SECOND MEETING

Jane Leavell

The sun, the surf, and the people make this a little piece of Paradise. Trying to improve on Paradise usually seems a little presumptuous, but trust me, there's one sure way to make it even better--and that's to share it with someone you love. Today, at last, I was sharing it with my Mom.

Thomas Magnum helped her out of the Ferrari and waited for her reaction, shuffling from one foot to the other like a little boy at a candy counter waiting for his chocolates to be weighed, a grin crinkling his dark mustache. She refused to be hurried, turning slowly to survey the rich green lawns, perfectly-trimmed hedges, tastefully-landscaped gardens rife with purple bougainvillea and pink oleanders. Finally, studying the elegant main house, she reached for Magnum's hand and squeezed.

"It's beautiful, Tommy."

He released his breath in a sigh of relief. "I hoped you'd like it. Come on, I'll show you the main house."

"But...that's not where you live."

"Well, no, but I got Higgins to let you stay there. Right next to Robin's master suite."

"How kind of him!"

"Uh, yeah." Of course, he'd had to give the majordomo the Ferrari for three weeks, and promise to exercise the Lads nightly for two weeks, and practically swear away any future progeny, but it was worth it to make his mother happy. "He's a real...sweetheart. Anyway, we'll get you settled in first, then today we'll meet Rick and T.C. at the King Kamehameha Club for dinner. Rick's pulling out all the stops for this one, too--they're going to treat you like royalty."

"Now, you know that's not necessary," she began, but broke off as they entered the air-conditioned foyer, peering around hopefully. "Is Mr. Masters here?"

"Well, no, Mom, but don't worry--he should be here before you go back home. He's got a party planned here for Princess Caroline next week, but right now he's in Nepal, consulting with a llama. Or maybe it was a lama."

His mother followed him into the distinctly masculine study, where priceless Persian rugs covered gleaming inlaid tile, and settled into a comfortable chair. Thomas had already set out two crystal wine goblets and a wine decanter; before she could protest, he was presenting her with a dry white wine.

"One of the finest in the wine cellar--Robin has great taste," he assured her. It was more than worth the two hours it had taken him to break into the cellar, which was better protected than Fort Knox.

She smiled at the austere portrait of Queen Elizabeth II staring regally from above the mahogany desk. "Don't tell me, let me guess. This is where he works."

"Robin?"

"No, this Higgins fellow of yours."

"Mom, he's not 'mine.' We don't have anything in common. In fact, he's the only real drawback to living here."

"He sounds like quite a character."

"Oh, he is that," Thomas agreed rather cautiously. "Sort of like a cross between Errol Flynn and Adolf Hitler."

His mother laughed, and he waggled his eyebrows at her just to make her do it again. She sid fondly, "You never will grow up, will you? Why, I'll bet you still have that ridiculous rubber chicken and gorilla mask in your room."

"Mom! Of course not!" he said indignantly, mentally congratulating himself for storing them in T.C.'s office for the duration. "I've got friends, steady work, I live in Paradise--"

"--and you get to play at being Robin Hood, rescuing victims of injustice. I know." She leaned forward, meeting his eyes squarely. "Thomas, I'm very proud of you. And I know your father would be proud of you, too."

He grimaced wryly, embarrassed and blushing, then jumped as two dogs barked in the hallway. "Uh-oh. Sounds like Higgins' Anglo-Polynesian Society of the Sea meeting ended sooner than I expected. Brace yourself, Mom."

"Oh. Magnum. Lads, sit." Higgins grimaced, too, then turned to give their guest a courtly bow. "Mrs. Peterson, may I say what a plea--" He broke off as their eyes met, then croaked, "Katherine?"

She dropped her wineglass, suddenly pallid. "William!"

"Huh? Mom, that's Jonathan Quayle Higgins, his name's not--"

"Higgins?" his mother said, rather hysterically. "No. That's William Smythe White." She wrenched her hand from Higgins' grasp, but he remained frozen, half-bowing, his own face ashen.

Magnum picked up the fallen goblet and set it on the antique coffeetable. "Look, will somebody tell me what is going on here? Higgins?"

The older man straightened abruptly, moving back to his beloved desk for support. In a strained voice, he said flatly, "It was early in 1944. I was sent to Virginia by MI6 in an attempt to break up a spy ring involving the sale of military secrets--"

Magnum roared, "Higgins, this is no time for one of your loony war stories!"

"If you wish to know how Katherine knows me as William Smythe-White, you will have to hear another 'war story,'" Higgins said stiffly. He loosened his collar, distinctly uneasy. "When I reached Tidewater, I quickly ascertained that Owen Kinnockburn was dealing with an American naval lieutenant." He studied his hands thoroughly, as if they had suddenly changed. "My superiors ordered me to, ah, romance the estranged wife of the American officer."

"Ordered you?" The hurt in Katherine's voice was very real. "That's all it was to you? A military assignment?"

"No. In the process, I...I fell in love." He looked up then, earnestly. "She was a very beautiful, very intelligent woman. She still is."

"Mom? You--you dated Higgins?"

"No. I dated Willie, a very charming, erudite Texan." She turned to Higgins. "However did you manage to pull
that off?"

"I learned the accent from my half-brother, Elmo." Ignoring the wine, he poured and gulped a finger of Scotch from the decanter by the window, then poured another. Katherine reached for her now-empty wineglass.

"Pour me one, too. A double." Her hand shook as she accepted the amber fluid, but she tossed it down her throat as Higgins had. She looked at her son. "Your father and I had quarreled violently. We were separated. I didn't know then that he did it deliberately, to protect me, when Naval Intelligence ordered him to help trap an Englishman trying to buy military secrets."

He felt absurdly like a guest at one of Higgins' formal tennis matches, turning from one side to the other as each volley rocketed by. "Dad? Dad worked for Naval Intelligence? Is that what you're saying?"

She was glaring at Higgins, tears welling in those stricken eyes. "I was hurting, and lonely, and I trusted you. And you abandoned me."

"Katherine, no! It wasn't like that! When Kinnockburn was captured, I was transferred to Mexico, to retrieve secret documents the Third Reich had hidden in a bank there. I had no choice!" He drained the second shot of Scotch. "I would never willingly follow in my father's sordid footsteps, loving and leaving a woman in every port of call--"

"You didn't even say goodbye!" she cried.

He set the shotglass down and crossed the room to take her hands in his. "How could I? We were in the middle of a war, and members of MI6 frequently have short lives anyway. You were a married woman; even separated from your husband, you felt so guilty...How could I ask you to wait for me? And I'd had to lie to you. I knew you'd never forgive that." He shook his head. "No matter how much I regretted it, I had to do the only gentlemanly thing and allow you to go back to your own world, your own life."

Magnum felt his mouth hanging open. "You had an affair with my mother?"

She held out her glass without looking at him. "More Scotch."

"This is--this is some sort of joke, isn't it? You two got together on the phone ahead of time and planned this, right?"

Now his mom turned to him, swallowing hard. "Thomas came back and explained it to me, how he never stopped loving me, how it was all to protect me. By then...I knew." Her voice pleaded with him. "It wasn't so wrong, was it? He was so thrilled to have a son. I never had the nerve to tell him little Tommy...wasn't his."

Higgins fell back against his desk. He and Magnum stared, wild-eyed, at each other.

"You--you mean...?"

She nodded wordlessly.

Together, they chorused, "Oh-my-GOD!!!"


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