First printed: More Red Holt Steele #7
Disclaimer: I do not own Remington Steele or its characters. These stories are just for fun, not for profit. The rights to the show belong to MTM Productions, the NBC Television Network and any station or network carrying the show in syndication.
As he walked, his thoughts dwelled on the past. It was a past that he had not faced for years, a past full of years that, just the thought of, left him guilty and full of grief. He wanted to turn from the memories, but he could not. It was time for him to become the man that he should have been so long ago.
Then he saw it, a glass doorway with the words "Remington Steele Investigations" spelled out in silver letters. His heart almost skipped a beat. Here he was; there was no turning back.
Laura Holt sat in her office, one less elegant and more cluttered than the one to the left, but the one where all the work got done. Laura wasn’t working now. Instead, she was staring at a piece of paper on which she had written “Dear Murphy.” She wrinkled her brow and brought her pen to her lips. Thoughtfully, she chewed on the pen, searching her mind for something to say. Today, it seemed, she had writer’s block.
With a sigh, she gave up and threw her pen to the desk. Unimpressed, she opened her top drawer and shoved the paper inside. She was just closing it when her phone rang.
Glad for the distraction, Laura picked up the receiver. “Yes, Mildred?”
“There’s a man here to see you. He says it’s important.”
“Okay. Send him in.”
It was only seconds later when her office door opened. Laura had a smile on her face, but when she saw the man coming through her door, it slowly melted away. Shock hit her like a fist in her chest, and she gasped. Brown eyes grew large, and she managed to get one word out.
“Laura?” the man asked.
She just stared at him as shock was quickly replaced with anger. She got to her feet, ignoring the shaking that went through her, starting at her legs and making its way everywhere. The man looked at her strangely and spoke again.
“It is you, isn’t it? My God, you’ve changed.”
Laura concentrated on keeping her voice steady, “What do you want?”
“I wanted to see you.”
She laughed with a tinge of what could almost be called bitterness in her voice, “I doubt that.”
“Laura, it’s been thirteen years.”
“Yes, it has. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”
“Laura, listen to me. Do you know how much nerve it took me to come here?” he demanded.
“Frankly, I don’t care.”
“I’m your father.”
Laura jutted out her jaw, lifted her head, “No, you’re not. My father died thirteen years ago. Now are you going to leave, or do I have to get Mildred to escort you out?”
“I’m not leaving. I’ve missed thirteen years of your life. I’m not missing any more.”
“You didn’t seem to care how much time you were missing when I sat there, day after day, not even able to look at our neighbor’s house, waiting for a call or a letter.”
“I thought about my girls everyday, I still do,” he protested.
“Then where were you?” Even Laura was surprised at the burst of emotion that came from her as she yelled the question.
The connecting door opened and Mr. Steele was there, leaning against the door frame. He was a calming presence, as he coolly stared at the man who claimed to be Laura’s father.
“Is everything okay, Laura?” He asked.
“This man was just leaving.”
“I’m not leaving.”
Mr. Steele straightened. “I believe you are.”
Pain went over the man’s face. He looked from Laura to Steele, then back to Laura. Finally, he shrugged and left, shutting the door behind him.
“Who was that?”
Steele crossed the room to stand beside Laura. Gently, he raised Laura’s chin so he could look into her face. “Laura?”
“I’m all right. He was nobody. Can we get back to work now?”
“Yes, I’m sure. Now let’s go ask Mildred if she’s come up with anything on Cheryl Rollo’s brother.”
Steele nodded, dropping the subject, and together they walked into the reception area. Mildred Krebs sat at her desk, staring out through the glass doors of their suite. When Laura and Mr. Steele entered the room, she faced them.
“Now there goes a sad man,” she said.
Laura ignored that and demanded sharply, “Anything on Wesley Rollo?”
Mildred look hard at Laura for a second before saying, “Not much. He’s not registered in any of the hotels.”
“I’ve already checked with the list of friends Miss Rollo gave me. Maybe I should go see her and ask if she’s thought of any other places her brother might stay.”
“Oh, Miss Holt.”
Mildred held out a business card. “The man who was just in left this in case you change your mind.”
Laura took the card and, with one fluid motion, it was in the garbage can by Mildred’s desk. Without saying another word, she grabbed her hat from the coat rack by the door and slipped out. Mildred looked questioningly at Mr. Steele.
“Don’t worry, Mildred,” he said before thoughtfully walking into his office.
For three days, Laura was distant and almost cold. Steele began to worry about her, but he asked no questions, just watched in concern. Finally, on the third evening, he could stand it no longer, and he found himself standing outside Laura’s loft. Determined to find out what was wrong, Steele firmly rapped on Laura’s door.
It didn’t take long for Laura to open it, and she looked surprised to see him. “Mr. Steele.”
“I wasn’t expecting you tonight.”
He smiled. “And I’m not allowed to drop in unexpected?”
“Sure. Come in.” Laura moved out of Steele’s way, and he walked into the loft.
“I thought you might like someone to talk to.”
“Laura, I’ve known you quite a while, and it’s long enough for me to know when something’s wrong. Something’s been bothering you since that man came to see you the other day, and I thought it might help to talk about it.”
“There’s nothing wrong.”
“Who was he, Laura?” Steele asked softly.
“Who was he?”
“He was nobody,” she repeated.
Mr. Steele took Laura by the shoulders and gave her a slight shake. “This is me you’re talking to.”
Laura sighed. “All right. All right. He was my father. Are you satisfied now?”
“Yes,” Laura shrugged off his hands.
“But, Laura, I thought you hadn’t heard from him since he left.”
“Well, then why aren’t you out there at his hotel visiting him, asking questions, telling him how you feel?”
“He shows up out of the blue after being gone for thirteen years, and I’m supposed to go out of my way to see him?”
“Laura, he’s your father.”
Laura crossed her arms and said angrily, “What do you know about fathers? You’ve never had one!”
After a second of silence, Steele gently said, “I know that if I ever found who mine was, I wouldn’t be sitting in my apartment wasting time hating him when I could be getting to know him.”
“I don’t hate him. He’s not worth the effort. I just couldn’t care less.” Laura walked away from Steele and into the kitchen. She went to the fridge and opened it. “Would you like something to drink?”
“No, thank you Laura. Come sit with me.”
Remington moved from where he was standing and went to sit on the couch. Laura stared at him for a few seconds, then, with a shrug, she came back out of the kitchen. Slowly, she went to the couch and sat beside Steele. Up close, he could see the dark smudges under her eyes and the paleness of her tanned face.
“Talk to me.”
“There’s nothing to talk about. He left. He came back. End of story.”
“But you never asked him where he was or why he didn’t come back. You didn’t even ask him why he came to see you.”
“That’s because I don’t care!” she burst out.
“Be honest. If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t be so angry.”
Laura protested, “I’m not angry.”
He just looked at her. Laura stared back at him levelly, meeting his eyes. After a few moments, she dropped hers and turned her face away. She was angry, angrier than she had been before. Anger was a safe emotion.
“Who does he think he is, waltzing in here after thirteen years?” she asked, with that anger in her voice.
“He’s your father.”
“He’s not my father. He gave up being my father the day he left.”
“Come now, Laura. You don’t feel that way. Every time you speak of him, I can see how much you loved him. Why does that have to stop just because he came back?”
“When he left, nothing was ever the same again.”
Steele said soothingly, “you’re a tough woman. You survived.”
“No thanks to him. And I loved him so much.”
“I’m sure he loved you too.”
“If he loved me, why didn’t he come back?” she demanded.
Steele slipped his arm around Laura’s shoulders. Softly, he said, “He’s back now.”
“It’s too late. Don’t you see? It’s thirteen years too late.”
He squeezed her and placed his head against hers, “Maybe it’s never too late.”
“How can I face him when all I see is a man who didn’t love his children enough to write or call to let them know he was all right?”
“I don’t know, Laura. I don’t have all the answers. All I know is that talking to him can’t hurt you more than you are hurting right now.”
“What I’m feeling now is no where near as bad as what I felt when he left.”
“What was he like, your father?” Steele asked, gently prodding.
Laura smiled softly, “When I was a child, oh, four or five, I used to think of him as a teddy bear. You know, big and cuddly. He was very quiet. He never said much. Maybe it was because everything he said seemed to set Mom off. He was a loving presence like only a large gentile silent man can be. I always felt safe when he was around. After he was gone, it took a long, long time for me to feel safe again.”
“He sounds like a good man to get to know.”
“Children perceive things differently than adults do.” Laura shrugged.
“Are you going to see him?”
“This may be your last chance.”
There was a pause, then a whispered, “I’m afraid,”
“What are you afraid of?”
She whispered, so low that Steele barely heard her, “That he’ll leave again.”
Mr. Steele turned his head slightly and kissed her forehead. He had asked all of her that he could. Now all he wanted to do was to comfort her. His arm tightened, and the two of them sat there in silence for a long time.
Laura briskly walked down the red carpeted hallway, searching for room 102. How she had ever let Mr. Steele talk her into this, she didn’t know. She was always letting him talk her into things some way or another. It was his eyes-- or maybe it was his smile. Whatever it was, it had again, and here she was in the place she least wanted to be. She was going to kill him the next time she saw him. That is, if she lived through this.
Suddenly, Laura was tempted to run. She fought down the urge. Never in her life had she run from anything (Well, not unless one counted the occasional occupational hazard).
Then, there it was. 102. It loomed in front of her like the gates of hell. All at once, she was trembley all over. “Icy calm, Laura, icy calm,” she whispered to herself. Hesitantly, she reached out to knock on the door.
In her mind, she saw a girl, slender and awkward, with a tanned, freckled face and tears streaming down her cheeks. She sat at a window, looking out at the white picket fence beyond. In her hand was a crumpled up picture. Nearby, she could hear voices, older voices, voices that didn’t understand the pain of a sixteen year old who had just lost her father. Rain pattered down on the other side of the window, crying with her. The girl touched the glass, trying to get sympathy from the falling water.
Laura shook her head, getting rid of the picture. With determination, she pushed everything away from her but pride and anger. Firmly, she rapped on the door.
It took a moment for the door to open, then there he was. A look of surprise went over his face. Laura refused to feel anything.
“I came to find out why you came back.”
He moved out of the way, and Laura followed him into the room. This time, she noticed that he had changed in the thirteen years since she’d seen him. He was still a big, athletic man, but his hair was almost completely gray, and the face that had once been smooth had slight wrinkles, especially around the eyes and mouth. Besides that, there was a sadness in his eyes that Laura had never noticed when she was a child.
Inside the room, Laura noticed luggage on the bed that was half packed. Quickly, she looked at him.
“Yes, I was just leaving. I figured that it’s been a wasted trip. First, you threw me out, and then Frances slammed the door in my face. I gave it several days, but when I never heard from either of you, I thought...”
“So, you were going to leave again?”
“If neither of you would see me, there was no reason for me to stay.”
“Why’d you come back? Why now?” she demanded.
“I decided that it was time I stopped thinking about seeing you and actually do it.”
“That’s your answer?”
“Well, it’s not good enough.”
“Laura...” he started, but Laura interrupted.
“Listen to me. You just got up and left. One day, when I left for school, you were there and when I came home you were gone. Thirteen years and no word. For all I knew, you were dead.”
“I couldn’t stay.”
“You didn’t even say good-bye!” she turned from him so she wouldn’t have to look at him.
“I was hurt and so I ran.”
“From us? We were your children.”
He shook his head, “I can’t change what I’ve done.”
“No,” Laura agreed, “You can’t.”
Laura walked over to the bed, blanketed in olive green. Calmly, she sat, perched on the very edge, with her arms crossed. Coolly, she said, “It won’t make a difference what you say, I’ll still hate you.”
Pain went over the man’s face. “I didn’t want it to be this way.”
“You made it this way.”
“I’m sorry I hurt you, Laura.”
“It’s too late to apologize. Nothing you can say can make up for what you’ve done,” she argued.
Matthew Holt walked to the window that faced the streets of Los Angeles. He stared out, letting himself remember, “I remember when you were a little girl. You couldn’t have been more than three. We used to sit together in that old chair that your mother hated so much. We would sit there and you’d tell me stories about how, when you grew up, you weren’t going to be a woman at all. You were going to be a tiger--big and strong and nobody would hurt you or your friends, ever.”
“I don’t remember.”
“Laura, your mother and I didn’t get along...”
“Oh, I understand that. I even understand why you left. I’m not a child. I just don’t understand why you never felt it worthy of your time to come see us or even give us a call.”
“I was afraid.”
She looked incredulous, “Afraid?”
He faced her once more, “Yes, afraid. Sometimes even parents get scared.”
“That’s a cop-out.”
“Maybe, but it’s the truth.” Laura started to get up, but remained where she was when she saw the look on his face. “Please listen to me. When I left...That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Leaving you. Leaving Frances. But, Laura, I just couldn’t stay. It just...Anyway, when I left, I knew you’d be angry. I knew you’d probably never want to speak to me. That’s why I stayed away. Eventually, in my mind, staying away became easier than confronting you and Frances and your anger. The more time that passed, the more I knew you wouldn’t welcome communications from me. I couldn’t risk putting myself up for pain like that.”
“You were our father.”
“I know, but I figured it would be easier for you this way.”
Laura lifted one dark eyebrow. “Easier for us or easier for you?”
“Both, I guess.”
“So, what’s changed?”
“I’m older, maybe wiser.”
“You’re a bastard.” Even Laura looked surprised that she had said that. She wasn’t one to throw around curse words, even when she was angry. Clear thinking seemed more logical to her, and with clear thinking came clear speech...Most of the time.
“Maybe I am, but I’m still your father.” A familiar note came into his voice. Laura recognized it, even though it had been so long since she’d heard it.
“I can’t believe you. You come waltzing in here expecting things to pick up where you left off. Life doesn’t happen that way.” Laura got up, determined to leave this time.
“Laura, can’t you listen to me with your head and the part of your heart that remembers the way I was and not with your anger?”
“It doesn’t matter how I listen to you. You’ll always be the man who left me--the man who didn’t love me enough to stick around. The man who wasn’t there when I needed him. There were so many times...but that was long ago, before I learned that it didn’t matter that you weren’t there. What does a teenager know anyway? Not much. Some don’t even know enough to realize that their father’s never coming home.”
Tears filled the big man’s blue eyes, though he didn’t let them fall. “I’m here now.”
“Well, I don’t need you.”
Laura turned from him and walked toward the door. There was a stubborn, set look on her face, the look she got when her mind was made up. The man behind her sighed and softly spoke.
“All right, go.”
She turned around and looked him in the eye. Her eyes studied his face, getting one last look before she left. Something in her face touched Matthew as he realized that his daughter was not quite as cold as she seemed. Somewhere in there, he saw two girls, a child of around eight and a young teenager of sixteen. Both of them were calling out to him, Daddy! Daddy! I’m so scared! Make it go away, make it all go away.
Slowly, the look on the man’s face changed. The jaw squared; the sadness vanished. Soon, there was a stubborn look on his face as well, one that mirrored Laura’s. He shook his head.
“Forget it,” he said. “ I’m not leaving.”
“You’re not going to stay in Los Angeles.” It was a statement, not a question.
“Why not? I’ve nowhere else to be.”
“Why don’t you go back to the place you’ve been hiding all these years?”
“Because I’m here and I’m staying here whether you like it or not.”
She shrugged, “Fine, but don’t expect us to become one big, happy family.”
“It doesn’t matter what kind of family we have. I just want to be here the next time you need me.”
“Me need you? Don’t bet on it.”
“Well, I’ll be here.”
“I don’t believe you,” Laura replied.
“It’s true. Won’t you give me a chance to prove it to you?”
“You do what you like. I’m leaving.”
He came to her and put a hand on her shoulder. “I’m going to be a father to you, Laura, you’ll see.”
“I’ll believe it when I see it. Good-bye.”
“You’re not getting rid of me.”
Laura just shook her head and opened the door. Without looking at the man again, she slipped out. That being so, she didn’t see him go to his suitcases and start to unpack them.
Once outside the hotel room, Laura felt her hands begin to shake. It spread rapidly, going through her arms and down her legs. Her chest constricted, and her body filled with pain. It had been so hard, hard not to burst into tears and hug him as if she’d never let go, hard not to fly at him blindly and strike out again and again until all of her anger was gone.
Still, the part of her that she had cultivated, the part she wore continually like a cloak to hide the sometimes impulsive and quirky girl underneath, maintained control. She could be thankful for that at least. Breaking down in front of him would have been mortifying.
Then Laura looked up and saw him. He was standing nearby, leaning against the white wall of the hallway. Blue eyes watched her with gentleness that seemed to reach out for her. Quickly, he righted himself and strode to her. Concern for her was written all over his face.
“Hello, Mr. Steele,” she said, fighting to keep her voice level.
Gently, Mr. Steele reached out a hand and lifted Laura’s chin. His blue eyes searched her brown ones, and she felt as if he were reading her soul.
Without speaking, he slid his arm around her, holding her close against him. Enveloped in his warmth, the trial of the past few days seemed to hit her all at once. Laura let herself sag, supported by the man that, despite herself, she had come to trust above all others.
Finally, she felt as though she could let go. All the pain, all the sadness, all the fear that Laura had made herself shut off for so many years came back to her in a rush. The wall that she had erected between herself and her past began to crumble, and, softly, Laura began to cry.