If it had been anyone else, Sally and I would never have accepted the invitation. Because we are both very busy we are very jealous of our time together.
Sally was between business trips and we only had a few days before she would be off again to Hong Kong, this time without me since I had to be in San Francisco at the same time.
The invitation simply said we were invited to spend the afternoon at the poolside of Roger Conant's estate. Guests were expected anytime after 11:00. There would be a buffet at 2:00.
Since it is almost certain you will not know Roger Conant, except whatever you have learned about him from my few articles, there is something I need to explain about him.
You will never find any bikini-clad females displaying their wares at any of Roger's pool-side parties. I do not recall ever hearing any "rules" about such things, but somehow it was just understood. Someone, it may have been Franz Wolfe, once said, "Roger will not tolerate any inappropriate dress. To Roger, if it looks like underwear, it's inappropriate."
If that sounds like prudery to you, you would be mistaken. Roger once told me, "Mark, one mark of maturity is being perfectly comfortable around women in any state of dress. One should only feel uncomfortable if a woman's state of dress makes her uncomfortable. I feel very sorry for women who have so little regard for their own dignity and privacy they do not care with whom they share their naked souls—or naked bodies.
So Sally and I, and everyone else were in for a little surprise.
Not all the guests had arrived when Sally and I, escorted by Andrew, strolled into the pool area. All the guests would be Margo Sawyer, Joanne Fitzgerald Tylor (Jo), whom I knew, as well as Irene Dempsey, about whom I knew nothing, and Francesca Danco, whom I knew about, but had never met, as well as Sally and I of course. Irene Dempsey was the only guest who had not arrived.
Roger was sitting near the pool busily engaged in conversation with a beautiful but somewhat stern looking woman I guessed to be of Spanish or Italian descent. She had thick black hair pulled back from her face and fell around her shoulders. She was animated, and talking seriously to Roger—at least she looked serious.
I would learn later this elegant woman was Francesca Danco, copper heiress and famous "Empress" of the Danco mining empire.
Lying on a chaise on the other side of, and a little distance from Roger was Jo, obviously enjoying the sun.
Sally and I were just about to walk over to speak to them, when Margo, whom we had not seen, beat us to it.
"Well, Jo has the right idea," She announced. "Think I'll get some of that sun," she said as she pulled another chaise closer to the pool between Jo and Roger."
Standing by the chaise, she pulled the string of the little beach robe she wore. It fell provocatively to the ground revealing a stunning black and white bikini. Margo was tiny, but had a lovely figure. The bikini was predominately black and together with her black hair framing her pretty face under the floppy white straw hat, the effect of perfect curves set off by three zones of black was stunning.
She looked at Roger. Everyone looked at Roger. Whatever everyone expected did not happen.
"I'm really looking forward to our little party, Roger," Margo said as she stretched out on the chaise.
"I am too, Margo. So glad you've come. Hope you enjoy yourself. Andrew will bring you a drink if you'd like."
Apparently Roger had not noticed at all what Margo was wearing, and she looked a little miffed. She had failed in her little provocation, whatever it was meant to provoke.
"That's a good idea Roger. I think I will have that drink."
She stood and pulled the little beach robe back in place and left, abruptly, to find Andrew. The show, apparently, was over. Roger just smiled.
Sally and I sat at a table a little to one side of where the others were sitting. Roger seemed occupied and we decided to greet him later. Andrew offered us drinks. We had lemon aid.
Right after the Margo show there was the distinct rumble of a motorcycle apparently arriving in Roger's driveway. A few minutes later, Andrew escorted a tall girl to the pool area. It was, I would learn, Irene Dempsey. She sat on a table and proceeded to strip off her boots, jeans, and blouse to reveal a very athletic body in a very modest metallic green one piece competition style suit which contrasted perfectly with her short reddish-brown hair.
She walked quickly over to Roger, and gave him a peck on the cheek.
"I'm sorry Roger, I'm stifled. Hope you don't mind if I go for a quick dip."
With that she walked briskly to the deep end of the pool, and made a perfect simple dive. She swam quickly toward the shallow end of the pool until she reached a spot where she could stand, and with just her head out of the water, said, "Oh Roger. The water's lovely. Do come in."
To my surprise Roger did just that. He dove in and swam over to where Irene was standing. When Roger reached her, he stood and they began talking. It was apparently serious, because Roger was mostly listening and nodding. After a while Roger said something that made Irene smile, and she put her hand on Roger's shoulder. Then they were both smiling and began to swim. Apparently they were having a race, which Roger easily won.
"Busy?" Sally asked me.
"Not particularly. Why?"
"Oh, nothing. I suppose you didn't notice that all the guests, except you, are females. Quite lovely females."
"Of course I noticed. I'm a writer. It's my business to notice things."
"So you are busy. Noticing, I mean," her grin was somewhat crooked. "So of course you noticed Jo. She's not one I would have expected to find at Rogers. What do you think?"
"I think she's lovely!" I teased.
"That's not what I asked you."
"You asked me what I thought."
"I asked you what you thought about her being here."
"I'm glad she is. Is that what you mean?
"If you're so glad, why don't you go over and talk to her," Sally challenged.
"Alright, I think I will." I paused waiting for her comment but only got a look that would have withered a rose. I decided I wasn't going to get a satisfactory rise out of her, so added, "That is, if you'll go with me, love. After all, you know her and perhaps together we can learn something about why she's here."
Francesca had strolled off somewhere when Roger jumped in the pool, and Jo had been left by herself.
"Why Mark and Sally, how are you," she said smiling broadly as we approached. Please sit with me a moment. It's been so long Sally.
"And you, Mark. You lucky man. How in the world did you ever get this girl to stop long enough to fall in love and marry you?"
"Actually it was the other way around, Jo. I was trapped."
"You beast," Sally said.
"That's right," I said. "It was a beast trap, and I fell right into it, and I have no intention of ever trying to get out."
That softened Sally a little. "It wouldn't matter if you did try. I'll never let you out." I felt her arm around my waist tighten a little.
"Well, he'd be a fool if he did try," Jo said. "By the way, Sally, did Mark tell you what he did for me?"
"Did for you? I don't think so."
"Well, if it weren't for Mark, I wouldn't be here. He introduced me to Roger."
"Actually, Jo, he did tell me that. It was at some affair at Peter Reddington's wasn't it?"
"Yes it was. And, Mark, I cannot thank you enough. If you are interested, I'd love to tell you why."
Both Sally and I were really eager to know just that, and she would have told us then too, but Roger and Irene had just come out of the pool. Andrew and some other servants were busy setting up a pool-side buffet and Roger was inviting everyone to eat.
Everything at Roger's is elegant, but compared to the usual spreads at his place, the buffet would have been considered simple. Three different kinds of salad, cold meats, pate, and other spreads, cheeses, olives, pickles, rolls and bread, and drinks, including a huge pitcher of Margaritas.
Jo, Sally and I were just about to help ourselves to the buffet when Roger approached with a young lady on each arm, Francesca Danco on his right, Irene Dempsey on his left.
He introduced us all, and Sally mentioned that she already knew Francesca.
"Yes, Sally and I are old business acquaintances," Francesca said, "and good friends. I'm so happy for you Sally, and so happy to meet you Mark." She had apparently met Jo earlier.
Irene Dempsey's voice was deeply soft like a torch singer's, and her "how do you do," after each introduction was accompanied by a lovely dimpled smile. Roger only introduced her without explanation of who she was or what she did. We would find out later—at least Sally and I would.
When everyone had filled their plates, Jo, Sally, and I sat at a table a little way away from the table where Margo, Irene, and Francesca, were sitting with Roger.
'Mark, I'm afraid I have a little bad news for you." Jo began.
"For me?" I asked brilliantly.
"Well, maybe not. It's just that I know you've done that review of, Woman Power, and now I'm not going to publish it."
"Jo, my review doesn't matter. Frankly I thought your book was brilliant, but it's your book."
"It really is brilliant, Jo. There has never been a book about women like it." Sally added.
"What made you change your mind about publishing it?" I continued. "It would be a great success, I'm certain of it, if for no other reason than because it would be so controversial."
"Because there's no point in it," Jo said emphatically. "I have been thinking that for a long time, but it was Roger who helped me see what I was thinking was correct."
Sally seemed more concerned than I about Jo's decision. "Well, perhaps it's none of my business, Jo, but I think everything you wrote is true, and women need to know it," she said.
"It is all true, Sally, but you already knew that before you read the book. The sad fact is, any woman who does not already know the truths I wrote about is not going to change her mind because she reads my book. I really don't want to change any woman's mind, anyway. I do not think the book would change any minds, but I'm not even willing to find out. That's why I'm not going to publish the book. In fact, I'm not even going to write any more, at least for publication, probably for a long time.
"Jo," I asked, "what did you mean by, 'there's no point in it?'"
"Mark, do you remember my little debate with Roger at Peter Reddington's the evening he invited me to his house?"
I said I did.
"Then you must remember what Roger said about my last book. He found fault with it but said I should keep selling it. Remember what he said? 'After all, your main point is always valid. Any solution is better than a government solution.'"
"Remember, Mark, I started out as a libertarian. Of course I was never really a libertarian, or anything else, even when I was being labeled as an individualist-feminist. What I have always been is just an individualist. When I was young, I thought the libertarians were individualists, and later, that real feminists were really individualists as well. It eventually dawned on me that real individualists do not belong to groups or join movements or organizations—that everything like that is the opposite of individualism.
"That is really what my last two books are about, that women do not need to identify themselves with any movement, that they are free to be what they choose to be without resorting to any program or ideology, and most of all, they do not need any government program to empower them. Of course, the whole of my last book emphasizes the fact that no woman has to seek "power" in anything else, because they already have in themselves all the power they need to be all they possibly can be and that joining anything or seeking success in anything else can only dilute the power they already have."
"Of course," Sally said enthusiastically. "And your book says it perfectly, Jo. Why would you not want to publish it?"
Sally was still disappointed by Jo's decision.
"Sally, what is the objective of all those movements and programs of the libertarians, feminists, and all the other organizations that claim to be fighting for individual freedom? Isn't the objective of every one of them to bring about a change in society, to create, somehow, what they call a free society?
"But a society is just people. The kind of society any society is must be whatever the people in that society are. To change a society you must change the people that are that society, don't you?
"Yes, I suppose that is true, Jo. But I still don't see what that has to do with you not publishing your book," Sally said.
"Let me put it this way. My book was my way of attempting to do what I had already decided was wrong with all the movements. My book was meant to change people. My motive was to help other people, especially women, to be free to live their lives as they chose. Very noble of me, I suppose. But the only way to "help" women who are not already living their lives freely, is by changing those women, by making them think and understand things as I do. Who am I to change anyone else, even for their own good?"
"But Jo," Sally was really ready to argue now, "your book wouldn't change anyone who didn't want to be changed. You only presented the ideas. If anyone is changed by those ideas, they would have to choose to change themselves, wouldn't they?"
"That's the main point, Sally. You and Mark understood everything in the book. You agreed with it. You liked it. But you only liked it because you both already know and live by the principles in it. The book will not be understood, agreed with, or liked by anyone who is not already an individualist. The book will not make an individualist out of any woman who is not already one, because they will resent it, even hate it; it will only make them angry.
"That's why I cannot publish the book. Of course I don't care if it makes anyone angry with me, even if they hate me. There are plenty of people who hate me already. I'm just not interested in trying to change anyone else. How other people choose to live their lives is none of my business. Ultimately I cannot change them anyway. Publishing my book now would be a futile attempt to do what I know I should not do, and could not do, even if I thought I should."
Sally did not try to argue with Jo anymore, though I'm not sure she was totally convinced. Instead, she asked Jo a question.
"Jo, if you're not going to write or publish anymore, what are you going to do?"
Jo smiled. "I'm going to write for myself, and sell what I write to a very special customer."
"Roger," I guessed.
"Why yes, Mark. How did you know. Did Roger tell you?"
"Oh no. I just know Roger." I winked at Sally, though I don't think she knew why. "Roger does not believe in charity, he says, and still he's the most generous person I have ever known. What are you going to be writing for Roger?"
"He calls it research. I'll be doing research on various things like women in history and such, and writing reports based on the research."
"Will you like that, Jo?"
"Oh, I will definitely like it for a while, Mark. But I'm completely free and can change my mind and do whatever I choose anytime I like. Yes, I like that very much!"
I wondered how much Jo knew about Roger. I knew the kind of research Roger said he was doing. Did Jo know what her research was really a part of?
The tables by the pool were later pulled together and everyone sat around them talking.
Sally and Francesca, whom we all now called Frank, talked about problems getting copper shipped to some factory in Singapore. Roger made some comment about talking to them about it later. He was sure he could help them. "But it will cost you," he had grinned.
The guests eventually began to excuse themselves, thanking Roger for "everything" and leaving. Margo commented, "It was lovely, Roger, but there might have been at least one available man. Guess you couldn't find one, eh?" And off she went.
"You really like Margo, don't you Roger," I said.
"Mark, I love her. She could be my own daughter."
Jo, Sally and I were the last to leave. Irene Dempsey left just before we did and we all looked up when we heard the roar of her motorcycle.
"Roger," Sally asked, "who is Irene Dempsey? What does she do?"
"Dempsey?" he asked, almost as if surprised. "Oh she does lot's of things. She's a mechanic among other things. Owns the most successful garage in the state. Services everything from motorcycles to Maseraties. She acquired my Allard for me and performs all the service on it. Sometimes she runs special errands for me. She's very helpful. She speaks fluent Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian, and manages a few other languages as well."
It appeared Roger was about to say more, but suddenly stopped. Apparently she's just another of Roger's interesting 'misfit' friends. "'Dempsey,' he calls her, not Irene" I thought. I wondered if the little rendezvous she and Roger had in the pool had anything to do with one of her 'special errands.'
Jo, Sally and I left together and we promised Jo we would keep in touch.