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Authors: Harold Robbins

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The Dream Merchants (9 page)

BOOK: The Dream Merchants
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Again Johnny was surprised. He didn’t understand why Peter said he would talk to Esther about it. He didn’t see why it was necessary. After all, what did she know about the picture business?

But Borden didn’t seem surprised. He looked up shrewdly into Peter’s face. What he saw there must have pleased him, for suddenly he gave Peter a playful punch in the arm. “Good enough, Landsman!” he said. “If Esther approves it, we got a deal!”

9

Peter was very quiet on the train going home. Johnny didn’t talk much to him when he saw that Peter wanted to be left alone. Peter stared out of the window most of the time.

The snow was still packed tightly on the ground when at last they got off the train and trudged toward home. As they drew near the house, Peter began to talk.

“It’s not so easy like you think, Johnny,” he said. “There’s lots of things I got to do before I can even take a chance like that.”

Johnny got the impression that Peter was talking more for his own benefit than Johnny’s, so he didn’t reply.

“I got responsibilities here,” Peter went on. Johnny was right, Peter didn’t expect an answer. “I got the two businesses and the house, which I have to sell so we can have some cash to operate. The hardware business is not so good right now and I got a big inventory, which I expected to clear out in the spring.”

“But we can’t wait,” Johnny protested. “You can’t ask Borden to wait until then. He will have to sell his equipment.”

“I know,” Peter agreed, “but what can I do? You heard he wants at least two thousand in cash and right now I ain’t got it. I don’t know either whether it’s such a good thing to jump into anyhow. It’s a risky business. What if the pictures don’t sell? I don’t know nothing about making ’em.”

“Joe’ll come in with us,” Johnny said, “and he knows how to make ’em. His pictures are the best that Borden’s got. We can’t lose.”

“Maybe,” Peter said doubtfully as they came to the door. “But there’s no guarantees.”

Peter went upstairs to his apartment and Johnny went into the nickelodeon.

“Hallo, Johnny,” George called from behind his counter.

“Hello, George.” Johnny walked over to the counter and sat down on a stool.

George put a cup of coffee in front of him. “Have a good trip?”

Johnny sipped at the coffee gratefully and started to unbutton his coat. “Yeanh”—he nodded—“pretty good.” “At least it would be if Peter wasn’t so damn cautious,” he thought.

“I didn’t think you’d be down today,” he said aloud. “It’s so cold nobody’ll be out.”

“Poopuls come out,” George said. “You should been here last night. Poopuls come minute she stops snowing and wait in entrance for you to open op.”

Johnny was surprised. “You mean people were actually here last night in all that snow?”

“Sure,” George said.

“Did you tell ’em we’ll be open tonight?” Johnny asked.

“Nope,” George said proudly, “did better. I go upstairs to Missus Kessler and tell her. She sticks head outside windows and sees poopuls. She comes downstairs and we put on show. Did good business too.”

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Johnny muttered under his breath. “But who ran the projector?”

“Me,” George said beaming. “Missus Kessler took the tickets and my brother Nick, he work the store. I run him putty good too. Only broke film twice.”

Twice in one show was nothing. “How did you learn to work the machine?” Johnny asked incredulously.

“Watched you,” George answered. “Not so hard to do.” He looked at Johnny and smiled. “Sure is one good business. Make money easy. Put in film one end machine, money comes out other end.”

Johnny never heard it put better. He finished his coffee and started for his room at the back of the store.

“Johnny,” George called him back.

“What?”

“Missus Kessler, she say Peter go to New York. Maybe go into picture business there.”

“Maybe.”

“Then what he do with this?” George asked. “Sell it?”

“Maybe.”

George walked over to him excitedly. He put his hand on Johnny’s arm. “If he does sell, you think maybe he’ll sell it to me?”

Johnny looked at him a moment before he answered. “If he decides to sell and if you got money to buy, I don’t see why he won’t.”

George looked at the floor. His face, as always when he was excited, turned a little red. “You know when I come to this country fifteen yirrs, I’m Grik, and poor boy, but my brother Nick and me, we live cheap and save few bucks maybe for to go back to old country with some day. I think now maybe we don’t go back to old country so quick. We use money to open up picture show.”

“What made you think of that?” Johnny asked curiously.

“I read in papers all over the country they open. In New York they got theaters now show only moving pictures.” George spoke slowly, he didn’t want to get mixed up in his choice of words. “If Peter sell me the building, I take out hardware store and make regular theater like New York.”

“The whole building?” Johnny didn’t believe his ears.

“The whole building,” George said, then added cautiously: “That is, if Peter don’t ask too much money!”

Peter had just finished explaining to Esther why he thought they would not be able to take Borden’s proposition when Johnny came running up the stairs. He burst into the room.

“Peter, we got it! We got it!”

Peter looked at him as if he were crazy. “Got what?”

Johnny couldn’t stand still. He picked up Esther and swung her around. Peter’s mouth hung open as he watched them. “Our worries are over,” Johnny sang out, “George will buy it. The whole building!”

His excitement was contagious. Peter went over to him and shouted: “Stand still a minute, you crazy fool! What do you mean George will buy it? Where’ll he get the money?”

Johnny looked at him grinning. “He’s got the money. He says so and he wants to buy the place.”

“You’re crazy,” Peter said with finality. “It’s impossible.”

“Impossible?” Johnny yelled. He walked over to the door and opened it. “Hey, George,” he shouted down the hall, “come on up!” He stood there holding the door open.

They could hear the footsteps on the stairs. They were slow and hesitating at first and then grew firmer as they came closer. At last George came into the room. His face was red and he looked at the floor as he stumbled across the room toward them.

“What’s this Johnny tells us?” Peter asked him.

George tried to speak but couldn’t. The English words just wouldn’t come to his tongue. He gulped twice and then looked at Peter helplessly.

It was Esther who came to his rescue. Sensing the poor man’s distress and divining the reasons that lay behind it, she went up to him and took his hand. “Come and sit down, George,” she said quietly, “and while you men talk it over, I’ll make some coffee.”

***

And so it was settled. A week later George had bought the building and the nickelodeon for twelve thousand dollars, half cash and half notes secured by mortgage. Peter arranged for the sale of the merchandise in the hardware store to the only other hardware merchant in the neighborhood, who was only too glad to buy it because it left him with a clear field.

The very next day Peter signed his agreement with Borden and an hour later rented the building in which the equipment stood, thus taking care of his studio space.

When the papers were all signed, Borden turned to Peter and grinned. “Now you need some help to make pictures. I got a few relatives who know the business and they could be of real use to you. Maybe I should send them over to talk to you?”

Peter smiled and shook his head. “I don’t think I’ll need them.”

“But you got to have help to make pictures,” Borden protested. “I’m thinking only of your good. You don’t know nothing about how to make them.”

“That’s true,” Peter admitted, “but I got some ideas I’d like to try out first.”

“It’s all right with me,” Borden said, “it’s your funeral.”

They were seated around a big table at Luchow’s on Fourteenth Street. Borden and his wife, Peter, Esther, Johnny, and Joe made up the party. Borden got up to make a toast. “To Peter Kessler and his good wife, Esther,” he said, holding a glass of champagne in his hand. “All the luck in the world in producing—” He stopped in the middle of the toast.

“I just thought of something,” he said. “You ain’t got no name for your pictures. What are you going to call them, Peter?”

Peter looked puzzled. “I never thought of that. I didn’t know I had to have a name for them.”

“It’s very important,” Borden assured him solemnly. “How else are the customers going to know they’re your pictures?”

“I have an idea,” Esther said.

They looked at her.

Her face flushed a little. “Peter,” she said, turning to her husband, “what did the waiter call that big bottle of champagne you ordered?”

“A magnum,” Peter answered.

“That’s it.” She smiled. “Why not call it Magnum Pictures?”

A chorus of approval rose from the table.

“Then it’s settled,” Borden said, holding up his glass again. “To Magnum Pictures! They should be seen on every screen in the country just like Borden Pictures!”

They all drank and then Peter got up. He looked around the table and picked up his glass. “To Willie Borden, who I will never forget his kindness.”

Again they drank. When they put their glasses down, Peter still stood there. He cleared his throat. “This is a big day in my life. Today I went into the business of producing pictures. Tonight my dear wife gave them a name. Now I would like to make an announcement.” He looked around dramatically. “I announce the appointment of Mr. Joe Turner as studio and production manager of Magnum Pictures.”

Borden didn’t act surprised. He smiled and reached over the table and shook hands with Joe. “No wonder Peter didn’t want any of my relatives,” he said ruefully. “You must have tipped him off.”

There was a relieved burst of laughter at that. Peter had been worried about how Borden would take it. He didn’t know that Johnny and Joe had spoken to Borden some time ago about it.

“Wait a minute,” he said, “I got another announcement.”

They looked at him.

He held up his glass. “To my partners, Johnny Edge and Joe Turner.”

Joe just sat there with his mouth open; he gulped but couldn’t speak.

It was Johnny who jumped to his feet and faced Peter. His heart was beating wildly and his eyes glistened moistly. “Peter,” he said, “Peter—”

Peter grinned at him. “Don’t get so excited, Johnny. After all, you only got ten percent apiece!”

AFTERMATH

1938

TUESDAY

You sit back in your seat and try to look relaxed. The pressure in your ears grows heavier and heavier and you get a tight knotty feeling in the pit of your stomach. The lights in the cabin are low and you strain your eyes to see how the other people in the plane are acting when suddenly the wheels touch the ground. Without realizing it you have been chewing the gum faster and faster and now suddenly it tastes bad in your mouth.

I took a Kleenex from the container and wrapped the gum in it and put it away. The wheels bumped along the ground and slowly the plane came to a stop. The hostess came down the aisle and unfastened the safety belt.

I stood up and stretched. My muscles were tight from the tension. I couldn’t help it. I was afraid of flying. No matter how many times I did it, I was always afraid.

The motors cut and died away, leaving a hollow, empty ringing in my ears. Unconsciously I listened for it to stop, for when it stopped I knew I was back to normal.

There were a man and a woman in the seat in front of me and they had been talking as the plane came down. While the engines were roaring I could hardly hear them, and now they seemed to be shouting.

“I still think we should have let them know we were coming,” the woman was saying, when she realized she was talking loudly. She stopped in the middle of her sentence and looked back at me as if I had been eavesdropping.

I looked away and she resumed her conversation in a lower voice. The hostess came down the aisle again.

“What time is it?” I asked.

“Nine thirty-five, Mr. Edge,” she answered.

I took off my wristwatch and set it and walked toward the rear of the plane. The door had been opened and I walked out of it and down the ramp. The floodlights hurt my eyes and I stopped for a minute.

I began to feel chilly and was glad I had worn my topcoat. I pulled the collar up around my neck and walked toward the gate. Other people were rushing past me, hurrying toward the exit, but I walked slowly. I lit a cigarette as I walked and dragged deeply on it, my eyes wandering over the crowd.

And there she was. I stopped for a second and looked at her. She didn’t see me. She was puffing nervously at a cigarette; her face was pale and luminous in the glaring light. Her eyes were deep blue and weary, with circles under them; her mouth was tense. Under the loose camel-hair short coat flung over her shoulders her body was taut, and her free hand clenched and unclenched.

She saw me. Her hand lifted as if to wave and then hung there still in the air in front of her as if caught on an invisible rung. She watched me as I walked through the gate to her.

I stopped a foot in front of her. She was all wound up like a tight spring. “Hullo, sweetheart,” I said.

Then she was in my arms, her head on my chest, crying: “Johnny, Johnny!”

I could feel her body shaking against me. I dropped my cigarette and stroked her hair. I didn’t talk. There was no use talking, it wouldn’t help. I just kept thinking the same thing over and over.

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

She was almost twelve when she said that. I was just going back to New York with the first picture Magnum had completed in Hollywood and we were having dinner at Peter’s house the night before I got on the train. We were all very happy and nervous. We didn’t know just what was coming. The picture that was in the can would either make us or break us and so we all tried to joke and act lighthearted and not let the others see how apprehensive we were.

Esther had laughed and said: “Don’t let some pretty girl on the train talk you into marrying her and go away and forget the picture.”

BOOK: The Dream Merchants
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