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Dechert and Johnson were the oldest of acquaintances, possibly introduced by a Surf Club doorman in the eighties. In fact, one of the contributing factors of Dechert’s breakup with Vona was that he got her pregnant, and she scheduled her abortion for the same day as Johnson’s 50th-birthday party, an event Dechert refused to skip—he says he was the catalyst for it, the guy who suggested to Men’s Health’s Zinczenko that he should throw the party for Johnson. (Vona declines to comment on the abortion, saying it is a “private matter.”) “Some people have invoked The Sweet Smell of Success” about Johnson, says Dechert. “That being said, he’s one of the coolest guys I’ve ever met. He’s Jeffersonian to the core. He’s always been worthy of emulation.” Dechert adds, “Sometimes they even tell me I look like Tony Curtis,” the Sidney Falco character.

Dechert spent some time battling for a rent-controlled lease on his deceased mother’s apartment at Manhattan House in the Sixties before moving into this one-bedroom. “My life is like Gone With the Wind,” says Dechert. “Every estate, every penthouse, gone! An endless litany of ancestral wealth sold for bottom dollar.” The Post kindly chronicled his battle for the lease, which involved Dechert’s barricading himself in the apartment, dubbing him the “Prisoner of Second Avenue”: “Yesterday, Dechert’s brother, restaurateur Danny Lavezzo III, was attempting to make an emergency delivery of birdseed for Dechert’s starving Moluccan cockatoo, Sting. And Doug was getting pretty hungry, too. At Hush, the West 19th Street nightclub that is one of his numerous clients, there was hope Dechert would be freed in time for the birthday party GQ is throwing tonight for gorgeous Tyra Banks, the covergirl on the glossy’s January swimsuit issue.”

There is clearly little ancestral wealth left. Kicking back in an easy chair, on his fifth Corona, Dechert shows off a photo of Natalie Portman in a Quik-chocolate-milk T-shirt and tiara blowing out candles on her 18th birthday: “I got $8,000 for that, sold it around the world,” he says. On one end table, there’s the melted cell phone that Chris Noth tried to dry off in an oven on a fly-fishing trip that Dechert wrote about for Men’s Health (this was before they published Dechert’s first-person account of his hair transplant); he tried to sell it on eBay for $1,800, but there were no takers. Dechert did sell Noth’s fishing rod, though, for $900. Opening a black ring case, Dechert reveals a diamond—once it was a ring, but he had it converted into a belly-button stud for Vona. This, too, was chronicled in “Page Six”: “Abigail Vona isn’t just another luscious 18-year-old novelist . . . she has a night job at Session 73—as a belly dancer . . . Her eye-catching costume was enhanced by the 51/2-carat ‘Dechert Discoball Diamond’ filling her navel. This is the stone the svengali-like Doug Dechert has loaned to so many fiancées, it’s been speculated he keeps an invisible rubber band on the bauble.”

Dechert usually gets a fee of something like $1,000 from a place like Sessions 73 for this kind of placement, according to Vona. Payments could be paltry, too. “I used to pay the guy,” says Webster Hall curator Baird Jones. “Just to make things easier, because he was so close to Richard. I’d give him $100, but the item had to run on a weekday.” Sometimes things get complicated. As reported in the New York Observer, Dechert allegedly tried to extract $10,000 from club owner Jimmy Rodriguez in exchange for help with a public-relations problem that Dechert’s former partner had actually created—$5,000 up front, and $5,000 when the issue vanished. Dechert says that Rodriguez owed him money and he was just trying to settle a debt.

The cockatoo shrieks.

“Shut up, Sting!” yells Dechert.

“The thing about New York is that you break your heart and your spine trying to help people,” says Dechert. “Then they take what you do for them and say, ‘Great, we got the benefit, fuck you!’ Like Clifford Streit with Candace Bushnell.” (Streit, Bushnell’s onetime manager, is now suing her for $500,000 to $1 million in alleged unpaid commissions on Sex and the City.) “The plutocrats rule the world,” says Dechert. “There’s no cosmic wheel—everything is about what you make of it.”

So, when Dechert received Spiegelman’s missive, the “now you wait for it” one, it wasn’t in his hands long. Someone—who knows who—sent it to Lloyd Grove, whose assistant sent it to Howard Rubenstein, the flack for the New York Post, who relayed it to Col Allan, Spiegelman’s boss. Allan hadn’t been amused by Spiegelman’s comments at the Learning Annex, and his decision was instantaneous. By the time Spiegelman had slept off his hangover the next morning, he was fired. He called Johnson to ask what happened. What do you think happened, asked Johnson.

Back in Forest Hills, Spiegelman didn’t feel like seeing anyone, even a girl that he’d been dating, but when he was walking back from the liquor store with a bottle of Red Label, there she was on the street. They had a fight, and he wouldn’t let her come up. A box came with his things from the office, his photos of the Olsen twins and one of Froelich, Wilson, and him in blonde wigs. His apartment was thick with cigarette smoke as he stood among the detritus. “This is the first time I ever heard you’re supposed to be a gentleman in gossip,” says Spiegelman. “I thought the whole point was you’re not supposed to be a gentleman.”

A couple of days later, Johnson, in a trim blue suit, was bent over cold noodle soup at a Japanese restaurant around the corner from the Post. The funny thing is that Spiegelman had CC’ed Johnson on the e-mail that he sent to Dechert; Spiegelman thought he would get a kick out of it. “Ian made a stupid mistake,” says Johnson. “In the old days, this would have been settled with angry words at a bar.”

As for Dechert, Johnson has only this to say: “He’s made a new friend in Lloyd Grove, and I hope they’re very happy.”

Next week, Johnson was going on vacation. He was going to meet Taki’s yacht in St. Tropez, but the boat didn’t look like it would make it there from Italy. He was going to St. Tropez anyway, though. He had friends there.

On a recent afternoon, Vona went to the offices of Rugged Land, at a loft on the West Side Highway, to meet her publicist, Jeanine Pepler, a groomed 36-year-old South African with a pervasive nervousness. Vona has a deep voice and a mane of dirty-blonde hair that she wears splayed over her shoulders in postcollegiate disarray.

Pepler was showing her the goody bags that she wanted Vona to personally deliver to magazine editors next week, and then they were going to Soho House for a dip in the pool. “Are they going to think it’s weird?” Vona asked Pepler. “I mean, I’m an author—here, have a goody bag. I promise I’m not stalking you!

The clouds on the roof of Soho House were dense, making the small pool less appealing than it appears at night, when it provides a glittering center to chattering nighttime crowds. A few people, including actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, read on lounge chairs. Vona ordered a cheeseburger and looked to Pepler to explain what Gruyère is. “I haven’t swam in a year,” said Vona. “Do they give you towels?” She looked around. “No one else is in a bikini.”

“You’ve got a hot little bod,” said Pepler. “Show it off!”

Vona unzipped a form-fitting white sundress, revealing a leopard-print two-piece. She stepped gingerly into the pool, and stood with the water at her clavicle.

“Does it get deeper?” she asked. “It’s like a wading pool.” She walked from one side to the other, which took only a few seconds. “I’m kind of bored now,” said Vona. “It’s too cold to get out, and I can’t tan.”

Then she swam away in the shallow pool.

With Reporting by Jacob Bernstein.