Bringing Up Steele

By Lauryn Poynor


Author's Note: Thanks go out to Anne and MJ for their usual sharp-eyed editing and bright ideas. Also, I can hardly fail to acknowledge the sterling team of Howard Hawks, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, screenwriter Dudley Nichols, et al, whose classic film "Bringing Up Baby" provided the inspiration for this story.


"How goes the writing, chief?"

"Ah, Mildred. So glad you asked." Steele smiled broadly. "Splendidly. Page the 'New York Times' will you, and tell them to make room at the top of the Bestsellers List."

"Fiction or non-fiction?" Laura said drily.

"Why, Laura. 'Remington Steele's Twenty Most Famous Cases' will be a cause celebre, the long-awaited literary bombshell of the decade. What does it matter if I add a few colourful details to the humdrum facts? Did Sherlock Holmes complain when Watson gilded the lily?"

"Constantly."

"No matter." Steele continued nonplussed. "I suspect the good doctor knew how to play to his audience. I merely follow his lead. Coming to booksellers everywhere - all of my greatest triumphs together in one volume: The Hapsburg Dagger, The Five Nudes of Cairo, the Maltese Cross -"

"Your greatest triumphs?" Laura's tone was acid.

"Well... Yours. Mine. Ours. The author can afford to be magnanimous. One for all, all for one. Esprit de corps."

"You're too kind, Mr. Steele. I hope the editors at Forsyth Press have the muscle for this job. You recall I tried to find you a freelancer who wouldn't be awed by your press clippings."

"Find a freelancer? That nonsense you dashed off for the ad pages of the 'Tribune'? 'Literary lion tamer needed. Must be able to curb authorial flights of fancy, leaps of logic, and jumps to conclusions. Maneuverability with chair and bullwhip a plus.' Really, Laura. Talk about poetic license -"

"I don't remember seeing that ad, Miss Holt."

"That's because it wasn't in the 'personals,' Mildred. That reminds me. Did you ever hear back from 'ruggedly handsome, 50-ish, hopeless romantic, financially secure, seeks soulmate for life, love, and profit sharing?'"

"He was gay."

"I knew it sounded too good to be true." Laura sighed. "Us single gals never read the fine print."

"Speaking of the printed word -"

"Yes, Mr. Steele?"

"Before Mildred's love life took center stage I believe we were discussing the writer's need to give free rein to his muse, to his creative impulse to,... to -"

"Stretch the truth?"

"Not at all. One must merely interpret the facts to one's best advantage."

"Now I'm getting the picture. The only mention of Laura Holt will be a cross reference in the index under 'unidentified woman.'"

"What's past is prologue, Miss Holt. Remember the 'Case of the Intercostal Clavicle?' Very early on in our association. Even though my cinematic expertise carried us through I still gave credit to my most able and charming associate."

"Your expertise? I beg to differ -"

"Ooh. That case sounds fascinating, Mr. Steele. Could I take a peek at that chapter?"

"No need, Mildred. I remember it vividly. Let me see... It all started at the office bright and early at noon. A little friendly banter with the staff to get the crime solving juices flowing..."

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~

"Caught you at it again, Miss Holt." Laura's head snapped up sharply as a pair of amused blue eyes peered down at her copy of the 'LA Tribune.' "More proof reading? Making sure all of the 'i's' are dotted and the 't's' crossed?"

"I don't know what you mean, Mr. Steele." Laura said airily. Steele appreciatively took in the sight of Laura's long, slender legs as she sat perched on the edge of Bernice's desk.

"The last time you were poring over my headlines, not to mention my iconically handsome profile, you said you were just making sure the corpus delecti's and ipso facto's of the case were properly reported."

"A good detective always checks facts. It's called legwork. Not that I would expect you to be familiar with the concept."

"Do they check dictionaries, too?"

"Dictionaries?"

"For spelling errors. The time before that you said you were looking for typos. I expected you to be knee-deep in a lexicon by now."

She stared frostily at him over the pages. "Looking up the definition of the word 'pest,' or 'annoyance?' Why should I? It's standing in front of me."

Bernice looked up from filing her nails. "You left out 'plague' and 'nuisance.'"

"If only you could spell, Miss Wolf, you could look up the word 'secretary' and see what one is supposed to be doing between coffee breaks."

"Do you want your next cup with sugar, or extra cyanide?"

Steele ignored her, moving to position himself beside Laura's left shoulder.

"Mr. Steele. If you keep sneaking up on me I'm going to put a bell around your neck."

"I vote for a noose." Murphy chimed in as he emerged from Laura's office.

"Any headlines suitable for framing, Laura?" More camera-ready accolades for the office wall? If memory serves there's a spot near the top left that could use a touch more symmetry."

Bernice rolled her eyes. "How about this for a headline? 'Super Sleuth Remington Steele Found Strangled in Office - Police Baffled."'

'"Office Staff Have Iron-Clad Alibis,'" added Murphy with a smirk.

"Envy is such a petty emotion, don't you think? Which of my latest exploits has you riveted, Miss Holt?"

"Actually, none of them. The headline on 3-A is much more interesting."

Steele squinted at the page. '"Crop Circles Found in Fresno Garlic Field?' 'Strippers Arrested at Firehouse in Glendale?"'

Laura smiled slyly. "No, Mr. Steele. This one." She pointed a slim finger at the type.

'"Hunt Is On For Missing Piece of Rare Ice-Age Skeleton.' Hmm. Good thinking, Laura. Missing museum artifacts are a specialty of mine."

"Don't be so quick to join forces. We've been hired to find the piece, not to steal it."

"We have? By whom?"

"Alexander Peabody. Chief Curator of the George C. Page Museum. We have an appointment with him at 8:00 sharp tomorrow morning."

"Eight o'clock?" Steele winced. "Couldn't you have made it for a decent hour?"

"I'll be by at 7:15 to drag you out of hibernation. You'd better put that long winter's nap on hold."

"I feel another ice age coming on."

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~

7:25 am

Steele hurriedly knotted his tie while Laura fiddled with the TV remote. "I must say, Laura. Your American television viewing is less than inspiring in the wee hours. Endless adverts for 'Mammoth Oil' self service petrol, some sales chap extolling the virtues of a device called a 'Pocket Fisherman -'"

"You may have a point, Mr. Steele." Laura idly flipped channels, then stopped as something unexpected caught her eye. "I don't believe it. Floor wax."

"I didn't know you had such an all-consuming interest in household products."

"They're selling 'Moonglow' floor wax."

"Beyond inducing criminal boredom, is that against the law?"

"No, I mean they used to be famous. Sylvia Swallow and Michael Fane. From that show 'Highway Robbery.' You know, the one where she's a high society cat burglar and he's a tough talking but incredibly well dressed New York cabbie. They solved crimes in Manhattan's high rent district."

"How improbable."

"They were once the Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn of prime time TV. They got married in real life and the chemistry went right down the drain."

"Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn? A pair of floor scrubbers? I see I was right about the dubious merits of the small screen."

"How sad." Laura clicked off the set thoughtfully.

"Precisely my thoughts. Shall we?" As they walked toward the door, the phone rang.

Steele picked up the receiver. "Steele here. Oh, yes. Just leaving. I'll be with you in a minute, Mr. Peabody."

"Don't you mean 'we' Mr. Steele?"

"Nothing gets by you, Laura. Let's not dawdle. The museum awaits."

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~

"The intercostal clavicle is the final piece of a very rare specimen. 'Nothrotheriops shastense' or the 'Shasta ground sloth.'" Mr. Peabody indicated a gigantic skeleton surrounded by a ladder and wooden scaffolding.

"A giant sloth, eh? Rather lazy creatures, aren't they?" Steele stifled a yawn.

"Ancestor of yours, Mr. Steele?" Laura said pointedly.

"We rescued the fossil remains from the La Brea Tar Pits and painstakingly reconstructed the skeleton. We simply must find that missing clavicle before the unveiling at the Explorer's Club brunch on Saturday. The reports in the press have rumours flying everywhere."

"When do you last recall seeing the clavicle, Mr. Peabody?"

"Two days ago when Sylvia and Michael were rehearsing for the ceremony."

"Sylvia and Michael? You don't mean Sylvia Swallow and Michael Fane?" asked Laura.

"Why, yes. How did you know?"

"Just call it a lucky guess."

"After performing a small scene from a classic movie they were going to climb up and put the clavicle in place."

"Classic movie? Scaffolding? Skeleton? Missing bone?" Steele asked excitedly. "You don't mean -"

"'Bringing Up Baby.' Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, RKO, 1938. A flighty heiress falls for a strait-laced paleontologist and embroils him in a series of madcap adventures with a dog, a missing dinosaur bone, and a pet leopard named Baby."

"Well done, Mr. Peabody. What an excellent choice! I can see your interests extend beyond the mere bounds of science."

"This may sound strange to you, but that film was the reason I became a paleontologist. It's been a great favourite of mine since childhood."

"I don't think that would sound at all strange to Mr. Steele," Laura said with a half smile.

"Indeed not. Speaking for my own profession, I often find that classics from the silver screen inspire me to dizzying heights of deduction."

"Sometimes Mr. Steele's conclusions positively make one's head spin."

"Glad to hear it," said Peabody. "Of course, we've adapted the brunch entertainment from the dinosaur eras to the much more recent time frame of the last Ice Age. I've often thought the mammalian life of this period would make an excellent subject for a movie. In fact, the studios have expressed serious interest in my idea. I've come up with a title: 'Pleistocene Park.' They could film right here - in Hancock Park, don't you think?"

'"Pleistocene Park,' eh? What a novel concept, Mr. Peabody. Positively tailor-made for the cinema," Steele intoned dramatically. "Tooth and claw. Survival of the fittest."

"I couldn't agree more, Mr. Steele," said Peabody approvingly. "It's time for 'Mammuthus columbi' and 'Smilodon fatalis' to have their moment in the sun."

"'Smilodon fatalis?' Laura queried.

"The sabre-tooth tiger, Miss Holt. Forgive my pedantry. The sabre-tooth tiger is the official fossil of our great state of California, you know."

"Really? I wasn't aware. How exciting for us all, Mr. Peabody," Laura chirped, noting her client's weak spot for flattery.

"You disappoint me Laura," admonished Steele in a teasing whisper as they strolled past the displays. "How can you, a native Californian and Stanford graduate, be so completely unaware of your fossil facts? Sounds as though you need to - what's the American expression - 'bone up' a bit?"

Laura's undertone was glacial. "Speaking of anatomy, Mr. Steele, I know the perfect scientific method for yours."

Steele raised an insouciant eyebrow. "Tantric erotic massage therapy?"

"Vivisection."

Peabody continued his lecture, oblivious. "And of course 'Mammuthus columbi' refers to the -"

"Columbian mammoth," Steele finished with an authoritative air.

"Quite so, Mr. Steele. I can see that my faith in your agency has not been misplaced. Do all private investigators share your expertise?"

"Mr. Steele's level of expertise would be a great surprise to many of his colleagues," Laura shot back with thinly veiled sarcasm. "Speaking of investigating, Mr. Peabody, let's think back to the missing item. The intercostal clavicle. Were you using the actual bone in rehearsals, or a prop version?"

"Oh, we'd never use the actual bone. It's far too valuable."

"Did you ever take the bone out of safe-keeping?" Laura asked.

"Well, I did briefly to show it to Sylvia and Michael. I guess I was a bit star-struck. Then I gave it to the proctor to put back in its locked case."

"We'll need to interview him, of course."

"And then we need to have a talk with Mr. and Mrs. Floor Wax."

"Mr. Steele!" Laura elbowed him sharply in the ribs.

"Sorry, Laura. Just, ah, mopping up loose ends."

The detectives said their goodbyes to Peabody and waited for Fred to pull up to the curb.

"And just how did you know about the Columbian mammoth? From some old 'B' movie?"

"Forgive me for leaving you hanging, Miss Holt." Steele's eyes danced with amusement. "I observed the noble creature on that bright green banner. Just above the door."

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~

"Fred, pull into that self service gas station, please," Laura directed. Fred drove the limo in next to the gas pumps.

"Laura, the geography of Encino isn't my strong suit but we've covered every square inch of Northridge and still no Escalon Drive. Perhaps we should have gone south on Hayvenhurst."

"Just get out and ask for directions, Mr. Steele."

"But Laura, we're detectives. Sam Spade wouldn't stop and ask -"

"Out."

"Take it easy, Laura. I'm going, I'm going."

"Fred, maybe we'd better get some gas, too."

"I'm ahead of you, Miss Holt."

After a few minutes passed, Laura looked up to see Steele half-running, wildly waving something in the air.

"I've got it, Laura. I know where we're going."

"Did you have to slap them around, Mr. Spade?"

"Don't be absurd. It was purely a business transaction. We have a map. A 'Map to the Stars' Homes' to be exact."

"Good thinking, Mr. Steele. Are Sylvia and Michael? -"

"Present and accounted for."

They climbed into the car and Steele quickly unfolded the map. "Ah, there's the spot, Fred. 17-G."

"Yes, sir."

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~

"Oh, Mr. Steele. I used to love that show. What were they like? In person, I mean?"

"Who, Mildred? Mr. and Mrs. Floor Wax? They turned out to be rather slippery characters."

"Mr. Steele's right, Mildred. Still, it took us a while to find that out."

"That it did, Miss Holt. I can't recall a case with more animal distractions."

"First there was the sabre-tooth tiger running loose in Hancock Park."

"Sabre-tooth tiger? Mildred's jaw dropped. "But they're extinct, aren't they?"

"Actually he was a leopard with a very foul temper and a very ill-fitting set of dentures."

"It was almost a case of love at first bite."

"Until we found out he liked us to sing a few bars of 'Melancholy Baby.' My inspiration of course," Steele said smugly.

"A minor point, Mr. Steele. Just remember who bravely rescued George from Tar Pit #12."

"Who's George?"

"A perfect little fiend, Mildred."

"Mr. Steele exaggerates, as usual. George is a wire-haired terrier."

"Terror, Miss Holt. A wire-haired terror."

"But what do a sabre-tooth tiger and a terrier have to do with anything?"

"Actually, Mildred, they helped us to dig up a nasty case of blackmail."

"Blackmail, Mr. Steele? But who? Why? How? The suspense is killing me."

"I'd love to explain my deductive process in excruciating detail, but unfortunately I have an editorial meeting with Russell Forsyth in half an hour."

"But boss -"

"You'll just have to read the book, Mildred. I'll reserve you a copy. Only $19.95."

"$19.95! You've gotta be kidding."

"List price of course. Don't worry. I think I can arrange an employee discount of say, 30%?"

"Free - or I'm taking an extended vacation."

"You win, Mildred. Read the book. Consider it. Ponder it. Find out how I solved the case."

Laura pulled her by the arm. "No Mildred. Read the case file. Find out how I solved the case."

"I've changed my mind. Can I just wait until the movie comes out?"

"Movie? What movie?" Laura's voice was strident with shock.

"Mildred! I thought you agreed to be discreet."

"Sorry, chief. It just slipped out."

Laura advanced on Steele in barely controlled fury, slowly and inexorably backing him toward the wall. "You never said anything about any movie." She prodded him in the chest with a forefinger. "Just what have you been up to behind my back?"

"I don't like that look in your eye. Remember my profile. Severe bruising could be difficult to cover, even with makeup."

Her fingers dug into his shoulders. "I'll aim below the neck. Or lower."

Steele flinched. "Fair enough, Laura, but just hear me out."

"I'm all ears, Mr. Steele."

"Well, we're still negotiating of course, but my agent at Forsyth says a bidding war for film rights is practically guaranteed. Just a matter of how many zeros we want on the check."

"Try just one." Laura turned away from him and began to pace. Steele followed, keeping her at arm's length.

"Laura, I thought you'd be pleased."

"Think again."

"After all, we're partners. All for one, one for all."

"And just how will I appear in the credits? Unidentified Woman #1?"

"Of course not. We were thinking of getting Sylvia Fane to play your role."

"Sylvia Fane?" Laura shrieked, turning on him in mid-stride. "That jailbird?"

"But she and Michael are out of prison now. I know it sounds crazy but she's dying for a comeback and it would make a great angle for publicity."

"I see. And who will play the great detective Remington Steele."

"Who else?" Steele straightened his tie and flashed her a dazzling smile.

"You?!!! Was Mr. Floor Wax busy? If you think I'm going to sit here and let you make a movie about my agency with an ex-convict -"

"Come now, Laura. I thought you didn't like being in front of the camera. You glared at me throughout the duration of that scene we did from 'Bringing Up Baby.' "

Laura sniffed.

"Y'see, Mildred, after we had the Fanes arrested, we had to stand in for them at the museum unveiling. It was the least we could do."

Laura rolled her eyes heavenward. "As if wild horses could have dragged you from the spotlight."

"All things considered, Laura, it came off rather well though I almost had to say your lines for you."

"You did say my lines. You practically tap-danced on them. 'The love impulse - "'

"'In woman very frequently reveals itself in terms of conflict.'"

"The correct reading of my line, Mr. Steele, was 'the love impulse in man very frequently reveals -'"

"Ah," Steele paused dramatically. "But what about the love impulse in woman?"

"But I don't - we don't have a love impulse," Laura shouted into his left ear. "It's not in the script. Not then, not now, not ever."

"It was an improvisation. One strongly supported by the text, I might add."

"The text? Thank you, Mr. Stanislavski."

"It's perfectly obvious, Laura. Your character is the one that goes chasing after mine -"

"I can't imagine why."

"Turning everything upside down. Making his life a complete shambles."

"Now you're getting to the good part, Mr. Steele."

"Ha! You just proved my point. About the love impulse. Revealing itself in terms of conflict."

"It's not my love impulse -"

"Well, it certainly isn't mine."

"I think I'll wait for the book, you two. I've seen this movie before."

"Mildred! Wait! You're the romance expert. Tell Miss Holt she's got the whole thing backwards."

"Uh-uh. I'm staying out of this -"

Don't be hasty, Mildred. Why, I think there could be a part in the film for a loyal, dedicated secretary cum PI in training."

"A part? For me?" Mildred fluffed her hair. "How big a part?"

"Laying it on a bit thick aren't we, Mr. Steele?" Laura asked with amused sarcasm.

"Big, Mildred, big. Best supporting actress."

"Hold the phone, chief. How many zeros are we talkin' here?"

Steele hesitated a fraction. "Well, ah, we'd best not get our hopes too high. It's an art film, really. A documentary."

"Don't look now but your trowel is slipping," Laura smirked.

"So it is." Steele gave Mildred a nervous smile. "Laura, the next time I mention the love impulse -"

"Yes, Mr. Steele?" She brushed a stray lock of hair from his forehead.

"Make sure I use a stand-in."
 


THE END


Story Elements

  • A personal ad in the newspaper
  • floor wax
  • the La Brea Tar Pits
  • brunch
  • a map to the stars' homes
  • a self-service gas station


[ Steele A State Of Mind ]