“What would it be worth to you to delete these embarrassing photos,” the half crazed soccer mom asked Todd Harris. Dizzied from the slide-show of him gorging on cinnamon swirls and old-fashioneds, the diet guru was rendered speechless.
Todd Harris turned pale and ashen when he translated Alegra’s words from crime novel clichÃ© into plain English. The author of “Four Laws for a Better, Slimmer You!” had a marked aversion to Allegra Newton since attending a kids’ pizza lunch at his son’s school. Allegra’s pudgy daughter, Danae, was smitten by a second slice of pizza. When mom saw that Danae’s plate was laden with a new slice with congealed cheese and pepperoni, she stared stonily. “But Mom,” Danae whined. At once Allegra clawed the slice from the plate. The pudgy girl pleaded with her eyes. Like a man on death row the eve of his execution, Danae expected a last-minute reprieve for the pepperoni.
Allegra, with her adult notions of nutrition and demonized ingredients, dropped the pizza into the waste can. This is where an eating disorder starts, Todd mused.
He grew paler and whiter as the distasteful concept of blackmail seeped in.
“What are you asking?” he said under a shield of disingenuousness.
From the threshold of Harris’s Hancock Park mansion, Allegra asked for a large sum of money outright.
“Sorry,” he said, shaking his head sadly.
“Mr. Harris,” she was unfailingly polite with her prey. “If these photos go public you’ll be a naked hypocrite,” Allegra said. “Telling people one thing and doing another. Breaking every law of your Four Laws,” she ticked them off on her satiny manicured fingers. “Carbs. Mouth open. Standing up. Having seconds, thirds, even fourths—”
“Don’t you see, Allegra?”
“Don’t Allegra me,” she snapped.
“I was practicing law number 5—to be”¦”
“There are only four laws,” she snarled.
“There’s a fifth in the revised addition,” he chipped in. “And”¦”
“Don’t weasel out with your sophistries, Mr. Harris,” Allegra cut him off.
“Sheesh, let me finish”¦The fifth law is to be OK with myself despite transgressions. Okayness is a key tenet of the Harris System.”
“Nobody will buy that,” Allegra said. “You’re the guy who told Oprah, ”˜Coffee is God, sugar is the Devil.’”
Todd Harris nodded in remembrance: “Coffee is God, Sugar is the Devil” became the mantra for legions of overweight, stressed-out moms. His book rocketed to the top of the bestseller lists. Allegra was talking:
“I need 50 grand. Like yesterday.”
“Read my lips. N-O,” Todd said. “You can ask me a million times. The answer is still no.”
Allegra put an interrogative, “Million and one?”
“NOOOOO!” he exploded.
“Thirty thousand dollars,” Allegra’s lips quivered. “I can’t go a cent lower.”
Todd Harris’s gaze sought the tile design on his doorstep.
“I’m in big trouble,” Allegra whimpered, her hazel eyes tear-dazzled. “Big trouble. Because of my gambling. It started out in childhood. You know in Denny’s, where pay two quarters in Denny’s to guide the jaws of a toy crane over a bed of stuffed animals? From the stuffed-animal machine I graduated to Shakey’s game room. It wasn’t the pizza, I didn’t evenlike the pizza; it was the Vegas allure of the tokens and games. From there it was a small step to Santa Anita. Last week Fallopian’s Ghost was a sure thing in the fifth. The 10-1 choice finished a length behind, Hello DalÃ. I took out a loan from a loan shark and bet it all, and now there’s a hit on me. I’m being followed wherever I go. Mr. Harris, I’m beside myself. I’m…”
“You do need help,” he said. “You know, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) from the American Psychiatric Association now contains binge eating and gambling as a mental disorder. Step inside,” Todd said slowly, in an appeasing tone. “Let me get out my checkbook.”
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she bawled. “You’re an angel, Mr. Harris. Please make the check out to the order of Bank of America.”
Awed by the luxe, she took the first tentative steps into the sunken living room and took a seat. She looked around at the cathedral ceiling and Rodin sculptures. Waiting for the diet Guru to come back with the checkbook, she sat looking out a leaded glass window where a hummingbird stuck its beak into scarlet blossoms—over and over, like a sewing machine needle going into cloth. She mused how the hummingbird must suffer an eating disorder. Then Allegra lurched violently forward, as she was nudged by the elbow of Rodin’s Thinker squarely on the back of her head. Allegra sprawled on the floor, dead as a brick.