"Swinging fists!" She popped him a quick one with her open palm. "I mean it Tommy. I HATE it when you're smug. I'll crown you!"
He screwed up his face, fighting for control. A laugh started in his belly, working it's way toward expression. "I don't think that's possible luv."
"I'm already crowned. Have you checked my letterhead lately?"
The light bulb came on. Her eyes softened and a slow smile began at the corners of her mouth. She summoned a giggle to match his. Their laughter began to crescendo. Hugging their sides, they slumped to the floor of the cabin. Soon they were literally rolling in the aisles.
Light began to filter through the cabin windows. Crew began circulating among the passengers, collecting refuse accumulated during the flight and giving final landing instructions. DING! "Ladies and gentleman, this is your captain speaking. It's a pleasant eighty-five degrees in Rio. We've been cleared to land in just a few minutes. Please assist the flight crew in preparing for landing. Thank you for flying with us. We hope you enjoy your vacation. If you will wait at the terminal entrance, transportation to your hotel will be provided. Please give your baggage claim checks to your driver, and your luggage will be collected and sent directly to your suites. LET'S PARTY!" His words were greeted with a rousing cheer.
"Not very professional."
"He's been hanging around me too long,"
"Such laxity!" she said with feigned shock.
"What the hell. Work hard, play hard."
The flight attendant approached their area. "Excuse me Mr. Crown, but the captain has requested we secure the cabin for final approach." Even though it was obvious at this point that the plane had been chartered, Tommy was surprised she made no mention of his pilot's unorthodox announcement.
"And a veritable despot he can be when his approach isn't finalized." The flight attendant looked at him quizzically. "Inside joke," he deadpanned. She moved on, shaking her head at his cavalier joie de vivre.
Noticing their precarious position Catherine said, "I suppose we should get out of the line of fire"
He glanced around. "Yes. Wouldn't do to get caught in the stampede." Climbing back into their seats, they buckled up. Moments later the plane touched down smoothly.
"He's good. Just like last time. Remind me to give him a tip."
"Just buy him a beer."
The seat belt sign went off as the plane came to a halt at the gate. They waited for the others to deplane. Catherine couldn't help comparing Rio to Monaco as she looked out the cabin window. It was like comparing apples to oranges. Monaco was a resort town. Rio pulsed with a big city feel.
"I'll be right back." Tommy started forward, opening the cockpit door. Catherine could see him in a huddle with his pilot. He clapped the other man on the shoulder and the two laughed heartily. Tommy started back to first class, calling out a final word. "Soon as you get her through post flight, come join us. You know the place."
They rose to leave and started walking toward the exit. Catherine couldn't resist one last jibe. "What, no mysterious crate this time? No hard-stolen Monet?"
"Left it in my other Renoir," he teased.
"Oh, I give UP!" she said, throwing up her hands. Walking down the plane's boarding ramp, they were immediately wrapped in a warm tropical breeze. "We're overdressed. I'm burning up," she said, slipping off her coat.
"I could take care of that little detail for you if you'd like," he leered.
"You wish!" she said, sotto voce.
"Ooooooooh yeah," he countered, wiggling his left eyebrow.
"You're a lech."
"Yeah, but you love me anyway."
Tommy touched Catherine's arm, giving her a silent signal to remain in place. Their traveling companions had reached the terminal entrance. Drivers in livery began assisting them into limos that would take them to the hotel district. No expense had been spared. An entire wing had been reserved in the ultra-posh Rio Royale hotel, allowing everyone the luxury of crashing in style.
"Why are we waiting?" she asked.
"Want to make sure everybody gets off OK. I left specific instructions."
"You don't intend to play crack the whip on this trip do you?"
"You overestimate my powers of influence. I NEVER play crack the whip."
He paused for a beat. "I might FLEX it a little, but I never crack it," he said offhandedly.
"And why is that?"
"Because they're all good people. They'd never let me down," he said seriously.
Catherine looked out across the tarmac, fixing her eyes on the horizon. "What a puzzle you are. A frustrating, but ooooh so delightful puzzle. A tiger with the big boys, but a pussycat with your people. Every time I think I've got you figured, you throw me a curve," she thought.
Tommy took her arm and they moved quickly toward the terminal. A familiar sight greeted them at the curb. Jimmy was standing beside a silver Jag. Upon their approach, he moved to open the rear door. Tommy slid in first. Catherine moved to follow, but Jimmy abruptly cut her off. Taking both of her hands in his, he gave her a chaste kiss on the cheek. "Welcome! Nice to see you again!" he said enthusiastically.
Catherine felt her head start to spin. She was definitely out of loop. "Thank you. Nice to see you too," she stuttered, slithering in beside Tommy.
"Hey, watch it. That's MY girl!" Tommy said, with not the least bit of rancor.
"About time too!" Jimmy chided, climbing behind the wheel. He cranked the engine, sending the big engine into a smooth idle. Looking over his left shoulder, he put the car in gear and pulled into traffic.
Catherine recovered her composure quickly. "Is it hot in here, or is it just me?" she joked, making a show of fanning herself. Both men laughed. Changing the subject she said, "Couldn't do without the Silver Sweetheart I see"
"You mean the Jag? This is Sweetheart II actually."
"What was wrong with the other one?"
"Ashtrays were dirty."
"I had to ask." They rode in silence for several minutes. As they approached the line of hotels, Catherine began gathering her things. She was surprised when they drove past all of them. "What gives?" she asked.
"Thought we'd take the scenic route."
She knew better than to press the point. She decided to sit back and enjoy the scenery. Palm trees vied with high rises for space on the streets. Miles of white sand lined the beaches. Pedestrian walkways and bicycle paths offered safety from the heavy traffic. Soon they came to the downtown district. Jimmy broke the silence. "Ready?" he asked.
"Yup," Tommy answered.
"For what?" Catherine wondered. "What's he up to now?" Curiosity almost got the better of her, but she decided to hold her tongue.
The car pulled up to an imposing structure. It reminded Catherine of a racetrack grandstand. Many windows lined its stories, flanked by a jutting concrete façade. A large courtyard circled the perimeter. Tommy sat a minute, staring silently out the window. Slowly he opened the door and stepped out, his back to the car. Catherine watched as he gazed up toward the top floor. "He looks like a kid with his nose pressed up against a pet shop window," she thought. "Where are we?"
He motioned to her to join him. Gathering her purse, she slid across the seat and exited on his side of the car. "Close the door," he said. As she did so, Jimmy pulled away without a word.
"Tommy, WHAT is going on?" she asked.
He put a finger to her lips. "Patience," he answered.
"Tommy, I'm hot and tired. Can't we just go to the hotel?" she said, a bit on the cranky side.
He slipped her coat off her shoulders without a word. Draping it over his right arm, he continued walking. "It's just a bit further luv. Right around this corner." A flowered garden greeted their entrance into the outdoor restaurant. A hostess approached. "We have a reservation under the name of Crown," he said, once more the take-charge executive.
"Of course, Mr. Crown. We've been expecting you. If you'll please come this way," she said graciously. She led them to a lovely table amidst the flowers. Catherine noted that the temperature was suddenly several degrees cooler. "May I bring you something from the bar?"
"Champagne for the lady and scotch neat for me. And I placed a luncheon order earlier today. Would you ask the chef to begin preparing it please?"
"Certainly. Thank you," she said, turning to place their orders.
Catherine could stand it no longer. When the hostess was out of earshot, she blasted Tommy. "OK, let's have it! What are you up to?"
"Must I be up to something?" He looked away.
"You mustn't, but you ARE!"
"What makes you say that?"
"Because you can't even look at me. Dead givaway."
Tommy sighed theatrically. Resting his elbows on the edge of the table, he leaned in close. "OK, you got me."
"I KNOW that! I got you the first time, remember? I'm gonna count to ten "
"Easy! No need for any more pugilistic displays. I'll come clean."
She settled down in her seat, arms crossed over her chest. "I'm still waiting."
"This is the Museum of Modern Art," he said, gesturing with his left arm toward the building.
"Dum-de-dum-dum." She hummed the theme from the old TV show "Dragnet".
He looked at her, a puzzled expression in his eyes. "Dum-de-dum-dum? What's that supposed to mean?"
"Must be before your time. Don't you remember "Dragnet?" His eyes told her she'd drawn a blank. "The TV Show?"
"Don't have much time for the telly I'm afraid."
"Pity. This was a gem. All about how GOOOOOD guy cops catch BAAAAAD guy robbers. Sound familiar?"
"What's your point?" he said innocently.
"Honestly. I can dress you up but I can't take you anyplace! Have you leaned NOTHING from that little fiasco in New York?"
"Such AS we're hear to AVOID the law, not invite them into our living room! I realize Brazil has no extradition treaty but don't get any ideas. I saw the way you looked at this building a few minutes ago! You wouldn't be casing the joint would you?"
He gave her his best "Who me?" look. "Never. I give you me solemn word." He held his fingers up in a Boy Scout oath.
"Tommy, never try to bullshit a bullshitter. Don't even go there. You'll never make it if you pull a stunt down here. You won't see the light of day until you're too old to care. Just so you know, I'm OUT this time. I'd like to see Monaco again just ONCE before I die. Is that asking too much?"
The hostess was back with their drinks. She served them with quiet efficiency. "Your lunch is being prepared as we speak, Mr. Crown. I'll bring it tableside as soon as possible."
"Thank you." He waited for her to retreat to the front of the restaurant before continuing his conversation with Catherine. "Now, where were we?"
"You were about to come clean."
"You have a one-track mind, do you know that?"
"Yes, and it never derails," she said, her impatience beginning to show.
"Can't we have a nice lunch, take a little tour inside? Then I promise I'll tell you all about it later."
"Why not now?"
"I have to work some things out first."
"Silly little things like say, timetables, security, blueprints of the layout?"
"Please. Just trust me, OK?"
Their lunch arrived. Tommy had ordered the area's best fish dish, hoping to tempt Catherine's appetite. He knew he was treading on thin ice and wanted a little extra time to regroup. She seemed willing to drop the subject. In fact, it was hard for him to coax her away from her plate. When their table had been cleared Tommy signaled for the check. Signing the tab, he rose to escort Catherine. "Ready?" he asked.
She rose slowly, gathering her things from the back of her chair. "Thank you. That was very good."
"You're welcome. Would you like that tour now?"
"Sure. Why not?" she sighed, resigned to the ordeal.
"Your enthusiasm is underwelming," he joked.
"Let's just go inside. I'll getting warm again."
"OK. Sure. I'm sorry." He almost stumbled over his own feet trying to please her. She had to laugh. He was just about to take a header into the fountain. With his natural athletic grace, he recovered his balance quickly and steered her into the lobby. He kept up a running commentary on all the pieces they saw on display. "This is the most significant collection of Brazilian modern art in the country. Wait till you see the Chateaubriand collection!" he said proudly.
"Isn't that a steak?" She knew of the collection but never passed up a chance to get in a dig.
"Peasant! NO, it most certainly is NOT a steak! Just for that, I may not invite you to the party tonight." he said with mock indignation.
"Party? You're having a party? "I'm dead on my feet now. How the hell am I gonna be up for a party?"
"I am indeed having a party. For all those nice people cooling their heels at the hotel."
"Cooling their heels, getting sleep," she yawned.
"And if you're a VERY good girl, I just MIGHT let you come," he said, tweaking her nose between his fingers.
"No pun intended?" she said slyly. She threw him a slow wink.
He sidled up to her, nuzzling her cheek while his foot made idle circles on the floor. "You love the smell of marble in the morning don't you?"
"That little interlude gave new meaning to the term cruisin' for a bruisin'." Attempting to stifle another yawn, she dipped her face into his shoulder. "Tommy, If I fall face down into the entrée tonight and drown in the gravy it's gonna be on YOUR conscience!"
"Ah, can't have that now, can we? Bad for the image," he laughed. "Very well. Sleeping Beauty shall have her wish." They walked out to the front entrance and found the Jag. Jimmy hurried to assist them inside. "Home James," Tommy said with a flourish. Soon they were flowing into the traffic.
"You put up with this shit?" she joked to the driver.
"It's OK. He's not always like this. Sometimes he's worse," he fired back.
"Ouch," Tommy winced. He caught Jimmy's eyes in the rearview mirror. They held a twinkle to match his own.
Their route took them past the scenes at the beaches. Bikini clad women sunbathed next to robust males playing volleyball. Families enjoyed picnic lunches under the palm shaded grassy areas. Vendors hawked their wares everywhere. Fresh fruit and ice cream seemed to be the hit of the day. "This seems like a nice town. Everybody seems so friendly and considerate. They love life and it shows. I could come to like it here," she thought. "And just where is this little soiree of yours taking place?" she asked.
"Right over there." Tommy pointed to a pristine stretch of coastline. "They're setting up as we speak." Caterers and tradesman bustled about, dogged by another familiar face. Paul was stage directing the preparations.
At sight of him Catherine remarked, "This really is old home week. I don't know if I should be happy or pissed. He's quite a watchdog. I had to go charging up the stairs the day I confronted you in the townhouse. He wanted to announce me. 'Course after I got up there I could see why."
"That's his job. He's run my entire household single handedly for years. I couldn't do without him. Or this guy behind the wheel." He gestured in Jimmy's direction. His voice took on an uncharacteristic softness. "They're the best." Jimmy gave him a silent thumbs up in acknowledgement.
"I know. He was only hoping to spare my feelings. He knew I'd misinterpret what I saw and I did. I made a real ass out of myself that day."
"You're forgiven," he said, as he kissed her cheek. "He's looking forward to seeing you tonight."
They pulled up to a magnificent white brick high rise. Jimmy opened their doors and they alighted under a canopied portico. "Be it ever so humble-" Tommy swept his arm toward the façade on the front of the building.
"What's all this?"
"Just a little home away from home." He turned to call to Jimmy through the open window. The driver tossed him a set of keys. "Thanks. Catch some sleep. Then put your glad rags on and come join us later on the beach." He gave the car's roof his trademark two slaps and watched as it disappeared into the distance.
"Shall we?" he said, guiding her to the entrance. They allowed the doorman to usher them inside. "Thank you," they said together. Tommy escorted her into the elevator and keyed the penthouse floor. Seconds later the doors opened into the foyer of a sumptuous apartment. Hardwood floors gave way to plush pile carpeting. Rattan furniture upholstered with a bright print fabric lent a tropical feel to the place. Floor to ceiling windows provided a panoramic view of the Rio skyline.
"How long have you had this place?"
He shot his left cuff and checked his watch. "Since about, oooooh, lunchtime. Jimmy picked up the keys while we were at the museum."
"Lunchtime? How could you close on a piece of property by-". The wheels slowly started turning. She didn't speak for several seconds. "You didn't." He looked around the room, trying to focus on any spot but her face. "You had this place in your back pocket all along. Say about the time the suits paid that little visit to Martinique?"
He looked down at the floor, volunteering nothing. "The best offense is a good defense. Think fast Crown."
"I can't HEEEEAR yoooou," she said, cupping her hand to her ear.
"I may have mentioned real estate in passing," he said lamely.
"In passing.," she said, hands on hips.
"In the course of casual conversation."
"What's wrong with your face!" she cried in horror.
"What!" he threw a hand up to his cheek.
"Your nose! It's growing!" She pantomimed the action with her fingers, reaching for his nostrils. He backed up quickly, but not fast enough. She advanced boldly, forcing him into the living room. The back of his knees connected with the couch, jackknifing his lower body. He did a graceful full twist, landing on his stomach. Making a one-handed roundhouse grab, he flipped her into the prone position and settled her on his back.
"I feel like a sandwich," he said into the cushion.
"I'll go make you one," she said brightly, deliberately missing his meaning. She got as far as swinging one leg over. He reached behind him to pin her in place. "Not THAT kind of sandwich!" He slapped her playfully on the rear.
"Ooooooooh. Then I guess you won't mind if I do THIS!" She sank her teeth into his shoulder. He felt it through the fabric of his shirt.
"Hey, what do you think your doing?" He jumped quickly to his right side. She fought to maintain her position, finally finding a precarious position along his left thigh.
"Isn't that what you do with sandwiches?" Her tone
held all the wonder of a complete novice.
"This PARTICULAR sandwich shall remain in the display case until further notice. Wouldn't want to spoil all the delicate flavor by sampling prematurely." He settled back onto his stomach, expertly sliding her along with him.
"Don't push it!" He laughed, forming a time out sign with his hands. She relaxed against him, smiling softly. After a bit she decided to hazard some serious conversation. "Tommy?"
"Will we ever be able to get back to civilization?"
"CIVILIZATION? Woman's in a million dollar condo in one of the most civilized, romantic cities in the world and she feels marooned!" He shook his head.
"That didn't come out right," she said, wanting to set the record straight. "It's just that I miss Monaco. So much of my life is tied up there. I don't think I could take not ever being able to move around freely. Don't you miss New York?"
"Now that we got THAT shit straight! Last week you wouldn't have admitted that on a bet. Well, maybe on a bet," she reconsidered. "Then what about Martinique? You seemed so at home there, so relaxed. And the people were genuinely glad to see you. Don't tell me you'd give THAT up."
"If I had to."
"But why would you WANT to?" She waited a beat, then cupped her hand into a fist, placing it near her mouth. She brought it near his left ear. "Thomas Crown." She knew he was being deliberately obtuse. She tried harder. "Thomas Crown, I am your conscience!"
"I know, I KNOW!" he said forcefully. "Face it, your life hasn't been the same since she blew into it. But if ya gotta have a conscience.."
She continued her tirade with her makeshift bullhorn. "Your conscience commands you cease and desist all activities of a questionable nature. I am irresistible. You must obey."
Tommy played along. "The Great Svenbanning commands. I must obey." He lowered his voice and started speaking in a robot-like monotone.
He shrugged. "Best I could do on short notice."
She sighed, exasperated. "You're hopeless!"
"You noticed! Well, Sven."
"Don't call me that!"
"Well, SVEN, much as I'd love a replay of what we did on Martinique while in this position, if we don't get to bed we won't need to worry about the party. We'll be too dead."
She brayed in spite of herself. Sometimes he was just TOO funny. She wasn't ABOUT to ask him to define too dead.
"Haven't I been trying to tell you that all day?" she said with saccharine sweetness.
"You have indeed."
"And haven't you chosen to ignore the obvious biological facts?"
"I NEVER ignore biological facts." He slipped his hand up to her flank, stroking it with a butterfly touch.
"Wrong biological fact."
He chuckled, slid her quickly to her feet, and then pulled himself up to a sitting position. "I see that my formal education in such matters is sadly lacking. What do you suggest?"
"That we adjourn this meeting."
"We weren't voting. There's no need for "Roberts Rules Of Order."
"Force of habit."
"Will you get IN there!" She smacked him on the rear, sending him into the bedroom.
"Only if you come with me," he whined, reminding her of a little kid.
"I know I'm gonna regret asking but, WHY?"
"Because I need you." She melted at the words, enjoying their echo as they reverberated off the cathedral ceiling. "I forgot to pack my teddy and I can't sleep without something to hold." He stood with head cocked, the picture of cute.
"Asshole!" She charged him, moving in for the coup de grace. Laughing, he sprinted out of reach, his long legs carrying him into the bedroom ahead of her. He dove for the mattress, just inches ahead of her. She had a full head of steam up, but he caught her mid leap, effectively putting her out of commission.
"As an ex-boxer, I have one advantage in this little encounter," he said seductively.
"Like what?" she said through clenched teeth.
"I'm good in the clinches." He lavished a string of kisses along her throat. Feeling her start to melt, he fingered the buttons on her blouse. The tempo quickened, as she went for his belt. Oblivious to each other's moves, they weren't aware they were about to occupy the same space. Their passion came to a screeching halt as they bumped heads. Giggling, they flopped apart, rubbing their respective sore spots. "Should I kiss it? Make it better?" he ventured.
"Nah. Just sing me a lullaby." She curled up on her side, already drifting into a light sleep. He snuggled next to her, wrapping both arms around her.
"The hills are alive.." he sang lustily, jolting her awake. She gave him a reflexive jab in the ribs. "I don't think this is a rap song," he teased, holding his side.
"But you got one anyway!
"A RAP! Now-go-to-SLEEP!"
TO BE CONTINUED