Quickly, word spread of the new blonde country-girl dancer; it was, ironically, her naturalness that was her initial selling point. She became more confident. She crimped her hair and bought sexy clothing. With her mother helping to watch Daniel, she embraced the life completely. She had sex with men. She had sex with women (several who would come to know her well would consider her a lesbian). She woke up one Christmas morning on the floor of an apartment naked with another dancer, the tree knocked over, vomit everywhere. And then one day a girl at work offered her a pill. It was, she said, a drug called Xanax, to help you relax. In her brain she felt something extraordinary; she would later compare the feeling to walking on stilts. She began carrying a plastic bag filled with pills—Valium, Xanax, other benzodiazepines—in her purse. One night, while dancing, she fell off the stage and crashed onto a customer.
The pills notwithstanding, she remained resourceful, taking additional shifts at other clubs, saving money, so that at last one of her life’s dreams came true, when she was lying in a recovery room, her chest wrapped tightly in gauze. Several procedures would follow to create her infamous 42DD bra size, the product finally of two implants on each side and a total of three pints of fluid.
Inside Gigi’s that afternoon, it was this surgical dysmorphism that secured J. Howard Manning’s attention. He was staring up at them from his wheelchair. He was wearing a suit and tie. He was emaciated. His tiny face was covered in liver spots. His teeth were gray.
He lifted his hands and squeezed them. The smile on his face was contagious.
She chose to go with it.
The following day, they were in a hotel eating room service. J. Howard was effusive and charming. He told her some of his life story. She was flighty and funny.
After a while she told him she was sorry but that she needed to get to work. He handed her an envelope; inside were ten hundred-dollar bills.
“Don’t go to work, my Lady Love,” he said. His small wrinkled face wrinkled further with his smile. “You don’t have to ever go back to work.”
Certainly, her motivations at the outset were largely if not wholly practical: She was a 24-year-old single mother, a high-school dropout, a stripper with dreams and enough of a grasp of the situation to recognize her good luck.
“Now, there’ll be no falling-in-love stuff, J. Howard,” Dan Manning cautioned later that day.
J. Howard smiled. “It might be too late for that.”
Manning, duly concerned, telephoned J. Howard’s son Pierce, a steely businessman who lived in Dallas and was intimately involved in his fathers financial affairs.
“Well, that won’t do,” Pierce said calmly. “We can’t let that happen.”
They had, alas, been down this road before. J. Howard had lived long enough—and wealthily enough—to enjoy a certain imperiousness. He’d survived a bout with typhoid fever as a child that left his left leg shorter than his right. At Yale Law School, he met his first wife, Eleanor Pierce, with whom he had J. Howard III and Everett Pierce; after graduation he was given a high-ranking position in the U.S. Department of the Interior. Later, President Truman asked him to serve as the American counsel for World War II reparations, and upon Japan’s surrender, J. Howard stood beside Dwight D. Eisenhower at the Moscow embassy. The family eventually settled in Houston, where Marshall earned a reputation as one of the last great American oilmen. He assumed a minority interest in his friend Fred Koch’s energy conglomerate, which would become Koch Industries, one of the largest privately held companies in the world and a leading supporter of conservative political causes.
As J. Howard’s fortune ballooned, his romantic attention shifted, and in 1961 he divorced his wife and married Bettye Bohanon, whom he’d met decades earlier in business. His relationship with Bettye was joyous but truncated: In the early eighties she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. J. Howard was devastated. And so one afternoon he stopped at what he would later describe plainly in a deposition as “a titty bar,” where a 42-year-old brunette named Jewell Dianne Walker, or, simply, “Lady,” was performing a strip routine with her 18-year-old daughter.
Intoxicated, he quickly offered her a “proposal to beg you to be my mistress”: “Light of my life,” he wrote her. “Now as always you can count on my love and devotion.” He lavished her with jewelry, Rolls-Royces to match her outfits, a sizable annual “salary.” He told Pierce that, in the event of his death, she was to be taken care of unconditionally. She spent gratuitously, wearing nails of fourteen-karat gold. They became a known couple around Houston, and referred to each other as husband and wife.