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Punta del Este
Ronnie's mouth wandered away from Luisa Isabel's lips and found its way to one of her lollipop breasts, which he kissed. His hand moved to one of her thighs, softly, rubbing, probing ... well, teasing really. "Can we swim afterward?" he asked.
"Mmmm," she said, sort of. Despite all the men she had teased in her life, she didn't understand that, if only for a moment, Ronnie was doing that to her. But then, it was a natural enough question, for even above her heartbeat and the heavy breaths he took (for effect), they could both hear the Atlantic waves tumbling rhythmically, in threes, onto the shores below them. Probably, in fact, even if it had not been a time of such high ardor, probably the waves would have been enough by themselves to mute the sounds of the car pulling into the driveway, the door slamming shut, and the shoes of Luisa Isabel's husband, Gianni, crunching the gravel beneath them as he moved toward the patio door.
On an elbow now, Ronnie drew back from her. "Qué pasa?" she asked, sort of.
"I just wanted to look at you," he said. Now, the klieg-light school of love, desire under the mazdas, was not for Ronnie Ratajczak, but there was always the journalist in him that needed a certain amount of revelation—even in life's most idyllic moments. And besides, all that aside, there was the specific: Ronnie adored women's bodies. Well, don't all men? No, no, no. That was his point. It amazed Ronnie how few men bothered to look anymore. A lifetime of stylized adult magazines—adult, for God's sake—and, eventually, all the swelling breasts, all the tilted chins and tilted nipples, all the navels and dimples, and the rococo pink parts, left an adult man viewing it all as merely some arctic tundra of skin.
When Felicity Tantamount had stunned him by posing in the altogether in Playboy, Ronnie had studiously avoided even glancing at the pictures—and for a man so naturally curious, that was all the more difficult. But no, if ever he were going to win Felicity, if ever he were to take her and undress her and drink in her every inch, he was not going to have that sullied by the posed memories of what had been arranged and glossed and brushed and tinted for the lascivious millions.
But never mind Felicity. For goodness' sake, he was in Luisa Isabel's bed, in her embrace, and she was herself beautiful, certifiably so. "You're absolutely beautiful," Ronnie said, "certifiably so." He ran a finger over her, down her. She was as dark as her name suggested, with silky raven hair, ebony eyes, and naturally tawny skin that had turned two shades to the chestnut under the January summer sun of the South Atlantic.
She sighed a special sigh back at him, and neither of them heard the door open downstairs, and Gianni, the big man—Gianni Grande, the cowboys at the ranch called him behind his back—enter the house and pad across the tile to the staircase. That was when he saw Ronnie's jacket, thrown over the arm of a chair, his billfold peeking out the breast pocket like a taxicab flag thrown up on a meter.
What an irony. What a dopey development. For the fact was that this really wasn't Ronnie's scene. Oh, now, to be sure, there had, through the years, been the odd other man's wife. For instance, these days he and Doreen, Mrs. Herbert Whitridge, the effusive executive director of IWOOTP, the International Women's Organization of Tennis Professionals, got it on regularly at widely distant venues about the globe. But cuckolding dictated safe surroundings, and Ronnie had agreed to come with Luisa Isabel to Punta only because she had promised him that her husband would be far away, unbeknownst, at their ranch in the Pampas. So, all right; Ronnie agreed. Otherwise, since there were enough unattached women all over the world who, to coin a phrase, flung themselves at him, there simply was no percentage in risking life and limb with a Mrs., a Señora, a Madame, a Frau.
Through the years, then, almost all his dalliances with the married were more in the line of business. No, Ronnie never thought of himself as a gigolo, but there were these moonlight(ing) excursions into escort professionalism. Always, though, it was Ronnie's own choice of company, and never anything so common as simple cash on the barrelhead. After all, there is nowadays a blurring of what exactly distinguishes paid personal services—something that Ronnie had learned all too well from the tennis players he wrote about.
It is, for example, against the rules to pay a tennis star any money to guarantee an appearance at a tournament. The player must show up and sing for supper, earning only on the court. However, if a promoter calls up a big star's agent and works a deal whereby the star will agree to show up at a department store for two hours for $100,000, there autographing posters for a face lotion the star endorses, said star has not been paid appearance money, has she? People would wonder why Felicity Tantamount, say, would suddenly fly halfway around the world to Nagoya to compete in a $50,000 tournament, when she could slip into her little Mercedes convertible and pop down to the Royal Albert Hall for a $200,000 tournament. "For the good of the game," Felicity would explain.
Same sort of thing with Ronnie's appearances here and there. He had stories to write, a living to earn. And when he met Luisa Isabel at the United States–Argentina Davis Cup matches over in Buenos Aires, and she offered to lend him her car and driver and provide him with all sorts of contacts to help him write some travel stories about Punta del Este—now, that wasn't just a gigolo's guarantee, was it?
He lined up three stories right away. There was "Inside Punta del Este—The Malibu of South America," for an American magazine. "Sexy Punta del Este—The Riviera of South America," for a European magazine. And "The Punta del Este No One Knows," for a South American airline magazine.
When Ronnie wrote about tennis, it was always under his own byline, but he used pen names for his travel pieces. Usually for American audiences he preferred the sophisticated Jean Louis Toulouse, while for British audiences he went with the casual Yankee moniker Randy Frazier. Now and again, if a British byline might add some requisite stuffiness (stories on old hotels, botanical gardens and/or estates and mansions), he turned to T. K. Forester Jr.; and occasionally the safe and bland Scandinavian Ian Lindstrom surfaced. When Ronnie thought that a travel story would be best served by a female appellation, he used either the all-business Audrey Levy-Tydings (if he had enough material left over, he was already considering "What the Single Woman Can Find in Punta del Este" for Audrey) or, for the racier audiences, Karen Winsome—which always included, in tandem with the byline, a portrait of the alleged Ms. Winsome, featuring a fetching blond with a bountiful bosom.
And so it was that Ronnie got his guarantee to come over from Buenos Aires to Punta: the transport, room and board, the company of a beautiful woman, all her contacts, and the clothes she bought him, including a whole new beach ensemble, a white linen suit to wear to the casino, and, as well, a tan one, just imported from Rome, that he might more properly wear when interviewing all the right and beautiful people of Punta. It never even occurred to Luisa Isabel, either, that she was financing Ronnie to do what ninety-nine percent of the men she knew in B.A. would leave their offices unattended all afternoon or their wives and children alone all night to do with her. "Don't worry, Ronnie, I will not get in the way of your talent," she promised him.
Was Ronnie Ratajczak that attractive, that handsome, that desirable?
Well, not that you could see. Certainly fair enough of face, but nothing out of the ordinary. He was (possibly) six feet tall, with all of his hair; for muscles he had posture. He could put on a bathing suit in public or undress in private without a worry ... or, also, without a second look. More than one woman had told Ronnie what a lovely neck he had—an odd thing, to be sure, but a nice thing unless it occurs to you that if you are complimented for a neck there may not be much encouragement to comment on other, more traditional parts. No, it was his wit and his wits that got him by. Of course, a lot of men have all these things, the whole basic package, save perhaps the neck, and then they probably own some alternative equal to that: outstanding hands, say, eyes, or calves; or an ability to cook omelets or play the piano.
But what set Ronnie apart was his elusiveness. He was a solid enough man, an enduring professional, but a wisp of a person. And, as they say in England, at the end of the day, that was what distinguished Ronnie, what made women want him and men cotton to him. Most elusive people frighten us a bit with their mystery, but Ronnie was mysterious and safe alike, and no one had ever to feel guarded in his presence.
Well, possibly excepting Felicity.
Ronnie Ratajczak was like a freebie walking through life, and you could draw out of him whatever you wanted a quick one of: a drink to pass the time; a nice competitive game of doubles; a civil argument; a bit of interesting information; the right phone numbers; a raucous night on the town, a light lunch, or a good screw. For example, it would have flattered Ronnie—but really not surprised him—had he known that Luisa Isabel had never been unfaithful before. Yet this woman had all but ravaged him when they met, back in B.A. It was at the Jockey Club, at the official Davis Cup party for the two teams. He had been standing out on the fringe of the polo field chatting with Tom Gorman, the American captain, and Young Zack Harvey, the number-two U.S. player, when she had wandered over. At first it was clear to Ronnie that she only cared for the players—the celebrities, the heroes—but by the time Gorman left to go meet the ambassador and Young Zack to grab a beer, Luisa Isabel had lost interest in them and was already asking Ronnie if he'd ever seen where the polo ponies were stabled.
Now, in Punta, she brought herself closer to him. There was not a great deal of room where they were, on the chaise, out on the balcony off the master bedroom. But so what? With the full Uruguayan moon and coursing waves, who cared that the premises were not so spacious as the beds the size of putting greens that could be found nowadays in condominiums and franchise motels the world over? If a man was to make love to a particularly beautiful woman for the first time on a midsummer's night at Punta del Este, aesthetics were a damn sight more important than accommodations. A trio of the largest waves of the evening now rolled in, thumping upon the beach, so that neither of them could possibly hear the mere creaking of an upstairs floorboard.CHAPTER 2
At that moment, thousands of miles but just a handful of time zones away, Felicity Tantamount, who was really the only woman Ronnie had ever loved, except possibly for the teenage wife he had had briefly so long ago and far away, was in her suite high above the Caribbean. The curtains were drawn open, the view sweeping back to the Yucatán, but the man who was with Felicity had the more enviable vista of watching her put on and take off tennis outfits.
She held up another number and scrutinized it. "A bit too frilly, too twee perhaps," she decided.
"I forget: what's twee?" asked the man in a choppy American accent that clashed terribly with Felicity's British carillon tongue. Among her many attainments—and there were, after all, a great number of people who considered Felicity to be positively the most beautiful woman in all the world—she was able always to speak clearly, yet to do so in a dulcet murmur. Indeed, in one of his more poetic moments, Ronnie had described her voice (first to Felicity herself, then to his readers—on this occasion, Paris Match) as "a flaxen melody."
"Oh yes," Felicity said to the man, whose name was Dale Fable. "I forget how circumscribed your limited backwater vocabulary is." And she held up the dress again and examined it once more. "Well, I do like the back."
"Aha: that's why I like it, darling." She took off her bra and beckoned him to hand her another one.
"You know," Fable said, "there are worse things in life than being the man who sometimes holds Felicity Tantamount's bras."
"I should think you would rather say: there are worse things in life than being the man who is able sometimes to hold the things that Felicity Tantamount's bras hold." She winked at him and slipped into the little dress and examined herself in the mirror.
"Do you like it at all?"
"Well, it has possibilities. I like the direction they're going. Whose is this?" Fable got up, bade her turn around, and checked the label in the back.
"Allmählich," he told her.
"That's surprising. They haven't shown me anything near as nice so far. Still ..." She fluffed at the fringe around the bosom. "Even the bloody Germans want to trick everything out so. Just because we're overrun with so bloody many dykes doesn't mean they have to foo-foo me all up to prove my femininity."
"I really don't think that's an issue with anybody."
"Well, then, tell them, darling. Let them know straightaway that no matter how good a deal I'm offered, I'm not going to take it unless I like the design. I know all your bloody topdollar American mentality, but I'm not going to agree to wear something I don't like—and like a lot."
"They've all been told that explicitly," Fable said.
"Well, perhaps you should tell them again. What do we have next?"
Fable held up a racy two-piece outfit, which looked more like a bathing suit than tennis wear. Felicity immediately wrinkled her nose at this design. It told volumes about their relationship that even though Felicity Tantamount was standing there before him in nothing but her underwear, Fable still noticed that she had wrinkled her nose. "You don't like it? You haven't even tried it on."
"Listen, my love, I know a major part of this is to find something new and different, something in tennis clothes that's never been approached before. But, for God's sake, I'm playing tennis, not swimming in some aquacade."
"Won't you at least try it on, sweetie?"
"No, dammit." Felicity examined the top of the outfit more closely. There wasn't much to it.
"I'll bet the Japanese did it, didn't they?" Fable nodded. The Japanese company in the competition was Geisha, which dressed Felicity now, and would for another few months, through the final Saturday of Wimbledon, when their three-year contract ran out. "Yeah, I figured it was them," Felicity went on. "Anything that features tits figures to be the Japanese. Nothing they like better than tall, fair Occidental women with big tits."
"And that certainly describes you."
"To a T. But I've done tits, Dale. I did Playboy and all that. Let the world know: I am through my tit phase."
"All right, all right. I'll tell Keiko what you're saying. Let's try another one," Fable said. There were still five sporting-goods companies left in the running to dress Felicity—all the great rivals in the world, save those from the United States. Even though Felicity was determined to take design over price, the American companies couldn't even get into the game—not without government subsidies. So that left Geisha, which hoped to get Felicity to renew their contract, and four new bidders: Allmählich from Germany, Triomphe from France, Grazia from Italy, and Banner Day from Korea. Each took turns submitting new designs and upping the bidding, making for a competition that had come to attract a great deal more interest than merely who won the tennis championships—which was inevitably Felicity, anyway.
With Dale Fable as her guide, Felicity was preparing to take the whole concept of celebrity endorsement to a new, high plain. She had leaked the details of their planning to Ronnie, and he had written them in The Economist, a revelation that may have peeved Fable—but not so much as the attention pleased him. He had been Felicity's manager before he became her lover as well, and now he sought, with her, to be as much a champion in his field as she was in hers. For Fable it was no longer enough that she drew down millions of dollars a year with Felicity Tantamount shoes and sweaters and socks and underwear, that she endorsed (as a sampling): an airline and an automobile, the resort at Cozumel where they were staying now, rackets, tampons, hair spray, a hotel chain, a ladies' razor, perfume, sweets, and the whole country of Grenada. No, with her new clothing contract he would have her move into a whole new realm. In a way, Felicity was so big that, effectively, she wouldn't be endorsing the product; the product would be endorsing her.
Excerpted from The Spy in the Deuce Court by Frank Deford. Copyright © 1986 Frank Deford. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Posted August 29, 2012
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