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Modo Vivo

A charming con man tries his luck in the winter resort of Cortina.

I live economically. It’s why I often choose to holiday in Cortina d’Ampezzo. There, it’s enough for me to be seen entering Hotel Cristallo from the heli-pad. I don’t need a helicopter of my own — just the reputation that I do.

The one extravagance I allow myself is my man Golding: bodyguard, butler and bondsman. Though this is usually a solo racket, Golding gives me credibility and protection against husbands and other scrapes at the low rate of 15% of every heist.

We have a routine. Golding humps my skis and valise, takes my coat, and handles the hotel with the credit card off our last mark. I take to the terrazza to drink and eavesdrop. And, of course, also to drink in the legendary beauty of Cortina, the snow-laden Dolomites and the attractive women come to ski them. The town’s motto is Modo vivo ac tuta quiesco. That’s Latin for “I live frugally and quietly rest.” It’s a bit of an understatement.

This trip, I start by ceding my lift seat to an implausibly blonde American who in turn blows me a kiss. Pink lipstick, matching pink glove. The lift ascends and her arms and legs go akimbo, then she slides right off as if someone greased the seat. She falls, a pink-and-blonde whirligig, screaming as she hits the snow. Fortunately, I am nearby to aid her. It’s just a broken arm. As we wait for the ski patrol, I comfort her with the idea she’ll be able to recuperate après-ski style.

Once she returns to the resort, right arm in a hard cast and sling, she seeks me out to thank me for my chivalry. Her name is Sugar. Sugar Pierpont. And her helicopter, I already know, is genuine. As far as she knows, so is mine. We quickly fall into our own routine — drinking champagne by the fire, telling secrets, feeling no envy for the bruised and blue skiers trudging past. It is a quickly won intimacy.

“Lovers of beauty from around the world come here,” I say. Indeed, Cortina is Queen of the Dolomites, and the unparalleled beauty of the Alps is intimidating even to a sinner and showman like me. But it is into her eager eyes I gaze when I say, “And I have the very best view.”

I caress her hands, the right one gingerly, without breaking my gaze. Golding comes by and whispers. I nod. I motion for more champagne and it appears. Then, because I am a gentleman, and I know the rush of lust and liquid has her feeling faint, I order breakfast for two.

It’s a brilliant job I have: beautiful destinations, wealthy women, and eggs cooked the ampezzana way. Our trays are delivered, steaming with boiled potatoes, red onion, olive oil and Tyrolean bacon topped with perfect fried eggs. I cut Sugar’s breakfast for her, and feed her as one would a small child. I discreetly run my fingers the length of a rasher of bacon, letting the hot grease slick my fingertips. The next time I caress her hands, her considerable rings slide right off.  I have a practiced hand. Red beryl and tanzanite are cool and heavy in my pocket. She reaches for her coupe as I continue to compliment her beauty, not even noticing her jewels are gone.

“Darling,” I say, “I’ve got to take care of a bit of business.” She pushes her bottom lip out in a pout but is too tipsy to be cross. “There now, I’ll be back to you well in time for dinner and dancing, if that sweet little arm of yours can stand it.”

I blow her a kiss. And then I walk right out, no looking back. For if she raises her left to blow one back, she might be sober enough to realize what I’ve already taken.

Golding has left my skis with the deskman. I gear up quickly and set out toward the cable car, which takes me to our designated meet-up in the shady woods of Faloria. While I have been romancing the rings off of the American heiress, Golding’s been plundering her unattended suite. He’s a good chap, never let me down, and a bargain at a 15% cut.

I wait in the woods.

The air is crisp. The jewels are painfully cold. I wait for my man Golding to come, the way he has every other. I wait and I wait.

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