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Authors: Harold Robbins

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BOOK: 79 Park Avenue
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Marja smiled and looked at Ross. His lips smiled, but his eyes were cold. "Hello, Joker." He hesitated a moment "Joker Martin, Marja Flood."

"C'mon over the bar," Martin said. "I'll buy yuh a drink."

Ross shook his head. "No, thanks. Joker. We gotta be going."

Martin put his arm on Ross's elbow. "I ain't seen this guy in four months, young lady," he said to Marja in his

loud, harsh voice, "an' now he's in a hurry. Tell him it's okay fer us to have a quick one."

Marja smiled. It was flattering to think that this man thought she could tell Ross what to do. It was almost as if he thought she was Ross's girl.

Ross's voice cut into her thoughts. "Okay, Joker. A quick one."

The men had beers and Marja ordered another Coke. Martin turned to Marja. "I oughtta be mad at you, girl," he said. "Ross here was one of our real good customers. Now we never see him, but when I look at you I don't blame him."

"Joker runs this place, Marja," Ross explained. "He's always thinkin' about money."

Marja's eyes looked up at the grqy-haired man. "Who isn't?" she asked.

Joker grinned. His hand clapped her shoulder. "Bright girl," he said. "We can't all be rich like our young friend here." For the first time Marja noticed his eyes. They were shrewd and observant. "Lookin' for a job, girl?" he asked.

Before she could answer, Ross spoke up. "No," he said sharply. "She's still in school."

Wisely, Marja kept silent and sipped her Coke. Joker turned back to Ross. "I'm glad yuh dropped in, Ross," he said. "We got some things squared away here."

Ross looked interested. "How come?"

"Made a connection," Joker replied. "Reg'lar thing now. Stud an' dice in the room behind my office. Lots of action.'*

Ross's voice was guarded, but a yellow light gleamed for a moment in his eyes. "Maybe I'll come by an' take a look some night."

"Do that," Joker boomed. "An' bring the little lady with yuh fer luck." He looked at Marja. "She's always welcome."

'Thank you, Mr. Martin." She smiled up at him.

They finished their drinks and Joker walked them to the door. His voice echoed flady against the narrow hallway. "Good seein' yuh again, Ross. Don't be a stranger."

The music started again as they walked down the stairs. It followed them out into the street until it was lost in the sounds of traffic.

"Where to now?" Ross asked as he nosed the car out into the street.

"I don't know," she said. "You're drivin'."

He glanced at her quickly out of the corner of his eyes. She was staring straight ahead. He wished he knew what she was thinking.

"How about coming up to my place and getting a bite to eat?" he asked.

"Your folks won't mind?" she asked.

He shook his head. "They went away for the week-end."

"Okay," she said.

"Evening, Mr. Drego," the doorman said.

"Evening, Mr. Drego," the elevator-operator said as he took them up.

They made small talk until the car stopped and they got off. The door closed behind them and Ross fished in his pocket for a key. The apartment door was opposite the elevator.

He held the door for Marja and she stepped into the apartment. He closed the door behind them and reached for a foyer light.

She put out a hand and stopped him. "I been with yuh all afternoon an' yuh haven't kissed me."

He looked down at her in the semi-darkness, trying to read the expression in her face. He didn't speak.

"What're yuh mad about, honey?" she asked. "Did I do somethin' wrong? Say somethin'?"

He shook his head silently. He couldn't tell her that he was angry with himself for having taken her to the Golden Glow Ballroom. She wouldn't stand a chance with a bunch like that. They would make a whore of her in a week. He never should have thought of it, no matter how much she needed the money.

She stood very close to him and brushed her lips against his cheek. "Don't be mad at me, honey," she whispered.

His hand came away from the light switch and caught her shoulder. He leaned back against the door, pulling her toward him. She came willingly, her weight resting against him. He kissed her.

She made sandwiches and a pot of coffee. He carried them into the Uving-room, and they ate sitting on the couch with the radio going and a small lamp shining from the corner of the room.

When they were finished, she stretched back against the couch cushions and heaved a sigh of contentment. "I was hungry," she said.

He smiled and lit a cigarette. "Gimme," she said, her hand outstretched. He handed it to her. She placed it between her hps and took a deep drag, then closed her eyes and let the smoke idle from her lips. "You don't know how lucky you are," she said.

He was surprised. "Why?"

She opened her eyes and looked at him. "You should see my place," she said. "Then you'd know what I mean. Things are so quiet here. No noise comes up from the street—you're too high. No smells from the courtyard. No noise from the neighbors."

He didn't answer, he didn't know what to answer. He picked up the sandwich tray and carried it into the kitchen. When he came back to the living-room she was lying quietly on the couch, her eyes closed again.

"Marja," he whispered.

She didn't answer. Her chest rose and fell with her quiet breathing.

He sat down on the couch beside her. Her eyes flew open. "I was dozing," she said.

"I know." He smiled.

"What time is it?" she asked.

"Almost ten o'clock."

She sat up suddenly. "I better get goin'," she said quickly.

He gripped her shoulders. "Marja," he said, "you know I'm crazy for you."

She met his gaze evenly for a moment, then nodded.

"Do you like me?" he asked.

She got to her feet and looked at him. His face was white and pleading. "You're the sweetest guy I know," she said. "Of course I like you."

He rose angrily. "I don't mean that!" He pulled her toward him violently and kissed her. "I want you," he said harshly. "You know it, you can feel it. Do you want me the same way?"

She stood quietly in his arms for a moment, her eyes looking into his. When she spoke, her voice was gentle. "Even if I do, Ross, there's nothing I can do aboiat it. I'm a girl, an' if I give in, I wind up in trouble. An' that's no good."

"But there are things—"

She interrupted him. "They don't always work." She pressed her cheek to his face and whispered in his ear:

"I'll do anything you want to make you happy, Ross, but I can't do that."

He stared at her. "Anything?"

"Anything," she answered.

He pulled her to him and they sank back on the couch. He closed his eyes. There was the rustle of their clothing in his ears, then her breast, warm and strong, was in Eis hand. The pain inside him was intense and agonizing. He pressed her head against his chest. "Help me, Marja," he cried. "Please help me."

He looked down at her. Her white-blond hair shimmered against him. Her whisper came sofdy to his ears. "I'll help you, Ross, baby. Lie still."

Chapter 10

"snap into it, Mike! The Timeses are comin' up!" Riordan's voice was harsh from years of hawking papers.

Mike jumped off the small bench and moved toward the sidewalk. The Times truck was just puUing to the curb. Automatically Mike looked at the clock in the store window opposite. Ten thirty. Just time enough to get the papers made up for the crowd that would spill out of the 86th Street Theatre a Uttle after eleven.

The helper clambered over a pile of papers. " 's a bitch tonight. Twelve sections," he grumbled.

Mike didn't answer. He didn't care. Each week the papers grew larger. He hefted a bundle to his shoulder, carried it behind the stand, and dropped it. It thudded dully on the sidewalk. He went back to the truck.

By the time he came back with the second bundle, Riordan's wife, a thin, scrawny woman, was already cutting the baling-wire around the first bundle with a pair of pUers. **Yuh better hurry, Mike," she said nervously, looking

around the newsstand at her husband. "We ain't got much time."

The sweat was starting to come through his shirt, so he took it off and hung it on a nail. The muscles in his frame ghstened damply in the yeUow electric Ught. The sections were spread out now. Rapidly he began to flip them together and stack them in a neat pile.

Other newspapers began to come up, and the night began to race by. It was after one o'clock before he was able to grab a few minutes' rest. He clambered up onto a bale of papers and Ut a cigarette. He closed his eyes gratefully. He was tired.

He had worked the elevator in the house all afternoon. The day man had been sick, and chances were that he would have to do the same thing tomorrow. He hoped the night would be over quickly.

"Hey, Mike."

He opened his eyes. Ross was standing in front of him, smiling. He grinned slowly. "I thought you went outta town with your folks," he said.

Ross shook his head. "Uh-uh. I had things to do."

"Like what?" Mike asked skeptically.

Ross gestured at his car. "Like that Uttle blonde there."

Mike peered at the car, but the girl's face was in the shadows and he couldn't see her. He looked back at Ross. "I mighta known it was some twist."

Ross's face flushed. "That's no way to talk, Mike," he chided gendy. "You don't even know the kid."

Mike looked at him in some surprise. Ross must be hit hard. He had never known him to act hke this. He tried again to see the girl, but the light was too dim.

Ross spoke again. "Come over to the car. I'll introduce you."

A curious perverseness came into Mike. He shook his head. "What for?" he asked in an unnecessarily loud voice. "A broad is a broad. Seen one an' you seen 'em all." He flipped his cigarette butt toward the curb. It spattered spgirks in front of the car. He climbed off the bale. "Want your papers, Ross?" he asked.

Ross nodded, not speaking.

Mike bent and pulled out a group of them. He held them toward Ross. Ross dropped a few coins into his hand and took the papers.

Riordan's voice came aroimd the newsstand. "Bring up some Americans, Mike. We're runnin' short."

Automatically Mike bent to pick up a stack of papers. When he straightened up, Ross was halfway back to his car. He looked after him. Some guys had it soft. They had nothing to worry about. He hefted the papers to his shoulder and started around the stand.

Ross climbed into the car and leaned forward to touch the starter button. The motor whirred and caught, and he turned out into the street.

"Your friend don't hke me," Marja's voice said.

He looked at her. "How could that be?" he asked defensively. "He doesn't even know you."

"I heard what he said," she replied.

"He's just tired," Ross explained. "Usually he's not like that."

They rode a block silendy. Then Marja spoke again. "Is that Mike? The one who wouldn't come out to the island with us?"

"Yeah," he answered.

She thought about the way Mike had stood there in back of the stand. The sweat had formed an oily sheen on his

arms, and the muscles were like wire cords in his back and arms. "Thinks he's pretty great, doesn't he?" she asked sarcastically. "Too good for the rest of us?"

Wisely, Ross didn't answer. He knew better than to get into a foolish argument. Besides, he didn't care what they thought of each other.

Her voice was speculative. "Maybe someday I'll show him a Uttle bit.'*

He glanced at her in surprise. There was a hurt expression in her eyes. Suddenly he understood. She was still brooding over what Mike had said.

Katti had started for the front pews of the church as usual, but Marja grabbed her arm.

"There's no room down there, Mama," she whispered. "Let's get in here."

Katti turned into the pew that Marja steered her to. She wasn't thinking about anything except what Father Jano-wicz had said the other day. To tell Marja as soon as she could. That was the only way to stop worrying about it.

There was a young man in the pew. Katti mumbled an apology and she pushed past him. She settled down heavily on the bench and bent her head forward as the Mass began.

She closed her eyes and prayed hard to God to make everything right. For Marja to understand. For Peter to get a job. She prayed for everyone except herself. When the Mass was over, she felt better. She glanced at Marja

There was a famt flush on the girl's face, a touch of contentment in the echo of a smile in the corners of her mouth She was glad she had been able to take Marja to Mass with her.

The congregation was filing out, and Katti pushed past

Marja toward the aisle. She glanced at the young man's face as she crossed in front of him. There were beads of sweat on his forehead. It was warm in the church today.

Marja was a few steps behind her, and she turned, waiting for her to catch up. Marja's eyes were laughing as she took her mother's arm.

For a long moment Katti looked at her daughter. It had been long since she had seen Marja look so happy. She was beautiful when she smiled. Katti decided not to say anything about the baby until the evening.

She didn't want to do anything to take the smile of happiness from Marja's face.

Chapter 11

HE PUT the lock on the elevator door and sat down on the small bench in the hall. He picked up his math book and turned to his place. He wasn't as tired this afternoon as he had expected. He had slept from ten o'clock, when he had come home from church, until almost four, when his mother had awakened him.

He turned the page slowly. He didn't mind Sunday afternoons on the elevator. The house was fairly quiet and he could catch up on his studies.

He heard footsteps come down the hall and go past him into the elevator. He didn't look up. He wanted to j&nish the last part of his problem.

A soft voice came out of the elevator. It was vaguely familiar. "Today, Mike?"

He dropped the book, startled.

She was standing in the elevator, smiling at him. Her white-blond hair was almost gold in the light. ''Any time you're ready," she said.

BOOK: 79 Park Avenue
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