn't handle, he was sure of it. He had opened safes that were supposed to be unopenable; traversed alarms and intruder prevention systems that allegedly were foolproof - and he wasn't even a mastermind. Nothing was ever truly burglar-proof; that much he did know. There was no such thing as an alarm that couldn't be avoided, or a mantrap that couldn't be side-stepped. Not when you had the intelligence, or the determination, or the motivation - or even just the time - to really give it your best shot. That was how he had dealt with the vault at the Casino Rosa in Santa Monica. That was how he had broken open the safe deposit strong-room in the Banco Medici in Naples. He had been drunk, too, that time - which probably explained why he had left with some old fool's prized stamp collection instead of the fortune in ancient Roman gold coinage which had been in the next room all along. Still - he had got a good price for the stamps; and an even better one three days later, when he had stolen them from his customer and sold them on to somebody else. He had been very proud of himself over that one, but Daniel Chalmers had been less than impressed when he had heard about it. He had virtually demanded that Steele go straight back and apologise. Steele grinned at the memory, one hand on the door handle. Just as well that Daniel couldn't see him now.

He threw open the door, striding inside with a powerful purpose. Three assistant looked up at his entry, the light of the commission-seeking shining bright in their eyes. He smiled at them each in turn, his measured gaze settling on a tall, statuesque beauty with hair from a stylist's bottle. There was just enough vacancy in her attractively rounded turquoise eyes for him to feel entirely comfortable. She caught his eye and strode forward, easily beating her rivals to this new target.

"Good morning. Welcome to our store." She parroted it in breezy tones, like an air hostess initialising her welcome spiel. "How can I help you?"

"I'm hoping that you can help me choose a necklace, for my sister. She's getting married at the end of the week, and I promised to supply the 'something new'. She's very fond of rubies."

"Rubies?" Her eyes spun like the symbols in a one-armed bandit, lining up little dollar signs. He could practically hear her brain kicking into gear as she began adding up those all-important commission percentages. "We have very many pieces here that feature rubies. What particular style were you looking for?"

"Something old." In his mind's eye he was seeing one particular necklace - a delightful gold and silver band worn close against the throat, fashioned two hundred years ago, and hoarded by a cheap shot millionaire in Maracaibo. He had taken a bullet in the shoulder to liberate it, and since then had seen it only once, when he had fastened it about Anna's neck, paused to ask a passing sailor to take their photograph, and then jumped aboard a passing fishing vessel and headed off into the Atlantic. The speed had been necessary, just as the lack of it was necessary now. "Old style I mean. Old fashioned."

"Of course." She had the sort of tone that suggested she would have spoken to please had he asked for a hundredweight of rubies set in platinum and candy-striped plastic. Briskly she stepped aside, gesturing at the long glass counter bisecting the shop. Within it were displayed row upon row of items of jewellery - everything from the stunningly tasteless to the inspiringly beautiful. Rubies set in gold, sapphires set in silver, opals and diamonds and emeralds glimmering in rings and necklaces and brooches; in anklets and tiaras and tie-pins. There were charm bracelets and cufflinks and hatpins; earrings and watches and armbands. Steele felt his fingers beginning to itch. Clearly a smattering of months living the life of the blameless - nearly - had done nothing to dampen his instincts. His heart felt like doing a jig.

"Is there anything that catches your eye right away?" The assistant was anxious to start showing him specific items. He pointed out one or two without even looking, then chose four or five more whilst she was still busy collecting the first few. Her hands tapped out security codes on keypads, and Steele's quick eyes saw each one. Her enthusiasm gave no opportunity for her to hide the codes, and he made the most of it, with a glee that was almost childish.

"How about this?" With a flourish that was almost laughable the girl held up what was likely to be her final offering. It was a simple silver necklace, holding three small rubies. The price tag was nothing exceptionally impressive, but the cut of the stones was exquisite. Steele reached out for it, holding up to the light. Already he could see how the silver would look against Anna's skin. Without hesitation he reached into his wallet and withdrew a credit card. The assistant smiled.

"An excellent choice, Mr..." she consulted the credit card. "Mr Blair. Please wait here, and I'll see that it's boxed and made ready for you."

"Thankyou." He rocked excitedly on his heels, running the all-important key-pad numbers through his head once again as he waited. Nine-two-seven-four for the one closest to the door. Eight-seven-seven-six for the one beside him now. Nine-nine-two-one for the large one off to his right, where the largest collection of anklets and charm bracelets was kept. It was labelled as the Ethnic Collection, and amidst the usual selection of tacky, cheap copies of African and Indian jewellery were some pieces of real beauty. He was already making out his shopping list, deciding which pieces to take, trying to figure out how long it would take him to enter the codes, grab the pieces and run. Five minutes? Ten? If he tripped an alarm he would have less than that, but if he was able to avoid all the hidden traps he should have the luxury of an extra five minutes. Enough time to close the display cases again, and make everything look neat and tidy - add to the confusion, and improve his reputation. He wandered in a casual circle around the long glass counter, and scanned the ground for possible laser beam emitters. Nothing, at least as far as he could see. Things were really looking up. He followed their lead and surveyed the ceiling, still managing to look casual, as though he were lost in a daydream. Another assistant smiled at him, and he returned it with a distant smile of his own, playing the part of the idle dreamer waiting for his purchase to be brought to him. Three cameras, positioned so as to get the best angles. A mask then, and maybe a padded jacket to hide his slight frame and improve his chances of remaining unrecognised. No sense in taking unnecessary chances.

"Here you are Mr Blair." She girl handed him a small black box, neatly bound with a length of gold ribbon. The name of Sutton's Jewellers was embossed on the top of the box in silver lettering, just bright enough to be noticeable without being gaudy. It was written in an austere font, which brought to mind the lettering on gravestones.

"Thankyou. You've been very helpful." He tucked the box under one arm. "Good evening."

"Good evening." It probably wasn't the type of farewell that she was used to, but Steele was playing his best English gentleman today. Ramrod straight, with perfect diction and not a flutter of emotion. The girl was gazing at him with something close to adoration, and it stung that he couldn't stick around to make the most of it. He nodded in acknowledgement of her words, and strode towards the door. The manager muttered a farewell to him as he passed, and he allowed the man another brisk nod, calculating all the while. Twelve feet from the door to the first display case, nothing much worth taking, another four feet to the large glass counter where the real treasures were housed. What looked like two small laser emitters right in front of the door. Not exactly child's play, but hardly insurmountable odds. He opened the door, pulled it wide with the beginnings of a self-congratulatory smile on his face, and walked straight into the furious figure of Laura Holt. The door slammed shut behind him before he could think of jumping back into the shop.

"Laura!" He sounded pleased - was pleased - but somehow she didn't look as though the feeling was mutual. "And Murphy, and... oh. And Miss Wolf." Clearly this wasn't a chance meeting. His smile began to freeze on his lips. "Can I help you?"

"This way. Now." Laura was pulling at one arm, and it looked very much as though Murphy wanted to try the same thing with the other one. Steele's eyes scanned the street, searching for the watching figures that he knew were out there somewhere.

"Now isn't a good time, Laura. Really."

"When is?" She sounded bitter. "Move it before I have you arrested right now for theft."

"Theft?" He sounded hurt, although quite how he managed that, given the circumstances, was beyond her. "I bought this perfectly legally. It was an honest transac--"

"With a legal credit card, in your own name?" Laura's tone had not softened. If anything it was more harsh than ever. Steele's smile wilted.

"Well not exactly."

"I thought so." She pulled on his arm again, and this time he moved with her, taking a few steps towards the relative sanctuary of a nearby alley.

"Laura..."

"We don't have time. Your friend said there were people looking for us. We have to talk, and we have to work out what's what, and then we have to get to the police. It's really just a question of what we tell them, because right now I'm siding with Murphy on handing you and the pirate queen over as well, and maybe picking up some long outstanding international rewards."

"You're angry." He slowed at the mouth of the alley, eyes urgently scanning the street, before spotting Anna standing in the shadows near a pile of cardboard boxes left for collection. She looked nervous. Laura was looking increasingly indignant.

"Too right I--"

"Hush." He grabbed her arms and spun her into the shelter of the boxes beside Anna. His old partner grabbed the American woman to steady her, then glanced urgently towards Steele. There was no time for a welcome, or for a reunion of any kind.

"They're here, aren't they." She spoke with the same certainty that he felt. "LeRoux's men."

"Maybe even LeRoux himself." He glanced pointedly at Laura. "And now they know we all know as much as they know. And they know we're all here. Now."

Murphy blinked. "Huh?!"

"The bad guys are going to kill us all. Aren't they." Bernice sighed, shaking her head. Secretarial college had definitely been a major mistake. "Isn't there something we can do now? Aside from panicking?"

"Keep in the shadows." Steele pushed them all into a bundle behind the cardboard boxes, himself taking up the position best placed to allow him to see the street. "I can see... Oh great. I can see Mutt and Jeff, my favourite pair of hardmen. No sign of LeRoux."

"Look for the black limousine," Anna told him, her voice surprisingly close to his ear. He glanced back at her.

"Bingo. About two hundred yards away, beside an intersection. Illegally parked by the look of it."

"And I don't suppose there's a policeman around when you need one?"

"Nope." He shrugged, offering his old friend a small smile. "What do you suggest?"

"Maximum distraction, maximum disruption." It was her turn to smile. "Although of course if anybody here has a gun, I'd be happy to suggest opening fire."

"We don't carry weaponry," Laura told her, trying to interject herself into the narrowing gap between Steele and Anna.

"Although given how often we seem to need them these days, I'm beginning to wonder if it isn't time for a change of policy." Murphy seemed to be trying to interject himself between Laura and Steele. All in all there wasn't enough room for any of them. The pile of cardboard boxes began to teeter.

"I'll count to ten," Steele muttered, apparently oblivious to the struggle going on beside him. "We could split up."

"Better stick together. Head down the alley. Back entrance to another shop." Anna had pushed her way past Laura, and was dangerously close to the edge of their precarious cover. "Or we could try and make it back to the jewellery store. They'll have better security, and possibly a direct line to the police station."

"We can give it a try." Steele was still watching the advancing pair. "About that count of ten..."

"We're ready when you are," Bernice told him. Sandwiched against the wall by the pressure of the other four, Bernice could not see a thing. Steele flashed her a rueful grin nonetheless.

"No time. Consider it already counted."

"What do you mean?" Fighting to extricate herself from the morass, Bernice managed to focus on him with one eye, just as he reached out, grabbing her, grabbing Laura, and somehow managing to grab Murphy as well.

"I mean run!" He burst from the mouth of the alley even as his words were fading into echoes, his colleagues staggering and stumbling after him in a rush of pounding feet and desperate exertion. Ahead the two expensively dressed bodyguards froze in place, staring in amazement as their intended victims rushed towards them with sudden, reckless abandon. One made a grab for his gun, drawing it from a shoulder holster with remarkable speed. Someone further along the street screamed, his colleague made a grab for his friend, in a vain attempt to conceal the weapon - and in the same moment all hell broke loose. In a mighty upheaval of panic-stricken shoppers, the street erupted. LeRoux's two men were swept away in the general melee, one of them letting out a bellow of fury as he lost sight of his fleeing prey.

"Quickly!" Steele grabbed Laura by the wrist, dragging her into the doorway of the jewellery store, pulling her beyond into the sanctuary of the shop. The manager was there before them, urgency written on his face, his sharp eyes staring towards the window.

"What's going on?" He recoiled in surprise as the door was thrown open again, and this time Murphy, Bernice and Anna stumbled over the threshold. "I heard screaming."

"Some shoppers getting a little carried away about the sales down the street." Steele, somehow contriving to look entirely unruffled and as well-presented as ever, offered the man a polite smile. "Might we use your telephone?"

"To call the police?" The manager shrugged. "Be my guest. It's this way." He pointed. Steele nodded a thanks.

"Much obliged, old chap. Much obliged." He strode forward, vaguely aware that the manager, without so much as varying his pace, was reaching inside his jacket. Steele's heart skipped a beat and his stride slowed a shade as he began to turn to face the other man. He saw a mild, round face, transformed for an instant into a mask of unconcealed hatred, before something hit them both hard and low. The manager fell forward, slamming into Steele, sending him crashing backwards into the long, glass counter he had coveted so greatly just minutes before. There was a tremendous crash of rendering glass, the airborne con-man had a momentary glimpse of rainbows shattering apart through a cascade of splintering shards, and then the clattering ring of a hundred alarm bells danced merry hell through his eardrums. Stunned and winded he could do little save lie there, on a bed of broken glass and scattered jewellery, as Murphy dragged the manager to his feet and made sure that he was disarmed.

"Thankyou." It was the only speech Steele was at all capable of. His head was hammering as though inhabited by a child with its first drum kit. Murphy grinned, pushing the manager towards the others before bending down to haul Steele to his feet. Just as they grabbed hands the window behind Murphy split open, and a burst of automatic gunfire sounded out above his head. He gasped, and Steele pulled him to the ground.

"Keep down." He hissed the words through his teeth, pushing the American aside, struggling to crawl out of the remains of the counter without cutting open any major arteries. Murphy didn't need telling twice, although he seemed as determined as Steele to return to the others.

"LeRoux?" Anna asked, trying to manoeuvre herself into a position from which she could see beyond the window. Steele raised his eyebrows.

"With a gun in his hand? Are you kidding?"

"You never know." She offered him a rather breathless smile. "You know, this is almost fun."

"Reminds me of Milan." He frowned. "That was you in Milan, wasn't it?"

"Yes." She flinched as the window above them exploded. "They're getting closer."

"And there's no way out." His face was grave, but his eyes were bright. "You'd think the police would be here by now."

"They never are when we really need them. It's probably something to do with the number of times we've wished they were somewhere else."

"Probably." It was his turn to flinch, as a pane of glass shattered just above his head, raining pieces down on top of him. He shook his head to clear it, wishing he could clear it of the ringing alarm bells, still resounding persistently forth from the ruined counter in the middle of the room. He ducked lower. "Oh, I nearly forgot. Here." He held out the box containing the necklace he had bought earlier, and she smiled like an excited child.

"Really? For me?"

"Of course." He watched her open it, then took the necklace from her so that he could fasten it about her neck. She was still wearing the one from earlier, and the dual effect was quite stunning - even in the midst of the carnage. Especially in the midst of the carnage, his mind told him. The last thing anyone should see was something of true beauty.

"Shouldn't we be making a run for it again?" Bernice was huddled in a corner, her hands over her ears in a vain attempt to block out the noise of the guns and alarms. Laura shrugged.

"Where to?"

"Into the mouth of hell." Steele raised himself up and peered over the windowsill. Outside he could see three men in black suits, machine guns slung from shoulder straps. Behind them were Mutt and Jeff, newly emerged from the now distant crowd of terrified civilians. Behind them, somewhere out of sight, was Jacques LeRoux. Even though they could not see each other, Steele felt as though his eyes had locked with those of the other man. He could almost hear LeRoux's breathing, could almost see the twitching of his forehead as his pulse beat with hard and fast precision.

"You're not going out there." He wasn't sure whether it was Laura or Anna who had asked the question. Perhaps it was both of them.

"I'll lead them off."

"They'll kill you."

"Maybe." He glanced back, trying to take in all four of the others in his gaze - but especially Anna and Laura. "If they do, Anna knows everything. Get her to a police station, but make sure she doesn't wind up facing the music."

"Steele--" Laura was moving towards him, but something in his eyes stopped her.

"Forget it Laura. There's no other way." His gaze switched to Anna, but she did not speak. Instead she reached one hand to the necklace he had just given her, and he saw her lips twitch into a last smile. He guessed her plans, and frowned.

"Don't try to stop me Sean." Her voice was cold and hard. He lowered his eyes.

"I won't."

"Good." Slowly, with a deep breath, she lifted herself into a crouch and headed for the door. Steele went with her. Laura tried to follow, but Murphy held her back.

"One of them will make it," he told her. "All of you won't."

"But--" She fell into his embrace, and he closed his eyes momentarily, recognising that he was fighting a losing battle in trying to keep her from falling for Steele. At the doorway Steele gave Anna one last look.

"Are you sure about this?" he asked her. She smiled.

"Laura and Murphy know everything. I told them on the way here. They don't need me. Neither do you, anymore."

"That's not true."

"Nothing ever is, when you're involved." They smiled at each other.

"It was fun," Steele told her. She touched his hand.

"Maybe it will be again, one day."

"I hope so."

"Me too." She took a deep breath. "Good luck Steele."

"Steele?"

"Yeah. I think it's who you are, now."

"Maybe. For the time being."

"Until next time." Her smile faded from her face. "Ready when you are."

"I'm always ready." His hand fell away from hers, and he threw open the door. There was a small crash as it slammed back into the wall, but the sound of that impact was almost imperceptible above the sudden roar of the guns. Steele ducked low, running to the right, almost losing his footing as he dashed for the scant cover of a nearby mailbox. A hundred near misses scarred the tarmac at his feet, and he heard the ringing of ricochets crashing into the metal of the box by his head. Gathering his strength he took a deep breath, ducked to his right once again, and ran as fast as his legs would move towards the next shop doorway. Behind him he heard footsteps. Somebody was following him. He felt like cheering. If he could just lead them away; could just give Laura and Murphy and Bernice time to escape. That was all that mattered. A burst of gunfire made him dodge to his left, and his foot slipped on the edge of the pavement. His ankle twisted painfully, and he felt himself falling. With all of the strength left inside him he rolled over and over, past three parked cars, underneath one. He heard his jacket tearing as it caught on the exhaust. The footsteps sounded closer.

"You're a dead man, Steele." The voice was just a whisper, but to Steele it was as loud as a shout. He tried to make it to his feet, but his ankle gave way. He could not prevent a gasp of pain escaping his lips as he crashed to the ground. Hard, unyielding tarmac met his back and head, and above him the muzzle of an Uzi 9mm hove into view. Through disturbingly blurred vision he saw the gun move closer, until a cold metal circle was pressing into his forehead. He tried to sit up, but the pressure of the gun forced him back again, and again the tarmac met him with jarring force. His vision blurred still further.

"Say hello to Peter Casey." The voice above him was tinged with amusement. He didn't bother trying to answer. Instead he calmed his breathing and waited for the shot.

"This is the police! Throw down your weapons and surrender!" The voice, grossly amplified by who-knew-what sized loudhailer, made Steele and his would-be executioner jump at the same moment. The cold touch against Steele's forehead vanished, and in the blur of movement above him Steele saw the man beginning to turn, gun raised. He heard a shout, and thought it was his own, warning the man to surrender - but before the words had fully escaped his lips he heard a gunshot - heard several gunshots. A body crashed to the ground beside him, and he heard the sound of running feet.

"Don't move." The voice was earnest and filled with authority, and it seemed to be directed at him. He didn't much care whether it was or wasn't. He couldn't get up anyway, let alone try to get away. All that he could hope was that the police had not arrested anybody likely to be of the chatty type, or this blurred scenario whirling about him was likely to be the last glimpse of freedom he had in a very long while.

"Good evening, gentlemen." He hoped that they were gentlemen, and therefore not likely to take offence. His vision was still too full of grey swirls to see whether they were policemen or policewomen. "The name's Remington Steele. I was wondering... perhaps you might have heard of me?"

**********

"Still no word?" Laura's voice startled Steele, and he glanced up at her from his office chair. He smiled.

"No. Nothing. I wasn't expecting anything, if I'm honest."

"But surely she'll want to get word to you - tell you that she's okay?"

"No." He laid aside the photograph he was holding - the beach scene at Maracaibo - and shrugged. "It's not our style. If she's okay, she'll get in touch. Some day."

"I... I sort of hope she does." It still stung to speak of her, and to think of all the time and the memories that she had shared with the elusive Steele, but Laura wished the mysterious woman no harm. She was even glad that Anna had escaped the police cordon. Unfortunately, however, it seemed increasingly likely that LeRoux had escaped too. Steele didn't seem at all surprised.

"Do you think she's still in danger from LeRoux?"

"Ah." This time his smile carried less conviction. "The truth is that we're all still in danger from LeRoux. Very much so. But Anna's not stupid. She has friends, contacts, all manner of safe havens and sanctuaries. She'll be okay."

"You think he might come back for us, though, don't you." She sat down on the corner of his desk. "We could tell the FBI. They could get him."

"Not without finding out about me they couldn't. LeRoux would see to it that he took me down with him - and a lot of other people that I care about; you included." He shrugged, a distant look on his face. "And it's never as easy as that anyway."

"I didn't really think that it would be." She reached out, picking up the photograph and staring at it for several moments. "I got the final police report today. They found the stolen jewellery. Apparently LeRoux didn't have time to get to it before the police stormed his headquarters. So the insurance people are happy."

"Good."

"Some pieces were missing though. Quite valuable pieces seem to have gone astray - including some from the store where we were trapped. Nobody's saying anything of course, and there aren't any fingers being pointed at us..."

"Jolly good." He rose to his feet. "Is it okay if I take the afternoon off? No important clients I have to see?"

"You never have to see the really important clients. In fact I usually prefer it if you don't."

"Yes. Quite." He smiled quite suddenly and straightened his already immaculate jacket. "Yes, well. Carry on Miss Holt."

"But--"

"I'll see you later."

"Yes." She smiled wryly at his departing back. "Of course." She didn't bother asking him where he was going. She didn't care. If there was one thing that she was beginning to learn about her illustrious 'boss', it was that she could trust him. Not always, not entirely, and not with anything expensive that glittered - but she could trust him. Part of him really was Remington Steele. Now if she could only find out who the rest of him was...

Downstairs, as he left the lobby, Remington Steele checked his watch. Just enough time to meet a few acquaintances, pay off a few debts... maybe catch a movie. They were playing The Scarlet Pimpernel downtown - the Leslie Howard version, naturally. It had always been a favourite of his. Feeling quite unaccountably bright, he nodded a greeting to Fred as the chauffeur opened the door of the limousine for him. Fred was looking typically suspicious. Steele didn't care.

"Letter for you, Mr Steele." Fred always used that name with a certain measure of reluctance. Nobody had ever said as much, but Steele felt sure that the chauffeur knew everything. "It's in the back."

"Thankyou Fred. And aim for the Black Star Night-Club, if you would." He stretched out in the back of the luxurious car and began counting through the money in his pocket. Amazing what a couple of necklaces could fetch these days. Distracted as he was, it was several moments before he turned his attention to the letter - a plain brown envelope waiting for him on the seat. He flipped open the flap, frowning as a photograph fell into his hands. It was a Polaroid, showing a strikingly beautiful woman standing beside Sydney Opera House. There was a simple message on the back.

1345 - 25670 - 81 - 7. Be seeing you. Anna.

"Be seeing you..." He grinned at the photograph, or more particularly at the display of rings and bracelets Anna was modelling. Something told him that it would probably be a good idea to keep this particular photograph to himself. It was typical of her to have landed so securely on her feet, and typical of her to have glided so silently back out of his life. He couldn't help wondering how it would have been, if things had gone differently and he had left with her as they had planned. Something must have made her decide that it was best to leave him here and go on alone. He wondered what - and then wondered if it really mattered. At least he would always know that she was out there - that if the mood ever took him he could step out of Remington Steele's shoes forever and never look back. As to whether or not he would ever choose to do that... That was a decision that rested with another day. Right now he was Remington Steele. And he could live with that.

THE END