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Authors: Harold Robbins

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The Dream Merchants (66 page)

BOOK: The Dream Merchants
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Peter looked at him steadily. His voice was flat and cold. “No.”

Johnny watched him. From the way Peter sounded, he was angry. Ronsen was in for a hell of a fight. Suddenly he was very proud of Peter. He remembered a long time ago when Peter had faced Segale across a desk at the old combine and had told him off. Peter had guts then. Time had not taken that away from him. His pen scratched busily on the paper.

Ronsen was still on his feet, looking down at Peter. His mouth, too, had set into grim, determined lines. “I would like to point out to the chair that a suit has been filed against him on behalf of certain stockholders, which, if brought into court, would prove most embarrassing.”

Peter shook his head gently. “In this business we learned a long time ago not to be embarrassed, Mr. Ronsen. We have gotten used to the public eye and we are not afraid of it.” He got to his feet slowly and faced Ronsen across the table. “As long as I represent the controlling interest in this company, I will not consider selling my stock in it. I ain’t going to be intimidated by nobody. Especially people who enter into agreements with the sole purpose of breaking them agreements. Those people are no better than crooks to me.”

A strange glitter came into Ronsen’s eyes. They loomed intensely behind his glasses. “In view of the chairman’s statement, would he care to let the stockholders pass upon the decision?”

Peter nodded. His eyes were on Ronsen. “The chair is willing.”

Ronsen looked around him. There was a faint note of triumph in his voice. “I believe all the stockholders are represented at this meeting. Would the chair be satisfied with an oral vote? A written vote can be taken later if desired.”

Peter turned to Johnny as Ronsen sat down. “The motion is whether I should sell my stock or not. Will the secretary call the roll?” He sat down and looked at Johnny expectantly.

Johnny stared at him. His heart began to pound excitedly in his breast. Didn’t Peter know he had lost his stock? Hadn’t Doris told him? He looked at her. Her hand was clenched before her mouth and she was staring back at him, her eyes wide in her white, frightened face.

He got to his feet. “I don’t believe such a decision can be brought before the board at this meeting,” he said desperately, trying to stave off the inevitable. His voice was ragged with strain.

Peter looked up at him. “Don’t be a
schlemiel
, Johnny. Go ahead and take the vote!”

Johnny still hesitated.

Peter stood up angrily. “All right, then, I’ll take it myself.”

Johnny’s legs were trembling as he sat down. He picked up his pen again, but his hand was shaking so much that he could hardly write.

Peter’s voice was firm. “I’ll make it snappy, gentlemen.” He said. “The chair votes against the motion. That’s forty-five percent of the stock.” A note of satisfaction came into his voice. “Now, Johnny,” he said, turning toward him.

Johnny looked up at him without answering. He opened his mouth, but no sounds came out. He tried again to speak. He didn’t recognize the croaking sounds that came from his lips as his voice. “I—I can’t vote, Peter.”

Peter stared at him incredulously. “What do you mean you can’t vote? Don’t be a fool, Johnny! Come on and get this business over with!”

The words seemed torn from Johnny’s lips in an agonizing cry. “I haven’t got the stock any more!”

Peter’s voice was unbelieving. “If you haven’t got it, then who has?”

Ronsen was on his feet again. There was a look of cold triumph on his face. “I have it, Mr. Chairman,” he said quietly, his voice filled with power.

Johnny’s face snapped toward him. He should have guessed it! Ronsen was out there at the time Vic sold the stock. The son of a bitch!

Peter’s face turned white. He slumped against the table for a moment, then sank slowly into his seat. His eyes were bitter and accusing on Johnny’s face. “You sold me out, Johnny,” he said dully. “You sold me out!”

16

He pressed the buzzer. He could hear the chimes ringing behind the door, then the sounds of footsteps approaching it. The door opened and Doris stood there.

He stepped into the foyer and kissed her. Her eyes were wide and looked up at him. “Did you have a chance to talk to Peter yet?” he asked.

She took his hat and led him into the living room. She shook her head hopelessly. “No.” She turned and looked up at him. “He won’t let anyone talk to him about you. He won’t listen. I told Mamma, but it didn’t help. He won’t let her talk either. He says he doesn’t want to hear any more about either you or Mark.”

He sank into a chair and lit a cigarette. “The stubborn old fool! This is a hell of a time for him to get his Dutch up.” He looked up at her. “What about us?” he asked.

She looked down at him. “What about us, Johnny?”

“Are we getting married or aren’t we?” His voice was savage.

She put a hand on his cheek. “We’ll have to wait, Johnny,” she said softly. “It would only make him feel worse.”

He caught her hand and held it. “I’m getting tired of waiting.”

She looked down at him without answering. Her eyes pleaded for his patience.

“What are you doing here?” Peter’s voice came roaring at him from the doorway.

Johnny looked at him startled. Peter’s eyes were wild in his face. “I came to see if I could knock some sense into your thick Dutch head!”

Peter came toward him. His voice was shrill and shaking. “Get out of my house, you Judas, you!”

Johnny got to his feet. He held his hands placatingly in front of him. “Peter, why don’t you listen to reason? You ought to know I would—”

Peter interrupted him. “Don’t give me no lying explanations! I know what you done!” He turned to Doris. “Did you ask him to come here?” he asked accusingly.

“She didn’t,” Johnny answered before she could speak. “It was my idea. We had some things to settle.”

Peter turned back to him. “Some things to settle,” he sneered. “You trying to turn her against me too? Ain’t it enough what you done? Ain’t you satisfied?”

“We want to get married,” Johnny insisted stubbornly.

Peter looked up at him. “Marry you?” His voice was sharp with amazement. “Doris marry you? You anti-Semite? Sooner I would be she was dead! Gedt oudt before I throw you oudt!”

“Papa”—Doris put her arm on Peter’s—“you got to listen to Johnny! He didn’t sell you out. He pledged the stock for—”

“Shut up!” Peter shouted at her. “If you go with him, I’m through with you. If you go with him, you turn against your own people, your own flesh and blood! Don’t you think I knew that all these years he was jealous of me? Scheming behind my back to steal the company away from me? When I look back and think what a fool I was to trust him, I could cry. He was no better than the others! They hate the Jews! All of them! And he’s no better than the rest! Now he’s trying to turn you against me too!”

She stared at her father helplessly. Her eyes filled with tears. She turned to Johnny.

His face was a blank stony mask. Slowly, woodenly, he turned from her to her father. “You won’t listen,” he said bitterly. “And if you did, you wouldn’t believe. You’re an old man, bitter inside and eaten with your own poisons. But you’re not too old to learn some day that you could be wrong!” He picked up his hat and walked slowly to the door. He turned and looked back at Doris.

Esther brushed past him into the room. He didn’t even notice her. There were tears in his eyes, burning at his eyelids. His voice shook as he spoke, “Doris, are you coming with me?” There was a note of pleading in it that had never been there before.

She shook her head and moved closer to her father and mother. Her mother reached up and took her hand.

He stood there for a long while, looking at her. At last Peter’s voice came savagely to his ears.

“Go!” it was saying savagely. “Go! What are you waiting for? You can see she’s not coming. Go back to your friends, your sneaking, underhanded partners! You think you can trust them? Depend on them? You’ll find out otherwise. Some day they will get you and throw you out too. When they don’t need you any more. Like you did when you decided you didn’t need me!”

The tears filled Johnny’s eyes, blinding him, but the voice still tore savagely at his ears.

“You were laughing, hah? This simple little hardware man from Rochester you would turn into a picture man? You would make him over and do what you want with him, and when you didn’t need him any more, you would get rid of him? I should have known better. I trusted you, but all the time you were laughing at me. Because all the time you made me think it was my business when it was really yours! So you had your fun with the little Jew from Rochester and now it’s over. You can be very proud of yourself. You had me fooled all the time. But now it’s over and you can go. There’s nothing more you can get from me!” Peter’s voice broke and he began to cry.

Johnny took several steps toward him. Peter’s face looked at him, his voice was suddenly old and broken.

“Why did you do it, Johnny?” he asked quietly. “Why? Why did you wait and do it like this when all the time all you had to do was come to me and say: ‘Peter, I don’t need you any more. The business has outgrown you.’ Don’t you think I didn’t know it?” He closed his eyes wearily. “If you had come to me yourself, I would have turned the whole business over to you. I didn’t need the money or the struggle any more. I had enough of it in my life!”

His voice seemed to grow stronger. It was cold and bitter. “But no! You had to do it your way! With a knife in my back!”

For a long moment they looked into each other’s eyes. It seemed almost that they were alone in the room. Johnny searched Peter’s eyes for a glimmer of warmth. They were hard and implacable.

He looked at Doris, then at Esther. Their faces were filled with pity for him. “Give him time,” they seemed to be saying, “give him time!”

At last he turned and silently walked out the door. He closed it behind him. His heart seemed to turn to lead within him as he walked down the hall to the elevator. He looked back at their door and he could feel the tears flaming behind his eyelids.

The sound of the elevator coming up reached his ears. Grimly his face settled into thin masklike lines. His lips tightened as he put his hat on his head.

The elevator door opened and he stepped into it. Thirty years. Thirty long years. Half a lifetime to reach something like this.

AFTERMATH

1938

SUNDAY AND MONDAY

We left at six thirty in the morning and had breakfast and lunch on the road. It was two o’clock and the bright shining sun was hanging in the sky over our heads as we turned up the narrow dirt road that led to the ranch house. Some men in the fields straightened up to look at us. Their faces brown and curious under the broad-brimmed straw hats they wore to keep the sun from their heads. A few minutes later we pulled to a stop in front of the house.

A man came out on the porch to look at us and see who we were. He was a big man with a round face and dark hair. I knew him. Vic Guido.

I got out of the car and walked to the porch. “Hello, Vic,” I called to him.

He took a heavy-rimmed pair of glasses from his shirt pocket and put them on and peered at me. “Johnny Edge!” he exclaimed without enthusiasm. “What are you doing out here?”

I walked back to the car and held the door open for Doris to get out as I answered him. “I thought I’d take a run out here and see your boss,” I said casually. “Where is he?”

He looked down at us for a moment before he answered. “He’s out in the back near the old carnival wagon watching a bocca game,” he replied. “Do you want me to show you the way?” he added surlily.

“No, thanks.” I smiled up at him. “I know where to find it.”

He didn’t answer, just turned around and went back into the house silently.

“That man always gives me the creeps.” Doris shuddered.

I looked down at her and smiled. “Vic’s all right,” I said, taking her hand as we started to walk around the house. “He always acts like that when I’m around. I think it’s because he’s a little jealous of his boss’s liking for me.”

We were at the back of the house now and I could hear the sound of excited voices in the air. I looked toward them.

The wagon was about two hundred yards behind the house and stood there incongruously on the flat ranchland. It was painted a bright red, and the yellow words on its side spelled out: Santos’ Carnival and Shows. There were about twenty men standing in front of it along the sides of the bocca alley.

Bocca was an old Italian game played with hard wooden bowling balls about the size of those used for duckpins. One man would roll a slightly smaller ball toward the other end of the alley and the other men would then try to roll the larger bowling balls as close to it as possible. I couldn’t see what there was about the game that made them so excited, but then I never could understand the game anyway.

Al was sitting on the wagon steps, an unlit familiar-looking black stogie sticking out of the corner of his mouth, watching the game as we approached him. His brown wrinkled face broke into a smile as he saw us. He stood up and took the cigar out of his mouth and held his arms out to me. “Johnny,” he said. His voice sounded pleased.

Embarrassed by this openly expressed pleasure of his welcome and feeling guilty over my reasons for coming out here, I could only stand there and smile at him, holding out my hand. “Hello, Al,” I said.

He brushed my hand aside and put his arms around me and hugged me. Then he drew back and looked up into my face. “I’m glad you came out,” he said simply. “I was just a sitting here thinking about you.”

I could feel my face flush as I answered. I looked quickly around me to see if any of the men were watching us, but they weren’t. They were too engrossed in the game. “It was a nice day for a ride,” I said lamely.

He turned to Doris and smiled at her. “It’s good to see you too, my dear,” he said, warmly taking her hand.

She kissed his cheek. “You’re looking very well, Uncle Al,” she said, returning his smile.

“How is your father?” he asked.

Her smile seemed to grow brighter. “Much better, thanks,” she replied. “I think the worst of it is over. All that he needs how is time and rest.”

BOOK: The Dream Merchants
2.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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