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Authors: Harold Robbins

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The Dream Merchants (69 page)

BOOK: The Dream Merchants
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Dave’s arm held mine again until they came up to us. Then his excited voice was in my ear again. “I’m telling you that kid is money in the bank! I can hear the old cash registers tinkle with every note in her voice!” He turned to the others for corroboration. “That’s right, isn’t it?”

They nodded, smiling in agreement.

I looked at them. “Did you hear that Peter Kessler is dead?” I asked.

Larry nodded his head. “Yes,” he answered. “I heard. Too bad, but it wasn’t unexpected. He was an old man.”

I stared at them for a moment. Larry was right. It was too bad. Only he didn’t know just how bad it really was. I pulled my arm loose from Dave’s grasp roughly and walked away from them.

I could hear Dave’s voice behind me. “Say, what’s eating that guy, anyway?” he was asking them.

I didn’t hear their answer because the door had closed behind me.

***

The office was empty as I sat down at my desk and placed a sheet of paper on it. My pen made scratching sounds on the paper. I stopped and looked down at the words I had just written:

“To The Board of Directors of Magnum Pictures Company, Inc.”

I looked up for a moment and through the open door into the corridor, then back at the sheet of paper in front of me. Everything suddenly made sense to me now. I remembered what Al had told me after he said he owned the Greater Boston Investment Corporation.

He had looked down at me with that quiet smile on his face. “Peter said that someday you would come out to see me,” he said.

I had looked up at him in surprise. “He did?” I asked. “How could he know? It was only yesterday we decided!”

He shook his head. “You’re wrong, Johnny,” he replied quietly, “it was almost two years ago. When he sold his share in Magnum.”

I was more bewildered than ever. I looked at Doris, then back at him. “How could he have known, then?” I asked incredulously.

Al looked at Vic. Vic stared at me for a moment, then angrily turned and walked out of the room. Al sat down opposite me.

“You remember that day you had a fight with him and he ordered you out of the house?” he asked.

I nodded my head. From the corner of my eyes I could see Doris watching me.

Al put a fresh stogie in his mouth. “Right after you left, he called me.” He looked at Doris. “That’s right, isn’t it?” he asked her.

Her eyes were wide. “I remember that,” she answered. “It was just before I left the room. I didn’t hear him talk to you.”

Al turned back to me. “His first words were: ‘Johnny sold me out!’ Then he asked me to lend him the money to buy control of the company.

“I had just learned from Vic what he had done. I was mad as hell at him, but it was done and there was nothing that we could do about it. I told him I would be glad to lend him the money, but was that what he really wanted?

“‘What do you mean?’ he ask.

“‘They’re offering you four and a half million for your share,’ I told him. ‘Why put yourself in hock when you can get that kinda money and retire and live like a gentleman with no troubles instead of having to worry about paying off money you owe?’

“Over the phone he wasa quiet for a minute. I know he’sa thinking. Then I tell him about what Vittorio do to you. He thinks some more. Then his voice sounds bad.

“‘I wasa wrong about Johnny?’ he ask.

“‘In thata case,’ he say, ‘I gotta have the money!’

“‘Why?’ I ask.

“‘Because Johnny lose everything,’ he tells me. ‘I gotta help him. Without me in the company, he lose his job.’

“‘Johnny won’t lose his job,’ I tell him. ‘They need him. He’s the only man who knows the company.’

“Peter still doubts me. I tell him I’m right, not to worry.

“‘But someday Johnny’s in trouble,’ Peter says. ‘They do to him what they do to me. What Johnny do then? He’s got nobody else to turn to but you or me.’

“‘If he gets into trouble,’ I say, ‘I’ll help him. But meanwhile I want you take it easy. You work hard building up this business. It’s time you take it easy. Enjoy yourself. Your wife. Your family. With four and a half million dollars you got no worries.’

“Then he makes me promise if you ever get into trouble I help you. I promise right away because that’s what I intend to do anyway. Then he says all right, he will sell.”

A silence fell across the room as he lit his cigar. I looked at him. My heart was so full I couldn’t speak. These two guys had always been my guardian angels. I owed them so much I could never repay them. I was never as smart as I thought I had been.

***

We in the picture business were so busy wrapping dreams in beautiful celluloid that we never saw that we were the only people who really believed in them. We were caught in a dream world of our own making, and every time the harsh reality of day crept into it, we screamed in sudden panic and frantically scurried around trying to patch the chinks in our celluloid armor.

I was no better than the others. I lived in a beautiful dream world that I had made up to suit myself. Like the others, I had built myself a house of celluloid.

But celluloid has a habit of melting when exposed to the heat of the sun. Like the others, I had forgotten that. I thought my house was strong enough to protect me against the world. It wasn’t.

It was only as strong as the people around me helped to make it. Now I knew that most of its strength was Peter. He was its foundation and its walls. Without him, there was no house.

Without him, there was no dream world left for me to live in.

I knew that now. I should have realized it a long time ago.

My pen began to scratch across the paper again as I concentrated on the words that seemed to flow from it:

“I herewith submit my resignation as President and as a member of the Board of Directors of your company.”

“You can’t do that, Johnny!” Her voice was intense and close to my ear.

I looked up, startled. Doris stood there, her face white, her eyes wide and angry. For a second I couldn’t find my voice; then it came back to me. “Why aren’t you home with your mother?” I asked harshly.

She ignored my question. “You can’t do that, Johnny!” she repeated, her eyes on mine. “You just can’t quit like that!”

I stood up. My hands were trembling. I walked over to the window and opened it. A blare of music came in from the sound stage across the way. I turned and faced her. “I can’t, can’t I?” I asked, my voice still gruff and hoarse. “Listen to that. I don’t want them to do business as usual in my house after I die. I want them to stop. Even if it’s only for a day, for a minute. But I want them to stop. I want them to remember!”

She walked toward me slowly. Her eyes were suddenly fixed on the distance and far away from me. Her head tilted to one side in that habit she had when she was listening intently. She was listening, she was remembering. For a long moment she was silent. When, at last, she spoke, her voice was charged with a lyrical quality I had never heard before. “What greater monument can any man ask to leave behind him,” she said softly, “than the gift of bringing pleasure and escape from the cares of everyday living to so many people?”

I didn’t answer.

Her eyes came back to mine. I could see the sudden flood of tears behind them. Her voice was still soft, still singing. “That’s why you can’t quit, Johnny. You and Papa made a bargain, even if neither of you knew about it. You can’t let him down now. He wouldn’t want you to quit because of him. That’s why he sent you to Santos even when he knew he couldn’t ever hope to come back.

“There are other reasons you can’t quit, Johnny.” Her hand made a gesture toward the window. “The people out there. They’re depending on you. To save their jobs, their homes, their families. And they’re your kind of people, Johnny. Picture people. Yourself, Johnny—you would never be happy if you quit. Remember what you told Santos: you can’t put a studio in your back yard. You said so yourself. But, most of all, you can’t quit because thirty years ago in a little town you made a bargain with the little man who lived upstairs over his hardware store. A bargain that took you both a long way from that little town, three thousand miles across the country, to where you stand today.”

She took my hand and looked up into my face. “Now only you are left to keep the bargain and fulfill that promise you made to each other. You see, Johnny”—her voice was almost a whisper—“that’s why you can’t quit.”

Suddenly my breath filled my lungs and then rushed out. She was right. I had known that with the first word she had spoken. What kind of a man was I anyway to run from life at the first sign of pain?

It was her father who had died. And she was comforting me instead of me comforting her. I turned the palm of her hand toward me and kissed it. I could feel her fingers against my cheek. Lightly, ever so lightly.

I picked up the sheet of paper from the desk and together we walked out of the office. I felt better when we got out into the sunlight again. The music didn’t hurt my ears. She was right. It was a monument any man could be proud of leaving behind him. Together we walked down to the gate and through it.

I could hear the splashing of the water from the big bottle over my head and I turned around and looked up at it. The water was sparkling in the sunlight. It made a light tinkling sound as it fell into the big crystal goblet beneath it.

I could feel my eyes blurring with a sudden moisture. I closed them and I could hear Esther’s voice in my ear. It was such a long time ago. “Let’s call it Magnum,” she had said. Magnum, after a big bottle of champagne that Peter had bought for a party when we first went into business.

I opened my eyes again. A lot of living had gone by since then. A lot of people were gone too. We walked to her car. It was parked just outside the gate. I held the door open for her and she got into it and slid behind the steering wheel.

I stood there with my foot on the running board, looking down at her, when I became aware of the paper I still clutched in my hand. I looked down at it in half surprise, then I tore it into tiny bits and scattered them in the road.

We watched them flutter in the breeze, their shining whiteness like little snowflakes settling to the ground. Her face turned back to me. Her hand went out and took mine. Her eyes were shining brightly.

My heart leaped in gladness at her touch. I looked down at her. “You didn’t answer my question back in there. Why aren’t you home with your mother?” I asked her.

Her eyes looked up into mine. They grew soft and wise with an understanding I would never know. “She told me to come down and get you,” she replied. “She said you would need me more than anyone else right now.”

I looked down at her for a moment more and then got into the car beside her. “All right, Doris,” I said slowly. “Let’s go home.”

 

Harold Robbins, Unguarded

On the inspiration for
Never Love a Stranger
:

“[The book begins with] a poem from
To the Unborn
by Stella Benson. There were a lot of disappointments especially during the Depression—fuck it—in everyone’s life there are disappointments and lost hope…. No one escapes. That’s why you got to be grateful every day that you get to the next.”

On writing
The Betsy
and receiving gifts:

“When I wrote
The Betsy
, I spent a lot of time in Detroit with the Ford family. The old man running the place had supplied me with Fords, a Mustang, that station wagon we still have…. After he read the book and I was flying home from New York the day after it was published, he made a phone call to the office on Sunset and asked for all the cars to be returned. I guess he didn’t like the book.”

On the most boring things in the world:

“Home cooking, home fucking, and Dallas, Texas!”

On the inspiration for
Stiletto
:

“I began to develop an idea for a novel about the Mafia. In the back of my head I had already thought of an extraordinary character…. To the outside world he drove dangerous, high-speed automobiles and owned a foreign car dealership on Park Avenue…. The world also knew that he was one of the most romantic playboys in New York society… What the world did not know about him was that he was a deadly assassin who belonged to the Mafia.”

On the message of
79 Park Avenue
:

“Street names change with the times, but there’s been prostitution since the world began. That was what
79 Park Avenue
was about, and prostitution will always be there. I don’t know what cavemen called it; maybe they drew pictures. That’s called pornography now. People make their own choices every day about what they are willing to do. We don’t have the right to judge them or label them. At least walk in their shoes before you do.
79 Park Avenue
did one thing for the public; it made people think about these girls being real, not just hustlers. The book was about walking in their shoes and understanding. Maybe it was a book about forgiveness. I never know; the reader is the only one who can decide.”

Paul Gitlin (Harold’s agent) on
The Carpetbaggers
after first reading the manuscript:

“Jesus Christ, you can’t talk about incest like this. The publishers will never accept it. This author, Robbins, he’s got a book that reads great, but it’s a ball breaker for publishing.”

From the judge who lifted the Philadelphia ban on
Never Love a Stranger
, on Harold’s books:

“I would rather my daughter learn about sex from the pages of a Harold Robbins novel than behind a barn door.”

On writing essentials:

“Power, sex, deceit, and wealth: the four ingredients to a successful story.”

On the drive to write:

“I don’t want to write and put it in a closet because I’m not writing for myself. I’m writing to be heard. I’m writing because I’ve got something to say to people about the world I live in, the world I see, and I want them to know about it.”

Harold Robbins titles from RosettaBooks

79 Park Avenue
Dreams Die First
Never Leave Me
Spellbinder
Stiletto
The Betsy
The Raiders
The Adventurers
Goodbye, Janette
Descent from Xanadu
Never Love A Stranger
Memories of Another Day
The Dream Merchants
Where Love Has Gone
The Lonely Lady
The Inheritors
The Looters
The Pirate

BOOK: The Dream Merchants
11.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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