The Stars Shine Down(11)


by Sidney Sheldon

MacAllister studied her a moment. "I suppose so. You must love your father very much."

"I'll see you next Saturday, Mr. MacAllister."

Chapter Five

At seventeen, the spindly, gaunt little girl had grown into a woman. Her face bore the imprint of her Scottish forebears: the gleaming skin, the arched, fine eyebrows, the thundercloud gray eyes, the stormy black hair. And in addition, there was a strain of melancholy that seemed to hover around her, the bleed-through of a people's tragic history. It was hard to look away from Lara Cameron's face.

Most of the boarders were without women, except for the companions they paid for at Madam Kirstie's and some of the other houses of prostitution, and the beautiful young girl was a natural target for them. One of the men would corner her in the kitchen or in his bedroom when she was cleaning it and say, "Why don't you be nice to me, Lara? I could do a lot for you."

Or, "You don't have a boyfriend, do you? Let me show you what a man is like."

Or, "How would you like to go to Kansas City? I'm leaving next week, and I'd be glad to take you with me."

After one or another of the boarders had tried to persuade Lara to go to bed with him, she would walk into the small room where her father lay helpless, and say, "You were wrong, Father. All the men want me." And she would walk out, leaving him staring after her.

James Cameron died on an early morning in spring, and Lara buried him at the Greenwood Cemetery in the Passiondale area. The only other person at the funeral was Bertha. There were no tears.

A new boarder moved in, an American named Bill Rogers. He was in his seventies, bald and fat, an affable man who liked to talk. After supper he would sit and chat with Lara. "You're too damned pretty to be stuck in a hick town like this," he advised her. "You should go to Chicago or New York. Big time."

"I will one day," Lara said.

"You've got your whole life ahead of you. Do you know what you want to do with it?"

"I want to own things."

"Ah, pretty clothes and..."

"No. Land. I want to own land. My father never owned anything. He had to live off other people's favors all his life."

Bill Rogers's face lit up. "Real estate was the business I was in."

"Really?"

"I had buildings all over the Midwest. I even had a chain of hotels once." His tone was wistful.

"What happened?"

He shrugged. "I got greedy. Lost it all. But it was sure fun while it lasted."

After that they talked about real estate almost every night.

"The first rule in real estate," Rogers told her, "is OPM. Never forget that."

"What's OPM?"

"Other people's money. What makes real estate a great business is that the government lets you take deductions on interest and depreciation while your assets keep growing. The three most important things in real estate are location, location, and location. A beautiful building up on a hill is a waste of time. An ugly building downtown will make you rich."

Rogers taught Lara about mortgages and refinancing and the use of bank loans. Lara listened and learned and remembered. She was like a sponge, eagerly soaking up every bit of information.

The most meaningful thing Rogers said to her was: "You know, Glace Bay has a big housing shortage. It's a great opportunity for someone. If I were twenty years younger..."

From that moment on Lara looked at Glace Bay with different eyes, visualizing office buildings and homes on vacant lots. It was exciting, and it was frustrating. Her dreams were there, but she had no money to carry them out.

The day Bill Rogers left town he said, "Remember - other people's money. Good luck, kid."

A week later Charles Cohn moved into the boardinghouse. He was a small man in his sixties, neat and trim and well dressed. He sat at the supper table with the other boarders but said very little. He seemed cocooned in his own private world.

He watched Lara as she worked around the boardinghouse, smiling, never complaining.

"How long do you plan to stay with us?" Lara asked Cohn.

"I'm not sure. It could be a week or a month or two..."

Charles Cohn was a puzzle to Lara. He did not fit in with the other boarders at all. She tried to imagine what he did. He was certainly not a miner or a fisherman, and he did not look like a merchant. He seemed superior to the other boarders, better educated. He told Lara that he had tried to get into the one hotel in town but that it was full. Lara noticed that at mealtimes he ate almost nothing.

"If you have a little fruit," he would say, apologetically, "or some vegetables..."

"Are you on some special kind of diet?" Lara asked.

"In a way. I eat only kosher food, and I'm afraid Glace Bay doesn't have any."

The next evening, when Charles Cohn sat down to supper, a p'ate of lamb chops was placed in front of him. He looked up at Lara in surprise. "I'm sorry. I can't eat this," he said. "J thought I explained..."

Lara smiled. "You did. This is kosher."

"What?"

"I found a kosher meat market in Sydney. The shochet there sold me this. Enjoy it. Your rent includes two meals a day. Tomorrow you're having a steak."

From that time on, whenever Lara had a free moment, Cohn made it a point to talk to her, to draw her out. He was impressed by her quick intelligence and her independent spirit.

One day Charles Cohn confided to Lara what he was doing in Glace Bay. "I'm an executive with Continental Supplies." It was a famous national chain. "I'm here to find a location for our new store."

"That's exciting," Lara said. I knew he was in Glace Bay for some important reason. "You're going to put up a building?"

"No. We'll find someone else to do that. We just lease our buildings."

At three o'clock in the morning Lara awakened out of a sound sleep and sat up in bed, her heart pounding wildly. Had it been a dream? No. Her mind was racing. She was too excited to go back to sleep.

When Charles Cohn came out of his room for breakfast, Lara was waiting for him.

"Mr. Cohn...I know a great place," she blurted out.

He stared at her, puzzled. "What?"

"For the location you're looking for."

"Oh? Where?"

Lara evaded the question. "Let me ask you something. If I owned a location that you liked, and if I put up a building on it, would you agree to lease it from me for five years?"