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Authors: Sidney Sheldon

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BOOK: Morning Noon & Night
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A doctor at a local clinic had been fined for overprescribing drugs.

A gymnasium had opened a year earlier, on the other side of the waterway, and it was rumored that the trainer took steroids and had other drugs available for his good customers.

But Chief of Police Murphy had another suspect in mind.

Tony Benedotti had served as a gardener for many of the homes in Hobe Sound for years. He had studied horticulture and loved spending his days creating beautiful gardens. The gardens and lawns he tended were the loveliest in Hobe Sound. He was a quiet man who kept to himself, and the people he worked for knew very little about him. He seemed to be too well educated to be a gardener, and people were curious about his past.

Murphy sent for him.

“If this is about my driver’s license, I renewed it,” Benedotti said.

“Sit down,” Murphy ordered.

“Is there some kind of problem?”

“Yeah. You’re an educated man, right?”

“Yes.”

The chief of police leaned back in his chair. “So how come you’re a gardener?”

“I happen to love nature.”

“What else do you happen to love?”

“I don’t understand.”

“How long have you been gardening?”

Benedotti looked at him, puzzled. “Have any of my customers been complaining?”

“Just answer the question.”

“About fifteen years.”

“You have a nice house and a boat?”

“Yes.”

“How can you afford all that on what you make as a gardener?”

Benedotti said, “It’s not that big a house, and it’s not that big a boat.”

“Maybe you make a little money on the side.”

“What do you…?”

“You work for some people in Miami, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“There’s a lot of Italians there. Do you ever do them some little favors?”

“What kind of favors?”

“Like pushing drugs.”

Benedotti looked at him, horrified. “My God! Of course not.”

Murphy leaned forward. “Let me tell you something, Benedotti. I’ve been keeping an eye on you. I’ve had a talk with a few of the people you work for. They don’t want you or your Mafia friends here anymore. Is that clear?”

Benedotti squeezed his eyes shut for a second, then opened them. “Very clear.”

“Good. I’ll expect you out of here by tomorrow. I don’t want to see your face again.”

Woody Stanford went into the Harbor Group Clinic for three weeks, and when he came out, he was the old Woody—charming, gracious, and delightful to be with. He went back to playing polo, riding Mimi Carson’s ponies.

Sunday was the Palm Beach Polo & Country Club’s eighteenth anniversary, and South Shore Boulevard was heavy with traffic as three thousand fans converged on the polo grounds. They rushed to fill the box seats on the west side of the field and the bleachers at the opposite end. Some of the finest players in the world were going to be in the day’s game.

Peggy was in a box seat next to Mimi Carson, as Mimi’s guest.

“Woody told me that this is your first polo match, Peggy. Why haven’t you been to one before?”

Peggy licked her lips. “I…I guess I’ve always been too nervous to watch Woody play. I don’t want him to get hurt again. It’s a very dangerous sport, isn’t it?”

Mimi said thoughtfully, “When you get eight players, each weighing about one hundred and seventy-five pounds, and
their nine-hundred-pound ponies racing at each other over three hundred yards at forty miles an hour—yes, accidents can happen.”

Peggy shuddered. “I couldn’t stand it if anything happened to Woody again. I really couldn’t. I go crazy worrying about him.”

Mimi Carson said gently, “Don’t worry. He’s one of the best. He studied under Hector Barrantas, you know.”

Peggy was looking at her blankly. “Who?”

“He’s a ten-goal player. One of the legends of polo.”

“Oh.”

There was a murmur from the crowd as the ponies moved across the field.

“What’s happening?” Peggy asked.

“They just finished a practice session before the game. They’re ready to begin now.”

On the field, the two teams were starting to line up under the hot Florida sun, getting ready for the umpire’s throw-in.

Woody looked wonderful, tan and fit and lithe—ready to do battle. Peggy waved and blew him a kiss.

Both teams were lined up now, side by side. The players held their mallets down for the throw-in.

“There are usually six periods of play, called chukkers,” Mimi Carson explained to Peggy. “Each chukker lasts seven minutes. The chukker ends when the bell rings. Then there’s a short rest. They change ponies every period. The team that scores the most goals wins.”

“Right.”

Mimi wondered just how much Peggy understood.

On the field, the players’ eyes were fixed on the umpire,
anticipating when the ball would be tossed. The umpire looked around at the crowd, then suddenly bowled the white plastic ball between the two rows of players. The game had begun.

The action was swift. Woody made the first play, getting possession of the ball and hitting an offside forehand. The ball sped toward a player on the opposing team. The player galloped down the field after it. Woody rode up to him and hooked his mallet to spoil his shot.

“Why did Woody do that?” Peggy asked.

Mimi Carson explained. “When your opponent gets the ball, it’s legal to hook his mallet so he can’t score or pass. Woody will use an offside stroke next to control the ball.”

The action was happening so fast that it was almost impossible to follow.

There were cries of “Center…”

“Boards…”

“Leave it…”

And the players were racing down the field at full speed. The ponies—usually pure or three-quarter Thoroughbreds—were responsible for 75 percent of their riders’ successes. The ponies had to be fast, and have what players call polo sense, being able to anticipate their rider’s every move.

Woody was brilliant during the first three chukkers, scoring two goals in each one and being cheered on by the roaring
crowd. His mallet seemed to be everywhere. It was the old Woody Stanford, riding like the wind, fearless. By the end of the fifth chukker, Woody’s team was well ahead. The players went off the field for the break.

As Woody passed Peggy and Mimi, sitting in the front row, he smiled at both of them.

Peggy turned to Mimi Carson, excitedly. “Isn’t he wonderful?”

She looked over at Peggy. “Yes. In every way.”

Woody’s teammates were congratulating him.

“Right on the mark, old boy! You were fabulous!”

“Great plays!”

“Thanks.”

“We’re going out there and rub their noses in it some more. They haven’t got a chance!”

Woody grinned. “No problem.”

He watched his teammates move out to the field, and he suddenly felt exhausted.
I pushed myself too hard
, he thought.
I wasn’t really ready to go back to the game yet. I’m not going to be able to keep this up. If I go out there, I’ll make a fool of myself
. He began to panic, and his heart started to pound.
What I need is a little pick-me-up. No! I won’t do that. I can’t. I promised. But the team is waiting for me. I’ll do it just this once, and never again. I swear to God, this is the last time
. He went to his car and reached into the glove compartment.

When Woody returned to the field, he was humming to himself, and his eyes were unnaturally bright. He waved to the crowd, and joined his waiting team.
I don’t even need a team
, he thought.
I could beat those bastards single-handedly. I’m the best damned player in the world
. He was giggling to himself.

The accident occurred during the sixth chukker, although some of the spectators were to insist later that it was no accident.

The ponies were bunched together, racing toward the goal, and Woody had control of the ball. Out of the corner of his eye he saw one of the opposing players closing in on him. Using a tail shot, he sent the ball to the rear of the pony. It was picked up by Rick Hamilton, the best player on the opposing team, who began racing toward the goal. Woody was after him at full speed. He tried to hook Hamilton’s mallet and missed. The ponies were getting closer to the goal. Woody kept desperately trying to get possession of the ball, and failed each time.

As Hamilton neared the goal, Woody deliberately swerved his pony to crash into Hamilton and ride him off the ball. Hamilton and his pony went tumbling to the ground. The crowd rose to its feet, screaming. The umpire angrily blew the whistle and held up a hand.

The first rule in polo is that when a player has possession
of the ball and is heading toward the goal, it is illegal to cut across the line in which the player is traveling. Any player who crosses that line creates a dangerous situation and commits a foul.

Play stopped.

The umpire approached Woody, anger in his voice. “That was a deliberate foul, Mr. Stanford!”

Woody grinned. “It wasn’t my fault! His damned pony—”

“The opponents will receive a penalty goal.”

The chukker turned into a disaster. Woody committed two more blatant violations within three minutes of each other. The penalties resulted in two more goals for the other team. In each case the opponents were awarded a free penalty shot on an unguarded goal. In the last thirty seconds of the game, the opposing team scored the winning goal. What had been an assured victory, had turned into a rout.

In the box, Mimi Carson was stunned by the sudden turn of events.

Peggy said timidly, “It didn’t go well, did it?”

Mimi turned to her. “No, Peggy. I’m afraid it didn’t.”

A steward approached the box. “Miss Carson, may I have a word with you?”

Mimi Carson turned to Peggy. “Excuse me a moment.”

Peggy watched them walk away.

After the game, Woody’s team was very quiet. Woody was too ashamed to look at the others. Mimi Carson hurried over to Woody.

“Woody, I’m afraid I have some terrible, terrible news.” She put a hand on his shoulder. “Your father is dead.”

Woody looked up at her and shook his head from side to side. He began to sob. “I’m…I’m responsible. It’s m…my fault.”

“No. You mustn’t blame yourself. It isn’t your fault.”

“Yes, it is,” Woody cried. “Don’t you understand? If it weren’t for my penalties, we would have won the game.”

Chapter Eleven

J
ulia Stanford had never known her father, and now he was dead, reduced to a black headline in the
Kansas City Star:
TYCOON HARRY STANFORD DROWNS AT SEA!
She sat there, staring at his photograph on the front page of the newspaper, filled with conflicting emotions.
Do I hate him because of the way he treated my mother, or do I love him because he’s my father? Do I feel guilty because I never tried to get in touch with him, or do I feel angry because he never tried to find me? It doesn’t matter anymore
, she thought.
He’s gone
.

Her father had been dead to her all her life, and now he had died again, cheating her out of something she had no words for. Inexplicably, she felt an overwhelming sense of loss.
Stupid!
Julia thought.
How can I miss someone I never knew?
She looked at the newspaper photograph again.
Do I have anything of him in me?
Julia stared into the mirror on the wall.
The eyes. I have the same deep gray eyes
.

Julia went into her bedroom closet, removed a battered
cardboard box, and from it lifted a leather-bound scrapbook. She sat on the edge of her bed and opened the scrapbook. For the next two hours, she pored over its familiar contents. There were countless photographs of her mother in her governess’s uniform, with Harry Stanford and Mrs. Stanford and their three young children. Most of the pictures had been taken on their yacht, at Rose Hill, or at the Hobe Sound villa.

Julia picked up the yellowed newspaper clippings recounting the scandal that had happened so many years before in Boston. The faded headlines were lurid:

LOVE NEST ON BEACON HILL
BILLIONAIRE HARRY STANFORD IN SCANDAL
TYCOON’S WIFE COMMITS SUICIDE
GOVERNESS ROSEMARY NELSON DISAPPEARS

There were dozens of gossip columns filled with innuendo.

Julia sat there for a long time, lost in the past.

She had been born at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Milwaukee. Her earliest memories were of living in dreary walk-up apartments and constantly moving from city to city. There were times when there was no money at all, and little to eat. Her mother was continually ill, and it had been difficult for her to find steady work. The young girl quickly learned never to ask for toys or new dresses.

Julia started school when she was five, and her classmates would mock her because she wore the same dress and scruffy shoes every day. When the other children teased her, Julia fought them. She was a rebel, and she was always
being brought up before the principal. Her teachers didn’t know what to do with her. She was in constant trouble. She might have been expelled except for one thing: She was the brightest student in her class.

Her mother had told Julia that her father was dead, and she had accepted that. But when Julia was twelve years old, she stumbled across a picture album filled with photographs of her mother with a group of strangers.

“Who are these people?” Julia asked.

And Julia’s mother decided that the time had come.

“Sit down, my darling.” She took Julia’s hand and held it tightly. There was no way to break the news tactfully. “That is your father, and your half sister, and your two half brothers.”

Julia was looking at her, puzzled. “I don’t understand.”

The truth had finally come out, shattering Julia’s peace of mind. Her father was alive! And she had a half sister and two half brothers. It was too much to comprehend. “Why…why did you lie to me?”

“You were too young to understand. Your father and I…had an affair. He was married, and I…I had to leave, to have you.”

“I hate him!” Julia said.

“You mustn’t hate him.”

“How could he have done this to you?” she demanded.

“What happened was my fault as much as his.” Each word was agony. “Your father was a very attractive man, and I was young and foolish. I knew that nothing could ever come of our affair. He told me he loved me…but he was married and had a family. And…and then I became pregnant.” It
was difficult for her to go on. “A reporter got hold of the story and it was in all the newspapers. I ran away. I intended for you and me to go back to him, but his wife killed herself, and I…I could never face him or the children again. It was my fault, you see. So don’t blame him.”

But there was a part of the story Rosemary never revealed to her daughter. When the baby was born, the clerk at the hospital said, “We’re filling out the birth certificate. The baby’s name is Julia Nelson?”

Rosemary had started to say yes, and then she thought fiercely,
No! She’s Harry Stanford’s daughter. She’s entitled to his name, and his support
.

“My daughter’s name is Julia Stanford.”

She had written to Harry Stanford, telling him about Julia, but she had never had a reply.

Julia was fascinated by the idea that she had a family she had not known about, and also by the fact that they were famous enough to be written about in the press. She went to the public library and looked up everything she could about Harry Stanford. There were dozens of articles about him. He was a billionaire, and he lived in another world, a world that Julia and her mother were totally excluded from.

One day, when one of Julia’s classmates teased her about being poor, Julia said defiantly, “I’m not poor! My father is one of the richest men in the world. We have a yacht and an airplane, and a dozen beautiful homes.”

Her teacher heard her. “Julia, come up here.”

Julia approached the teacher’s desk. “You must not tell a lie like that.”

“It’s not a lie,” Julia retorted. “My father is a billionaire! He knows presidents and kings!”

The teacher looked at the young girl standing before her in her shabby cotton dress and said, “Julia, that’s not true.”

“It is!” Julia said stubbornly.

She was sent to the principal’s office. She never mentioned her father at school again.

Julia learned that the reason she and her mother kept moving from city to city was because of the news media. Harry Stanford was constantly in the press, and the gossip newspapers and magazines kept digging up the old scandal. Investigative reporters would eventually discover who Rosemary Nelson was and where she lived, and she would have to take Julia and flee.

Julia read every newspaper story that appeared about Harry Stanford, and each time, she was tempted to telephone him. She wanted to believe that during all those years he had been desperately searching for her mother.
I’ll call and say, “This is your daughter. If you want to see us
…”

And he would come to them and fall in love all over again, and marry her mother, and they would all live happily together.

Julia Stanford grew into a beautiful young woman. She had lustrous dark hair, a laughing, generous mouth, the luminous gray eyes of her father, and a gently curved figure. But when she smiled, people forgot about everything else but that smile.

Because they were forced to move so often, Julia went to schools in five different states. During the summers she worked as a clerk in a department store, behind the counter in a drugstore, and as a receptionist. She was always fiercely independent.

They were living in Kansas City, Kansas, when Julia finished college on a scholarship. She was not sure what she wanted to do with her life. Friends, impressed by her beauty, suggested that she become a movie actress.

“You’d be a star overnight!”

Julia had dismissed the idea with a casual, “Who wants to get up that early every morning?”

But the real reason she was not interested was because she wanted, above all, her privacy. It seemed to Julia that all their lives, she and her mother had been hounded by the press because of what had happened so many years earlier.

Julia’s dream of one day uniting her mother and father ended the day her mother died. Julia felt an overpowering sense of loss.
My father has to know
, Julia thought.
Mother was a part of his life
. She looked up the telephone number of his business headquarters in Boston. A receptionist answered.

“Good morning, Stanford Enterprises.”

Julia hesitated.

“Stanford Enterprises. Hello? May I help you?”

Slowly Julia replaced the receiver.
Mother wouldn’t have wanted me to make that call
.

She was alone now. She had no one.

Julia buried her mother at Memorial Park Cemetery in Kansas City. There were no other mourners. Julia stood at the graveside and thought,
It isn’t fair, Mama. You made one mistake and paid for it the rest of your life. I wish I could have taken some of your pain away. I love you very much, Mama. I’ll always love you
. All she had left of her mother’s years on earth was a collection of old photographs and clippings.

With her mother gone, Julia’s thoughts turned to the Stanford family. They were rich. She could go to them for help.
Never
, she decided.
Not after the way Harry Stanford treated my mother
.

But she had to earn a living. She was faced with a career decision. She thought wryly,
Maybe I’ll become a brain surgeon
.

Or a painter?

Opera singer?

Physicist?

Astronaut?

She settled for a secretarial course at night school at Kansas City Kansas Community College.

The day after Julia finished the course, she visited an employment agency. There were a dozen applicants waiting to see the employment counselor. Sitting next to Julia was an attractive woman her age.

“Hi! I’m Sally Connors.”

“Julia Stanford.”

“I’ve got to get a job today.” Sally moaned. “I’ve been kicked out of my apartment.”

Julia heard her name called.

“Good luck!” Sally said.

“Thanks.”

Julia walked into the office of the employment counselor.

“Sit down, please.”

“Thank you.”

“I see from your application that you have a college education and summer work experience. And you have a high recommendation from the secretarial school.” She looked at the dossier on her desk. “You take shorthand at ninety words per minute, and type at sixty words per minute?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I might have just the thing for you. There’s a small firm of architects that’s looking for a secretary. The salary isn’t very large, I’m afraid…”

“That’s okay,” Julia said quickly.

“Very well. I’m going to send you over there.” She handed Julia a slip of paper with a typed name and address on it. “They’ll interview you at noon tomorrow.”

Julia smiled happily. “Thank you.” She was filled with a sense of excitement.

When Julia came out of the office, Sally’s name was being called.

“I hope you get something,” Julia said.

“Thanks!”

On an impulse, Julia decided to stay and wait. Ten minutes later, when Sally came out of the inner office, she was grinning.

“I got an interview! She telephoned, and I’m going to the American Mutual Insurance Company tomorrow for a receptionist job. How did you do?”

“I’ll know tomorrow, too.”

“I’m sure we’ll make it. Why don’t we have lunch together and celebrate?”

“Fine.”

At lunch they talked, and their friendship clicked instantly.

“I looked at an apartment in Overland Park,” Sally said. “It’s a two-bedroom and bath, with a kitchen and living room. It’s really nice. I can’t afford it alone, but if the two of us…”

Julia smiled. “I’d like that.” She crossed her fingers. “If I get the job.”

“You’ll get it!” Sally assured her.

On the way to the offices of Peters, Eastman & Tolkin, Julia thought,
This could be my big opportunity. This could lead anywhere. I mean, this isn’t just a job. I’ll be working for architects. Dreamers who build and shape the city’s skyline, who create beauty and magic out of stone and steel and glass. Maybe I’ll study architecture myself, so that I can help them and be a part of that dream
.

The office was in a dingy old commercial building on Amour Boulevard. Julia took the elevator to the third floor, got off, and stopped at a scarred door marked
PETERS, EASTMAN
&
TOLKIN, ARCHITECTS.
She took a deep breath to calm herself and entered.

Three men were waiting for her in the reception room, examining her as she walked in the door.

“You’re here for the secretarial job?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’m Al Peters.” The bald one.

“Bob Eastman.” The ponytail.

“Max Tolkin.” The potbelly.

They all appeared to be somewhere in their forties.

“We understand this is your first secretarial job,” Al Peters said.

“Yes, it is,” Julia replied. Then quickly she added, “But I’m a fast learner. I’ll work very hard.” She decided not to mention her idea about going to school to study architecture yet. She would wait until they got to know her better.

“All right, we’ll try you out,” Bob Eastman said, “and see how it goes.”

Julia felt a sense of exhilaration. “Oh, thank you! You won’t be—”

“About the salary,” Max Tolkin said. “I’m afraid we can’t pay very much at the beginning…”

“That’s all right,” Julia said. “I…”

“Three hundred a week,” Al Peters told her.

They were right. It was not much money. Julia made a quick decision. “I’ll take it.”

They looked at one another and exchanged smiles.

“Great!” Al Peters said. “Let me show you around.”

The tour took only a few seconds. There was the little reception room and three small offices that looked as though they had been furnished by the Salvation Army. The lavatory was down the hall. They were all architects, but Al Peters was the businessman, Bob Eastman was the salesman, and Max Tolkin handled construction.

“You’ll be working for all of us,” Peters told her.

“Fine.” Julia knew she was going to make herself indispensable to them.

Al Peters looked at his watch. “It’s twelve-thirty. How about some lunch?”

Julia felt a little thrill. She was part of the team now.
They’re inviting me to lunch
.

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