With Reporting by Jacob Bernstein.
The story goes something like this: 46-year-old sometime PR flack picks up 18-year-old dyslexic belly dancer at a Central Park Boathouse benefit. She yearns to write—rather, dictate—a novel about her fifteenth year, which she spent as a juvenile delinquent in a Tennessee lockdown. Ever vigilant for value stocks, he becomes her lover, agent, and consigliere on her memoir—titled Bad Girl—until the romance’s denouement. At that point he may or may not have thrown her belongings out of his fifth-floor window on East 75th Street. She says it looked like he did, and that her things were subsequently taken apart by homeless people. He is adamant: “There was no defenestration.”
Things would have ended there, if the aforementioned paramour, W. Douglas Dechert, had not learned something about the black art of press-baiting over the decades before he met his nubile protégée, Abigail Vona. A kind of bottom-feeding Boswell, Dechert has a mossy foothold in the economy of gossip columns: He is flack (underwhelming nightclubs have paid him fees, like $1,000, to place an item), he is a boldface name (gossips will throw him a mention here or there, something about a birthday party and models and champagne), and he is source. When former Gruner + Jahr CEO Dan Brewster made headlines during the Rosie O’Donnell trial, Dechert was glad to share unflattering anecdotes about Brewster from their days at St. George’s. Then, when Dechert learned that the mesmeric Ms. Vona had attended underage keg parties hosted by the older stepson of then–Connecticut governor John Rowland, he whisked her up to Rowland’s Hartford estate to land the scoop. Vona taped evidence of the miscreants from a mini video camera concealed in her purse. So it wasn’t entirely unrealistic for Dechert to assume he could settle the score with an old girlfriend in the pages that had sustained him over the years. Commandeering Vona’s e-mail account, he fired off a disparaging broadside to her publishers, Rugged Land Books, accusing them of mishandling the marketing of her soon-to-be-published tome (Dechert claims that Vona told him to send the e-mail). He signed it in her name. Then, in hopes of embarrassing everyone involved, he forwarded the faux memo to the city’s premier gossip column—the New York Post’s “Page Six.”
“When you have to fill pages day after day, you can’t afford to be too choosy about whom you deal with. And that provides an opening for bit players and conniving self-promoters.”
One way of thinking about gossip is as the most primitive form of journalism—nasty and brutish and short. The rules of sourcing, and even of truthfulness, are not fully developed. Vengeance and anger and ulterior motives all have a place in the process. The denizens of the gossip world, while sometimes not suited for the refinements of the rest of the journalism world, are superbly adapted to their environment. There’s a dark glamour and camaraderie to the business, a certain piratical, swashbuckling aura, amplified by plenty of cocktails.The New York
Spiegelman is a self-described revenge fetishist. He saw his job at the Post in a very specific way, made clear at a lecture on the meaning of gossip at the Learning Annex, later broadcast on NPR: “We have this kind of attitude—and also, more importantly, reputation—where if you screw with us, we can make things bad for you. We’re going to make things bad for you. ‘Page Six’ is the main kind of attack arm of the New York Post … The different people who write the page have different people they deal with and have to, like, protect, and also their different wars that they have to prosecute. It’s a lot like being a Mafia family.” To Spiegelman, there was a lot of romance to this vision of the world—the journalist who doesn’t play by everyone’s rules, who will do whatever he can to avenge wrongs. Spiegelman changes from sweet-natured to hard-bitten according to the time of day, and has a tattoo of a praying mantis on his forearm. It’s a symbol of, among other things, patience, a virtue he could use more of. “I used to want to be J. D. Salinger, to live in a house in the woods where no one could find me,” he says. “After that, I wanted to be Charles Bukowski, drunk all the time, having sad affairs with miserable people. And I have accomplished that.”Spiegelman has anger issues. He tended to produce the nastier items on the page, like, “Fading pop footnote Justin Timberlake should consider hiring professional bodyguards for a change. One of the gargantuan goons he can’t live without threatened to kill a photographer the other day. The girlish Timberlake was all scowls as he ignored fans while strolling through the city with alleged girlfriend Cameron Diaz, flanked by their two blubbery bodyguards.” (The Post later reported Timberlake’s spokesman’s vehement challenge to these claims under the headline made-up tale.)
But Spiegelman also saw himself as one of the good guys, arrayed against the abusers and predators and vampires in the world. So when he realized that Dechert had written the e-mail that could have gotten Vona into trouble, he took it upon himself to right the wrong, give Dechert his comeuppance. He wrote an item sympathetic to Vona: BAD TIMES FOR A “BAD GIRL” writer, it was titled. “ ‘He [Dechert] said he was going to sabotage everything,’ Vona tells ‘Page Six’ ’s Ian Spiegelman.”
Soon thereafter, Spiegelman and Dechert spied each other at a party for P. J. O’Rourke’s latest book, Peace Kills, at the Hudson Library Bar, but no words were exchanged. Peace seemed at hand. But Dechert had come up with an ingenious plan: He would write a story about his own relationship with Vona, possibly to run in the pages of the New York Press. He wanted attention for it. Somehow—who knows how—this news ended up with the competitor of “Page Six,” Lloyd Grove of the Daily News’ “Lowdown” column. “[Abigail] has the heart of a mercenary and the soul of a hustler,” Grove reported Dechert as saying. “Yesterday, Vona told Lowdown: ‘I’m excited about the book, but I’m worried about Doug. He just won’t go away … I got into a bad relationship with Doug.’ ” Grove also wrote that Dechert had described Spiegelman as an “amorously intentioned midget” who was after a date with Vona.The night the item was published, Spiegelman was four Scotches into the evening at his apartment in Forest Hills. There would be at least two more to come. Now, though, he was still able to peck out a letter on his computer, the one in his bedroom surrounded by notes for his next novel and under a copy of the Bukowski poem “So You Want to Be a Writer?” (“If it doesn’t come bursting out of you / in spite of everything / don’t do it”). He e-mailed Dechert: “I break aging trust fund pussies like you as a matter of course … If I wanted to take your girl out, I would … Doug, you tiny little fairy, you arrested boy, I will break your back over my knee in the press and I will push your face inside out in private or public … Mention my name anywhere ever again, and we’re going to find out two things: First, whose word means anything anymore in this town. Second, how many times I can slam my fist into your face before someone pulls me off you.” He signed off: “Now you wait for it.”
Anatomy of a Takedown
A cheat sheet to the fall of Ian Spiegelman.
For Grove, the contretemps between Dechert and Spiegelman was an opening he’d been hungry for. Nearly a year ago, Grove was recruited from the Washington Post, where he had written the fairly tepid but influential “Reliable Source” column. Before he started at the Daily News, he was the recipient of a fawning front-page story in the New York Times, though it included a comical threat from “Page Six” reporter Jared Paul Stern, who said, “We will not rest until we send you back to Washington on a stretcher.” Before he’d even taken the job, “Page Six” reported his salary at $250,000. In many ways, Grove seems too nice to be a gossip columnist. He approaches his job as if forced to dine on things he can’t stand. On a recent day at the Daily News, in his messy cubicle beside a cactus that had been sent as a gift—“Go Get Them, Mom,” read the card—Grove had been musing on the rumor that Britney Spears might be pregnant (Spears issued a denial). “I can honestly say that I don’t care!” he later declared proudly. “There are plenty of other people that can plumb that mystery.” The first year in New York has taken its toll: Grove went to his first physical recently, where he learned the price of eating free food and drinking free drink every night. Now he’s running around the reservoir most mornings at seven. He has broken little news other than Gwyneth Paltrow’s pregnancy, and the tip on that came from Grove’s then-assistant, Elisa Lipsky-Karasz, who has since left for the Post. He’s still feeling his way around New York. “When I first came here, Hamilton South and Anne Reingold gave me a party at Il Cantinora,” he says brightly (the restaurant is Il Cantinori). “Aby Rosen was there, and Dionne Von Furstenberg—um, Diane, whatever her name is.” He even cites Thackeray’s Vanity Fair as a favorite book. “I’m constantly on the lookout for Becky Sharp,” he says. “Rising in society is a powerful and primal impulse. I don’t know if it’s as primal as sex, but it’s close.”In a light, pleasantly wrinkled gray suit, with his grandfather’s signet ring on his finger, Grove still has an Ivy League bearing (he went to Yale, where he co-edited the Yale Daily News magazine with Times book critic Michiko Kakutani); he is 49 and divorced, with two teenagers from the marriage, one of whom is living with him on Central Park West for the summer and attending art classes. The night before, he and his son attended the premiere of King Arthur, where Grove introduced him to Keira Knightley, and then asked her a bunch of questions himself, about the hidden political implications of the movie (she declined to respond, he notes merrily). There were a bunch of other actors there, too. “I have to concentrate a lot to remember a name,” says Grove. “Including celebrities’ names. In fact, I can’t remember which celebrities’ names I can’t remember.”
Grove wasn’t such a naïf that he didn’t understand how to make a little bit of rain. He had created a feud of his own, with Tim Robbins, after printing an interview with Susan Sarandon’s Republican mother. Robbins warned Grove: “If you ever write about my family again, I will hurt you.” Now, as the new kid in town, Grove realized that there was tactical value in lashing out at “Page Six.” He printed the story of Spiegelman’s comments at the Learning Annex. He went after Paula Froelich, claiming that the column’s nasty items about Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush were motivated by an allegiance to Entertainment Tonight, where she has a contract as a talking head. He attacked them for lifting items off his page—“The master and commander of the New York Post’s Page Six column, Richard Johnson, must be stuck in the doldrums with nary a puff of wind … Hey, skipper, maybe you should throw somebody overboard.”“Page Six” hit back, from time to time: “Earth to Lloyd Grove—the over-hyped columnist for the Daily News, who calls his pillar ‘Lowdown,’ showed how low he can go yesterday when, in his desperation to fill space, he picked up a story from Us Weekly about the inspiration for Apple, the name of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s baby girl … Hey Lloyd, if you’re going to steal stories from magazines, take the fresh ones.” The column ran an item, penned by Spiegelman, about Howard Stern sounding off on his show about Grove: “This guy Lloyd Grove only wishes he could work for Page Six,” said Stern. At one party, I saw Grove duck out early when he realized Froelich was in the crowd. These days, though, Grove feels emboldened. “Richard sent me an e-mail saying there would be reprisals after the Paula Froelich items,” says Grove. “So maybe there’s a poison pill out there, and I’m going to end up exploding.” Later, he says, “I feel that I’m at the good paper, working for people practicing journalism as opposed to pursuing an ideological and business agenda.” “Lloyd,” drawls Col Allan, editor-in-chief of the New York Post. “I don’t want to be unkind,” he says, and then lets out a short laugh. “Do I? I simply don’t think the Daily News competes in gossip. The word war implies fair fight, and this is not a fair fight.”
A successful gossip column requires a steady inflow of dirt. And when you have to fill pages day after day—Grove one and Johnson two, usually—quantity is important. You can’t afford to be too choosy about whom you’re dealing with. And that provides an opening for peripheral players, Cassandras, sycophantic self-promoters. Motives can be difficult to sniff out, and perhaps at some point you stop caring. “I have a couple dozen people out there who when they see a story will say, That’s good for ‘Page Six,’ ” explains Johnson. “Doug Dechert has been one of those people. He was of some value because he goes to preppy venues and lives on the Upper East Side. It’s hard to quantify his worth over the years: Maybe Doug has a stack of clips.” (Indeed, he does.)One doesn’t have to be a hugely sophisticated reader of “Page Six” to understand how it is composed. “We Hear” and “Sightings” are generally paybacks for good sources: A mention like “Nautica has donated towels and hats to the lifeguards of the Town of Southampton for the summer” seems on its face to be a thank-you for a juicier bit served up by someone on the Nautica payroll. Certain restaurants and clubs, like Lotus, Marquee, and Bungalow 8, have a way of popping up regularly here; gossips who choose to stop by are not always served a bill at the end of the night. Recently, Dave Zinczenko, the editor of Men’s Health, which hosted Johnson’s 50th-birthday bash at the Marquee nightclub this winter, was treated to an item about a recent party at Elaine’s for his new book, The Abs Diet. Readers would be happy to learn that his mother postponed foot surgery to be there.
When hotelier Andre Balazs got divorced, here’s how “Page Six” handled it: “WE HEAR … THAT after 17 years of marriage, hotelier Andre Balazs and Ford Models chairman Katie Ford have mutually agreed to separate. The power couple, in Europe with their two daughters, are totally supportive and remain friends.” Nadine Johnson, Richard’s own “totally supportive” soon-to-be ex-wife, is the publicist for Balazs, as well as many others you’ve been reading about on “Page Six.” An innocuous line like “slimmer, trimmer Harvey Weinstein lunching with his Miramax minions at Club 55 in St. Tropez” might point to the manifold connections of “Page Six” to Miramax. Froelich is writing a book for Miramax’s publishing arm. Johnson is friendly with Weinstein, and took a meeting with him once about helping out on a screenplay, though nothing came of it. Spiegelman says that Weinstein encouraged him to submit his novel to Miramax’s book division.To be an enemy of the page is almost a badge of honor—a club that includes Alec “Bloviator” Baldwin and “porcine provocateur” Michael Moore. Last summer, publicist Peggy Siegal wound up in a war with the column when she attempted to have an item spiked naming Bruce Colley as the paramour of then-married Kerry Kennedy Cuomo. Colley was Siegal’s ex-boyfriend and remained a personal friend. The items on Siegal continued through the fall. Her parties were “horrific.” A blind item: “Which past-her-prime publicist brags to anyone who will listen about an aging movie star she used to pleasure?”“In a moment of stupidity I tried to help a friend,” says Siegal. “They decided to milk it. I was an easy target. It was very hurtful.”Such is the power of “Page Six” that Johnson’s split from Nadine was handled with kid gloves in the papers: No reporter in the city wrote about it. There was a mention about a year after word of the split got around, when Michael Gross, then writing a gossip column for the Daily News, took a swipe at Nadine—not Richard—in a blind item. “You’re no poulet de printemps,” he wrote. “Sure you could console yourself with Belgian chocolates, but why don’t you wash your hair, give up smoking, try being nice for a change. Look at it this way: Who cares if it’s good for your career—it might help you land a new man.”
“This is the first time I ever heard you’re supposed to be a gentleman in gossip. I thought the whole point was you’re not …”
A gossip columnist’s life is not composed solely of nightclubs. Most of what people do at “Page Six” is sit at their desks at the far end of the Post’s newsroom, fielding e-mails and calls while opening packages of freebies sent from publicists. A laissez-faire attitude predominates. “The other day, someone told me a party was a Morgan’s Rum party. Turns out it’s a Mount Gay Rum party,” says Johnson. “I said I don’t really want to run a correction, I’ll make it up to you when you throw another party. She said, ‘Fine.’ And then she sent me two bottles of rum.” (Even the Post, however, had to correct its spectacular Gephardt-for-V.P. gaffe.)“Does anyone know anything about Muffie Potter Aston?” asks Chris Wilson, one of the assistants, from the next desk over. “I know her husband is having problems because patients at his hospital keep ending up dead,” says Johnson. He opens a box of promotions messengered from the New York Times—a cooler, towel, and a fishing hat. “Makes you look like you have Down syndrome,” says Wilson, who proudly displays a bottle of Cristal he’s just received in the mail. One never knows when a juicy tip is about to come in. An e-mail pops up on Johnson’s screen: “A good story about Ed Limato,” he says. This is the ICM co-president who threw a double vodka on the rocks, with two olives, in Johnson’s face after Johnson wrote that Limato was “shaping up to be the second most unpopular man in Hollywood, next to his client Mel Gibson,” noting that he “shouldn’t expect a stellar turnout at his annual pre-Oscar party.” Limato says that the item was retribution for declining to invite Johnson to that party. “He doesn’t know anything about Hollywood,” says Limato. “He’s an interloper. He is garbage, scum, a scurrilous piece of shit. I spit on him.” “I was tempted to check him, but I didn’t want to see the headline HOMOPHOBIC POST EDITOR ATTACKS ELDERLY AGENT,” says Johnson, scrolling through his e-mail. This is part of the job that Johnson likes. Johnson is fierce in his own way. He laughs a lot but shows little expression on his face, and rarely speaks unless addressed directly. Movie-star handsome, he has the character of a prep-school sportsman with a taste for the darker things in life. He is also one of the better-paid journalists in New York—sources at the Post put his salary at $300,000.
Johnson grew up in Greenwich Village; his dad was editor of a trade magazine called Chemical Week, and his mom was in corporate public relations. He went to St. Luke’s and Trinity, playing games in Washington Square Park and having firecracker fights on the docks of the West Side Highway; also, he “did a lot of drugs and listened to Jimi Hendrix.” After dropping out of the University of Colorado at Boulder, he hung out upstate, making a living as a carpenter; when he came back to the city, he lived on the Bowery and fixed up lofts in Soho. Eventually, he went back to school, at Empire State College, graduating with a communications degree. “The school was on East 49th Street, near Jack’s Three Ring Circus, a topless place where you could get a free lunch,” says Johnson. Afterward, he landed a job as suburban editor at the New York Post, then went on general assignment; gossip looked more fun, and was “perhaps even more prestigious,” says Johnson. “Potentially more lucrative, too.” While he was on general assignment, he wrote a story about Ed Koch that garnered him a mention in Joe Conason’s “Media Watch” column at the Village Voice. Conason called him the “undependable Richard Johnson.” “I called him up, and he said I could write a letter to the editor or sue him for libel,” says Johnson. “I found him in his office. We were walking down the hallway. I threw a punch at him. It was only a glancing blow.” Johnson was snapped up by the Daily News in 1991, but publisher Mort Zuckerman let his contract expire, and he returned to the Post. “I like to think of it as the Curse of the Bambino,” Johnson says. These days, he dates a woman nearly twenty years his junior, Sessa von Richthofen, and lives in a one-bedroom apartment in the East Village. Von Richthofen often accompanies Johnson on his nightly rounds—the night before, they started at a party on Sutton Place for Yue-Sai Kan, then headed to PM for co-owner Unik’s birthday party. “We were urging Denise Rich to write a book, and she was claiming she was never alone with Clinton,” says Johnson. “Never slept in the Lincoln bedroom.” He doesn’t exactly smile, but the ends of his mouth move slightly upward. “Denise should write a memoir; it’d be better than Clinton’s.”
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.