Authors: Harold Robbins
Tags: #Fiction, #General
ROBERT HALE ·LONDON
IT was two-thirty when I got back to the office after lunch. My secretary looked up as I came through the door. “Those contracts get here from the lawyer yet?” I asked.
She nodded. “I put them on your desk, Brad.”
I went on into my office, sat down behind my desk and picked them up. I riffled the sheets of paper with my fingers. These tightly typed pages with all their crazy wherefores and whereases was the real McCoy. The big time. I couldn’t help but feel the glow of satisfaction through me as I began to read them. It was better than brandy after dinner.
The buzzer hawked and I picked up the phone, still looking at the contract. “Paul Remey, calling from Washington, on two,” my secretary’s voice whispered in my ear.
“Right,” I said, pressing down the button. The satisfaction had eased into my voice. “Paul,” I said into the mouth-piece, “I got the contract in my hand——”
“Brad!” His voice was harsh, interrupting, and there was something in it that set my heart suddenly pounding with fear.
His words burned into my brain. “Elaine committed suicide!”
“No, Paul!” The contract slipped from my fingers, spreading its white sheets over the desk and floor. There was a tight band around my chest. Twice I tried to speak and twice I failed.
I slumped back into my chair. The room was beginning to spin vaguely around me. I closed my eyes. Elaine, I cried silently—Elaine, Elaine, Elaine.
Desperately I forced myself to speak. My voice was cracked and strange to my ears. “How, Paul?
“Last night,” he said. “Sleeping pills.”
I took a deep breath. My self-control was coming back. “Why, Paul?” I forced myself to ask, but I knew the answer. “Did she leave a note?”
“No note. Nothing. Nobody knows why.”
A small sigh of relief escaped my lips. The kid had played it straight right down to the wire. My voice was stronger now. “It’s a terrible shock, Paul.”
“To all of us, Brad,” he said. “Just when everything seemed to be working out for her, too. Just a few weeks ago Edith was saying how happy Elaine seemed, now that you were helping on that Infantile drive. She said Elaine had found herself again, doing something for others.”
“I know,” I said wearily. “I know.”
“That’s why I called, Brad,” he said. “Elaine was so fond of you. She thought you were the greatest. She was always telling Edith how wonderful you were to her.”
There was pain coming from his words. I had to stop him from talking like that, or he’d kill me. “I thought she was pretty wonderful too,” I said huskily.
“We all did, Brad,” he assured me. “We all wondered where she got so much courage from, the strength to face all the things she had to. Now I guess we’ll never know.”
I closed my eyes. They’ll never know, but I knew. I knew a lot of things. Too many things. “When are the services?” I heard myself asking automatically.
“The day after to-morrow,” he answered. He named the chapel. “At eleven o’clock,” he added.
“I’ll be down,” I said. “I’ll see you there. Meanwhile, if there’s anything I can do——”
“No, Brad; everything’s been attended to,” he answered. “There’s nothing more anyone can do for her now.”
I put down the phone, his words ringing in my ears, and sat there staring at the papers strewn across the desk and floor. Automatically I bent to pick them up, and then suddenly the tears spilled over.
I heard the door open but I didn’t look up. Mickey was standing in front of me. I felt her hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry, Brad,” she said.
I straightened up and looked at her. “You know?”
She nodded. “He told me before I put him on,” she said gently. “It’s a terrible thing.” She held out her hand. There was a drink in it.
I took the drink and held it to my lips while she picked the remaining papers from the floor. I had drained the glass by the time she had them all gathered. She looked at me questioningly.
I managed a grimace that passed for a smile. “I’ll be okay,” I said. “Leave them here. I’ll look at them later.”
She placed them in a neat stack on the desk and had started for the door when I called after her. “No calls, Mickey, and no people. I won’t be available for a while.”
She nodded, and the door shut gently behind her. I walked over to the window and looked out.
The sky was a cold winter blue and the grey white buildings of the city fought their way grimly into it, Twenty thousand square feet of earth meant half a million square feet of rental on Madison Avenue, and the new buildings were like teeming anthills all around. This was part of the big time and the big time was a part of me.
This was what I had wanted ever since I was old enough to know anything. Now I knew what it was worth. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. One tiny little person in the street was worth more than all the city put together.
She was dead but I couldn’t believe it. It seemed that just a little while ago her warm lips were under mine, her voice in my ear.
Elaine. I spoke her name aloud. Before it had been a soft and loving sound but now it was a dagger in my heart. Why did you do it, Elaine?
The buzzer hawked and I went back to the desk and angrily picked up the phone. “I thought I said no calls,” I snapped.
“Your father’s here, Brad,” Mickey said softly. “Okay,” I said and turned to face the door.
He came into the room awkwardly. Dad always looked awkward when he walked. The only time he ever looked graceful was when he sat behind the wheel of an automobile. His dark eyes squinted searchingly up at my face. “You heard?” he asked.
I nodded. “Paul called me.”
“I heard it on the car radio. I came right over,” he said.
“Thanks.” I walked over to the liquor cabinet and took out a bottle. “I’ll be all right.” I poured out two drinks and held one out to him.
I swallowed mine, but he held his in his hand. “What are you going to do?” he asked.
I shook my head. “I don’t know. When I spoke to Paul I thought I’d go down there, but now I don’t
know whether I can. I don’t know whether I can face her.” His eyes were still searching mine. “Why?”
I stared at him for a moment and then I exploded. “Why? You know as well as I, why. Because I killed her! If I had pointed a gun at her and pulled the trigger I couldn’t have done a better job!” I sank into the chair beside the cabinet and put my hands over my face.
He sat down opposite me. “How do you know?” he asked.
My eyes burned as I looked at him. “Because I made love to her and lied to her and made promises to her that I knew I’d never keep; because she believed me and loved me and trusted me and never thought I’d leave her. When I did there was nothing left in this world for her because I had become her world.”
He sipped his drink slowly and looked at me. At last he spoke. “You really believe that?” I nodded.
He thought for a moment. “Then you must go down and make your peace with her, or you’ll never know another day’s rest.”
“But how can I, Dad?” I cried.
He got to his feet. “Yes, you can,” he said confidently. “Because you’re my son, Bernard. You have many of my weaknesses and all my faults, but you’re not a coward. A difficult thing it may be, but you’ll make your peace with her.”
The door closed behind him and I was alone again. I looked towards the window. The dark of winter had already begun to taint the day. It was not so long ago on a day like this that I first met her.
Somewhere in the time between then and now I would find the answer.
I WATCHED her in the corner of the mirror while I was shaving. The bathroom door was open and I could see her sitting up in bed. Her long reddish-brown hair cascaded over the slim white shoulders peeping from her night-dress. She wore well, I thought proudly. No one looking at her would imagine that in another three weeks we’d be married twenty years.
Twenty years. Two children—a boy nineteen, and a girl sixteen—yet she still looked like a kid herself. She was slim, small-boned and still wore the same size twelve that she did when we were first married. Her grey eyes were just as wide and bright and fresh as then and her mouth was soft and full. Even without lipstick her mouth was good. It was warm and fresh and wholesome and her chin was round, yet slightly square and honest.
I saw her get out of bed and slip into a robe. Her figure was the same as it had always been, pertly young and exciting. I watched her move out of range of the mirror and then turned back to serious shaving. I rubbed my fingers over my beard.
Still rough. It was always like that. I had to go over my beard twice before my skin would feel smooth. I picked up the shaving brush and began to re-lather my face. Suddenly I realized I was humming.
I stared in the mirror at myself in surprise. I don’t ordinarily hum while shaving. I’m not usually happy at all while shaving because I hate it. If I had my way I would grow a thick black beard.
Marge always laughed at me when I complained about shaving. “Why don’t you get a job digging ditches?” she would say. “You’ve got the build for it.”
I had the face for it too. One thing convinced me that you couldn’t tell what a person did for a living from his appearance. Mine was one of those big rough faces that you usually associate with an outdoor, hard-working guy, but I couldn’t remember the last time I did any work outside. I wouldn’t even lift a finger to help out in the garden.
I began to shave again, still humming half under my breath. I was happy—why fight it? Those things were even more wonderful if they could happen to a man after twenty years of marriage.
I splashed some bay rum on my face, rinsed off the razor and began to comb my hair. That was one point in my favour. I still had a good head of hair, even though it had gone half grey in the last five years.
The bedroom was empty when I walked back into it, but there was a clean shirt, tie, socks, underwear and a suit spread out on my bed. I grinned to myself. Marge didn’t take any chances on my taste. I ran to loud combinations, but she said that didn’t go with the kind of business I was in. I had to look dignified.
It hadn’t always been like that. Only the last eight or nine years. Before that I could have worn a horse blanket and got away with it. But I wasn’t just a press agent any more. Now I was a public relations counsellor, with thirty grand a year instead of three, and an office in one of the new buildings on Madison Avenue instead of desk space in one the size of a phone booth.
Still, when I looked in the mirror after I was dressed I had to admit to myself that Marge was right. The old boy looked solid. The clothes did something for me. They softened the harshness of my face and added a good dependable look.
When I came down to the breakfast nook, Marge was already seated at the table, reading a letter. I went over to her and kissed her cheek. “Morning, babe,” I said.
“Morning, Brad,” she said, without taking her eyes from the letter.