Chapter 1

Remington Steele climbed out of his limousine, tapped twice on the roof and watched Fred drive away. He turned and, clutching his leather sports bag, entered the massive Beaux-Arts building of the Los Angeles Athletic Club on Seventh Street in downtown Los Angeles.

The élite private institution was the foremost sports club in Los Angeles, founded in 1880, and catered to LA's movers and shakers and those on the city's social register. If he had thought about it, Steele would have smiled at the winding road that had led the one-time street urchin from Brixton to now move in such company. Membership of the Los Angeles Athletic Club, just like the limo or the agency's season tickets to the Los Angeles Raiders, was one of the perks that came with playing the rôle of Remington Steele – debonair man about town, adviser to mayors and police chiefs, reputed former member of the intelligence services and now the city's most famous private investigator.

Cheerfully hailing the doormen and various staff members, Steele made his way through the foyer – all marble and dark wood – and up towards the men's locker room. At just after nine o'clock on a Wednesday morning, there were few members of the club in attendance, but Steele nodded greetings to one or two vaguely familiar faces as he passed along. After changing, he made is way to the sixth floor basketball court.

The enormous, double height room was flooded with mid-morning California sunshine. After stretching a little, he made his way up a side stairway to the indoor running track which curved above the basketball court at seventh floor level. Settling into a steady pace of 150 strides per minute, Steele began to run. While at weekends the track could become busy, today he was alone and could get lost in his thoughts without worrying about bumping into another member.

Although Steele pretended to abhor physical activity, in reality he was in exceptional shape. Living on the streets of London since the age of ten meant that he had always been alert and fast moving, and he had begun boxing on an amateur basis in his adolescence. But it had been in Brazil, when he had come under the wing of Barney Kiernan at the age of nineteen, that he had really begun training seriously.

Steele was the wrong shape to succeed as a boxer, really – his long, lean frame with a high center of gravity being the opposite of what was required to fight at the top level. But he had had a wiry gymnastic strength, stamina and quick reactions which had made him a match for most of the fighters they had met as they had traveled around the villages and towns of Rio de Janeiro State. Barney had taken his boxing skills to a higher plane, even though they had had little time in the gym and most of Steele's experience had come not from formal training sessions but from actual fights in town squares and backroom boxing halls. And of course, there had been roadwork – mile upon mile of running which he had endured to build up his stamina.

Maintaining a slight deception about his physical prowess, like so many of his other habits, had always been a way of leaving an ephemeral impression about himself with those he encountered, whether acquaintances, marks or simply people he would never meet more than once. Misdirection was instinctive to him, a way of keeping those he came into contact with off balance. And that had applied to almost everyone, including – especially including – Laura. Since they had first met each other, the more she had pressed to know about him, the more he had wanted to evade easy categorization and to avoid revealing himself. Pretending to be out of breath climbing to her third story loft had been one of the million small diversions he had engaged in, day in and day out, to camouflage his real self. In his most private hours, the question that had sometimes prayed on his mind was whether there actually was a real self.

But his need for evasion had faded as they had grown closer. He had sometimes felt as if he were on a merry-go-round – what did Americans call them? a carousel – chasing the brass ring. The prize had been Laura. And now they were married; he had caught the brass ring, even if he sometimes felt scared that he had won the prize, and even more frequently felt he didn't deserve it.

His boxing days were behind him now. He knew that, at the age of thirty-three (or perhaps thirty-four), he was too old to meet any good amateur fighter in the ring and emerge without damage. These days, his sporting activities were mostly confined to more aesthetic and gentlemanly pursuits. Apart from training at the Los Angeles Athletic Club, he fenced every week with his instructor Claus. He played tennis at the Los Angeles Tennis Club, which was just around the corner from where he lived. He was always happy to participate in a chukka of polo whenever invited to by some wealthy businessman or acquaintance he met through work. And if they were in the mood, he and Laura simply walked across the road from his Rossmore Avenue apartment and played eighteen holes at the Wilshire Country Club, the exclusive private club which he had been sponsored to join by the chairman of Gruff and Reston Industries.

As he allowed his mind to wander freely, Steele counted off the laps of the one-eighth of a mile long circuit. Once he had completed 24 laps, he slowed his speed to wind down, checked his watch and took his pulse. He had completed the three miles in 24 minutes, a fit amateur runner's pace. Steele completed a couple of more winding down laps at a trot, then returned to the locker room.

He changed into his swimming costume and made his way back to the sixth floor to the pool. He swam for over an hour, doing lengths for fifteen minutes at a time and resting for five minutes in between each session. Far more than running, swimming was the form of exercise he found most enjoyable these days. Every muscle in his body was worked and a gentle tiredness had settled upon him by the time he finished.

Steele returned to the locker room, changed and then, eschewing the chance to have a drink in the club bar, made his way to the first floor entrance lobby. He had told Fred to return for him at eleven o'clock; he was a few minutes early, and spent the time chatting with one or two club members he recognized, pressing palms and promoting the agency in the way that was second nature to him. At eleven o'clock, he exited the club to find Fred parked at the curb. Steele climbed into the limo and told him to head to the office.