6

Ed and Julie crossed Union Square and headed for the St. Francis. They dodged a cable car then threaded their way through several TV trucks flanking a bank of searchlights fit for the Academy Awards.

“Have you ever seen so many?” Julie marveled.

Her love of pageantry usually amused Ed, but this time it irked him. So Ted Calderone, the ultimate narcissist, was throwing himself a party—with more searchlights than London during the Blitz—and everyone was supposed to genuflect. Calderone was intriguing, but the idea of this new magazine put Ed off. The man who crowed about bedding the countless bimbos who posed for his old magazine was suddenly launching a new one aimed at committed couples. It made as much sense as a cattle rancher touting vegetarianism. Calderone knew nothing about committed relationships. He’d never been in one—and from everything he’d ever said, seemed proud of that. Now he was trotting out a magazine for the very people he’d treated with veiled contempt ever since
Full D published its first pair of boobs. As they entered the hotel lobby, Ed hoped that Loving Couple would go down and take its arrogant owner with it.

They joined the crowd surging into the Grand Ballroom. This was Ed’s first time inside. He knew the room was large, but it was so huge that he had to squint to see from one end to the other. The ballroom stood a good four stories. Along the walls, gilded columns emphasized its height. Between them hung rich drapes and enormous tapestries that looked like they might have graced European castles. The four chandeliers were the size of small planes.

The crowd engulfed them. They inched forward, not really walking, carried by the human wave. Julie laced her fingers into Ed’s and gave him an affectionate squeeze.

“If we get separated,” she spoke into Ed’s ear, “meet me by the curtain to the right of the stage. That’s where Dar said she’d be.”

But they didn’t separate. They held on. Ed spied people he knew and pulled Julie toward them to say hello. Julie saw other people and did the same. That’s the way marriage works, Ed mused, lots of pulling this way and that, but somehow he and Julie had always managed to hold on. Until now. The current tug-of-war felt different. If they didn’t become a family of four, Ed feared Julie would never forgive him. Or worse. But was fear a reason to sign up for another three years of diapers?

Julie pulled Ed through a gap between a TV crew and a circle of people enthralled by a distinguished-looking man Ed recognized as the editor of the
New Yorker. It was slow going working their way toward the stage. It reminded Ed of a Discovery Channel show he and Sonya had stumbled across about sugar cane, how you had to hack your way through the fields with a machete. On Ed’s left stood a network news anchor. In front of them, a knot of men in expensive suits parted like the Red Sea, revealing two good friends, Tim Huang from the paper and his wife, Kim Nakagawa, half of Channel 5’s morning news team.

“Can you believe this?” Kim shouted.

“Incredible!” Julie gushed.

“How are you feeling?” Julie asked Kim, seven months pregnant with their third child.

“Like a whale.”

Julie had thrown Kim’s pregnancy up to Ed more than once. But the saga behind this child was no billboard for another round of daycare. Tim and Kim had decided to stop at two. Then Kim had an affair with her station manager, which Tim discovered one afternoon when he and Ed took a lunchtime walk and spied the two of them furtively slipping into a Financial District hotel. A while later, Ed had Tim over ostensibly to watch a Giants game and plied him with beer. It was the only way to get him to open up. Tim railed about Kim’s treachery. For a while, it looked like he might kick her out. But they had two kids. Their families pressed for reconciliation. And for all of his fury, Tim loved her. When they got pregnant, Kim swore it was an accident, but everyone wondered. So far, it appeared that Number Three hadn’t done much to mend the tear in their fabric. Tim still wore a perpetual frown.

Out of the corner of his eye, Ed saw something silky and white. Calderone’s parties were famous for imaginative appetizers served on silver trays by
Full D models in lingerie that highlighted their full Ds. Not this time. The first silver tray that came Ed’s way, spanakopita triangles, was offered by a lovely young redhead of surprisingly modest endowment wearing a silky white gown cut low down the back, but with a lacey bodice up to the neck in front. Behind her, a smiling African-American woman of average figure in an identical gown offered flutes of champagne, followed by a willowy blonde, also in the angelic outfit, who handed out Loving Couple’s premiere issue. Ed took a copy and plucked a phyllo triangle off the tray.

“Slips,” Julie said.

“What?” Ed asked.

“The white dresses. They’re slips. The kind you wear under formal gowns.” She appraised one with a fashion designer’s eye. “They added the lace. Nice look.”

“I don’t know,” Ed sighed. “I miss the leather teddies.”

“You are so predictable.” Julie said, giving him a friendly elbow in the ribs. “But Dar’s right. Ted
has changed. Those dresses say it all.”

Whenever Julie launched into a dissertation on the messages supposedly conveyed by clothing, Ed had no idea what she was talking about.

“What do the dresses say?”

“That the new magazine is sexy, but not slutty.”

She had a point, Ed realized.
Full Disclosure models had always looked like high-end call girls at a costume ball. These visions in white looked like women you could actually come home to.

Behind Tim stood two people in their late twenties. Ed recognized them as recently hired reporters. Tim huddled with the pair, gave them their marching orders, and sent them into the crowd.

“Two?” Ed was unable to hide his incredulity. Two reporters was one too many for a bullshit event like this.

“Yeah,” Tim replied in the vaguely disgusted tone of longtime news editors. “Walt wants it on Page One, for the newsstand.”

Walt was Walter French, the
Foghorn’s executive editor. Newsstand sales were stagnant, so he was grasping at straws.

“I can’t believe you’re in so deep,” Ed said. “This is a business story.”

“Business has two more here,” Tim sighed. “Plus two photogs.”

Four reporters, and two photographers. Calderone was getting star treatment.

The crowd swallowed Tim and Kim as Ed and Julie continued their trek toward the far end of the ballroom. Ed hadn’t seen so many media notables in one room since he had walked off with that National Magazine Award. On his right, the editor of the big Internet magazine was chuckling with the
Horn’s political columnist. On his left, the New York Times bureau chief was clinking champagne glasses with his counterpart from the other Times.

A stunning Asian woman in the let’s-cuddle outfit floated by offering mini- crab cakes with mango salsa. Ed tried one, liked it, and was about to reach for another when he was distracted by two men who looked remarkably like Ted Calderone. One was younger, tall, thin, and dressed for golf. Next to him stood a plump woman, also underdressed for the event. The other Calderone clone looked older, crustier, and a good thirty pounds heavier than Ted. He wore an elegant suit, but leaned on a cane and had the yellow-gray complexion of chronic illness. Bolstering him was an attractive woman in a peach-colored suit Ed thought Julie would admire.

As usual, Ed was a fashion meltdown in the moribund tie and shapeless sport jacket he kept at the office for such chores. Julie, on the other hand, wouldn’t be caught dead at a party in anything less than a killer outfit. This evening she was wearing her latest creation, a stunning black silk spaghetti-strap cocktail number cut low enough to raise Ed’s blood pressure and tight enough to flaunt her devotion to yoga without looking trashy. It was sheathed in a lavender lace shawl that added a touch of mystery. Like all the outfits Julie sewed, this one fit perfectly, a major advantage of custom clothing. Ed experienced a brief pinch of lust, then regret about the toll their conflict had taken on one of his favorite activities.

The stage loomed before them. Over it hung a huge screen that flashed a
Loving Couple slide show, with dissolving images and eye-catching computer graphics. The cover of the premier issue owed more to Vanity Fair than to Full D. It featured a handsome fortyish couple calculated to appeal to the magazine’s thirty-five-to-fifty-four demographic. The man was dressed in khakis and a tight T-shirt that advertised discreet muscle definition. The woman, a strawberry blonde with a face out of a skin cream ad, wore a pleated skirt cut to her midthigh and a halter top that gracefully outlined her breasts and what capped them. He was helping her step off a large sailboat. One of his hands gallantly held hers. The other rested on her thigh, creating the impression that it might soon find its way under her skirt. Julie called it. The effect was sexy but not raunchy, titillating yet tender.

The cover lines were equally intriguing: “Spice It Up: The 10 Hottest New Sex Toys for Couples.” “100 Couples Reveal: The Wildest Thing We Ever Did.” “‘You’re Insatiable.’ ‘You Never Want To’: The Subtle Art of Negotiating Desire Differences.” “You
Can Give a Fabulous Massage.” And the Loving Couple Special Investigation: “Toxic Breast Milk: The Growing Chemical Threat to Infants.” In spite of himself, Ed wanted to read several.

He leafed through the magazine. It was fat with ads. But that didn’t necessarily mean anything. Any rag can pile up the advertising—if the publisher gives it away.

Still clasping Julie’s hand, Ed inched toward the stage as the slide show continued with the “Loving Couple of the Month: Beth and Dennis in Barbados.” Each month,
Loving Couple would select a subscriber couple willing to barter a week at the resort of their choice anywhere in the world for some R-and-a-half-rated exhibitionism for the magazine’s cameras. Beth and Dennis, from Columbus, Ohio, looked anywhere from thirty-five to forty-five. They were attractive but not buffed or statuesque—the kind of people you see at the supermarket or the PTA. In some of the beach shots, Beth was topless, but unlike the silicone sisters who populated Full D, her average-size pair looked real—and their age. Then the scene shifted to a hotel bedroom overlooking the water. Beth and Dennis were in bed, naked, making love. In the tangle of sheets, pillows, lubricant, and a big vibrator, there were little hints of what pushes an R rating over to X. But the focus was mostly on the joy in their faces and the tenderness of their hands as they caressed each other. The effect was sexy but not pornographic. Ed felt a stirring between his legs.

Ed and Julie elbowed their way down front, but Dar was nowhere to be seen. Behind a police barricade flanked by two beefy guards, a black curtain parted momentarily. There was Dar, holding a clipboard, gesticulating at Ted Calderone. The couple from Columbus stood next to them, fully clothed. Standing nearby was a thin slouched man with a deeply lined face. He wore a rumpled fedora.
Carlos Santana?