New Orleans wasn’t Shay Hoovestahl’s town. She was, in fact, a former Miss Texas, the daughter of Charlotte McKecknie Hoovestahl of the Dallas McKecknies and Robert Hoovestahl, a bona fide up-from-nuthin’ Houston billionaire who’d married into a small oil company, parlayed it into a large oil company, merged that into a massive oil company and expanded his private holdings to Hoovestahl TransGlobal, a conglomerate that involved oil rigs, refineries, toxic waste storage in Mexico, defense department contracts in the Middle East and Bob Hoovestahl’s pet project, Hoovestahl Luxury Transport, a string of Mercedes dealerships with thirty-seven locations serving satisfied Gulf Coast customers and supporting President Bush and the US troops with a free yellow ribbon magnet for every vehicle that came through the service bay.
Robert Hoovestahl cultivated his elder daughter with capitalist vigor, instilling in her a sharp awareness about the blessings and pitfalls of her station in life and training her up in the art of self-defense. This included kickboxing, boot camp, a concealed handgun permit and an automatic skepticism about anyone who wanted to befriend or date her.
Shay’s upbringing emphasized core values like self-discipline and strivership, shunning the murky “free to be you and me” claptrap that mollycoddled and stunted so many children of the ‘70s. She was inculcated with strong Christian values and a fire-in-the-belly work ethic, bumper-stickered with pithy winners-never-quit-quitters-never-win axioms.
Growing up, she slaved to get perfect grades and hone her charm school skills, tutored by a debut trainer, a pageant coach, and a corps of funded academics. She hated herself whenever she failed to embody “the best” as defined by her father, but as a teenager, she tortured him almost compulsively with his worst fears for her private virtue and public facade.
Shay dominated the pageant circuit from Li’l Miss Houston Toddler to her Miss Texas victory, but in the final moments of Miss USA, close enough to taste it, she was dubbed fourth runner-up. It was a bitter pill Shay had never been able to swallow, partly because she’d simply never learned to lose.
“You’re better off,” Corbin told her one day as they sat outside the Audubon Aquarium waiting for the Algiers Ferry. “If you’d been branded Miss USA, forget about your masters from Columbia, your thesis on human trafficking. You’d be taken even less seriously than you are now. That pageant crap is a joke.”
It was one of many conversations that didn’t end well between them
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