The Stars Shine Down(4)


by Sidney Sheldon

"I'm glad you enjoyed it."

"You really didn't have to go to all that trouble for me."

"No trouble at all." Lara smiled. "My father always told me that the way to a man's heart was through his stomach."

"And you wanted to get to my heart before we started the interview?"

Lara smiled. "Exactly."

"How much trouble is your company really in?"

Lara's smile faded. "I beg your pardon?"

"Come on. You can't keep a thing like that quiet. The word on the street is that some of your properties are on the verge of collapse because of the principal payments due on your junk bonds. You've done a lot of leveraging, and with the market down, Cameron Enterprises has to be pretty overextended."

Lara laughed. "Is that what the street says? Believe me, Mr. Thompson, you'd be wise not to listen to silly rumors. I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll send you a copy of my financials to set the record straight. Fair enough?"

"Fair enough. By the way, I didn't see your husband at the opening of the new hotel."

Lara sighed. "Philip wanted so much to be there, but unfortunately he had to be away on a concert tour."

"I went to one of his recitals once about three years ago. He's brilliant. You have been married a year now, haven't you?"

"The happiest year of my life. I'm a very lucky woman. I travel a lot, and so does Philip, but when I'm away from him, I can listen to his recordings wherever I am."

Thompson smiled. "And he can see your buildings wherever he is."

Lara laughed. "You flatter me."

"It's pretty true, isn't it? You've put up buildings all over this fair country of ours. You own apartment buildings, office buildings, a hotel chain...How do you do it?"

She smiled. "With mirrors."

"You're a puzzle."

"Am I? Why?"

"At this moment you're arguably the most successful builder in New York. Your name is plastered on half the real estate in this town. You're putting up the world's tallest skyscraper. Your competitors call you the Iron Butterfly. You've made it big in a business traditionally dominated by men."

"Does that bother you, Mr. Thompson?"

"No. What bothers me, Miss Cameron, is that I can't figure out who you are. When I ask two people about you, I get three opinions. Everyone grants that you're a brilliant businesswoman. I mean...you didn't fall off a hay wagon and become a success. I know a lot about construction crews - they're a rough, tough bunch of men. How does a woman like you keep them in line?"

She smiled. "There are no women like me. Seriously, I simply hire the best people for the job, and I pay them well."

Too simplistic, Thompson thought. Much too simplistic. The real story is what she's not telling me. He decided to change the direction of the interview.

"Every magazine on the stands has written about how successful you are. I'd like to do a more personal story. There's been very little printed about your background."

"I'm very proud of my background."

"Good. Let's talk about that. How did you get started in the real estate business?"

Lara smiled, and he could see that her smile was genuine. She suddenly looked like a little girl.

"Genes."

"Your genes?"

"My father's." She pointed to a portrait on a wall behind her. It showed a handsome-looking man with a leonine head of silver hair. "That's my father - James Hugh Cameron." Her voice was soft. "He's responsible for my success. I'm an only child. My mother died when I was very young, and my father brought me up. My family left Scotland a long time ago, Mr. Thompson, and emigrated to Nova Scotia - New Scotland, Glace Bay."

"Glace Bay?"

"It's a fishing village in the northeast part of Cape Breton, on the Atlantic shore. It was named by early French explorers. It means 'ice bay.' More coffee?"

"No, thanks."

"My grandfather owned a great deal of land in Scotland, and my father acquired more. He was a very wealthy man. We still have our castle there near Loch Morlich. When I was eight years old, I had my own horse, my dresses were bought in London, we lived in an enormous house with a lot of servants. It was a fairy tale life for a little girl."

Her voice was alive with echoes of long-ago memories.

"We would go ice skating in the winter, and watch hockey games, and go swimming at Big Glace Bay Lake in the summer. And there were dances at the Forum and the Venetian Gardens."

The reporter was busily making notes.

"My father put up buildings in Edmonton, and Calgary, and Ontario. Real estate was like a game to him, and he loved it. When I was very young, he taught me the game, and I learned to love it, too."

Her voice was filled with passion. "You must understand something, Mr. Thompson. What I do has nothing to do with the money or the bricks and steel that make a building. It's the people who matter. I'm able to give them a comfortable place to work or to Jive, a place where they can raise families and have decent lives. That's what was important to my father, and it became important to me."

Hugh Thompson looked up. "Do you remember your first real estate venture?"

Lara leaned forward. "Of course. On my eighteenth birthday my father asked me what I would like as a gift. A lot of newcomers were arriving in Glace Bay, and it was getting crowded. I felt the town needed more places for them to live. I told my father I wanted to build a small apartment house. He gave me the money as a present, but two years later I was able to pay him back. Then I borrowed money from a bank to put up a second building. By the time I was twenty-one, I owned three buildings, and they were all successful."

"Your father must have been very proud of you."

There was that warm smile again. "He was. He named me Lara. It's an old Scottish name that comes from the Latin. It means 'well known' or 'famous.' From the time I was a little girl, my father always told me I would be famous one day." Her smile faded. "He died of a heart attack, much too young." She paused. "I go to Scotland to visit his grave every year. I...I found it very difficult to stay on in the house without him. I decided to move to Chicago. I had an idea for small boutique hotels, and I persuaded a banker there to finance me. The hotels were a success." She shrugged. "And the rest, as the cliche goes, is history. I suppose that a psychiatrist would say that I haven't created this empire just for myself. In a way, it's a tribute to my father. James Cameron was the most wonderful man I've ever known."