The Tom Jones Club Excerpt:
Italian wine drinkers:
Sexy (40 percent) and stylish (37 percent)
“Viva Las Vegas” reverberated through Lucky Stryker’s head as she buckled her First Class seat belt on the Paris to Las Vegas flight with a brief stop in Orlando.
An attractive, but boring-looking, off-the-rack, three-piece-suited businessman approached the aisle she was sitting in.
His path was blocked by the nerdy looking man one row behind her on the opposite side, taking all day stashing an over-flowing carry-on, a computer, and a backpack. The businessman was forced to lean into her.
“Excuse me,” he apologized, “I’ll be out of your way in just a moment… I hope.”
Lucky laughed. “No problem.” She couldn’t help but notice the way his ordinary suit pants outlined his perfect butt perfectly—even if butts weren’t her thing. As he turned toward her, he flashed that Cheshire-cat smile without saying a word. She was intrigued, noticing his sky-blue eyes crinkle as he did so. She was a sucker for a great smile on a man. There was a lot of talk these days about the butt, but for her, it was all about the smile and the eyes. She looked up to study his eyes, but when she turned her head to get a closer look, he swung into the seat behind her.
Small talk, small, talk, quick, think of some small talk. But then she was relieved of the pressure to initiate something witty when she felt his mouth brush against her ear. And then he said, “Going for business or pleasure?”
“Oh, a little bit of both.” She felt weak in the knees, even though she was sitting down.
“You gamble?” He asked it as if he was talking about something other than slot machines, craps or roulette.
The flight attendant took that moment to offer Lucky a glass of champagne. She accepted, but overheard him decline and ask for a glass of Sangiovese instead.
“Now where were we?” He was not to be deterred. She liked that in a man.
But before she had a chance to answer, a sultry brunette wearing a short, sparkly white dress approached his aisle, and muttered something about needing to squeeze in next to him. After all, his attention shifted to her—no wonder—he was drinking a glass of Sangiovese. Italian wine drinkers tended to be sexy and stylish. In this case, it seemed to say more about the kind of woman he was interested in than about any style he might possess.
In comparison, she felt dowdy in her black leather skirt. Somehow it couldn’t compete with sparkly in Las Vegas. She’d have to keep this in mind when dressing for tomorrow’s business meeting.
Lucky settled back into her seat, relieved to have his attention elsewhere. She reached into her bag, and pulled out a novel she had picked up in the gift shop in Paris.
“My dear, excuse me, but can I ask you a question?”
She looked up to see an older, well-preserved woman dressed in all black—expensive capris with a sleeveless sweater revealing a substantial amount of cleavage. Lucky couldn’t help but notice her tanned legs leading to well-manicured toes surrounded by a pair of black rhinestone slides.
Now she didn’t usually notice these details on another woman unless she was her competition, so she was surprised by her reaction. But there this woman was, standing right next to her in the aisle, and she felt compelled to invite her to sit down.
“Is this your seat?” Without hesitation, she scooted right past Lucky and settled into the seat.
The flight attendant was mixing a drink in the row in front of them, so she turned to the woman and said, “How about a drink?” After so many years playing the hostess in the wine industry, she automatically put people at ease by offering them food or drink.
“Sure. I’ll have a pink gin fizz,” she said.
Lucky made eye contact with the attendant, indicating I’ll have another glass of champagne. The first leg of the flight—Paris to New York—had been long, but that was only the beginning. The next leg stopped in Orlando, where it seemed everybody who got on the plane had been at Disney World and had Mickey Mouse balloons, stuffed toys, and bags.
This woman was welcome company compared to who could have sat next to her.
Their drinks arrived, and the woman took a slow sip, put down her glass, and turned toward Lucky, which was a bit uncomfortable in the closeness of two airline seats, even if they were in First Class.
“What’s your question?” Directness was her specialty, a trait that wasn’t always received well. But while she was waiting for the woman to answer in the few seconds that passed, her mind raced back to the families she saw board the plane. There was something sweet and comforting about the way they were connected, the toys, the fun written all over their faces. It was something so basic and real, and she felt disturbed that she was responding this way.
“I heard you mention the Desert Sands. Are you by any means attending the Tom Jones Convention?”
“For the Tom Jones Club. You know who Tom Jones is, don’t you?” Oh, sure, she’d heard of Tom Jones, but a club and a convention?
“I’m assuming you mean the performer and not a fictional character, although when it comes to sexual escapades, it might be a toss-up between the two.”
“Yes, I see, you do know the man. Well,” she said in that throaty way last seen in Hollywood B movies of older women who smoke and drink and sleep around too much, “this is the Tom Jones Convention.” She gestured toward the pin on her sweater that somehow managed to escape Lucky’s perusal earlier. Maybe because it was black on black and blended in with her sweater. As she took a closer look, she noticed the pin was intertwined with a pendant with a picture of a young child. And Lucky recalled a similar picture from her childhood.
Lucky thought again to the families on the plane, the look of pride on the mother’s face as she held her little one’s small hand, and imagined what it would be like to have a child of her own. This was new to her, this thinking past the moment, of longing for children.
“Oh, there’s a convention? No, I’m here for a business meeting. Here to close a deal.” Lucky crossed her legs as she did whenever she was feeling rather proud of her business acumen.
It was an old habit, born out of necessity competing in a man’s world. What would she do without her identity as successful business woman once this deal was over and done? Was she over and done? Or was it just a chapter in her life closing? She took another sip of champagne.
“Oh, I see, you’re one of those women.” Her “BS” meter went off—clang clang—this was exactly why she didn’t warm up to most women.
“What does that mean, ‘one of those’?”
“Oh, you know, career women who don’t have time for men. I’m not implying you don’t sleep with them, but you don’t have time for a long-term commitment. You don’t see the value of having a man around. You’re self-sufficient.”
“So, tell me,” Lucky began, noticing this woman’s ring finger was empty, although every other finger seemed to sport a ring. “Are you married? Because I don’t see a ring on your finger either.”
“I was once.” Her gray eyes glazed off to a distant place as if she were recalling a tragic time in her life, and she fingered the pendant with the picture of the little girl. Lucky wondered if something tragic had happened to her. What did that feel like, to unconditionally love another human being so greatly that the loss of one would break your heart?
“Oh, I’m so sorry.”
“No need to be.” She snapped out of it. “I now have the time to freely pursue whatever I want to. Like organizing trips for other women to go to Vegas on a whim, see Tom Jones, hang out with their girlfriends and other fans of Tom Jones.”
“So tell me something else, is there really a whole convention?”
“Well, it’s rather small now compared to years before. Actually, it gets smaller and smaller with each passing year. Because, you see, most members are my age or older. Although, you’d be surprised at all the young people who are going to his concerts, buying his albums. He’s really had a comeback.”
“But they’re not just convention-goers, is that it?” Lucky was drawn into this woman’s story, maybe because, as a woman, she was feeling restless.
“That’s it, you’ve got it.” She told entertaining stories about how the club began, including some of the highlights over the past thirty years or so. Lucky started to fade, and needed to be quiet with her thoughts. People often thought she was outgoing, and she could be, but too much interaction drained her. She was more introverted than people knew.
“Well, I don’t mean to be rude, but I have to prepare for an important meeting tomorrow.”
“I understand, dear. Here’s my business card. I’ll be staying at the Desert Sands. Give me a call if you’d like to discuss a business deal of my own.”
She took her card, looked at it briefly, and dropped it in her bag. “Mona Lisa,” it said. Like that’s really her name. Funny she should accuse her of being that kind of woman, although she’d been known to give out fake names, too. Maybe this woman, Mona, saw something of her younger self in her. She ran into this all the time—she knew the type. Women who approached her as if they had the greatest opportunity, but, instead, she had learned, these were opportunists, not opportunities.
She put on the headphones to her iPod and played an Elvis collection. That seemed appropriate, didn’t it? Elvis, Las Vegas, and Lucky. Wasn’t that what Vegas was all about anyway? They said that if you threw a rock, you couldn’t help but hit an Elvis impersonator. But the impersonators didn’t do him justice. He was so much more than an icon of a man wearing a gaudy white jumpsuit and Elton John-sized sunglasses. He was so much more than Tom Jones ever could be.
Available on Amazon in Kindle and Paperback formats.