The Stars Shine Down(5)


by Sidney Sheldon

"You must have loved him a lot."

"I did. And he loved me a lot." A smile touched her lips. "I've heard that on the day I was born, my father bought every man in Glace Bay a drink."

"So, really," Thompson said, "everything started in Glace Bay."

"That's right," Lara said softly, "everything started in Glace Bay. That's where it all began, almost forty years ago..."

Chapter Three

Glace Bay, Nova Scotia September 10, 1952

James Cameron was in a whorehouse, drunk, the night his daughter and son were bom. He was in bed, sandwiched in between the Scandinavian twins, when Kirstie, the madam of the brothel, pounded on the door.

"James!" she called out. She pushed open the door and walked in.

"Och, ye auld hen!" James yelled out indignantly. "Can't a mon have any privacy even here?"

"Sorry to interrupt your pleasure, James. It's about your wife."

"Fuck my wife," Cameron roared.

"You did," Kirstie retorted, "and she's having your baby."

"So? Let her have it. That's what you women are guid for, nae?"

"The doctor just called. He's been trying desperately to find you. Your wife is bad off. You'd better hurry."

James Cameron sat up and slid to the edge of the bed, bleary-eyed, trying to clear his head. "Damned woman. She niver leaves me in peace." He looked up at the madam. "All right, I'll go." He glanced at the naked girls in the bed. "But I'll nae pay for these two."

"Never mind that now. You'd just better get back to the boardinghouse." She turned to the girls. "You two come along with me."

James Cameron was a once-handsome man whose face reflected fulfilled sins. He appeared to be in his early fifties. He was thirty years old and the manager of one of the boardinghouses owned by Sean MacAllister, the town banker. For the past five years James Cameron and his wife, Peggy, had divided the chores: Peggy did the cleaning and cooking for the two dozen boarders, and James did the drinking. Every Friday it was his responsibility to collect the rents from the four other boardinghouses in Glace Bay owned by MacAllister. It was another reason, if he needed one, to go out and get drunk.

James Cameron was a bitter man, who reveled in his bitterness. He was a failure, and he was convinced that everyone else was to blame. Over the years he had come to enjoy his failure. It made him feel like a martyr. When James was a year old, his family had emigrated to Glace Bay from Scotland with nothing but the few possessions they could carry, and they had struggled to survive. His father had put James to work in the coal mines when the boy was fourteen. James had suffered a slight back injury in a mining accident when he was sixteen, and had promptly quit the mine. One year later his parents were killed in a train disaster. So it was that James Cameron had decided that he was not responsible for his adversity - it was the Fates that were against him. But he had two great assets: He was extraordinarily handsome, and when he wished to, he could be charming. One weekend in Sydney, a town near Glace Bay, he met an impressionable young American girl named Peggy Maxwell, who was there on vacation with her family. She was not attractive, but the Maxwells were very wealthy, and James Cameron was very poor. He swept Peggy Maxwell off her feet, and against the advice of her father, she married him.

"I'm giving Peggy a dowry of five thousand dollars," her father told James. "The money will give you a chance to make something of yourself. You can invest it in real estate, and in five years it will double. I'll help you."

But James was not interested in waiting five years. Without consulting anyone, he invested the money in a wildcat oil venture with a friend, and sixty days later he was broke. His father-in-law, furious, refused to help him any further. "You're a fool, James, and I will not throw good money after bad."

The marriage that was going to be James Cameron's salvation turned out to be a disaster, for he now had a wife to support, and no job.

It was Sean MacAllister who had come to his rescue. The town banker was a man in his mid-fifties, a stumpy, pompous man, a pound short of being obese, given to wearing vests adorned with a heavy gold watch chain. He had come to Glace Bay twenty years earlier and had immediately seen the possibilities there. Miners and lumbermen were pouring into the town and were unable to find adequate housing. MacAllister could have financed homes for them, but he had a better plan. He decided it would be cheaper to herd the men together in boardinghouses. Within two years he had built a hotel and five boardinghouses, and they were always full.

Finding managers was a difficult task because the work was exhausting. The manager's job was to keep all the rooms rented, supervise the cooking, handle the meals, and see that the premises were kept reasonably clean. As far as salaries were concerned, Sean MacAllister was not a man to throw away his money.

The manager of one of his boardinghouses had just quit, and MacAllister decided that James Cameron was a likely candidate. Cameron had borrowed small amounts of money from the bank from time to time, and payment on a loan was overdue. MacAllister sent for the young man.

"I have a job for you," MacAllister said.

"You have?"

"You're in luck. I have a splendid position that's just opened up."

"Working at the bank, is it?" James Cameron asked. The idea of working in a bank appealed to him. Where there was a lot of money, there was always a possibility of having some stick to one's fingers.

"Not at the bank," MacAllister told him. "You're a very personable young man, James, and I think you would be very good at dealing with people. I'd like you to run my boardinghouse on Cablehead Avenue."

"A boardinghouse, you say?" There was contempt in the young man's voice.

"You need a roof over your head," MacAllister pointed out. "You and your wife will have free room and board and a small salary."

"How sma?"

"I'll be generous with you, James. Twenty-five dollars a week."

"Twenty-fi...?"

"Take it or leave it. I have others waiting."

In the end James Cameron had no choice. "I'll tach it."

"Good. By the way, every Friday I'll also expect you to collect the rents from my other boardinghouses and deliver the money to me on Saturday."