A Brief History of Time
2:25 am GMT
Time, according to a famous, wild-haired scientist, is relative. And though the man currently calling himself Douglas Quintane was no physicist, he had made some interesting observations about the nature of the fourth dimension.
His life had always been fast-paced, much like the frenetic globe-hopping he'd done these past three months: L.A. to Sydney to Rome to Paris and finally to the shadowy recess of the doorway of a closed shop in London's East End.
Yes, this vagabond existence was familiar – how he'd operated as long as he could remember. New places, new people, new con games to play. Whatever the time or place, the ground rules were always the same: Never stop moving, and never look back. Breaking Rule 1 was what had landed him in LA for the past three years, playing detective. And breaking Rule 2 was what brought him here, to a cold, damp street corner in the middle of the night.
It was during the uncharacteristic interval of making believe he was the brilliant and debonair Remington Steele that he'd begun to notice there was something funny going on with time.
It began not long after he'd become the celebrated Mr. Steele. During the week, time moved in its consistent, if slightly leisurely (compared to what he was used to) pace. He filled his days with his new duties – smoozing clients, glad-handing local politicians and celebrities, even occasionally assisting in a case when Murphy didn't manage to shut him out.
The weekends, however, were another matter. It seemed that from the moment he said goodbye to Laura at close-of-business on Friday until he heard her cheery greeting on Monday morning … time slowed down.
He was a resourceful man who had never had trouble finding amusements and distractions. There were always new films to see, gourmet recipes to experiment with, and, in those early days, a steady parade of beautiful women only too willing to extend a Saturday evening dinner to Sunday morning brunch. These encounters were a pleasant diversion, certainly – but for the first time in his life, he found mere physical gratification vaguely unsatisfying. As he lay next to that evening's blonde, brunette or redhead, he found himself desiring … companionship. Not from his bed partner; frankly, he'd found every woman vapid and dull compared with the often barbed repartee he enjoyed with Laura at the office. No, it was Miss Holt he wanted to talk to. He wouldn't call her at these moments, of course; he was a gentleman, after all, and the lady beside him was entitled to his full attention – right up to the moment he put her in a cab the next day.
Over time (a rather short period of time, actually) the feeling of hollowness that followed these interludes began to exceed the brief pleasure and time-killing value they provided. And so the one-night stands stopped.
Naturally, celibacy did nothing to make a long weekend pass faster. Sometimes a Sunday afternoon dragged so that he found himself prowling the apartment, checking the clocks to make sure they were still running. Eventually he began to call Laura – on a work-related pretext, initially, but as their personal relationship warmed over the months, he'd invite her to see a film, or dinner at his place, or a leisurely drive down the coast. It became such a regular thing that it seemed expedient to just make a standing appointment (neither could bring themselves to call them dates). And so every weekend was neatly bisected on Saturday by quality time with Laura Holt … and he began to think that those weekends came too slow and went too fast. Curious thing, time.
The man pulled an antique pocket watch from inside his jacket and squinted at it in the dim glow cast by a nearby streetlight.
His pulse quickened as he noted it was almost time for the new ritual he'd developed over the past few weeks. Almost, but not quite – one more case of time moving more slowly than he might wish. He turned up his collar against the London chill and shifted slightly on the cold cement slab on which he crouched.
Another funny thing about time: it could move fast and slow all at once. He recalled champagne-infused evenings in his apartment … slow dances and deep kisses when time seemed to slow to a single, breathless moment. And yet, when they finally came up for air, they'd discover an entire evening had flown by and it was time for Laura to collect her purse with a sigh and leave him to face a solitary Sunday.
Then there was Time the Teacher … of lessons he had no desire to learn. He was familiar with fear – in his often dangerous mode of living, fear was an inevitable, often useful, companion. Fear made you careful. Fear kept you sharp. But one day time taught him what terror was.
He didn't like to recall that second when time stopped cold and the universe collapsed into a pinpoint singularity focused on a fresh bullet hole on the back of Laura's motionless, limp form. The razor-keen stab of helplessness, the bottomless chasm of loss he experienced at that moment had haunted him every moment since.
It was dread of feeling that way again that had given him the courage – or cowardice – to leave Remington Steele behind three months ago. During that last conversation with Laura, when she'd suggested they needed time apart, he'd experienced a faint echo of that sensation. Some day, he knew, Laura would realize that the man behind the façade of Remington Steele didn't measure up to the fantasy she'd created. Perhaps she already had. In his darker moments, he wondered whether she had moved on with William Westfield, the kind of straight-forward, upstanding man she invented Steele to be. The kind of man who could make a commitment.
He'd decided to make the first move - leave L.A. and her before she sent him packing. He told himself it was to spare her the embarrassment, even the pain, of admitting she'd been right about him all along. He told himself it would give him an opportunity to find out about his past, so he could return to her and give her the full disclosure she so desperately needed. He told himself he could become the man he once was, at least long enough to get the information he needed.
He was a liar.
Because the biggest thing he'd learned about time in the last three months was this: Time didn't heal all wounds. If anything, the ache in the center of his chest had only become sharper every day he was away from her. His need to be with her was a craving he couldn't conquer. If he could only see her, or at least hear her voice …
That's when he thought of it. After Bernice Fox left the agency, Laura had recorded a new message for the office answering machine, and Mildred had never bothered to change it. He couldn't speak to Laura – but he could hear her voice. He made the first call on a Saturday, their night. Knowing she often came in to the office on weekends to catch up on paperwork, he'd waited until he was sure the place would be empty. The eight-hour time difference between London and L.A. meant he had to wait until the wee hours – he decided 4:00 am Greenwich Mean Time, 8:00 pm LA time, was safe. He found a phone box on a quiet street corner, fed a pocketful of coins into the slot. A continent away, a phone rang in a darkened office. A click, then a voice. Her voice.
"You've reached Remington Steele Investigations. The office is closed now, but please leave a message and we'll get back to you." Beep.
Ten seconds. Such a small slice of time. But it had become precious to him over the past weeks. Like an addict needing his fix, he was drawn to that phone box every Saturday. Waited through a long night until the time was right. Made the call. Fed his deep, insatiable need. And then hung up, the glow of satiation already fading, the longing already beginning to return.
It would be the same tonight, he knew. He was only prolonging his pain, opening his wound afresh every time he picked up the phone. He took a deep breath and vowed he wouldn't give in this time. He'd go back to his seedy little bedsit and sleep, and tomorrow he'd get on with his life.
He dug into his pockets and withdrew a fistful of change. Dialed the number, listened to the ring. The click. And then …
"Hello? Who is this?"
Her voice … but not a recording. It was softer than he remembered it, and tremulous.
"Mr. Steele? Is that you?" A pause. "Where are you? Please. Where are you?"
He slammed down the receiver and sagged against the side of the phone box. It was then he discovered the cruelest truth: Time makes fools of us all.