Walking among the cuddly stuffed lions and tigers that Bjorn Boontaag sells by the hundreds of thousands are a gross of the most ferocious cats in the real-life jungle: rainmakers, raiders, hedge-fund hogs, and the last of the IPO Internet billionaires, most of whom are young enough to be some CEO's third wife. I note the Secret Service men wandering the grounds with bulging blazers and earphones, and I figure there must also be a handful of senators. And scattered like party favors are the hottest one-name fashion designers, rappers, and NBA all-stars the professional party consultant could rustle up.
But don't be too jealous. I'm not on the guest list, either. I'm here to park cars.
I'VE BEEN WORKING at the Beach House since I was thirteen, mostly odd jobs, but parking cars is the easiest gig of all. Just one little flurry at the beginning and end. Nothing but downtime in between.
I'm a little late, so I jump off my bike and get to work. In twenty minutes I fill an out-of-the-way field with four neat rows of $80,000 European sedans. They glisten in the silvery moonlight like metallic plants. A bumper crop.
A parking high point is when a burgundy Bentley the size of a yacht stops at my feet and my favorite New York Knickerbocker, Latrell Sprewell, climbs out, presses a twenty in my palm, and says, "Be gentle, my brother."
The rush over, I get myself a Heinie and a plateful of appetizers, and sit down on the grass beside the driveway. This is the life. I'm savoring my sushi and cheese puffs when a blackjacketed waiter I've never seen before hustles up. With a wink, wink, nod, nod kind of smile, he stuffs a scrap of rosecolored stationery in my shirt pocket.
It must have been pickled in perfume. A pungent cloud hits my nostrils when I unfold it. Shalimar, if I'm not mistaken.
The note itself, however, couldn't be more cut and dried. Three letters, three numbers: I Z D 2 3 5.
I slip away from the house and walk back through the fields of shining metal until I find them on a New York license plate screwed into the svelte behind of a forest green Benz convertible.
I slide into the front passenger seat and start pushing buttons to make myself feel welcome. With a comforting whir, windows drop into doors, the roof parts, and Dean Martin's wiseass baritone pours out of a dozen speakers.
I check behind the visor. Nothing.
Then I fish around in the compartment between the seats. Inside a Robert Marc sunglasses case is a long, thin joint dressed up with a pink ribbon. I spark it up and blow a yellowish wreath across the full moon.
I'm thinking this isn't half bad -- getting baked as Dino confides about a French lady named Mimi -- when a hand clamps down on my shoulder.
"Hi, Frank," I say without even bothering to twist around in my cushy leather chair.
"Hey, Rabbit," says Frank, reaching through the window for the joint. "Get laid yet?"
Frank is Frank Volpi, chief detective with the East Hampton Police Department and the only cop you're likely to see sporting a platinum Rolex. Then again, Volpi logged two tours of duty in Vietnam before tackling crime in his own backyard. So you could argue that he has it coming.
"You know me, Frank. I don't kiss and tell." "Since when?" "Why, gee, since last night with your wife."
This distinctly male excuse for conversation continues until the joint is burning our fingertips. Then Frank staggers off into the fragrant night, and I sit tight with Dino in the Benz.
The phone rings. It's a woman. She whispers, "Peter, did you enjoy your gift?"
"Just what the doctor ordered. Thanks," I say in a return whisper. "I'd rather you thank me in person on the beach." "How will I know it's you?" "Take a flier, Peter. You'll know me when you see me."
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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