Helen and Maurice Whiteman, Laura Holt and Remington Steele assembled outside the dressing room door moments later. Helen unlocked the door and they stepped in. The room was as they'd left it two nights before — a mess.
"I'm sorry to bring you back here. I know it must be painful for you, Helen," Laura said, "but we felt we should share our findings with you in private, and this seemed the most private place."
"It's all right, my dear," Helen reassured her. "As I said, it's just stuff."
"I've only got 20 minutes before the next set, Steele," Maurice barked. "Did you figure out who's doing this to us or not?"
"Now, Maury, don't be cross," Helen protested. "It's all right if you didn't solve the case. We know you tried your best."
"Actually, we have solved the case," Laura answered.
The Whitemans looked stunned. "You know who's been trying to put us out of business?" Maurice asked.
Steele nodded. "It was the ex-bartender, Michael Doolittle. He was seen running from the Green Room the night of the fire, and we found his fingerprints all over the scenes of the other incidents. He set the smoke bomb in the Green Room, trashed this place and caused all the other damage."
"I don't believe it!" Helen exclaimed.
"I do," Maurice snarled. "I always knew that kid was no good. The way he looked at you, Cookie …"
"Nonsense, Maury. You know perfectly well that nice young man wasn't interested in me. And I'm sure he isn't responsible for our troubles, either."
"Well, that will be for the courts to decide," Laura said. "There's a squad car on the way to his apartment right now to pick him up. Arson is serious business; he'll be put away for several years if convicted."
"No!" Helen looked as if she might collapse. "You have to call off the police. That young fellow can't go to prison because of me."
"What are you talking about, Cookie?"
Laura moved to Helen's side, touching her gently on the arm as the older woman began to weep softly.
"I'm sorry, Helen," Laura said. "We know you didn't mean any harm."
"Somebody better tell me what the hell is going on," Maurice growled. "What's my wife got to do with this?"
"I'm afraid Mrs. Whiteman is behind the incidents here at the Cabana," Steele explained. "Michael Doolittle did most of the damage, but she put him up to it."
"No, Maury. It's true," Helen sniffled. "I'm so sorry." She looked at Steele and Laura. "How did you know?"
"All the incidents were relatively minor, just enough to disrupt business, perhaps make keeping the club open more trouble than it was worth," Laura said. "The only physical threats were the attack on you, Helen, and the threatening calls to the other vocalists. But you're the only one who was present when the perpetrator supposedly knocked you down. And the phone calls to the singers never happened either, did they?"
"What you mean, they never happened? All the girls quit because they were scared." Confusion warred with anger on Maurice's face.
"No, they quit because Helen made things unpleasant for them," Laura said. "She's in charge of the business side of the club, including personnel. She told you the girls quit because of threatening phone calls, and you believed her."
"I thought you said Doolittle was behind this," Maurice said, his voice quieter.
"You fired Doolittle because you were jealous of his relationship with your wife," Steele said. "When money went missing from the bar till, you were happy to assume he was responsible. But he wasn't."
"Helen and Michael did have a close relationship, but not the kind you thought," Laura picked up the story. "You're very fond of him, aren't you Helen?"
"He's such a nice young man," Helen said between sobs. "Reminded me of our David when he was that age. So sweet, and ambitious, too. Trying to work his way through college."
"You were helping him with that, weren't you Helen?"
She shrugged. "Just a little bit now and then. Not money from the club or our savings. Just a little pin money I'd been keeping for emergencies. He didn't want to take it, but I insisted. A young man needs a little cash to take his girl out once in a while."
"It was you who was taking money out of the register, to make it look like the club wasn't profitable. But Maurice was suspicious of Doolittle, so he made a point of counting the money in the cash drawer. When some was missing, he accused Michael — and Michael took the fall, because of his fondness for you, Helen." Laura's tone was gentle. "That's why he's been helping you all along, ever since Maurice bought the club. Isn't that right?"
Helen sobbed harder.
"And Wayne Martin was here the other night because you invited him," Laura continued. "You wanted to make sure he was still interested in buying the club, and perhaps you wanted to convince him to see it could succeed as a Big Band club under his management."
"How did you figure it out?" Helen managed to whisper.
"Last night, the fire department showed up at the club at almost the same time as the smoke alarms went off. Clearly they'd been called before the smoke bomb was lit — just in case something went wrong, correct? You didn't want there to be any chance anyone could get hurt."
"I couldn't figure out how the person we saw dressed in black could have gotten out of the club without the fire department or any of the people standing around outside noticing," Laura added. "Then I realized he must have concealed himself somewhere in the bowels of the club." She gave Steele a look, and his eyes sparkled back at her. "You unlocked this room for Michael, both the night he trashed it and last night, when he came in here to hide."
"I don't get it." It was Maurice, looking shell-shocked. "This can't be true. Right, Cookie? Tell me this is all a mistake. Or that Doolittle made you do it, or Martin."
"I'm so sorry, Maury. I never wanted to hurt anybody … you most of all."
"Just tell me why, Helen." Maurice's tone was surprisingly mild.
"You've worked so hard all your life to give me and our kids a good life," she sniffed. "Forty-two years here, and 10 more on the road before that. I thought when Nicky decided to close the club, you'd finally retire. Enjoy life a little. We could spend our golden years traveling, seeing the grandkids more than twice a year. Just being together." Tears streamed down her face. "I worry. You're not a kid any more, Maury. Still strong, sure. But leading the band and trying to keep the club running? That's a big bite to chew even for a young buck. What would I do if something happened to you? I couldn't stand it."
"You couldn't just tell me this is how you felt?" Maurice asked.
"You are a proud man, my darling," she answered. "You'd be hurt if I suggested it was too much for you." She smiled at him through her tears. "And you know I always let you make the decisions for us." Steele and Laura exchanged a glance. "I thought maybe if the club was too much trouble you'd decided to give it up. But instead you hired Mr. Steele and Miss Holt. I didn't know what to do. I guess I felt a little desperate."
Maurice put his arms around his wife. "Aw, Cookie. I never want you to be unhappy. I'd close the club tonight if it weren't for the boys in the band. How am I going to break it to them that the Melodiers are going the way of the dinosaurs?"
"I don't think that will be a problem," Laura commented. "Right, Helen?"
"Yes. Truth is, Maury, the boys were looking forward to retirement as much as I was. They stayed on out of loyalty to you, and because I promised them it would only be short term. How did you know, Laura?"
"I heard a couple of them talking this afternoon. They said the boss had promised tonight everything would be settled."
Maurice chuckled. "And you'd figured out who's the real boss around here." He gave his wife a tender kiss on the cheek. "Well, Cookie, looks like this is our swan song."
"I hate to see you give up your dream, Maury," Helen said. "Maybe we could keep things going a while longer, hire some help …"
"My dream is right here," he answered, gazing into her eyes. "It's like you say: things are just things. People are what's important. There's more to life than working, even if you love the work you do. And I have loved my job. But it doesn't compare to how much I love you, Cookie." He placed a lined palm on her cheek and kissed her tenderly. "Come on. Let's go out on a high note."
Laura and Mr. Steele found a small table near the dance floor as the Melodiers prepared to play their last set. Whiteman was in quiet conversation with his band, sharing his decision to close the club. Their relieved faces confirmed that this was welcome news for all of them.
"That turned out better than I expected," Steele commented over a glass of champagne.
"Me, too," Laura agreed. "It's a strange way to manage a relationship — Helen pretending Maury is in charge, while she's really pulling all the strings … and he's fully aware of it, but pretends he doesn't know."
"A smart man knows that a smart woman knows more than a smart man knows," Steele said.
"What movie is that from?"
He smiled. "The still-in-development script for my own bio-pic, Miss Holt. It's the principle upon which I've lived my life for some time now."
Maurice Whiteman stepped to the microphone. "Before we begin our last set, I have an announcement to make. This is the last time Maurice Whiteman and the Melodiers will perform on the stage of the Cabana Club." There was a ripple of "Aws" from the audience. "It's been an honor and a privilege to entertain you for so many years, but it's time to move on … to spend some quality time with the most beautiful girl in the world." He glanced toward the wings. "And as a special gift to all of you, I'd like to ask that girl to sing with the band one last time."
Helen Mayfair Whiteman walked on stage to thunderous applause. She was glowing and looked years younger … as if the hands of time had turned back for this final, extraordinary moment.
The band struck up Herman Hupfeld's best-known song. Helen looked lovingly at her husband as she stepped to the microphone and began to sing.
You must remember this: A kiss is still a kiss. A sigh is just a sigh …
"Now THAT'S how it's done," Laura whispered.
As couples drifted onto the dance floor, Steele stood and offered Laura his hand. "Care to, Miss Holt?"
They danced close, swaying together while looking into one another's eyes. "I suppose Helen is right," Laura breathed.
"Oh?" He kissed her lightly.
"No matter what the time or place, everybody really is looking for the same thing."
Steele pulled her even a bit closer and whispered in her ear. "Let's hope everybody finds the thing they're looking for." He drew back and looked down into her lovely face. "Here's looking at you, kid." As they kissed, the band played on.
The world will always welcome lovers as time goes by.