"Better," Plain said, stepping toward her. "A little fuckin' better."
They'd been working for two hours in the belly of the grain barge. The barge was a gift: a pilot on the Greek-owned Mississippi towboat Treponema had driven it into a protective abutment around a bridge piling. The damaged barge had been floated to the Anshiser repair yard in St. Paul, where welders cut away the buckled hull plates and prepared to burn on new ones. Plain spotted the disemboweled hulk while scouting for photo locations. He made a deal with Archer Daniels Midland, the barge owner: Delay repairs for a week, and ADM would make Vogue. The people who ran ADM couldn't think of a good reason why the company would worry about Vogue, but their publicity ladies were wetting their pants, so they said okay and the deal was made.
They were still working with the green dress when a team from TV3 showed up, and they all took a break. Alie'e goofed around, for the camera, with Jax, showing a little skin, doing a long, slow, rolling tongue-kiss, which the camera crew asked them to redo twice, once as a silhouette. The interviewer for TV3, a square-jawed ex-jock with bleached teeth and a smile he'd perfected in his bathroom mirror, said, after the cameras shut down, "It's a slow day. I think we'll lead the news with this."
Nobody asked why it was news: they all lived with cameras, and assumed that it was.
Two hours for four different shots, with and without fans, two rolls of high-saturation Fujichrome film for each of the shots. The Fuji would make the colors pop. Plain pronounced himself satisfied with the green dress, and they moved on.
The next pose involved a torn T-shirt and a pair of male-look women's briefs, complete with the vented front. Alie'e and Jax moved against the far hull and a little shadow, and Alie'e turned her back to the photo crowd and peeled off the green dress. She'd been nude beneath the dress; anything else would ruin the line.
She was aware of her nudity but not self-conscious about it, as she had been at first. Her first jobs had been as one model in a group, and they usually changed all at once; she was simply one naked woman among several. By the time she started up the ladder to stardom, to individual attention, she'd become as conditioned to public nudity as a striptease dancer.
Even more than that. She'd worked in Europe, with the Germans, and total nudity wasn't uncommon in fashion work. She remembered the first time she'd had her pubic hair brushed out, fluffed up. The brusher had been a thirty-something guy who'd squatted in front of her, smoking a cigarette while he brushed her, and then did a quick trim with a pair of barber scissors, all with the emotional neutrality of a postman sorting letters. Then the photographer came over to take a look, suggested a couple of extra snips. Her body might as well have been an apple. . . .
You want privacy? You turn your back. . . .
Alie'e Maison - "Ah-Lee-Ay May-Sone" - had been born Sharon Olson in Burnt River, Minnesota. Until she was seventeen, she'd lived with her parents and her brother, Tom, in a robin's-egg-blue rambler just off Highway 54, fourteen miles south of the Canadian line. She was a beautiful-baby. She won a beautiful-baby prize when she was a year old - she'd been born just before Halloween, and her costume was a pumpkin that her mother made on her Singer. A year later, Sharon toddled away with a statewide beautiful-toddler trophy. In that one, she'd been dressed as a lightning bug, in a suit of black and gold.
Dance and comportment lessons began when she was three, singing lessons when she was four. At five, she won the North Central Tap-Fairies contest for children five and younger. That was the pattern: Miss Junior North Country, International Miss Snow (International Falls and Fort Francis, Canada), Miss Border Lakes. She sang and danced through her school days. Miss Minnesota and even-her parents, Lynn and Lil, barely dared to dream it-Miss America was possible. Until she was fourteen, anyway.
Reprinted from Easy Prey by John Sandford by permission of Putnam Pub. Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by John Sandford. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Blood at the Root
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