The Gallery was full, with voices
echoing through the rooms; various groups moved about, studying the
Masters and gossiping, while the faint notes of a pastoral played under
their conversations. Track lighting showcased various pieces on various
walls; bored guards moved slowly through rooms, more intent on coffee
breaks than crime.
Just another day on the second floor of the Las Vegas Center for the Arts.
A young woman sat on a minimalist stone bench in a far room of the exhibits. She wore a pants suit of taupe, with ropes of garnets around her slim neck, and the brown velvet patchwork handbag at her side would have paid the tuition for most junior colleges in the United States. She wore her blonde hair in a short pageboy, and her cat’s eye glasses were tinted a light shade of amber.
Sara sat staring at the painting, keeping her gaze on it as the recorded tour droned in her earpiece. “Painting number 129, Aldo Battaglia’s ‘Two Shepherds on the Hills of Verona’, undated, but generally assumed to have been painted about 1433 when Battaglia was under the patronage of the Duke of Milan. This pastoral scene depicts a pair of shepherds and their flock. Verona is faintly visible in the background, but it is the magnificent brushwork through the skies that give this piece a startling depth and richness . . . ”
The tape droned on, touting the magnificence of the Renaissance piece, its provenance, discussing its theft in the early Seventies, and its eventual recovery, ending with a two-minute segment of praise for this latest generous philanthropic gift from Mr. Bruce Eiger, recent electee to the Board of the Las Vegas Center for the Arts. When it was done, Sara clicked the rented cassette player off and pulled the earpiece out, feeling slightly nauseous.
The thought that Eiger had any generosity in his character was unbelievable and highly suspect—a view shared by several people not only in Las Vegas, but elsewhere. Currently the FBI, Interpol and ARCA were interested in Two Shepherds on the Hills of Verona, but Eiger’s bill of purchase seemed solid, and the painting itself wasn’t listed on the Art Loss Register. The only person protesting the provenance was a woman that the media had charmingly dubbed ‘eccentric’ and ‘an unreliable source.’
However, Miss Lollipop was convinced that Mrs. ‘Duse Machina not only had a valid claim to the painting, but also deserved it back. The fact that to do so meant taking it from Bruce Eiger was an added pleasure, and nearly everyone at the Shop wanted in on the case. In the end, Miss Lollipop had given it to Miss Chocolate, allowing her to run it and pull what resources she saw fit.
That was when the trouble started.
Sara was about to rise when she noticed the man moving quietly behind the two nuns along the side wall. The sisters were studying a reclining male nude with more interest than they probably should have, and Sara smirked when the man coughed to get their attention. The younger nun blushed, but the man spoke softly, and indicated the picture, his body language reflecting an easy familiarity with sharing art information. She watched him for a moment longer, then slipped out of the room and over to an exhibit of Inca masks in the next little gallery section.
A few minutes later, she smelled his cologne—Cheval Noir-- before he spoke; without turning around, Sara murmured, “Dapper as always.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, my dear,” came the man’s soft British accent. “I simply didn’t want the good Sisters to miss out on the exquisite play of light and shadow along the pleats of the bedclothes in that painting. It’s too often overlooked for the charms of the youth reclining.”
“You’re a rogue and a show-off and a flirt, but you’re also brilliant, so I’ll let it go this time,” Sara told him in an undertone. “Were you followed?”
“Of course not!” The man shifted closer and turned to look at her. “What sort of an amateur do you take me for, Sara?”
She risked a glance at him, and the tender exasperation she always felt around him welled up. “You’re no amateur, Uncle Alex, but it only takes one slip--“
He winked at her. Sir Alexander De Montavallo was indeed the very epitome of dapper; a small, bright-eyed man with a well groomed white goatee and wire-rimmed glasses. He wore a grey suit, impeccably cut, and leaned on a cane with a silver lion’s head on the top as he pretended to more closely examine one of the jade and gold masks hanging at eye level on the white wall. “—A slip I’ll never make, dear girl. Still aboard the Bohemian?”
He asked in an indulgent tone that told Sara he already knew the answer, and his self-assurance made her exasperation flare a bit more. She tightened her grip on her handbag and moved away a few steps, to a stone jar with a sacrifice scene carved on the front of it. “You know I am—still on the National Trust’s ‘unofficial’ list?”
“But of course—“ Alex murmured with a sour little smile. “No one gives a brilliant forger an unlimited second chance, least of all the humiliated parties. But on the bright side, I’ve been on the inside of several interesting . . . adventures. Undercover officer at seven o’clock my dear. We’d best move along---“
So saying he checked his watch and strode away; the very picture of a man slightly late for some urgent appointment. Sara lingered a while, then made her way out of the Inca exhibit and towards the gift shop, sighing.
Even now, she wasn’t sure bringing Alex in was a good idea, and it galled her to think that he might cause . . . problems. Sara walked over to a little table where a man in a docent’s smock stood with a handful of stuffed bunnies was trying to arrange them into some sort of a stack. One went bouncing off the table and landed in front of Sara’s leopard skin Astrabellas.
The Docent bent to pick it up, and gently stroked the plushie rabbit up against her ankle before straightening up. Sara shivered and managed a discreet smile at Mr. Peppermint.
God he looked adorable in his geekiest glasses; a heavy pair of horn rims she called his Nutty Professor specs. He’d put a few Band-Aids on his fingers, he’d let his hair get a little flyaway and his Salvador Dali tie was crooked; Sara wanted nothing more than to drag him off to some storage closet and go for a standing quickie right then and there.
“You’re sexy as hell,” she purred, amused to see him actually blush. He clutched the stuffed rabbit convulsively.
“I have a bunny and I’m not afraid to use it—“ he warned her in a sotto voice.
She fought a smirk. “Bring it on—I’ll show you ways to use a plushie that I bet you never even thought of, Boy Genius.”
“Okay we have to stop. Not only am I having perverted and impure thoughts now, but the manager is about to some over,” Mr. Peppermint warned her in a whisper. In a louder voice he added, “May I help you, Miss?”
“Yes, I’d like to see what you have in your shorts—and tee-shirts,” Sara commented impishly. Mr. Peppermint shot her a warning glance, and then managed a smile as he led her over to a display against one wall, gesturing to several open cubbies with neatly folded clothing in them.
“Right here—all sizes of course---“ he told her brightly. Sara brushed past him, her fingers discreetly groping with unerring accuracy under his docent smock. Mr. Peppermint half-turned, biting his lower lip for a second in self-control. “You are eeeeeevil, Frango.”
“My middle name, actually. I changed it from Bunny,” she whispered, and pulled out a pair of boxers from a cubby, shaking them open to reveal the logo ‘I (Art) Las Vegas’ across the fly, with the smaller caption underneath, ‘Wanna come to my opening?’
“Tasteful,” she murmured, holding the boxers high. “What size are you again?”
“Buy those for me and I’ll strangle you with them,” Mr. Peppermint warned. “My underwear promotes no causes but my own.”
“Maybe I should change that—“ Sara teased, and cleared her throat as another man came forward. He was a whip-thin, overly fastidious man at least three inches shorter than Sara, and clearly possessed of the same temperament as a cranky Pomeranian. He looked at Mr. Peppermint, who cowed and blinked.
“Is there a problem, Eugene?” he demanded sharply.
“N-no, Mister Hamm. I was just assisting the patron here—“ Mr. Peppermint quavered, his voice trembling. Sara felt a quick urge to defend him, and mentally rolled her eyes at her instant response—he was so good at getting into character—
“Ma’am, if there’s anything I can do to make your shopping experience here today at the Las Vegas Center for the Arts gift shop a better one, please let me know,” Mr. Hamm told her unctuously, then shot a warning glare at Mr. Peppermint before striding off.
Sara watched him go. “Tell me, what does he drive, darling?”
“A grey Maxima with the National Public Radio bumper sticker,” Mr. Peppermint sighed, “Why?”
“Oh goodie. He’s going to have four flat tires this afternoon.”
Mr. Peppermint shot her a look of pure love. “You’d do that for me?”
“That and more, my nebbish snookums. See you after work. Bring a bunny—“ Sara told him indulgently, and sailed out of the gift shop.
Licorice looked up from the Documents Room as Jelly Bean sailed in, looking exceedingly good in a collarless pale blue dress shirt and sharkskin suit of gunmetal grey. Seeing Licorice’s grin, Jelly Bean spun, modeling it and smiling. “Just off the David Phillips line of Candy Shop Men’s wear. One of a kind, baby!”
Licorice set down the passport he was creating and gave a slow round of applause. “Sharp, buddy, very nice---you look ready for a night on the town with Frank, Sammy and Dino.”
Jelly Bean preened a little, stroking the shiny lapel. “Yeah, it’s a classic, I agree. Just a small thank you from David for getting him the gig here.”
“Yo, that was a happy accident, dude—if you hadn’t gotten all amnesiatic and forced us to go find you it wouldn’t have happened in the first place, Greg.” Licorice reminded him, his smile turning a little wry. “And I don’t think Nick’s going to forgive you for the Moon Glow just yet.”
Jelly Bean’s face fell. “Look, I’m sorry about that, okay? Learned my lesson, yadda, yadda, yadda, and it’s never going to happen again. I didn’t know that stuff was going to mindwipe me for three days.”
“Yeah,” Licorice nodded, a small smirk flashing out. “Could have happened to anyone, right?”
“Well not just anyone,” Jelly Bean acknowledged. “But let’s face it—we refine that formula down, and the Shop will have a legit source of income for decades!”
“Try selling that line to Sugar Daddy—I don’t think the big shark’s gonna bite,” Licorice shook his head, and then changed the subject, “Hey, you working with Sara on the art heist?”
“Not unless I get called in,” Jelly Bean sighed. “Miss Lollipop’s making me and Mike Teevee give Ms. Willows and David Phillips orientation to the Shop.”
“Good. Might keep you outta trouble,” Licorice chided, “At least for a while.”
“It’s a good thing I’m not going to take that personally,” Jelly Bean grumbled, then sauntered over to the table and looked down. “Whatcha doing?”
“Passport. I’ve only got one alternate ID, so I thought I’d get another one done while I’m between cases. Never know when it will come in handy.”
Jelly Bean nodded, “Yeah. I’ve got two—Grant Sawyer and Gary Simmons. Did you know that Grissom’s got, like, eight?”
Licorice nodded, bending over the document again. “Yep. Of course, he had a couple before he even joined the Shop, or so I’ve heard. Never quite had the courage to ask, you know?”
Jelly Bean nodded. Just then the alarm on his Rolex went off, and he grinned. “That’s my cue—Shop class is about to start. Catch you later—“ And with that he slipped out again, leaving Licorice to his delicate drafting.
Grissom rode up the elevator in the back of the Book Hive, feeling a sense of anticipation that tingled through his lower stomach in a delightful way. Upon returning from his menial undercover job at the Art Center, he’d closed up the bookstore, sending William and Maynard home, and now wondered if Miss Chocolate was already upstairs or on her way. He hadn’t seen her car on the street, but she was adept at keeping the Miata out of sight, and she DID have a key to the loft . . .
The elevator stopped and he stepped out, looking around carefully, feeling a bit like Calvin, anticipating an ambush by Hobbes---
It came swiftly, from the left side of the elevator. Two quick steps, a hop, and Grissom found himself pinned against the brick wall, a letter opener against his throat. Miss Chocolate was still in her blonde wig and sunglasses; she flashed a dangerous grin at him. “Hel-lo, Eugene---“
“M-Mrs. Robinson—“ he replied in a breathless little voice. She now wore her ropes of garnets over her black lace camisole, and her garter belt had black velvet roses on it. Grissom felt himself rise to the occasion and moaned softly.
“Such a darling boy . . . ready to model your boxers for me, dear?” Sara cooed ruthlessly. “I’m SO into the Arts, you know.”
“Ma’am . . . I . . . I . . . “ he murmured, trying to pull his neck away from the glittering point of the letter opener. “Could you put the
um . . . blade down, please?”
“Certainly, darling—“ Miss Chocolate purred, sliding the tool under his Dali tie to slice off the buttons from his shirt in quick little flicks. The buttons rattled as they hit the wooden floor and rolled away. Grissom swallowed when she brought the point of it to his thigh and lightly stroked it along his Sansabelt slacks. “I don’t bite . . . unless you absolutely need a nip or two—“
He carefully reached into his pocket and pulled out a stuffed bunny. Miss Chocolate glanced down at it, and her smile grew more sweetly predatory, if that was at all possible. “F-for you,” he whispered. The point of the letter opener was now lazily stroking the thick ridge of his erection through the cloth, teasing it.
“Oh you sweet, sweet boy! You remembered! Now what can I do to reward that sort of attention to detail?” Miss Chocolate shifted closer, pressing her long, garter-covered thighs against his. “Eugene, really, you deserve something . . . very nice--“
“A . . . handshake?” Grissom offered with innocent desperation. She was so damned good at drawing out the tease, and he was throbbing now, nose filled with the scent of Emerald Fire and warm, bare woman. If she wasn’t careful, he’d . . . God, he was going to . . .
“Oh honey, I think we can do better than that,” Miss Chocolate gloated huskily, and pulled his arms up over his head, against the brick wall. With force and accuracy, she crossed his wrists and jammed the letter opener through both his cuffs, into the mortar between the bricks, pinning him there. The movement made his shirt open, and Grissom stood there, his garish Salvador Dali tie hanging over his bared chest, blinking through his nerd glasses at Miss Chocolate. He was pinned, both physically and emotionally, and for a long moment all he could do was quiver.
God he loved this woman. She was insane at times of course, but---
Miss Chocolate licked her lips and pressed herself against him. “Ever play a game called Bunny Kisses, Eugene?”
“N-no,” he stammered, this time for real. Miss Chocolate gave a lusciously naughty giggle, and took the little stuffed rabbit from him. It wore a small bow tie and had a slightly lopsided expression. She shifted it from hand to hand, then kissed its nose.
“Oh it’s a fun game, Eugene. Bunny here tells me where to . . . kiss you. And I do. If you want me to stop though, you have to say, “Bunny, kiss my—and name a new place.”
Grissom blinked again, feeling his pulse jump a bit. Miss Chocolate was leaning against him, one long leg sliding around his thigh, grinding just enough to make him want to pant. If he yanked hard he could free his hands, but this was so damned tantalizing . . . .
“I . . . like games,” he confessed in a thick whisper, and Miss Chocolate nodded knowingly.
“So let’s . . . play. Bunny says—“ Miss Chocolate made the stuffed rabbit whisper in her ear, then turned its face to Grissom. “—You want a kiss on the corner of your mouth.”
She moved to put action to the location, pressing her lips just at the outer corner of his lips on the right side, her tongue lapping delicately. Grissom groaned and turned his head, but she anticipated his move and shifted herself, keeping the contact light, and just at the corner. He put up with it for a moment longer, then rasped out, “Bunny . . . kiss my mouth.”
Miss Chocolate gave a moan of approval and cupped the back of his head, her lips sliding over his eagerly, tongue slick and hot, lapping against his in long, sensual strokes that echoed wetly in the loft. Grissom felt his trapped erection rock against her pelvis, grinding hard in delicious response. He wasn’t going to last if this kept going, not if she kept rolling her hips in that slow, snake-like way—
“B-Bunny says you want a kiss down your chest—“ Miss Chocolate gasped, and began to lick her way down the side of his throat, nipping at his tie and moving to the broad expanse of his bare pectorals. Her sunglasses fell off. A hard wet nibble on each of his nipples from her, and Grissom was ready to yank his arms free of the wall, game be damned. He groaned, arching as Miss Chocolate unzipped his fly and shoved his slacks and boxers down.
“Oh hell—“ she giggled, and threw the stuffed rabbit aside. Flexing, she braced one knee alongside Grissom’s hip and reached down, gripping his turgid shaft, stroking it until it throbbed. “—Just DO me, Eugene!”
“Uhnnnggghh—“ was all Grissom could manage as Miss Chocolate shifted her hips and guided him into the tight, hot cleft between her thighs. She clutched his hips, pulling him deeper, her breathy groan against his cheek as he sank deeper, filling her completely.
They moved, finding the perfect syncopation after the first few strokes, and the sweet building grind of slick flesh had them both groaning. Miss Chocolate shifted her grip to his shoulders and looked down, watching the thrusting between their bodies and licking her lips. “Oh Jesus, so fucking h-h-hot, gonna commmmme—“ she wailed softly, and arched, forcing her hips forward against him. Grissom yanked his arms; the letter opener clattered off and away as he roughly gripped Miss Chocolate’s ass and thrust harder, throbbing and pulsing, locking her hips to his as they both shuddered.
After a few minutes, Miss Chocolate half-fell against him; Grissom sagged back against the wall, breathing in gasps, sweat trickling down his forehead, his grin a sweet and naughty expression as he rolled them both, pinning her against the bricks. “Ohhh Mrs. Robinson. I like the Bunny Kisses . . . .”
She laughed, weakly, and tipped her head back, pulling the blonde wig off, tossing it aside. “Mmmmm, I like it too, Eugene. Good thing Mr. Hamm doesn’t know how naughty you are on your off-hours--“
Grissom was about to make some reply when the doorbell rang. Startled, he pushed himself off of the wall and staggered over to the window overlooking Ojai Street, trying to pull his slacks up as he did so. Miss Chocolate managed a few steps over to the bedroom area of the loft and flopped down face-first on the big bed, sighing happily.
Grissom yelped. “God. It’s my mother!”