(9)

(9)

The Steeles' check-in at Heathrow was as uneventful as their arrival at Gatwick had been, at least in terms of Remington's immigration status. The real test would come, of course, when they landed at LAX. Looking ahead to that moment – it was only hours away, after all – Laura hunted for a pay phone so she could place a call to Mildred. She came back with encouraging news. "Not a peep out of the INS, Mildred says." They started towards their departure gate with their carry on luggage. "No more letters, no visits, no phone calls. Nothing. Whatever strings Tony pulled, maybe it'll be enough to get you safely back into the country."

"We can hope so, at any rate."

There was a sour edge to Remington's voice, and Laura glanced at him. "What's the matter?"

"I hate being under that man's thumb, that's what's the matter. Either he'll prevent me from entering the U.S., or I'll get in with no problem and owe it all to him. I don't know which galls me the most. The latter, I suspect."

"Be as galled as you want, Mr. Steele. All I care about is that you're coming home with me. If I have Tony to thank for that, then so be it. Not that I'll actually, literally, thank him for it. But I'm grateful all the same."

By now they were at their gate, and they settled in for the duration. Slouched in a chair, Remington prepared to nap, stretching out his long legs, tipping his cap over his eyes and crossing his arms. Laura, meanwhile, pulled out all the receipts they'd accumulated over the past fourteen days and reviewed their expenses. Was there a way in which she could, when tax time rolled around, legitimately write off the money she'd spent to keep the head of the firm from being deported? That would allow her to deduct almost all their bills from Mexico, London and Ireland. It was an interesting question, and she scribbled a reminder to call their accountant on Tuesday to find out.

Finally the attendants began to announce the order in which the passengers could board the flight to Los Angeles. Laura gathered the assorted slips of paper into a neat pile, folded the expense sheet around them, and tucked them into a pocket of her carry on. Then she took Remington by the shoulder and shook him. "They're calling our flight."

He came awake, as he usually did under such circumstances, with a start. "Eh? What? Ah, Laura! What is it? What's wrong?"

"Time to go home, Mr. Steele," she said, laughing at him. "Are you coming?"

"Coming, coming…don't be ridiculous! Of course I'm coming." He scrambled up out of his seat to prove it.

They were busy collecting their belongings – her purse, the carry on luggage, their coats – and pulling out their boarding passes, when a sudden thought occurred him. He stopped and looked at her. "Laura, I just realized something: this really is the end of the honeymoon."

He looked so forlorn at the prospect that she found herself laughing at him again. "You're right. On the other hand, it's also the beginning of our real life together. The inseparable Steeles."

His eyebrows shot up in surprise. " 'Inseparable Steeles'? Why, Laura!"

"I just now thought that up. Don't you like it?"

"It makes you sound positively optimistic about us!"

"I feel optimistic about us. Look at everything we've gone through in the past month. Yet here we are, engaged for real...and in love. Like I said: inseparable."

A slow grin lit up his face. "So we are, Mrs. Steele," he softly agreed. "So we are."

Over the loudspeaker, the flight attendant was making the final boarding call for their flight. Laura cocked her head and smiled back at him. "Shall we blow this Popsicle stand, Mr. Steele?"

"We shall indeed, my love." He inclined his head in the motion that meant, go on ahead of me. He fell in just behind her when she did so, his hand coming to rest lightly at the small of her back. They merged into the line at the gate, surrendered their boarding passes to the attendant when their turn came and disappeared down the jet way.

It was only then that a tall man wearing a mechanic's jump suit and a baseball cap came forward out of the shadows in which he'd been lingering across the way. Swiftly he turned and strode down the corridor and took the escalator that led to the ticketing level. He stopped at the first international airline he came to and stepped up to the counter. He wasn't conscious of it, but he spoke the same words he'd used at Playa de Oro International, Manzanillo, Colima, Mexico, nearly three weeks before:

"When's your next flight to Los Angeles?"

FINIS
Next:
STEELE INSEPARABLE PART II: "Steele-In-Law"