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Authors: Harold Robbins

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BOOK: The Dream Merchants
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I had reddened a little. “You don’t have to worry. There isn’t a girl that would marry me.”

It was then that Doris spoke. Her face was serious and the blue of her eyes was deep and her voice was much older than her years. She came toward me and took my hand and looked up into my face.

“I’ll marry you when I grow up, Uncle Johnny.”

I don’t remember what I had said, but everybody laughed. Doris still held on to my hand and looked up at me with a let-them-laugh look in her eyes.

Now I held her head tight against my shoulder and the words kept going over and over in my mind. I should have believed her. I should have remembered. There would have been less pain in our lives if I had.

Slowly her body stopped its trembling. For a few seconds she stood still against me, then she stepped back.

I took out my handkerchief and wiped the tears from her cheeks and the corners of her eyes. “Better now, sweetheart?” I asked.

She nodded her head.

I fished cigarettes out of my pocket and gave her one. As I lit her cigarette the glow from the match illuminated the cigarettes we had dropped on the ground. They lay there close together, the lipsticked end of her cigarette not quite touching mine. I put a fresh one in my mouth and lit it.

“We were held up in Chicago,” I said. “Bad weather.”

“I know,” she answered, “I got your wire.”

She took my arm and we started walking.

“How is he doing?” I asked.

“He’s asleep. The doctor gave him a sedative and he’ll be sleeping till morning.”

“Any better?”

She made a small gesture of helplessness with her hands. “The doctor doesn’t know, he says it’s too soon to tell.” She stopped and turned to me; the tears came welling to her eyes again. “Johnny, it’s terrible. He doesn’t want to live. He doesn’t care any more.”

I pressed her hand. “Hold it, sugar, he’ll make out.”

She looked at me for a moment; then she smiled, her first smile since I saw her. It looked good even if it took effort to make it. “I’m glad you’re here, Johnny.”

She drove me to my apartment and waited while I bathed, shaved, and changed my clothes. I had given the servants a few weeks off because I hadn’t expected to be back for a while, and the place had an empty look about it.

When I came back into the living room she was listening to some Sibelius records on the phonograph-radio. I looked at her. Only the light from the table lamp near her chair was on. It threw a soft glow over her face and she looked relaxed. Her eyes were half-closed and her breathing came soft and even. She opened her eyes when she felt me standing there.

“Hungry?”

“A little,” she answered. “I haven’t really eaten since this happened.”

“Okay, then,” I said, “let’s go to Murphy’s and wrap ourselves around a steak.” I started back to the bedroom to get my coat when the phone began to ring. “Get it, will ya sweetheart?” I called back through the open door.

I heard her move and pick up the phone. A second later she called me. “It’s Gordon. He wants to speak to you.”

Gordon was production manager at the studio.

“Ask him if it’ll keep till morning; I’ll drop in at the studio,” I told her.

I heard the murmur of her voice, then she called to me: “He says it can’t keep, he’s got to talk to you.”

I picked up the phone in the bedroom. “I’m on,” I said. I heard the click as she put down her phone.

“Johnny?”

“Yeanh, what’s up?”

“I can’t talk over the phone. I got to see you.”

That was Hollywood. The federal government and the state government pass laws against wiretapping and people worry about talking over the phone. It’s a fetish you don’t fight; whenever something really important goes on, you can’t talk over the phone.

“All right,” I said wearily. “Where are you? Home?”

“Yes,” he answered.

“I’ll drop in on you after I eat some dinner,” I said, and hung up.

I picked my coat off the bed and went back into the living room. Doris was putting on some lipstick in front of a mirror.

“I gotta make a stop after dinner, honey. Do yuh mind?”

“No,” she said. She knew Hollywood too.

It was nearly eleven o’clock when we got to the restaurant. It was nearly deserted. Hollywood is an early town during the week. Everyone who is working is in bed by ten o’clock because he has to be on the job at seven in the morning. We were given a quiet table in a corner.

We ordered old-fashioneds, steak, french fries, and coffee. She was more hungry than she had realized. I smiled to myself as I watched her eat. Say what you like about a woman’s diet; hungry or not hungry, put a steak in front of her and watch it disappear. Maybe it was because some smart press agent planted the rumor that steak was not fattening. Anyway, she did it justice. I did too, but then, I always did.

Her plate was empty and she pushed it away from her with a sigh. She saw me smiling at her. She smiled back. A little of the tension had gone from her face. “I’m full,” she said. “What are you smiling at?”

I took her hands across the table. “Hullo, sweetheart,” I said.

She held my hands and looked at them, I don’t know why. They were funny hands no amount of manicuring could make look presentable. They were square and the fingers were short and covered with thick black hair on the back of them. She looked back at me. “Hello, Johnny.” Her voice was soft.

“How’s muh baby?” I asked.

“Better since you’re here.”

We just sat there smiling at each other until the waiter came and took the empty dishes away and brought us a fresh pot of coffee. It was half past twelve when we left the restaurant.

We drove over to Gordon’s house. He lived over in Westwood; it was about a half-hour drive. The lights in his living room were on as we drove up the driveway.

He had the door open almost before we were up the steps. His hair was rumpled and he held a drink in one hand; he looked nervous. He was surprised to see Doris with me.

We said hello and followed him into the living room. Joan, his wife, was in there. She got up when she saw us. “Hello, Johnny,” she said to me, and then went over to Doris and kissed her. “How is Peter?” she asked.

“A little better,” Doris answered. “He’s sleeping.”

“That’s good,” Joan said. “If you can get him to rest, he’ll be all right.”

I spoke to Gordon. “What’s all the shootin’ fer?”

He finished his drink and looked at Doris. Joan picked up the hint. “Let’s make some coffee. These men want to talk business,” she said.

Doris smiled understandingly at me and followed Joan out of the room.

I turned back to Gordon. “Well?”

“The rumor’s all over town that Ronsen’s tying a can to you,” he said.

The two greatest products of Hollywood were pictures and rumors. From morning to night they manufactured pictures, from night to morning they manufactured rumors. There were several arguments as to which was the more important, but I don’t believe it was ever settled to anyone’s satisfaction.

“Tell me more,” I said.

“You had a fight with him in New York. He didn’t want you to come back here to see Peter. You did. He got in touch with Stanley Farber the minute you left and he’s flying out here tomorrow to meet him.”

“Is that all?” I asked.

“Isn’t that enough?” he asked.

I grinned at him. “I thought it was important.”

He was pouring himself another drink when I told him that. He almost dropped it. “Look, I’m not joking, Johnny. This is damned serious. He hasn’t kept Dave Roth on the lot for love.”

Gordon wasn’t wrong about that. Dave was Farber’s right-hand man, and Ronsen placed him on the lot as Gordon’s assistant to act as a psychological threat to me. It added up too. Farber wouldn’t let Roth stay there if he wasn’t sure that something would come of it.

“What’s Dave been doing?” I asked.

“You know Dave,” he answered, shrugging his shoulders. “Tight as a clam when he wants to be. But he seems pretty damn sure of himself.” He held out a drink to me.

I took it and sipped it reflectively. Maybe Ronsen was coming out to see Farber, but I was the guy that knew the whole organization. I knew the weak spots and the strong spots. I knew what had to be done, and until I finished the repair job, my position was good.

“Look, Gordon,” I said, “stop worrying. I’ll be at the studio in the morning and we’ll go over the situation.”

He looked at me doubtfully. “All right, but I hope you know what you’re doing.”

Joan came into the room with a pot of coffee. Doris followed her with a tray of tiny sandwiches. Hollywood wives and diplomats’ wives have to develop a sense of timing. They have to know just when to excuse themselves and just when to re-enter a room. I often wonder how they know just when to come back.

Doris and I were too full to eat, but we had some coffee and left. It was almost two thirty when we got to her house.

The house was quiet; only a small light was lit in the living room. Doris threw off her coat and went upstairs. She came down a moment later.

“He’s still sleeping,” she said. “Mother is too. The nurse told me that the doctor gave her a sedative. Poor thing, she just can’t comprehend everything that’s been happening. It’s been one shock after another.”

I followed her into the library. There was a big fire going in there. It felt good; the night had turned cold, with a sudden frost that would have the smudge pots going in the fruit groves. We sat down on a couch.

I put my hand around her shoulder and drew her head toward me. I kissed her. She put both hands on my cheeks and held my face close to hers.

“I knew you’d come, Johnny,” she whispered.

I looked at her. “I couldn’t stay away even if I wanted to.”

She turned around and rested her head against my shoulder and we looked into the fire. After a little while I spoke. “Feel like talking about it, sweetheart?”

“You know a lot, for a man,” she said, her voice low. “You knew I didn’t want to talk about it before.”

I didn’t answer.

After a few minutes she spoke again. “It started yesterday. A telegram was delivered and the butler took it. I was near the door when it came, so I took it from him.

“It was from the State Department, addressed to Father. I read it first. It’s a good thing now that I did, for it read: ‘We are informed by our Embassy in Madrid that your son, Mark Kessler, was killed in the fighting near Madrid.’ It was as plain as that. I stood there for a moment, my blood running cold. We knew that Mark was in Europe even though we hadn’t heard from him for almost a year, but we never thought he’d be in Spain. We thought he might be in Paris with some of his old cronies, but we weren’t worried. Not really. We knew Mark. When he was up against it, we figured we’d hear from him. Meanwhile Papa figured it was a good thing for him to be away for a while after what had happened.”

She took a cigarette from the end table near her and leaned forward for me to light it. Then she settled back again, letting the smoke drift slowly from her mouth. Her eyes were dark and troubled.

“You know,” she said, “it is something I’ll never understand. Mark was one of the most self-centered, egotistical men that ever lived, he never gave a damn what happened to the other guy. And yet he went to Spain and joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and died fighting for a cause he never truly believed in and against a way of life that he might have admired if he hadn’t been a Jew. My first thought was for Mother—how she would take it. She hadn’t been well since Mark went away. He was her baby still and she was never quite the same after Papa threw him out of the house. She was always after Papa to get Mark to come back home. I think Papa wanted him to come home too, but you know him—he got his Dutch stubbornness up and kept putting it off.”

She fell silent, looking into the leaping flames of the fire. I wondered what she was thinking. Peter had always favored Mark and she knew it. But she never complained. She never talked much either. I remembered the way we found out she could write. It was the year she graduated from college. She hadn’t said anything at all about her writing until her book had been accepted by a publisher. Even then she had used a nom de plume, not wanting to trade on her father’s name.

She had called the book
Freshman Year
. It was the story of a girl’s first year in college and away from home, and it was very successful. It was a story of warmth and homesickness and a girl’s growing up. The critics made a great deal of fuss over the book. They were all amazed at the depth of understanding and perception of the girl who had written it. She was just twenty-two at the time it came out.

I hadn’t paid much attention to it. Matter of fact, I hadn’t even read it at the time. The first time I saw her after the book came out was when I brought Dulcie to Peter’s home the day after we were married.

They were all seated at breakfast when Dulcie and I came in the room. Mark was about eighteen at the time; he was a tall, thin boy with the acne of adolescence still clinging to his face. He took one look at Dulcie and whistled.

Peter had cuffed him and told him to mind his manners, but I just laughed proudly and Dulcie blushed a little and I could tell she didn’t mind. Dulcie liked people to look at her, she was a born actress. Even then, as she stood there blushing, I knew she was acting and I loved it.

That was part of Dulcie’s charm for me. Wherever we went, heads turned to look at her. She was the kind of a woman men wanted to be seen with. Tall, slim, and full-breasted, with a tawny look, she gave an impression of latent sexual savagery that carried every man back about five thousand years.

Esther got to her feet and had chairs brought out for us. Up to that moment I hadn’t told them we were married. I began to feel awkward, wondering how I could tell them. I looked around the table and saw Doris looking at us curiously. There was a question in her eyes.

I had a bright idea. I spoke to Doris. “Well, sweetheart, you won’t have to worry about your old Uncle Johnny anymore. He finally found a girl that would marry him.”

Doris’s face turned a little pale, but I was too excited to pay any attention to it. “You—you mean you’re getting married?” she asked, her voice shaking a little.

BOOK: The Dream Merchants
8.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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