The Stars Shine Down(13)

by Sidney Sheldon

"I don't think you understand, Mr. MacAllister. I said I already have a deal."

"I don't think you understand, Mr. Cohn. Lara doesn't own that land. I do."

"She's trying to buy it from you, isn't she?"

"Yes. I don't have to sell it to her."

"And I don't have to use that lot. I've seen three other lots that will do just as nicely. Thanks for dropping by."

Sean MacAllister looked at him for a long moment. "You're serious?"

"Very. I never go into a deal that's not kosher, and I never break my word."

"But Lara doesn't know anything about building. She..."

"She plans to find people who do. Naturally, we'll have final approval."

The banker was thoughtful. "Do I understand that Continental Supplies is willing to sign a ten-year lease?"

"That's correct."

"I see. Well, under the circumstances, I...let me think about it."

When Lara arrived at the boardinghouse, Charles Cohn told her about his conversation with the banker.

Lara was upset. "You mean Mr. MacAllister went behind my back and...?"

"Don't worry," Cohn assured her, "he'll make the deal with you."

"Do you really think so?"

"He's a banker. He's in business to make a profit."

"What about you? Why are you doing this for me?" Lara asked.

He had asked himself the same question. Because you're achingly young, he thought. Because you don't belong in this town. Because I wish I had a daughter like you.

But he said none of those things.

"I have nothing to lose, Lara. I found some other locations that would serve just as well. If you can acquire this land, I'd like to do this for you. It doesn't matter to my company who I deal with. If you get your loan, and I approve your builder, we're in business."

A feeling of elation swept over Lara. "I...I don't know how to thank you. I'll go to see Mr. MacAllister and..."

"I wouldn't if I were you," Cohn advised her. "Let him come to you."

She looked worried. "But what if he doesn't...?"

Cohn smiled. "He will."

He handed her a printed lease. "Here's the ten-year lease we discussed. It's contingent, you understand, on your meeting all our requirements for the building." He handed her a set of blueprints. "These are our specifications."

Lara spent the night studying the pages of drawings and instructions.

The following morning Sean MacAllister telephoned Lara.

"Can you come down to see me, Lara?"

Her heart was pounding. "I'll be there in fifteen minutes."

He was waiting for her.

"I've been thinking about our conversation," MacAllister said. "I would need a written agreement for a ten-year lease from Mr. Cohn."

"I already have it," Lara said. She opened her bag and took out the contract.

Sean MacAllister examined it carefully. "It seems to be in order."

"Then we have a deal?" Lara asked. She was holding her breath.

MacAllister shook his head. "No."

"But I thought..."

His fingers were drumming restlessly on his desk. "To tell you the truth, I'm really in no hurry to sell that lot, Lara. The longer I hold on to it, the more valuable it will become."

She looked at him blankly. "But you..."

"Your request is completely unorthodox. You've had no experience. I would need a very special reason to make this loan to you."

"I don't under...what kind of reason?"

"Let's say...a little bonus. Tell me, Lara, have you ever had a lover?"

The question caught her completely off-guard.

"" She could feel the deal slipping away from her. "What does that have...?"

MacAllister leaned forward. "I'm going to be frank with you, Lara. I find you very attractive. I'd like to go to bed with you. Quid pro quo. That means..."

"I know what it means." Her face had turned to stone.

"Look at it this way. This is your chance to make something of yourself, isn't it? To own something, to be somebody. To prove to yourself that you're not like your father."

Lara's mind was spinning.

"You'll probably never have another chance like this again, Lara. Perhaps you'd like some time to think it over, and..."

"No." Her voice sounded hollow in her own ears. "I can give you my answer now." She pressed her arms tightly against her sides to stop her body from trembling. Her whole future, her very life, hung on her next words.

"I'll go to bed with you." Grinning, MacAllister rose and moved toward her, his fat arms outstretched.

"Not now," Lara said. "After I see the contract."

The following day Sean MacAllister handed Lara a contract for the bank loan.

"It's a very simple contract, my dear. It's a ten-year two-hundred-thousand-dollar loan at eight percent." He gave her a pen. "You can just sign here on the last page."

"If you don't mind, I'd like to read it first," Lara said. She looked at her watch. "But I don't have time now. May I take it with me? I'll bring it back tomorrow."

Sean MacAllister shrugged. "Very well." He lowered his voice. "About our little date. Next Saturday I have to go into Halifax. I thought we might go there together."

Lara looked at his leering smile and felt sick to her stomach. "All right." It was a whisper.

"Good. You sign the contract and bring it back and we're in business." He was thoughtful for a moment. "You're going to need a good builder. Are you familiar with the Nova Scotia Construction Company?"

Lara's face lit up. "Yes. I know their foreman, Buzz Steele."

He had put up some of the biggest buildings in Glace Bay.

"Good. It's a fine outfit. I would recommend them."

"I'll talk to Buzz tomorrow."

That evening Lara showed the contract to Charles Cohn. She did not dare tell him about the private deal she had made with MacAllister. She was too ashamed. Cohn read the contract carefully, and when he finished, he handed it back to Lara. "I would advise you not to sign this."