Cold, Hard, Steele

By Lauryn Poynor


Author's Note: Thanks as always to Anne Rose for reading for me and providing encouragement and sound advice. Thanks also to EmilyAnn for the title. It took me in a direction that was duck soup for a movie buff.


 
Remington Steele lay propped up on several pillows staring at the blue glow of the television screen. He wondered if there was any part of his body that wasn't in pain. He had always thought of bachelorhood as a desirable state, but this case was enough to make even the most footloose of men reconsider his options.

Millicent had managed to get him settled fairly comfortably in bed, and although he wished it was Laura playing nursemaid, he was heartened by the fact that he had channel surfed to a Bogart marathon that he thought he had missed. His bliss was interrupted only a few minutes into "The Maltese Falcon" when Millicent yawned, picked up the remote and tried to adjust the color.

He tried to explain that "The Maltese Falcon" was not in color, should never be in color, that it was shadows and light, that it was early film noir, that it was..oh, never mind. He sent her home, mentally admonishing himself never to watch Bogart with someone who shakes pom-poms for a living. Besides, she couldn't make tea worth a damn. It was appalling even by American standards.

A short while ago he had given in and taken one of the pain pills that the doctor had prescribed. He was beginning to feel the effects. His head sank deeper into the pillows as the world became increasingly fuzzy around the edges.

Suddenly his vision cleared and he found himself sitting alone in a darkened room. The floor was sticky under his feet and the smell of stale popcorn hung in the air. It was a theatre, an empty relic from the days when theaters were palaces and audiences paid homage to Hollywood royalty. He could glimpse in the dim light the elaborate Art Deco interior that framed the mammoth sized screen. Suddenly the screen was filled with flashes of light, quick fragments of scenes, random conversations, out-takes from his memory that had been left on the cutting room floor.

Steele let the mysterious projectionist have his way as he watched alone in the dark. Scenes from cases past flickered chaotically across his vision but they sprang from a different time and place: where femmes fatales spun webs of deceit and men in trench coats and fedoras settled scores with whip-smart dialog, or cold, hard, steel...

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

"Ah, Mr. Spade," the fat man said with cheerful enthusiasm. He held out a fat, sleek paw.

I took the hand, smiled, and said "How do you do, Mr. Gutman?"

The fat man steered me to a chair beside a table that held two glasses and a bottle of Johnnie Walker whiskey on a tray. He offered a smoke, Coronas del Ritz. He began to fill the glasses.

"We begin well, sir. I distrust a man that says when. If he's got to be careful not to drink too much it's because he's not to be trusted when he does." The fat man gave me a look. He was shrewd down to his toenails.

"You're a close-mouthed man?"

I shook my head. "I like to talk."

"Better and better. I distrust a closed-mouthed man. He generally picks the wrong time to talk and says the wrong things. Talking's something you can't do judiciously unless you keep in practice. Cigar, sir?"

I took one of the Coronas, trimmed it and lighted it. The fat man took his glass from the table and a cigar, and settled his bulk comfortably in his chair. "Now sir," he said, "we'll talk if you like. And I'll tell you right out that I'm a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk."

"Will we talk about the diamond?"

He shook with delight. "Will we?" he asked. "We will. You're the man for me sir. No beating about the bush but right to the point. Let us talk about the diamond by all means. Mr. Spade, have you any conception of how much money can be made out of that stone?"

"No."

"By gad, sir, if I told you half you'd call me a liar."

"No," I said, "I won't do that, but if you won't take the risk just tell me what it is and I'll figure out the profits."

"You couldn't do it, sir. Nobody could do it that hadn't had a world of experience with things of that sort - and there aren't any other things of that sort. The Tavernier blue was mined in India and stolen by a Frenchman in 1668. It was originally 112 carats, about the size of a man's fist. The Frenchman sold it to the crown and it was cut down to 67 carats by the king's jeweler. It became known as the 'Diamond of the Crown', or the 'French Blue.'

It was stolen during the French Revolution, was later found in England where it passed through the hands of several owners. In 1911 it was reset by Cartier and it seemingly vanished. It turned up recently in the hands of a Russian named Karpov who smuggled it into the States. He sold it to a newspaper heiress for $180,000 dollars. A few weeks ago Karpov mysteriously disappeared. He's believed to have been murdered."

"Where's the diamond now?" I asked the fat man.

"It's on loan for a promotional tour. It's currently in Los Angeles. The government in New Delhi fervently hopes that the diamond can be returned to its native soil. The current owner refuses to sell. The government considers all ownership claims to be fraudulent in any case. They want that diamond returned by any means necessary. They've sent a representative, a Mr. Benjamin Pearson. You bear him a certain physical resemblance. He's due to arrive day after tomorrow. You, Mr. Spade, will get there ahead of him. You will bring that diamond to me, for a sizeable commission of course."

"How much?"

"Ten thousand dollars."

"Ten thousand is a lot of money. How do I know you're good for it? This whole set up could be a lot of hooey. You could say you'd pay me one million for a purple elephant but what in hell would that mean?"

"You wish some assurance of my sincerity. Very well, five thousand now, the other five on delivery of the diamond."

"How did you peg me for this job?"

"I made extensive inquiries about you, Mr. Spade, and was assured that you were far too reasonable to allow other considerations to interfere with profitable business relations."

"Don't be so sure I'm as crooked as I'm supposed to be."

"I can have the five thousand for you in the morning. Agreed?"

"All silk so far."

"Security for the diamond while in Los Angeles is being handled by the firm of Remington Steele Investigations. Their reputation is excellent."

"San Francisco is my usual patch. Our paths haven't crossed before."

"I must tell you Mr. Spade that there are several interested parties who may try to liberate this stone. Karpov was most likely killed for it. He was working for two nasty characters named Kessler and Neff. It's highly likely that they will want to make your acquaintance. You will have to keep a watchful eye."

"I'm a careful fellow."

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

I shadowed a gray V16 Cadillac Phaeton to the train station and watched as several Brink's guards escorted a small metal box to an armored car. A man and a woman watched from the Caddy. After the metal box was safely on board, the Caddy pulled away. A white truck pulled up and a blond man got out pulling a linen cart.

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

I got off the elevator and ankled over to the offices of Remington Steele Investigations. It was a pretty swell setup. It musta cost some serious scratch. The place was lousy with secretaries and these dames were dead easy on the eyes. The head man was blond and sturdy, but a mite unfriendly. He gave me the up-and-down, looking like he'd just dialed a wrong number.

"Mr. Steele - " I put out a hand.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Steele's out of town." The voice belonged to a looker with chestnut hair and dark brown eyes that seemed both shy and probing.

The blond detective spoke up, "I'm Steele's associate, Murphy Michaels."

"Have we met before?"

"I don't think so." He was still looking at me cross eyed.

"Your mug looks familiar."

"I've got that kind of face."

"You have."

"Laura Holt -"

Brown-eyes put out her hand. Her frame was slender. Not much meat, but what there was, was cherce.

"Bernice Fox." The other doll was a brunette with ruby red lips and a body that threw more curves than Dizzy Dean.

"This layout must have cost quite a few large with so many secretaries."

Brown-eyes raised an eyebrow. She looked a bit steamed. "I'm a licensed P.I. Mr -"

"Pearson. Ben Pearson." I flashed her my credentials.

"Special envoy to the Viceroy in New Delhi." If she was impressed, she hid it well.

"We have some mutual interests to discuss. Sorry to barge in unannounced but this could be a tricky business."

The brunette tomato sidled up close to me with the coffee pot. "Would you like some coffee? I'll make a fresh pot." She turned and glided across the floor with a sway in her walk, making sure I got the full treatment.

"This rock you're guarding, the blue diamond -"

"What about it?" said Michaels.

"It's stolen. It was originally smuggled out of India and has passed through a lot of hands in a lot of countries. Now it's touring the States. The government in New Delhi wants it returned."

"That's a legal matter. Why come to us?"

"If the dingus is nicked and someone scrams out, all bets are off."

"Forgive me, Mr. Pearson, but you don't sound like the typical special envoy from India."

"I'm not. Someone whispered in the Viceroy's ear that I had a certain talent for retrieval."

"Do you think there will be an attempt to steal the diamond?"

"Let's just say there are a lot of interested parties. Miss Holt, I don't care if the rock ends up back in the hands of some social climbing heiress or in the mitts of some pukka sahib. As long as I can deliver the stone, the lawyers can fight it out. I'll collect my commission and be a happy man. I'll need to be wise to how you've got this thing ribbed up."

"You don't mind if we check you out first?"

"You can turn me inside out, angel. I won't squawk."

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

I unlocked the door to my suite at the Ambassador and almost lost a couple of fingers when a knife emerged clean through the wood. I yanked open the door and got the goon in a headlock. I drove a stiff elbow hard into his arm and he dropped the knife on the carpet. I kicked the blade across the room, grabbed his lapels and struck him hard across the face. His face turned blotchy and red.

"Keep your hands off me," he yelled. I slapped him again without releasing him.

"When you're slapped, you'll take it and like it."

Suddenly I heard movement behind me and felt the sharp pressure of the knife between my shoulders. I turned the first man loose and dusted him off.

"No harm done," I said to the second man. I felt the pressure of the knife blade relax slightly.

"The fat man sent you, didn't he? Tell him he's not gonna queer this job for us, no matter how many people he sends. We'll bump him like we did the others. After we do you first." He pressed the knife in to make his point.

"Since none of us has the stone that won't do any of us any good," I said. Your operation hasn't exactly been hitting on all eight. What have you got to show for it except a couple of stiffs? I'm the best chance you have. Just make sure I stay alive for the finish. I'm not a greedy man. I just want my cut. You can have the fat man and the diamond when I'm through. It's no skin off my nose."

Both men thought it over. I had a feeling we wouldn't kiss when we parted. Finally, the knife man spoke. "Keep in touch." He snapped the blade closed and both men left the room.

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

Several hours later I shook out some flakes from a pack of Bull Durham and carefully rolled a cigarette. I smoked it down until it burned my fingers. I went downstairs heading for the hotel bar. The two mugs from the hotel room were loitering in the lobby. The knife man now had the unmistakable outline of a gun under his jacket.

I walked into the bar, where some lug who'd had too much to drink was bending everyone's ear about his shiny new Packard. A Silver gray 120 Super 8. After several minutes everyone was wishing he'd just quit bumping gums and clam up. He started to slide off his barstool and I reached out to hold him up, lifting his car keys from his jacket. I had an idea they might come in useful.

"Thanks, pal," he said with a stupid grin.

"Don't mention it."

I had ordered a drink and moved to a quiet table when I saw my brown-eyed angel walk into the room. Our eyes met and I raised my glass in a silent invitation. "Miss Holt. Can I buy you a drink?"

"I'll buy you one, Mr. Pearson. But let's go somewhere else. I know a place that will suit you down to the ground."

"You lead, I'll follow, angel."

We walked into the lobby where my two friends were still waiting. "You're right. This place does seem a bit crowded." I waited while she took a short detour to the ladies room.

I decided it was time to move things along a little. I strolled over to the pair and began. "Don't you two have anything better to do with your evening? Maybe shakedown a kid for his piggy bank or snatch a purse from someone's grandmother?"

"You're a real funny guy. One of these days you're gonna die laughin'. You found out from the broad yet where that stone is?"

"I will tonight. She's going to show me the route the diamond will take."

"Naturally you're going to share that tidbit with your new associates."

"I want you to follow us. Take my car. Silver Packard convertible." I handed one of them the keys. They moved toward the front door. A few minutes later they pulled up to the curb in the Packard.

The house dick walked through the front door into the lobby. We had a brief acquaintance. He was a fresh faced, eager young man with a burning desire to join the police force. I collared him and gave him an earful. "Does your boss let cheap gunsels hang around the lobby all day with their heaters bulging out of their clothes?" I gestured toward the twosome. "Maybe you should drop a dime to the coppers. That Packard they're driving. They nicked it from a guy at the bar who had one too many. I saw 'em lift the keys."

"Thanks for the tip, sir. I'll take care of it right away." He ran to the phone at the hotel desk

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

I heard a voice behind me. "What was that all about?"

"Oh, hello angel. Just clearing up a few loose ends."

We got in her Caddy and drove away. After a block I looked back to see our friends falling right in line behind us in the Packard.

"I don't want to frighten you Miss Holt but we've just picked up a tail. Those two gentlemen following us in the Packard. They're killers. They rubbed out Karpov, the Russian who brought the diamond into the States."

"Why are they following us? Maybe we should head somewhere a little safer. Somewhere with an abundance of police cars."

"Actually I arranged for LA's finest to come to us. They should be along shortly."

"So that's why you were talking to that house detective. What did you tell him anyway?"

"Never you mind, angel."

We heard the blare of a police siren behind us and watched as the Packard convertible was unceremoniously pulled over.

"They're out of the picture for a while but they'll be back. As long as we're cozy with that diamond we'll never be lonely. It draws a crowd. Maybe your best angle would be to use a decoy. Then slip the diamond in when no one's looking."

"You're very good at this sort of thing, Mr. Pearson."

"Have I read your mind, sweetheart?"

"Let's just say it's been considered."

"You're good, angel. You're very good."

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

We parked the Caddy in an all night garage and caught the Green Line trolley to Santa Monica and then to Venice Beach. We walked along Windward Avenue in the pier district, past the amusement park rides and the St. Mark's Hotel.

"You know, during prohibition rumrunners used to unload here under the pier and use a secret tunnel under St. Marks Hotel. Then they'd sneak the barrels underground to the speakeasies across the street."

My angel was full of surprises. "How do you know so much about speakeasies? Or is that finishing school air of yours just an act?"

"Appearances can be deceiving, Mr. Pearson."

She stopped in front of a bar with peeling paint and a crooked sign out front reading "Menotti's Buffet." It looked like any number of low rent dives that dotted the waterfront like measles. "Are you sure you know what you're doing, sweetheart?"

She beckoned me to the door. Few of the rough looking clientele batted an eye when we walked in. "Hello, Eddie," she said to the bartender. "I'll have my usual. Mr. Pearson?"

"What's your usual?"

"Bourbon, neat."

"I'll have the same. But I'm buying. I'm an old fashioned guy."

"Suit yourself."

"Tell me, angel. How did a sweet number like you get to be a private dick?"

"It's a long story, Mr. Pearson. I'm not the sort of girl that boys want to bring home to mother. I don't sit at home darning socks and swapping meatloaf recipes. I've always loved excitement. That's why I became a licensed P.I. My first job was in a large detective agency. I spent most of my time fetching coffee and doughnuts. Until I joined the Steele agency my talents went unnoticed. Because I'm a woman it's still a tough nut to crack. Clients think I'm not built for the job."

"You gotta figure, most people have never seen a female P.I. before. And a classy one at that. I know I would notice if someone with legs like yours hung out a shingle in my neighborhood. How about your boss? Has he noticed?"

"Mr. Steele appreciates me for my brain, not my body. He's the perfect employer. Honest, understanding, intelligent.."

"I'd like to meet your Mr. Steele. Will he be involved with security for the stone?"

"Mr. Steele's presence will be felt rather than seen."

"And his associate -"

"Murphy Michaels."

"He seems to know how to handle himself. Besides you may need some muscle on this job. Do you carry a gun, angel?"

"Pack a rod, Mr. Pearson? Wear iron, a roscoe, a heater, a gat, an equalizer?"

"I see you came prepared."

"One is all I need." She patted her thigh. I could see the outline of the gun and holster under her skirt. My eyes traveled up her long, shapely legs from ankle to thigh. It had been a long time since I was dizzy for a dame, but I was falling fast.

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

In the morning I walked through the lobby until I was elbowed by the two gunsels.

"Kessler and Neff." I smiled at them. "You make a swell pair. Like Laurel and Hardy. I hear there's an actor's strike. Maybe they're hiring."

"Wonderful thing about Los Angeles. It has 24 hour bail bond service."

The lug behind me piped up. "You sent us on a trip for biscuits. One of these days someone's gonna fit you for a Chicago overcoat. Then bury you six feet under."

"I'm a 42 long if you'd like to try it."

A hotel messenger girl ambled by. "Remington Steele. Telephone call for Remington Steele."

"To the elevator, smart guy." The knife man strong armed me.

"Telephone call for Remington Steele."

"You found me."

"Mr. Steele."

I followed her to the phone.

"Here you are sir."

"Thank you. I picked up the receiver and Neff pressed the blade against my spine.

"Steele here," I said into the blower.

The brunette dish on the other end answered. "Who? Where?"

"Can't talk now, sweetheart. Keep the coffee hot until I get back."

I put down the phone as a man appeared with several bulls from Brink's in tow. It was Hunter, the client from the train station.

"Mr. Steele." He shook my hand. "I certainly feel safer with you here."

"Couldn't agree more."

He put an arm around my shoulder. "Come with me. There's someone I want you to meet in the security office."

I left the gunsels holding a bag of hot air. "Security office. That's just my meat."

"You know, you're not what I expected. I thought you'd be more of a silver spoon type. You're more like an average Joe."

"Most of the time my average is pretty good, Mr. Hunter."

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

Hunter ushered me into the security office. "Remington Steele, may I present special envoy Ben Pearson of New Delhi." I shook Pearson's hand.

"Mr. Steele. A pleasure, sir. I've heard a great deal about you."

"And your name has preceded you Mr. Pearson." He did look like me, but a little smoother around the edges.

"Mr. Pearson's here to assist you in protecting the blue diamond."

"Fine by me. I got no kick with that."

"I assume you're aware of Raymond Kessler and Leo Neff?"

"The characters who croaked the Russian? We've met. I don't mind crooks. I object to cut-rate ones. Still, this pair could really gum up the works."

"Mr. Steele. How may I be of service?"

"You could put some bracelets on Kessler and Neff. They're still at the hotel."

"Would that help you accomplish your objectives?"

"It would go a long way."

"Done."

"Now can we get on with it?" said Hunter.

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

Hunter walked on ahead while Pearson and I chatted. I looked up and saw Hunter with Laura Holt.

It was going to be sticky with one too many Ben Pearsons on the scene. I was thinking hard.

"Something wrong?" Pearson asked.

"Stomach's a bit queasy."

"Wouldn't doubt it. Be a little gaseous myself protecting the rarest diamond in the world. But not to worry. I'll be watching you every step of the way."

My angel stared after Pearson as he walked away. She looked like she'd seen a ghost.

"You have less than 20 minutes to get to the train station," Hunter prompted.

"Shall we?" she asked.

"Why not."

She touched my arm. "That man that was with you -"

"Yes, angel."

He isn't Remington Steele."

"He isn't?"

"He's an imposter."

"He is?"

"But don't say anything."

"Tight as a clam, sweetheart."

As we walked toward the Caddy with Hunter I was tempted to cheese it. "Why don't you run along, angel and I'll stay behind to make sure everything's jake."

"Nonsense. I want you both at the train station." Hunter insisted.

We climbed in the Caddy and followed the armored car.

"What did he say?"

"He wants us both at the station."

"No, I mean that phony Steele."

"Oh, not much, actually. We were merely introduced."

"He's obviously after the diamond."

"Why didn't Gordon Hunter blow the whistle on him?"

"Well he's never actually met Mr. Steele. Mr. Steele was out of town when we accepted this assignment."

"Won't this fake artist be given the bum's rush when the real Steele arrives on the scene? When do you expect him?"

"That's difficult to pinpoint."

"You did say he'd be involved in this game."

"Extremely involved."

"But unseen."

"This is awfully tricky, Mr. Pearson."

"Tricky I can handle."

"You musn't tell Mr. Hunter. It would only undermine his confidence in the whole operation."

"How long do you think we can keep this ball in play?"

"Just until the diamond is delivered safely."

"Then you'll nail this shady shamus?"

"To the wall, Mr. Pearson. To the very wall."

"Icy calm, angel. Don't go on the ing-bing." I put an arm around her shoulder. "As long as you trust me, it'll be duck soup."

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

We returned to the hotel and followed the guards toward the security office. Michaels was unloading the linen cart as we passed. Miss Holt knocked on the door of the office and gave me an OK sign.

"Mr. Steele," called Hunter. "Everything went without a hitch."

"Bang up job, wasn't it."

"You know, Mr. Steele. I must admit I was somewhat skeptical. Your Miss Holt certainly protects you."

"She's a woman. It comes with the territory."

"Yes, but this was bordering on the ridiculous. I couldn't see you, talk to you. Not even on the phone. You were always unavailable or out of town - I was beginning to think you didn't exist." We got on the elevator and Hunter pushed the button to the penthouse suite level.

"What is this fetish you have for secrecy?"

"In my line of work it pays to keep a low profile."

"Yes, but- no photographs, no interviews, never involving yourself directly in a case. And it wasn't only mine. I spoke with several people who dealt with your agency and it was the same story. Plenty of Miss Holt, none of you. It's no way to run a railroad. I wasn't too crazy about letting a woman handle things. I feel a damn sight happier now with you in the trenches."

"She's the best man I've got, Mr. Hunter. If you're smart, you'll let her prove it."

The elevator doors opened and I followed Hunter to the suite. I patted my pocket. "I must have left my key at the desk."

Hunter turned to the maid who was passing in the hallway. "Would you let Mr. Steele into his room. He seems to have forgotten his key."

She unlocked the door. "So, I'll look for you tonight?"

I peeked into the room. "Tonight?"

"Yes. The unveiling of the 852 Cabriolet, and of course, the diamond."

"Wouldn't miss it."

I put out the "Do Not Disturb" sign and closed the door. A Windsor cut four button double breasted suit was laid out on the bed, price tag still attached. I pulled open the dresser to find new shirts, still in their packing. The closet held a number of dark suits in pin and chalk stripe, several pairs of slacks, and a mix of jackets in houndstooth, brown cheviot, and glen plaid. I turned over each pair of shoes to find the soles unscuffed. Not a hair was to be found on the brush by the bathroom sink. I applied a splash of Acqua di Parma cologne to my face and spoke to my mirrored reflection. "Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Steele."

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

My angel looked gorgeous in Chinese red silk with a sable wrap. She was nervous as a cat. "Where do you suppose our imposter is?"

"I keep asking myself that same question."

We both watched Hunter at the podium. "Before we knock your socks off with the 852 Cabriolet, I'd like to take a moment to thank the Remington Steele Agency -"

She leaned in close. "Great endorsement."

"Transporting and protecting the world's rarest diamond requires brilliant planning, daring execution and street savvy. I would like to introduce you to the person responsible for the safety of the French Blue diamond."

"This is so embarrassing. I wish he'd stop."

"Wait," I told her. She started to rise from the table.

"Ladies and gentlemen, Remington Steele."

"Park it, angel. You look like a jack-in-the-box."

I walked to the podium. "Thank you. You're very generous with your applause. But the lion's share of the credit belongs to my lovely associate, Miss Laura Holt. Sometimes the best man for the job - is a woman. Please, Miss Holt. Stand up and take a well deserved bow."

I watched her rise from the table stiff as a poker, murderous, looking as if, at any moment, she would combust into a Chinese red flame.

"And now, Mr. Hunter. Show us your creation."

Hunter moved back to the microphone. "Thank you very much. Without further pause, I'd like to show you the speedster of your dreams, the Auburn 852 Cabriolet." The cover was lifted off the car and the band struck up "Happy Days are Here Again." I buttonholed Hunter as he left the stage. "What does this dream machine go for?"

"Oh, just a little over two grand."

I gave a low whistle. "Still too rich for my blood."

"A Duesenberg will cost you twenty."

"That's flat, but they're all pipe dreams." Poor sap. He was heading for a fall. Someone should have told him Rockefellers are scarce these days.

I walked back to the table and flashed a smile at my lady in red.

"You-"

"Sorry, angel. I didn't know he was going to do that."

"What are you going to do when Mr. Steele arrives?"

"I'd like to meet the man whose shoes I'm attempting to fill. Remington Steele. What a moniker."

"You're nothing like Mr. Steele. He's honest." She stood up.
"Dedicated"

I pushed her back into her chair.

"Better looking. You're nothing but a liar, a cheap crook, a cut-rate con man."

"Hold it, angel. Who's playing who? You've got more Chinese angles than Charlie Chan." She slugged me with her purse and lit out for the dance floor.

I followed and pulled her into my arms.

"What are you doing. Let go of me. What ever possessed you to think you could get away with this?"

"Save your breath, angel. I know a con when I see one. Even though yours is better than most. You've got brains. Yes, you have. A woman is a tough sell in this business. You needed a front, so you found one. Your Mr. Steele, is he the Invisible Man, or the Shadow? You should write novels, or comic strips."

"Now that you know, what are you going to do?" Her brown eyes held my gaze without flinching. She was cornered but still defiant.

"Trust me, angel. I'm not going to queer your racket. That's not my plan. I'm after something else entirely."

"That diamond."

I shook my head. "The two who murdered the Russian. They also killed my partner, Miles Archer. Of Spade and Archer, San Francisco." I handed her my card.

She stared at it. "Spade and Archer Investigations."

"I'm on the square, angel. They killed Miles and they're going to swing for it. Don't get me wrong. Archer was a louse. They didn't do me a bit of harm by killing him. But when a man's partner is killed he's supposed to do something about it. Otherwise it's bad all round. Bad for business, bad for detectives everywhere."

"I don't know whether to believe you or not."

She was still in my arms. Without warning she pressed close and kissed me, hard.

"What'd you do that for?"

"Been wondering whether I'd like it."

She kissed me again. "It's even better when you help."

"CUT!!," a voice barked out from the shadows.

"What's the idea, you two? Those lines aren't in the script."

"They haven't been written yet, Mr. Huston. Bacall to Bogart in "To Have and Have Not," Howard Hawks, Warner Brothers, 1944."

"Excellent, Laura. If a bit premature."

"Who's Bacall? What's Howard Hawks got to do with it? I'm wise to him, that joker. Tell him to stay off my set."

"You'll have to forgive Miss Holt. Sometimes she gets carried away."

"OK, smart guy. Let's run the last line. "

"Yes, of course, Mr. Huston. The last line. I've waited my whole life to say it."

"Hellfire. Just spit it out, will you? It's time for my tea break." He poured a glass of scotch and signaled the cameras to roll.

"It's heavy. What is it?" Laura stared at the inscrutable carved figure of the falcon.

"The uh, stuff that dreams are made of."

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

Laura perched on the side of the bed watching the rise and fall of Steele's chest as he slept. She could swear he had mumbled something. Laura clicked the TV remote and turned off the set. She brushed a stray lock of hair from his forehead and kissed him softly on the cheek.

"Sweet dreams, Mr. Steele."

She put out the light.
 


THE END


NOTES ON THE STORY

You don't have to read these, but it may clear up some points.

As much as I'd like to take credit for Dashiell Hammett's marvelous dialog, I know someone will catch me at it. The opening dialog with the fat man and Spade is almost verbatim from the film the Maltese Falcon (also the novel actually), up until the point where the history of the diamond is discussed. I borrowed occasional conversation and lots of slang from Hammett and Raymond Chandler. If film noir or hardboiled detective fiction is your meat, you'll recognize those bits.

The particulars of the "French Blue" diamond are fashioned from the history of the infamous Hope Diamond. (Yes, the one with the curse.) The Hope was owned in the 30's by newspaper heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean.

Curious about female P.I.'s in the mid-thirties, I did some checking and found this intriguing bit about a pulp fiction P.I. under http://www.thrillingdetective.com/cashin.html

Attractive as sin, hardboiled as hell. One of the very first of the hardboiled lady dicks of the pulps, and certainly the most popular was Manhattan eye CARRIE CASHIN, who appeared in over three dozen action-packed, fast-paced stories, starting in the November 1937 issue of Crime Busters, and continuing in that magazine through a name change(to Mystery Magazine in 1939) right up to her final appearance in November 1942. A former department store detective, Carrie now runs the Cash and Carry Detective Agency, whose standard fee is a whopping $1000. Mind you, she gets the job done, never letting little things like the law get in the way. Breaking and entering, lying to the police, even a little armed robbery or kidnapping, if that's what it took. Posing as her boss, and fronting the agency is Carrie's partner, muscular Aleck Burton, a tough, but easy-going guy (shades of Remington Steele!), but it's Carrie's show all the way. She's the real brains behind the show, and the reader isn't allowed to forget it. And, of course, they weren't allowed to forget she was a woman, either, frequent mentions are made of her "softly rounded beauty", and more than one cover featured an enticing glimpse of a shapely leg and a thigh holster. The Carry Cashin tales are breathlessly-plotted, as Carrie and Aleck rush here, rush there, shooting, fighting, stumbling over bodies at a furious pace, and adding more than a few to the pile themselves. Carrie proved to be a real favorite, consistently placing first in Crime Busters reader polls, and her stories were almost always prominently featured on the covers.

Shades of Remington Steele, indeed. Maybe Laura can meet up with her alter ego some day. You see where I got that thigh holster idea?

OTHER HISTORICAL NOTES

Angelenos of a certain age may remember the trolley car lines (often called Red Cars), that serviced the city before they were doomed by the freeway system and the love of the automobile.

The unnamed train station is the La Grande. Union Station wasn't built until 1939.

The Depression did kill the Auburn. It's last year of production was 1937. Steele's 852 Cabriolet boattail speedster was built the year before. E.L. Cord, its creator, was also the genius behind the visionary and breathtaking 1936 Cord 810 (my dream car).

There really was an actor's strike in the mid-30's.

Howard Hawks and John Huston did collaborate at least once that I know of on the script for Hawks's film Sergeant York (1941). Amicably as far as I know. Huston was a rising star at Warner's and Hawks a versatile veteran. Hawks also worked with Huston's father, the actor Walter Huston. WH has a bit part in the Maltese Falcon as Captain Jacobi.

The Russian in the Maltese Falcon was actually named Kemidov, not Karpov. I changed the name to avoid confusion with the Kemidov of "Steeled with a Kiss." It's likely the RS writers used the name because of the Maltese Falcon connection.
 


November 2000

 

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