While the British Airways 747 from Dublin to San Francisco settled at 31,000 feet and headed into the west, Laura Steele – or Laura Holt-Steele – she wasn't sure herself yet – settled back in the leather seat and sipped her glass of Taittinger. Next to her, Remington Steele was sipping at a balloon of armagnac and watching the in-flight movie, Hannah and Her Sisters, the headphones plugged in and his feet up on the footrest that automatically slid out from underneath his seat.
This – First Class – was truly the way to fly if one could afford it, mused Laura. And yet, 'it' – luxury – was still something she was not quite used to. It had only been in the last six years, since she had founded Remington Steele Investigations and created the wealthy and debonair head of the agency, that she had been able to live the luxurious lifestyle by proxy. And it had become essential when Remington had come along and become…well, become Remington Steele.
Laura had grown up in an upper middle class home, comfortable, but not one where eating caviar and quaffing champagne were everyday occurrences. Encino was affluent but not rich – it was certainly no Beverly Hills. And while Frances and Laura had attended private school, and the family had had enough money to enjoy pleasures like skiing vacations and a summer camp for the girls (where Laura had excelled at pinochle), traveling first class in airplanes or staying in the presidential suite at hotels was not something the Holt family considered normal.
In 1980, when Laura had begun the agency with Murphy and set out her strategy to make Remington Steele – the fictional Remington Steele – the talk of the town, he had been skeptical. Murphy, cautious and methodical, had considered the whole approach risky and doomed to fail. It had been uncharacteristic of Murphy to give up a regular paycheck from his stable job at Havenhurst in order to join with Laura, especially as the junior equity partner in the nascent agency. He had done it, Laura thought, from a combination of friendship and loyalty to her – despite her being the younger woman and the junior employee, whereas Murphy had already been established at Havenhurst when Laura had joined its trainee program as a precocious graduate of Stanford, not quite yet twenty-two years old.
He had questioned why Laura had soon decided to move the agency to the expensive real estate of Century City, alongside the advertising agencies and legal firms that occupied the two towers. Later, when Laura had bought the Cadillac and hired Fred, he had asked, 'What kind of a PI has a limo – how can you tail anyone in it?'. Bernice, their secretary and office manager who had come on board as soon as they had opened, had seemed amused by the idea – she had always had more imagination than Murphy and a wicked streak to boot.
Yet, slowly, Laura's approach had worked. She and Murphy had gatecrashed a lot of conferences in LA, introducing themselves to the annual meeting of, say, the West Coast Clothing Retailers Association, or the National Conference of Will Writers, scattering around business cards and promoting the agency to any business owner that might need a private investigator's services.
They had also established a lot of links with local cops, who would refer cases which they could not deal with (especially missing persons cases) to the agency. They had cold called and schmoozed a lot of legal practices in the city, hoping that this obvious source of investigative work would start to pay dividends. 'Remington Steele' had written to the local newspapers frequently, commenting, on a strictly non-partisan basis, on some major city council decision or political issue then under discussion in Los Angeles. Sometimes, a friendly journalist would insert a quote in a law and order article from 'the famous private investigator, Remington Steele'.
Quite early on in 1980, their approach had paid dividends when they had been called into a small local bank, Palmer Bank, to investigate suspected fraud. They had caught the guilty parties – Lily Martin, a bank teller, and her boyfriend Percy Descoine. The former had committed suicide, the latter had been convicted in May that year of embezzlement. The success of this case had garnered them some local publicity, though the bank had tried its best to keep the story under wraps; a lot more work from the smaller financial institutions and local Savings and Loans had resulted.
As the agency's name had become known, and as she and Murphy had also brought in badly-needed dollars through bread and butter work like divorce cases and background checks, things had become more stable, though the books still remained slightly in the red. Bernice and Fred's salaries, together with the high costs of the office and the car, had eaten into the revenue the agency generated. Laura and Murphy – as the hidden but real owners of the agency – had taken the smallest salaries that they could; in Laura's case, enough to live on, make payments on her Rabbit and pay the mortgage on her Studio City house.
When they had solved the Harper Case in November 1980, it was the first time that the agency had not had to finagle its way into getting LA-wide publicity – it was the press, both print and local TV, that had been desperate to get quotes from the man, Remington Steele, who had broken the case. This had given the agency a huge boost, and suddenly there had been cases round the block, as everyone in LA with a problem had sought the services of the ex-CIA (or so it was implied) investigative genius.
And then Remington – she now thought of the man sitting next to her almost totally as actually being Remington – had turned up and 'become' Remington Steele – the voice, the face, the attitude, the man…
As Laura had said to him on the very first day that they met, he really did things on a grand scale. Although he had been pretending to be a South African policeman, his hire car had been a Mercedes coupé, and his suits had been quite obviously custom made. He drank champagne like others drank water – by the magnum.
And once he had settled into the rôle of Remington Steele – which had come startlingly quickly, as far as Laura and Murphy had been concerned – the expenses had mounted stratospherically. The agency had taken on the mortgage for Remington's apartment in Hancock Park, had paid the $50,000 joining fee for the Wilshire Country Club, had bought him even more custom tailored suits, silk shirts and Italian shoes, and had paid for an expense account of epic proportions.
And yet, apart from the first months when the expenses had been very heavy, and the atmosphere of conflict in the agency – between Bernice and Steele, Murphy and Steele, Laura and Steele, and sometimes Laura and Murphy – oppressive, the appearance of an actual 'Remington Steele' had more than paid for itself. Putting a face to the name had boosted their customer base by an order of magnitude. Remington's almost telepathic ability to act the part had paid off in massive amounts of publicity and the rise to prominence of 'Remington Steele' to become the most well known private investigator in the city.
The success of Laura's gambit had been something very difficult for Murphy Michaels to accept; as he had said numerous times to her, 'I hate this Laura, I really hate this'. Creating a fake Remington Steele in order to help her was something he could just about live with; but having to then manage the vagaries of the 'real' Steele's behavior had been a step too far for Murphy. He was, as he once said, a straight-ahead guy with no curves. It had been no surprise to Laura, really, when he had told her that he was leaving to set up on his own; she had sensed it was coming.
Laura had been sad at the time – was still sad – about the loss of their friendship. Oh of course, they were still friends in name – they exchanged Christmas and birthday cards, and called each other a few times a year. But that genuine intimacy – that only exists between people who live in close proximity and socialize together frequently – was gone now and Laura still regretted it. Murphy's leaving Los Angeles had emphasized to her again how small was the circle of those she was genuinely close to.
Laura didn't like to think too deeply about the personal relationship between Murphy and herself. She was aware that others – Bernice, her old colleagues at Havenhurst – had speculated often that Murphy carried a torch for her, and that his throwing in with her in setting up the agency had been done as a result of this unrequited love. And, as she recalled now, there had been an occasion when he had made a pass at her, much to her consternation. But after the initial shock, as Laura chewed over what had happened, she could not see that pass as genuine, as sexual.
Rather, Murphy had simply been trying to grab her attention, to break the spell of her attraction for Remington that was obvious to everyone (including Laura), so that Murphy could show her the damage he felt was being done to everything else: their integrity as people, their financial caution, their pragmatic approach to working for their clients. Laura was so mesmerized by Steele that, although they fought like wildcats at times, she still overlooked too many of his myriad faux pas – making promises to clients he could not keep; lying breathtakingly to the police, witnesses and the press; speculating wildly in the newspapers; acting first and thinking later. This approach to work – to life – was diametrically the opposite of Murphy's worldview and it had ultimately been something he could not, or would not, tolerate. Laura did not believe that anything pertaining to romantic feelings between Murphy and herself was the reason he really left; if anything, the reasons had concerned things more fundamentally important than simply sex and attraction.
In the nearly four years since Remington had stormed into her life, the agency's fortunes had increased spectacularly. Despite the huge overheads they maintained, the agency was very profitable and furnished Steele and Laura with a handsome standard of living. Laura had eventually – in secret – bought out Murphy's equity stake. Her own ownership of the agency was hidden behind dummy corporations, so that under superficial inspection, it appeared as if 'Remington Steele' owned the business and Laura Holt was merely a salaried employee, along with Mildred and Fred.
And so, Laura now found herself here, sipping champagne, sitting in a $1,600 plane seat while those in coach traveled for $450, and looking forward to the late lunch, when the stewardesses would bring round hors d'oeuvre of caviar and blinis, followed by lobster thermidor. Yes, thought Laura – although she was naturally frugal and down to earth, it was nice to live in luxury if you got the chance.