Janey Wilcox heard about Harold Vane, the billionaire, in the bathroom of a club. That was three years ago, and even though Harold turned out to be a little squeaker of a man, with his shiny round head and his ever-shiny shoes (he made the servants polish his Docksiders to a high sheen), he had turned out to be one of the best summers. “I’ve got to find a man for the summer,” Janey had been complaining to her friend, Alison, when a voice from one of the stalls shouted out, “Harold Vane!”
Harold had a stucco mansion on Gin Lane in Southampton. There was a long green lawn in front of the house; the back lawn edged down to the beach. There was a sit-down lunch with wine and two courses on both Saturday and Sunday. The grounds could only be entered through a wrought-iron gate with the letters “H” on one side and “V” on the other. Harold had a security man who dressed like a gardener but carried a gun.
At the beginning of what Janey called “the Harold Summer,” she invited Alison (who had a tiny share in a house in Bridgehampton) over for the day. “Don’t you ever worry that one of these guys is going to figure out what you’re up to?” Alison asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Using them. For their summer houses.”
“I’m a feminist,” Janey said. “It’s about the redistribution of wealth.” They were lying on chaises by the pool and Skaaden, Harold’s manservant, kept bringing them glasses of iced tea.
“Where is Harold, anyway?” Alison asked. She had bulging gray eyes—no matter how you made her up, she would never be pretty, Janey thought, but she had been waiting for Alison to ask the question. Alison was a sort of professional best friend to the rich and famous; as soon as she left Harold’s, she’d probably call everybody up and tell them she’d been lunching at Harold Vane’s house, and they were now good friends. Janey expected that after and Harold broke up at the end of the summer, Alison would continue to pursue him as a friend. When she saw him at parties, she’d put her hand on his arm and whisper in his ear to make him laugh.
“Harold’s on the crapper,” Janey said. She had soft, girlish voice, and despite her stunning face and figure, she knew her voice was really her secret weapon; it allowed her to say anything and get away with it. “He spends an hour on the crapper every evening before he goes out; on weekends, an hour in the morning and an hour in the late afternoon. It really cuts into the day. Last weekend, we missed a book party because he wouldn’t get off the can.”
“What does he do in there?”
Janey shrugged. “I don’t know. I keep telling him it’s not good for his intestines.”
“It’s probably the only time he can get away from everything.”
“Oh, no,” Janey said. “He has a phone and a fax in there.” She looked at Alison. “Forget I said that, O.K.?” She could just imagine Alison telling people that Harold Vane spent an hour on the crapper while he took faxes, and it made her feel guilty. After all, Harold had never done or said anything even remotely unpleasant to her, and she was actually a little bit in love with him.
That was the surprising thing about Harold. She hadn’t been able to bring herself to have sex with him at first—but after they’d finally done it, the second Saturday after Memorial Day, she’d wondered why she’d waited. Harold was commanding in bed. He told her what he wanted her to do and how to position herself (later on in the summer he shaved off her pubic hair and told her to sunbathe naked), and he had a huge unmentionable. It was so large that all summer, when other women came up to her to ask her if she was really dating Harold (this seemed to happen most in the ladies’ rooms at the Hamptons restaurants they frequented), Janey would roll up her lipstick and say confidently that his willy was so enormous, the first time she saw it she told him there was no way he was going to put that thing in her. Then she would go back to lipsticking her open mouth. Janey felt she was doing him a favor. When she broke up with him, it would make it easier for him to get other women.