Authors: Harold Robbins
Tags: #Fiction, #Action & Adventure
I got up and walked over to her, put my arms around her, and gave her a squeeze. “Janey, you just made me the happiest guy in the world. How did you ever guess that the one thing I wanted was a private john?”
She laughed, a little embarrassed now. “I’m so glad you like it, Johnny. I was a little worried.”
I let go of her and stuck my head in the bathroom door. It was complete, stall shower and all. I turned back to her. “Your worries are over, kid. Papa likes.”
I went back to the desk and sat down. I still had to get used to it. When Peter had the office, it was plain, old-fashioned, like himself. They said a man’s office reflected what his secretary thought he was. I began to wonder. Did Janey think I was this fancy a Dan?
The phone in Jane’s office began to ring and she rushed out to answer it, shutting the door behind her. The minute the door closed I felt alone. I felt so alone it was ridiculous.
In the old days when I was Peter’s assistant, by now my office would be crowded with people. We’d be talking and the air would be blue with smoke and it would feel good. They used to tell me their ideas, about pictures, about sales, about advertising. We used to razz each other, criticize, argue; but out of it all came an easy camaraderie that I knew I would never have again.
What was it that Peter had once said? “When you’re boss, Johnny, you’re on your own. You got no friends, only enemies. If people are nice to you, you wonder why. You wonder what they want from you. You listen to what they say and try to make them comfortable, but you never can. They never forget that you’re the boss and what you say or do might turn their lives inside out. Being boss is a lonely thing, Johnny, a lonely thing.”
I had laughed at the time, but now I was beginning to understand what he had meant. Deliberately I thrust the thought from my mind and turned my attention to the mail stacked high on my desk. After all, I hadn’t looked for the job. I picked up the first letter and suddenly my hand stopped. Or had I? The thought flashed through my mind and was gone in a second and I began to read the letter.
It was a note of congratulations. That’s what all the rest of the mail and telegrams were about. Everybody in the industry was sending me notes of congratulations and good will. The big and little. That was an interesting thing about this business. No matter how much you were liked or disliked, whenever something happened everybody sent you notes. It was like being in a big family where every member of it watched everybody else for signs of success or failure. You could always tell what people thought you were heading for by the amount of inconsequential mail you got.
I was almost through with the mail when Jane came into my office again, carrying a large bouquet of flowers.
I looked up at her. “Who sent those?”
She put them into a vase on the coffee table and without saying anything tossed a small white envelope on my desk.
Almost before I saw the small initials “D. W.” on the envelope I knew whom they were from because of the way Janey had acted. I opened the envelope and took out a small white card. There was some scrawling in a small familiar hand.
“Nothing succeeds like success, Johnny,” it read. “Looks like I guessed wrong.” It was signed: “Dulcie.”
I threw it into the wastebasket and lit a cigarette. Dulcie. Dulcie was a bitch. But I had married her because I thought she was wonderful. Because she was beautiful. And because she had a way of looking at you that made you think you were the most wonderful guy in the world. It just shows how much you can get fooled. When I found out just how much you could get fooled we were divorced.
“Were there any calls, Jane?”
Her face was troubled while I had read the letter; now it brightened. “Yes,” she answered. “Only one before you came in. George Pappas. He said for you to call back when you had time.”
“Okay,” I said. “Get him for me.”
She left the office. George Pappas was all right. He was president of Borden Pictures and we had known each other a long time. He was the guy that had bought Peter’s little nickelodeon when Peter had decided to go into the production of pictures.
My phone buzzed. I picked it up. Janey’s voice came through: “I have Mr. Pappas for you.”
“Put him on,” I said. There was a click, then George’s voice. “Hallo, Johnny?” The way he said it, the “J” was soft and slurred.
“George,” I said, “how the hell are yuh?”
“Good, Johnny. How are you?”
“How about lunch?” he asked.
“Thank God somebody thought of that,” I told him. “I was afraid I’d have to eat alone.”
“Where will we meet?” he asked.
I had an idea. “George,” I said, “you come over here. I want you to see the office.”
“It’s nice, eh, Johnny?” he asked, laughing softly.
“Nice isn’t the word for it,” I said. “It’s like the reception room in one of those high-class French whorehouses. Anyway, you come over and see it and let me know what you think.”
“One o’clock, Johnny,” he said, “I’ll be there.”
We said good-by and hung up.
I called Jane in and told her to get all the department heads up into my office. It was about time they heard from me anyway. Besides, what was the good of being boss if nobody showed up for you to boss?
The meeting lasted until almost one o’clock. It was the usual crap. They were full of congratulations and good will. I told them the company was in bad shape and that we’d have to quit screwing around and buckle down to some serious work or first thing we’d know we’d all be out of work. As I said it I felt funny. Saying something like that in an office that had cost about fifteen grand to refurnish seemed entirely out of place to me, but apparently none of them thought about it that way. They were impressed. Before I closed the meeting I told them I wanted on my desk before the week was out an economy chart from every department showing who and what we could dispense with. We had to eliminate waste and inefficiency if we were to survive this economic crisis. Then I told them to go to lunch, and as they filed out I knew from the looks on their faces behind their smiles that not a one of them would be able to eat.
When the door closed behind the last of them I went over to the wall where the bar was and looked for the button. I couldn’t find it. I walked over to Janey’s door and opened it.
“I can’t find those God-damn buttons,” I told her.
She looked startled for a second, then she got up. “I’ll show them to you,” she said.
I followed her over to the wall and watched her press the button for the bar. As it swung around, I told her to mix me a drink while I went down to the can. Automatically I started for the outer door, but she stopped me.
“Private,” she said, “remember?” She touched another button and the bathroom door slid back.
Not answering, I went in. When I came out, George was in the office, a drink in his hand, and looking around the place. I went over to him and we shook. “Well, George,” I asked, “what do you think of it?”
He smiled slowly, finished his drink and put the empty glass back on the bar, and said: “A few pictures of some naked ladies on the wall and I think maybe, Johnny, you’re right.”
I finished my drink and we went to lunch. We went down to the English Grill. I didn’t want to go to Shor’s because of the crowd and he didn’t want to go to the Rainbow Room because of the height, so we compromised on the English Grill. It was in the arcade of the RCA Building and looked out on the fountain. It was still cool enough for them to have their skating rink out and George and I got a window seat and for a few minutes watched the skaters.
The waiter came. I ordered grilled lamb chops and George ordered a salad. Had to watch his diet, he explained. We looked out the window again for a while and watched the skaters.
At last he sighed. “Makes you wish you were young again, Johnny.”
“Yeanh,” I said.
He looked at me closely. “Oh, I’m sorry, Johnny, I forgot.”
I smiled. “That’s all right, George. I don’t think much about it any more, and even if I did, what you said was still right.”
He didn’t answer, but I knew what he was thinking about. It was my leg. My right one. I had lost it in the war. I had the latest thing in prosthetics now and if people didn’t know about it they could never guess it wasn’t mine that I walked around on.
I remembered how I had felt that day Peter had come to visit me in the hospital on Staten Island. I was bitter, sore at the world. I wasn’t thirty years old and had lost my leg. I was just going to lie in the hospital the rest of my life and Peter had said: “So you lost a leg, Johnny. You still got your head on your shoulders, ain’t you? A man doesn’t live by how he can run around, he lives by what he’s got between his ears. So don’t be a fool, Johnny, come back to work and you’ll forget all about it in no time.”
So I went back to work and Peter was right. I forgot all about it until that night that Dulcie called me a cripple. But Dulcie was a bitch and in time I even forgot about that.
The waiter brought our order. We began to eat. We were halfway through with the meal when I began to talk. “George,” I said, “I’m glad you called and wanted to see me. If you hadn’t, I would have called you.”
“About what?” he asked.
“Business,” I said. “You know what the setup is. You know why I’ve been made president. Because Ronsen thinks I can bail him out.”
“And you want to?” George asked.
“Not particularly,” I answered candidly, “but you know how it is. You spend thirty years helping build something, you don’t like to let go just like that. Besides, it’s a job.”
“And you need a job so bad?” he asked, smiling.
I grinned at that. A job was one thing I didn’t need. I was worth a quarter of a million bucks. “Not in that sense, but I’m too young to lie around doing nothing.”
He made no reply to that. After a mouthful of his salad he asked: “And what do you want I should do?”
“I’d like you to play the terrible ten,” I said.
Not a sign of what he was thinking flashed across his face. No surprise that I had just asked him to play what the trade had laughingly dubbed the ten worst pictures ever made. “You trying to close my theaters, Johnny?” he asked softly.
“They’re not that bad, George,” I said. “And I’ll make a good deal for you. You can play ’em any way you like, short half or long half, fifty dollars a date; guarantee five hundred dates and you get them free after that.”
George didn’t answer.
I finished my chops, leaned back in my chair, and lit a cigarette. It was a good deal I had made. George had close to nine hundred theaters; that meant he would play them free in four hundred houses.
“They’re not as bad as the papers say,” I threw in. “I saw them and I can say I saw a lot worse.”
“Don’t try to sell me, Johnny,” he said softly, “I’ll buy.”
“There’s just one more thing, George,” I said. “We need the dough right away.”
He hesitated half a second before he answered: “Okay, Johnny, for you I’ll do it.”
“Thanks, George,” I told him. “It’ll be a helluva help.”
The waiter came up and cleared the table. I ordered coffee and apple pie, and George ordered black coffee.
While we were on our coffee George asked me if I had spoken to Peter lately.
I shook my head. My mouth was full of pie and I swallowed it before I answered. “I haven’t seen him in almost six months.”
“Why don’t you give him a call, Johnny?” he said. “I should think he’d like to hear from you now.”
“He can call me,” I answered shortly.
“You still sore, eh, Johnny?”
“Not sore,” I said. “Disgusted. He thinks I’m one of the people in the plot to steal the picture business. The anti-Semiten he calls them.”
“You don’t think he believes that anymore, do you?”
“How in hell would I know what he believes?” I asked. “He threw me out of his house that night I told him he would have to sell out or lose everything. He accused me of being a spy for Ronsen and part of the plot that was out to ruin him. He blamed everything that went wrong on me. The things he did that he said I should have stopped. Oh, no, George, I took it for a long time, but that was the finish for me.”
He took out a long cigar and placed it in his mouth and lit it slowly, all the while looking at me. When he had it lit to his satisfaction, he asked: “And what about Doris?”
“She decided to string along with her old man. I haven’t heard from her either.” It hurt me even as I said it. I’d been a fool about many things, but just when I thought everything would turn out all right, it went wrong.
“What did you expect her to do?” George asked. “I know the girl. Do you think she would run out on the old man when everything went wrong? She’s too fine for that.”
At least he didn’t say a word about my futsing around all those years, I was grateful to him for that. “I didn’t want her to take a powder on the old guy. All I wanted to do was marry her.”
“And how would that look to Peter?” he said.
I didn’t answer. There wasn’t any answer. We knew how it would look to Peter, but it made me sore anyway. People had their own lives to live and both of us had given him more than enough of ours.
George signaled for the check. The waiter brought it and he paid him. We walked out into the arcade and George turned to me. He held out his hand.
I took it. His grip was firm and warm.
“Call him,” he said. “You’ll both feel better.”
I didn’t answer.
“And good luck, Johnny,” he continued. “You’ll do all right. I’m glad you got the job instead of Farber. And I’ll bet that Peter is, too.”
I thanked him and went back upstairs. All the way up in the elevator I kept thinking about calling Peter. When I got off on my floor I finally decided to hell with it. If he wanted to talk to me, he could call me.
Jane’s office was empty as I went through it. I guessed she was still out to lunch. There was another stack of mail on my desk that had been placed there while I was out. It was piled pretty high and there was a little paperweight stuck on top of it to hold it down.
The paperweight looked familiar. I picked it up. It was a little bust of Peter. I hefted it in my hand and, sitting down in my chair, looked at it. Some years ago Peter had thought that a bust of himself would prove to be an inspiration to every employee, so he had hired a sculptor, who had charged him a thousand bucks to make up this little statuette. Then we had found a small metalworks plant, had had a die cast, and soon the little bust was on every desk in the office.