Catherine merged seamlessly with the throng of guests. Her attempts at nonchalance were thwarted by the persistent ministrations of a middle-aged couple. "Excuse me. Aren't you the lady that was with Mr.Crown on the plane?" the woman gushed loudly, her voice echoing off the landscape. "I was just telling Marty, `I'm SURE that's the lady that was with Mr. Crown on the plane."
"Why don't you just use a bull horn lady? Mozambique hasn't heard about it," Catherine thought sullenly. She hated pushy people. "Yes, I am. We had a sudden urge to get out of town," she answered sweetly.
Marty looked like he wanted to jump into a convenient hole and pull it in after him. He tried in vain to temper his wife's enthusiasm. "You must be tired after all this work. We really appreciate everything. The hotel is wonderful. We're sorry to bother you. AREN'T we, Gladys!"
Gladys was a slow learner. "I think it's just so ROMANTIC! Surprising her with a big vacation like this!"
"You don't know the half of it babe," Catherine thought, wishing the woman would be kind enough to take a wrong turn and spare them further embarrassment.
Apparently Marty was psychic. He gave her arm a sharp tug, hoping to steer her toward the barbecue pit. "Just look at all that meat! Smells terrific, doesn't it?" he said, sniffing the air appreciatively.
Gladys was also a vegetarian. "Why don't YOU ever do that Marty?"
"Just pick up and take off."
"Not a bad idea," he mumbled, giving Catherine a long-suffering look.
"And how come whenever we DO go anywhere, we can't invite our friends?"
"Because I'm not a billionaire dear," he said dryly.
Tommy was sitting on a picnic table, his long legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles. He'd spotted Catherine right away, but had decided to let well enough alone for the moment. No sense courting trouble. He was just about to head for the Guiness tapper when he felt a clap on the shoulder. Turning abruptly, he was confronted by a slightly lit Jimmy.
"Hey boss!" his driver said gregariously.
"Jimmy!" Tommy answered, jumping involuntarily. "You bloody well scared me half to death! Sit down." He slid over and patted the vacated spot.
"Sorry boss," he apologized. Noticing Tommy's glass was empty, he grabbed it. "Wanna slug?"
Jimmy drew a beer just the way Tommy liked it, tilting the glass to keep the head down. Tommy marveled at how he could get it perfect every time. "How do you do that?" he asked, pointing toward the tapper.
"All in the wrist, boss. All in the wrist." He let go of the handle, twisted the rim and served the brimming glass to Tommy without spilling a drop.
"Bless you," Tommy said gratefully, enjoying the first sip of the dark and hearty brew. He considered Guiness God's gift to the drinking world.
Jimmy came over to the table and sat on the spot Tommy had left for him. "Welcome. Listen boss, about this gig."
"You worry too much, my friend"
"SOMEBODY has to!"
Tommy smiled. His friend was in bodyguard mode. "What could go wrong?"
"You mean BESIDES being shot, stabbed, clubbed or thrown in the slammer for about a hundred years? Trouble with you boss, you go minute to minute."
"Only way to fly."
"Yeah well, helps to have a parachute. These boys play rough."
"So do I."
"Ever seen the inside of a South American jail?"
"Not EVER. That's just the point."
"You know me."
"THAT"S what I'm worried about!"
"New York went OK."
"New York went OK? You hadn't turned your lady," he said, pointing in Catherine's direction, "you'd have been screwed, blued and tattooed!"
"She's not turned. NOBODY turns Catherine. She's on my tail as we speak."
"Don't tell me."
"She knows about the cat."
"Tried to worm it out of Jack and when that didn't work, she followed me down to the marina."
"She see you?"
"Nope. Got a call from the harbormaster on my cell."
"Great. I mean, I like her, but she could be a real fly in the ointment. She's not like you."
"She very MUCH like me."
"You know what I mean."
"Meaning she's moral and I'm not."
"Not THAT exactly" Jimmy said, trying to temper his last statement.
"Yes, THAT exactly! But you're right. She is, and I'm not. Make enough and the rules don't apply to you."
"Boss, you're gonna have to make a decision about her. You can't string her again. She won't tolerate it." Jimmy paused, gathered his courage and continued, "And maybe she shouldn't."
"Meaning, she's the best thing that ever happened to you, and she's getting' the short end of the stick. Boss, you're not alone anymore."
"So you think I should cut her in?"
"Cut her in or cut her loose. You hurt her badly last time. That's why she's dogging you now."
"You know something?"
"Yeah. Jack called me. Probably just after he talked to you. Told me about the little chat they had. Boss, she told him she was worried about the two of you."
"She's got no cause to worry."
"With you keeping her out of the loop? That's like waving a red flag in front of a bull! Not to mention the fact that you clam up every time she tries to talk to you. She told Jack you're no pro, but you don't know that. I think she's right."
"Speaking from experience now are we?"
"Damn right!" Jimmy sensed that Tommy was getting testy, yet he had to try to reason with him "Boss, when you happened into my place, I was out of my mind with boredom. Retirement wasn't my thing. My whole career I waited for the day I could buy a little place, have a nice business. Day finally came. It was OK for awhile but then I started to miss the action. Missed the force so bad I could taste it. But it was the force that just about did me in. So you see, you DO get addicted."
"What's your point?"
Jimmy sighed, exasperated, but he kept his voice even. "My POINT, is that action becomes a drug, just as sure as anything you could mainline. Doesn't leave room for anything else. Like a family. IT becomes your family. Believe me, I know! You know my history. World's best cop, world's worst husband. My old lady cut me loose, I'll never have a real relationship with my kids. What do I have to say here?"
"That's not going to happen to me."
"It already has. The cat, the glider, the bets, the deals.you've just taken it one step further."
"You know all about this."
"Yeah, I KNOW and Jack KNOWS and the crew KNOWS. I know what and I know why. Doesn't change a thing."
Tommy attempted to lighten the mood. "Didn't know you cared."
"Don't kid me! You know how close I was! If you hadn't come along, I'd have probably had my gun for breakfast."
"I just offered you a job."
"You just offered me my LIFE!"
"Aren't you being just a BIT melodramatic?"
Jimmy kept to the issue, refusing to be sidetracked. "Boss, you're a smart man. You figure all the angles. But your lady's right. You're no pro. Just LISTEN to an old war horse for once, will ya?"
"Relax, my friend, relax," Tommy said, thumping Jimmy heartily on the knee. "Your contacts still in place?"
Jimmy shook his head. The boss could be deaf, dumb, blind and stupid when he wanted to be. He tried one more time. "Look, ya did good in New York. Better than I expected for an amateur. But let it go. It's not worth it."
"Yeah, they're all set," the driver replied grudgingly, conceding defeat.
"Only I gotta tell ya, they're not too thrilled with the way that last job was handled, leaving their boys hanging out to dry like that. Only reason they're even TALKIN' to me is because they owe me. It's gonna cost you big this time."
"What else is new?" Tommy thought. "I paid them well didn't I?" he asked.
"Not the point. There's a protocol in this kinda thing. They didn't KNOW they were gonna have to take a fall. Can't spend much dough on the inside. You don't wanna get a rep with these people. Bad news.
Tommy waited a beat, then uttered a quiet, "You'll be there?"
Jimmy let the question hang a second, then answered, "I wouldn't do this stuff for another living soul, you know that? Goes against the grain."
"What do you need?" Jimmy sighed.
"About three guys. Tourist types. That way they'll blend in with the scene. But make sure they're fit. And it'll help if they know what they're looking at."
"Don't worry. Gear?"
"I'll take care of that after I talk to the crew."
Tommy stole a glance at the beach path. Catherine didn't seem to be having any luck shaking loose from her unofficial fan club. The two men watched, amused, as she smiled and nodded. "I suppose I SHOULD come to her rescue," he said, slipping on his shades.
"The knight in shining armor bit?"
"But you're not going to."
"Bad idea. Unless you want to be basted in your own juice," Jimmy said, pointing simultaneously to the Guiness tapper and the barbecue.
Tommy laughed. "Wouldn't she just."
"Bet your ass."
"If I must," Tommy conceded, clutching a hand to his chest and letting out a long-suffering sigh.
"Trust me on this one. You must." Jimmy couldn't help smirking. Whenever the boss waxed theatrical, it was always good for a laugh.
"She does seem to be rather vexed at the moment doesn't she?" Tommy took another swig from his glass.
"Wears it well though."
"We're in a rut."
"Yep." They both burst out laughing.
Tommy squared his shades and stood up purposefully, his head held high. He seemed a man about to leave for the eastern front . "If I don't come back"
"I'll make sure your holdings are split up the way WE would have wanted."
Tommy bowed his head to hide his grin. "Ah yes. The WE being?"
"Ohhhh I dunno. Me, Paul, Jack, Wallace, guy in the mailroom. You know. The usual loyal minions."
"And my body."
"Of course we'll make every effort to recover it, but under the circumstances." Jimmy said gravely.
"And in the apparently unlikely event that you do?" Tommy urged. "This is gonna be good," he thought.
"It'll be donated to science."
"Yeah. I figure mankind's entitled to discover what makes you tick."
"Share me with the world, as it were?" Tommy said, adopting a noble stance.
"No, see what made your brain go out to lunch!"
"Thanks a lot." Tommy felt his balloon begin to deflate, along with a sizable chunk of his ego.
"Anytime." Jimmy said irreverently, waving a hand in the air for emphasis.
"Well, off we go then." Tommy rolled his shoulders and stretched the kinks out of his limbs.
"What do you mean, WE? I wouldn't touch her with a ten-foot pole in the mood she's in."
"You catch on quick." Tommy started down the grassy area, his long legs covering ground rapidly.
Jimmy shouted a parting shot. "Hey boss!"
"If you're gonna pet the animals, don't forget to count your fingers!" Tommy shook his head. What a crew.
TO BE CONTINUED...