The Stars Shine Down(16)


by Sidney Sheldon

On Monday, the first week of December, work on the building began to slow down. Lara went to the site one morning, and there were only two men there, and they seemed to be doing very little.

"Where's the rest of the crew today?" Lara asked.

"They're on another job," one of the men explained. "They'll be here tomorrow."

The following day no one was there.

Lara took a bus into Halifax to see Buzz Steele. "What's happening?" Lara asked. "The work has stopped."

"Nothing to worry about," Steele assured her. "We ran into a little snag on another job, and I had to pull my men off temporarily."

"When will they be coming back to work?"

"Next week. We'll be on schedule."

"Buzz, you know how much this means to me."

"Sure, Lara."

"If the building's not completed on time, I lose it. I lose everything."

"Don't worry, kid. I won't let that happen."

When Lara left, she had a feeling of unease.

The following week the workmen still had not appeared. She went into Halifax again to see Steele.

"I'm sorry," the secretary said, "Mr. Steele is not in."

"I must talk to him. When will he be back?"

"He's out of town on a job. I don't know when he'll be back."

Lara felt the first stirrings of panic. "This is very important," Lara insisted. "He's putting up a building for me. It has to be finished in three weeks."

"I wouldn't worry, Miss Cameron. If Mr. Steele said it will be finished, it will be finished."

"But nothing's happening," Lara cried. "No one's working on it."

"Would you like to talk to Mr. Ericksen, his assistant?"

"Yes, please."

Ericksen was a giant of a man, broad-shouldered and amiable. He radiated reassurance.

"I know why you're here," he said, "but Buzz told me to assure you that you have nothing to worry about. We've been held back a little on your project because of some problems on a couple of big construction jobs we're handling, but your building is only three weeks away from completion."

"There's still so much to do..."

"Not to worry. We'll have a crew out there first thing on Monday morning."

"Thank you," Lara said, relieved. "I'm sorry to have bothered you, but I'm a little nervous. This means a great deal to me."

"No problem," Ericksen smiled. "You just go home and relax. You're in good hands."

Monday morning there was not a single workman at the site. Lara was frantic. She telephoned Charles Cohn.

"The men have stopped working," she told him, "and I can't find out why. They keep making promises and breaking them."

"What's the name of the company - Nova Scotia Construction?"

"That's right."

"I'll call you back," Cohn said.

Two hours later Charles Cohn telephoned. "Who recommended the Nova Scotia Construction Company to you?"

She thought back. "Sean MacAllister."

"I'm not surprised. He owns the company, Lara."

Lara felt suddenly faint. "And he's stopping the men from finishing it on time...?"

"I'm afraid it looks that way."

"Oh, my God."

"He's a nahash tzefa - a poisonous snake."

He was too kind to say that he had warned her. All he managed was: "Maybe...maybe something will turn up."

He admired the young girl's spirit and ambition, and he despised Sean MacAllister. But he was helpless. There was nothing he could do.

Lara lay awake all night thinking about her folly. The building she had put up would belong now to Sean MacAllister, and she would be left with a staggering debt which she would spend the rest of her life working to repay. The thought of how MacAllister might exact payment made her shudder.

When Lara awakened, she went to see Sean MacAllister.

"Good morning, my dear. You're looking lovely today."

Lara came right to the point. "I need an extension. The building won't be ready by the thirty-first."

MacAllister sat back in his chair and frowned. "Really? That's bad news, Lara."

"I need another month."

MacAllister sighed. "I'm afraid that's not possible. Oh, dear, no. You signed a contract. A deal is a deal."

"But..."

"I'm sorry, Lara. On the thirty-first, the property reverts to the bank."

When the boarders at the house heard what was happening, they were furious.

"That son of a bitch!" one of them cried. "He can't do this to you."

"He's done it," Lara said, despairingly. "It's over."

"Are we going to let him get away with this?"

"Hell, no. What have you got left - three weeks?"

Lara shook her head. "Less. Two and a half weeks."

The man turned to the others. "Let's go down and take a look at that building."

"What good will...?"

"We'll see."

Soon half a dozen boarders were standing at the building site, carefully inspecting it.

"The plumbing hasn't been put in," one of the men said.

"Nor the electricity."

They stood there, shivering in the freezing December wind, discussing what still remained to be done.

One of the men turned to Lara. "Your banker's a tricky fellow. He's had the building almost finished so that he wouldn't have much to do when your contract was up." He turned to the others. "I would say that this could be finished in two and a half weeks."

There was a chorus of agreement.

Lara was bewildered. "You don't understand. The workmen won't come."

"Look, lassie, in your boardinghouse you've got plumbers and carpenters and electricians, and we've got lots of friends in town who can handle the rest."

"I don't have any money to pay you," Lara said. "Mr. MacAllister won't give me..."

"It will be our Christmas gift to you."

What happened after that was incredible. Word quickly spread around Glace Bay of what was happening. Construction workers on other buildings came to take a look at Lara's property. Half of them were there because they liked Lara, and the other half because they had had dealings with Sean MacAllister and hated him.