Seven Little Girls

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Chapter Two

We were waiting to go to San Francisco for the summer. Hetty was finished with her performance season, only the debutantes remained. Tori and I always spent the summer in California, working from the magazine’s west coast office. We were looking forward to Ray going to college and freeing us to split time equally between the coasts. This year we were taking Jenni, Tori’s intern.

Jenni was the adopted daughter of Abe and Charlotte Ackerman. Apparently Cuban and Irish, Abe pulled her off a leaky boat just off Miami when she was about five. She was the only survivor of an attempted immigration, and she was touch and go for about a month. Abe was doing a story in Miami, and Harold had to send Tori and me to cover because Abe was spending all his time at the hospital. Abe was Brooklyn Jewish, his wife, Charlotte was a big boned German hausfrau, with a vengeance. They just fell in love with Jenni, a little Latina with the flame red hair and green eyes of some Irish sailor in the woodpile.

We slipped in and out of Cuba. Finished the story, actually our second on the foreign affairs desk and joined the vigil at the little girl’s bedside. That was sixteen years earlier. The extended family that was Confidential was built this way. We adopted so many children that adoption and actual blood relationships were totally lost. The only way an outsider could tell, in most cases, was that the adopted children used “Mommy” and “Daddy” when referring to their adopted parents, well into their forties with no plans to stop. Gwen, the publisher, probably started the tradition, but her adopted daughter Deena, and Kat, mine and Tori’s pushed it. Both had been twelve-year-old prostitutes from broken homes. Kat didn’t know who her father was, but then neither did her prostitute mother. We always just admitted that I had her mother, as the star player in a high school football game, a reward from a coach who got fired for doing just that two years later. Annandale believed she was my daughter, I guess we all believed it on some level. According to Kat, she lived thirteen years without a “Daddy” and she had to live to ninety before she got too old to say it.

Jenni was really ethnic enough looking that she almost fit, at least in California, Latin features with Celtic hair and eyes might just make a Jennifer Christine Ackerman, besides, she had had her bat mitzvah. She was going to stay with another story like hers, Joey’s intern, Ali Washington.

Ali had been adopted by Hailey and Forest Washington through a story where Hailey was reporting on crack babies, five years later. Ali was ebony with gigantic eyes, like Kat, a Keene painting. Hailey worked for Confidential, Forest was a fireman. She told Harold, the publisher and everything else at the time and Alison Russell Washington joined the family.

Jenni and Ali were joined at the hip through school, boarding at St. Alben’s, Confidential’s private high school and even attending Fordham together. They’d been apart about a year and looked forward to the summer in Ali’s apartment in Daly City. Ali showed some talent as a writer and Joey grabbed her. Jenni wasn’t talented in that way, but organized to a fault and Tori all but shanghaied her. I found both to be a minor pain in the ass. Jenni needed constant reassurance and Ali seemed to think I was her personal, bound and indentured proofreader. Three mornings a week Ali’s drafts were faxed to the middle of my desk blotter. My weakness is that I couldn’t say ‘no more Mr. Nice Guy.’ Well they were both painfully cute. And to both of them I was ‘Uncle Nick.’

The adopted children of Confidential’s staff often began their careers with the Confidential magazines. Kat spent over three years as a reviewer before she followed her dreams to the winery in Annandale. Deena was the principal writer and agribusiness reporter for Larry Harmon’s West Coast Business Report, a publication I owned in common with Larry and Harold. Chavy Compton was a photographer on her father’s staff at Highways.

Chavy and Deena stood out a bit because it was obvious that they were adopted. Chavy was Cambodian, Deena was black and their parents were white. Jenni’s exotic looks let her slip by, and Ali’s parents were black.

With the two dancers, Hetty and Angie, who were Confidential interns to begin their careers, I had seven little girls I helped shepherd into adulthood. Four were already successes. Both Hetty and Angie were principal dancers, about the height of their profession. Kat was California’s youngest winemaker, and already had produced some award-winning vintages. Deena was widely acknowledged as the premier agribusiness reporter in the country.

Hetty and Jenni were more acquaintances that friends. Divided by the fact that they were pursuing two very different fields with equal dedication. Hetty was a year older, and had to be dragged into social situations. Still, when you went out with the two of them you were likely to run into someone’s speculation that they were sisters, because both had about the same shade of red hair. Otherwise they couldn’t have been further apart. Hetty was tall with a dancer’s body and looked emaciated outside of her tights while Jenni was short, shorter than Tori’s five, five and curvy. Despite this they were wearing matching outfits to fly to California. It seemed that Jenni had, in the course of researching a story, found a struggling designer in Red Hook and, on a lark, the two of them went to see what they could find. The designer fixed them up with four outfits each for Hetty’s services as a model and a mention in Confidential, which she’d have gotten anyway.

Jenni lived with her parents in an old rowhouse in Sunset Park, on the border of Bay Ridge and Boro Park. Both Abe and I were constant putterers and we often helped each other. Abe helped me build Hetty’s practice space into the loft. Jenni had graduated to the basement apartment when she graduated from Fordham and lived a pretty independent life.

Ray was looking forward to Annandale, he rarely spent any of the summer with us. He simply moved from being Hetty’s ‘Baby Bear,’ to being Kat’s. The first year Kat took over she made a small plot for Ray in the corner of her vineyard. So, Ray spent his summers in the vineyards and on the beach with Kat.

Hetty moved into the Los Altos studio with Angie. Angie had one more performance before her summer break. And then the two would settle down into a summer of workouts and choreographing their own duets.

This left Tori and me alone throughout most of the summer in our San Francisco loft. Tori actually preferred working out of San Francisco. She started at six AM and it gave her an eleven-hour work day. Jenni lasted as her intern because she loved the work as much as Tori. Tori had burned eight interns and assistants in half as many years because there was actually something else in their lives besides finding things out and arranging things. Jenni had no such impediment and would be moving into a regular job as Tori’s assistant when we returned to New York in the Fall.

Everyone went from the plane to our loft where Kat and Ted had set out a smorgasbord for all of us. Deena had picked up Tori and me. When I walked in Kat handed me a glass of wine and sort of installed herself under my left arm. We missed each other a great deal and we tried to spend as much time as we could together. Kat was spending a couple days in San Francisco, as she did any time Tori and I came in.

“Angie needs to talk to you Dad,” Kat said. “Apparently someone is stalking someone in her company and the police can’t do much.”

“Betcha Hetty tells me before the night’s out,” I said.

“Well, duh.” answered Kat. “Angie’s always been the shy one of those two.”

“Seeing as job one here is Angie, I think she should be the one to tell me. Can you arrange it?”

“Job one is Angie?”

“Already blocked out a piece on the two of them. My pet peeve, how we treat artists in our society. Add a little stalker spice, could work. What’d you think? I mean in tights they’re cheesecake extraordinaire.”

“You’re a pig, Daddy. Sometimes I agree with Mommy. Still, you’re probably right. Let me go talk to them. I mean you could explain it to Hetty, but to Angie you’re half a stranger and half ‘Uncle Nick,’ if you know what I mean.”

Angie came up a little while later. She was blushing so deeply that her whole body might have been involved.

“Uncle Nick,” She said, “Both Hetty and Kat said I have to talk to you.”

“Is it that hard? Want to try a fox trot, or a two step? If it helps we can talk and dance.”

It stopped her a second. “You’re amazing,” she said. “Yes, let’s dance.”

I walked over to my stereo. “What’s your pleasure?” I said.

“First time we danced,” she said, “it was Bill Haley, ‘Rock around the Clock’ like the ultimate foxtrot. Let’s do that and that one you did with Susan, the waltz?”

“Glenn Yarborough doing McKuen’s translation of Brel?

“‘Come join the dancing come join the waltz, don’t look too closely at my faults?’”

“Got it, ‘Why can’t I die here in your arms?’ Let’s dance.”

“How did you know I’d feel comfortable this way?” Angie said as we took off to the Comets.

“Hetty fell in love twice in New York. It helped her to talk while dancing. We’re both artists, we express ourselves within our medium. To quote Liberace, ‘I’m not good but I’ve got guts.’ So, we dance, and I can feel your movements so your emotions and your art can convey what you find difficult to say. Me? I can write it. Ask Tori, I can’t always say it.”

“Kat said that we’re getting a story? In Confidential?”

“When I told both you and Hetty when I got my payback, when I gave you Los Altos to go to San Jose, didn’t I say when both of you were principal dancers? Aren’t you?”

“I guess I thought it was kind of bullshit,” said Angie. “I was always scared. The guys I dance with like boys.”

“I think Villella’s pretty much all man,” I said.

“How do you know?”

“How do I know you’re following me in a foxtrot? He moves like a man.”

“And Nureyev?”

“Moved like a woman. Actually, better than all but a few.”

“With Fonteyn?”

“Summer project, you and Hetty recreate the best of the two of them.”

“You serious?”

“Love to see it, private performance?”

“Hetty said that about you, that we’re almost like strippers.”

“Hetty hasn’t gotten that fully. When you dance, only your body isn’t naked.”

She considered that as the record dropped into Yarborough’s version of McKuen/Brel.

Eventually she said, “And that’s like sexy?”

“A stripper is going through the motions, you’re totally involved in the dance. If I find the choreography sexy, I find a dancer who’s a serious artist sexy. Naked is only sexy because there are societal prohibitions that make it forbidden fruit. It isn’t naturally alluring or sexy, just normal. A dancer, totally involved in the dance is automatically sexy because as an observer you’re getting to know the dancer, it becomes personal communication, not normality. Of course, it’s also a bit insulting, because if it’s done really well it implies that the observer isn’t getting all of it.

“Now, Kat says you need to talk to me?”

“Well, we’re kind of being stalked. I mean like this person is like peeping us and it’s frightening us. The police aren’t much help unless it escalates, and, well, we don’t want it to.”

“You tell your Dad?”

“No, should I?”

“If Joe or Aaron could get free they could do everything I can. Kat could probably get Ken up to help and this is Ken’s profession. Your Dad might bring it up with Kat. Just wanted to know if it got back home.”

“Can you do anything?”

“Peep you and see if I have company. I was going to set up the next two weeks before your final performance with the company anyway. Hetty lives with me, you don’t, and I need a lot more perspective on your company than I have. I want to sell art, that’s going to take some work. You’re going in tomorrow, you pick me up at the office and I’ll see what I can do.”

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