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Authors: Harold Robbins

79 Park Avenue (9 page)

BOOK: 79 Park Avenue
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"Be quiet," Katti said. "The baby's sleeping. I don't want you to wake him."

"I will," Marja answered.

She went upstairs and opened the door softly. The apartment was still. She went into the kitchen and stood in the center of the room listening. There was no sound. Quietly she walked up the hall to the front room and peeked in.

Her stepfather was fast asleep in a chair near the open window, his head lolling to one side, the newspaper across his knees. She tiptoed carefully back through the hall and kitchen to her room.

The baby was sleeping in his crib. Gently she opened the closet door and took out a clean blouse and skirt. She placed them on the bed and, next to them, fresh underclothes. Quickly she slipped out of her blouse and skirt and went back into the kitchen.

She opened the water faucet to a gentle trickle. She didn't want any noise to disturb her stepfather. She shrugged off her brassiere and hung it over the back of a kitchen chair. It took her only a moment to cover the upper half of her body with soap. Another moment to remove the soap with the aid of a wash rag. She then washed her face. Her eyes shut tightly against the soap, she reached for a toweL The

rack nearest her was empty. She groped for the next rack. She pulled the towel down and rubbed her face vigorously, then under her arms and across her body. She put the towel back on the rack and reached behind her for the brassiere. It wasn't on the chair.

She turned, automatically looking at the floor, thinkmg it might have fallen. Her stepfather's voice startled her.

"It did fall, Marja," he said, holding it toward her. "But I picked it up for you."

She stared at him for a moment, surprise showing in her eyes. Then she reached out her hand, taking it from him. "Gee, thanks," she said sarcastically, holding it in front of her. "It made so much noise falling that it woke you."

He smiled slowly, ignoring her tone of voice. "Your mother used to look Uke that back in the Old Country when we were young."

"How would you know?" she asked snidely. "She never even knew you were alive then." She started to walk around him, but he stepped in front of her.

He reached out his hand and caught her arm. "Marja, why do you act so mean to me?"

She stared up into his face, her eyes blank. "I don't mean to. Uncle Peter," she said. "It's just that I can't stand seeing you around the house."

He misunderstood her sarcasm completely. "If I got a job?" he asked ahnost pleadingly. "Then would you be nice to me?"

A calculating glint came into her eyes. "I might," she said.

"Then we could be friends again?" He pulled her toward him and clumsily tried to kiss her.

She turned her face so that his kiss landed awkwardly on

her cheek, and she slipped out of his grasp. At her door she turned and looked at him. "Maybe," she said.

The door closed behind her. He could feel the pulses throbbing in his temples. The little bitch. Someday he would show her what she could do with her teasing. He turned to the icebox for another can of beer.

Katti sat on the row of benches between two other women and stoically waited her turn for examination. It wouldn't take long now. There was only one other woman before her.

In the comer of the room the young nurse at the reception desk stared down at the cards in front of her. After a while all the strange-soimding names came off your tongue as easily as Smith and Jones. When that happened, you knew you were a veteran.

An intern stopped at the desk and whispered to her. She nodded and picked up the next two cards. "Mrs. Martino, booth four, please. Mrs. Ritchik, booth five."

Katti and the woman next to her got up at the same time. They smiled at each other in sudden kinship. Katti followed her to the desk.

The woman took the card the nurse gave her, went into a booth, and pulled the curtain closed behind her.

Katti spoke to the nurse. "Mrs. Ritchik," she said.

The nurse looked at her without curiosity and handed her a card. "First visit?" she asked.

Katti shook her head. "No. I was here before. When my Peter was bom."

The nurse shook her head impatiently. These people were so dumb. "I mean this time."

Katti hesitated. "Yes."

The nurse reached under the desk and found a short.

wide-lipped bottle. "Make a sample," she said, "and give it to the doctor when he comes in to see you."

Katti took the botde and walked down the aisle past the crowded benches and went into the booth with the number 5 over the door. She pulled the curtain shut.

Methodically she undressed and prepared herself for the doctor. At last everything was ready and she took the cotton sheet from the hook and draped it around her. She sat down on the little stool in the corner and waited for him to arrive.

A few minutes later there was a light tap on the outside of the booth and a student nurse came in. She was carrying a pad. "Mrs. Peter Ritchik?"

Katti nodded.

Then followed the list of questions without which the clinic couldn't operate. It took the nurse only about five minutes because Katti had all the answers ready for her. She remembered the form from the last time she had been here.

The nurse tore the top sheet from her pad and put it in a cUp hung just inside the door. She left the booth and a moment later was back with another sheet of paper, which she aflSxed to the clip. Then she smiled at Katti. "The doctor will be with you in a minute."

"Thank you," Katti said. She sat down stoically to wait. It generally was at least fifteen minutes before the doctor came.

This time it was closer to a half-hour before the curtain lifted and the doctor came in, followed by his retinue of two interns. He took the chart down from the wall and looked at it briefly, then at her. "Mrs. Ritchik?"

She nodded. "Yes, Doctor."

'Tm Dr. Block," he said. "How long have you been pregnant?"

She shrugged her shoulders. "A month, maybe two."

He repressed an expression of distaste. These people were so careless in their habits. "Get up on the table and we'll see," he said curtly.

Silently she climbed onto the small examination table and put her feet in the stirrups. The small yellow bulb in the ceiling over her head shone into her eyes. She Winked.

His voice seemed to float over her. "Take a deep breath."

She filled her lungs with air and held perfecdy still against the searching intrusion of his fingers. His touch was light and efficient and was gone in a moment. She started to sit up, but his hand against her shoulder stopped her. She lay quietly waiting.

He lifted the cotton sheet until it shielded her eyes from the light. His voice came quietly through it. He was talking to the interns.

"Caesarian section on last childbirth. Constricted Fallopian tubes. Will need again."

The sheet dropped and she sat up. She looked at the doctor questioningly.

"Why did you become pregnant, Mrs. Ritchik?" he asked. "According to the chart, you were told to be careful, that you would endanger your life if you had another child."

She shrugged her shoulders. These men never understood. To them everything was simple.

The doctor turned away from her and began to wash his hands in a clean basin of water just left there for him by the student nurse. He spoke to her over his shoulder. The words were routine to him. He knew that they would be ignored.

"Get plenty of sunshine and fresh au: and rest. Refrain from cohabitation for at least two months. Eat plenty of nourishing foods, milk, orange juice." He scribbled a prescription and handed it to her. "Take this, and come in next month."

She looked at him. "When will the baby come, Doctor?"

His eyes were bleak. "Your baby won't come," he said cruelly. "We'll have to take it from you."

She kept her face impassive. She had known that before he did. "When, Doctor?" she persisted gently.

"November or December," he answered. "We can't let you carry the full nine months."

"Thank you, Doctor," she said quietly.

The doctor turned and went out, the two interns following him silently. The curtain fell rustling behind them.

Slowly Katti got off the table and reached for her clothes. It wasn't so bad. She would be able to work right up to October. The curtain rustled and she held her dress up in front of her.

It was one of the interns. He smiled at her apologetically. "Excuse me, Mrs. Ritchik," he said, "but I forgot this." He reached up and took the urine sample from the shelf.

"It's okay," she said.

He glanced at her quickly, then smiled again, a shy smile. "Don't worry, Mrs. Ritchik," he said. "Everything will be all right."

She smiled back at him. "Thank you, Doctor."

The curtain fell and he was gone. Quietly she finished dressing and went outside and paid the nurse the fifty-cent clinic fee. Then she went down the hall to the dispensary and gave them the prescription.

While she was waiting for the prescription to be filled, she wondered how she would tell Marja. Marja wouldn't

understand. She would only take it as another rebuff and be hurt.

They called her name and she picked up the prescription. Tablets. She had to take them three times a day. She put them in her pocketbook and went out into the street. Down the block she could see the spires of St. Augustine.

She decided to stop there and talk to Father Janowicz. He was a very smart man. He would tell her what to do.

Chapter 9

MARJA sat Up in the grass and hugged her knees, looking across the Hudson River. It was dusk, and hghts were coming on like fireflies on the Jersey shore. A shght warm breeze rustled her hair. "I gotta get a job for the summer," she said suddenly.

Ross rolled over on his side and looked up at her. "Why?" he asked, smiUng.

"We need the dough," she answered simply. "My old man loves the beer too much to go to work. My mother works nights. There ain't enough to go round."

"What can you do?" he asked curiously. "What kind of a job do you want?"

"I dunno," she answered honestly. "I never thought about it before. Maybe clerk in the five-and-ten."

He laughed.

"What's so funny*^" she asked.

"You don't get much for that," he said. "Maybe eight bucks a week."

"Eight bucks is eight bucks," she retorted. "It's a lot better'n nothin'."

He looked at her quizzically. His sister often spoke about going to work, but somehow never got around to it. "You mean it?"

She nodded.

He pulled a blade of grass from the ground and chewed it reflectively. In some ways she reminded him of Mike. They were both so serious about money. He had an idea. "Do you dance?" he asked.

She glanced at him curiously. "Sure," she said.

"I mean, good?" he persisted.

She nodded. "Pretty good."

He got to his feet and brushed oflf his trousers. He reached out a hand toward her and pulled her to her feet. "C'mon," he said, starting toward his car. "We'll see."

The faint discordant bleat of a dance band trickled down the narrow hallway to them. The walls were covered with pictures of girls, all with the same inviting smile on their Ups. Under the pictures was a long white painted sign.

COME AND DANCE WITH ME. ONLY 10 CENTS.

The music grew louder as she followed him up the stairway. At the head of the stairs was a small booth. Ross stopped in front of it.

"Two," he said, pushing a dollar bill through the small griU.

Silently the man shoved two tickets at him. Ross picked them up and led her through the door. Another man took the tickets and put them in a chopper.

The ballroom was long and narrow, painted a dingy

blue. The electric lights were dim. The band at the far end had just finished a number. A few couples, left stranded on the floor, started walking toward the sides of the room. Some girls were seated at tables near the door. They had looked up quickly when Ross came in, smiles coming to their Ups automatically, and as automatically fading when they saw he wasn't alone.

On their right were a long, narrow bar and several rows of uncovered tables. Ross led her to one and they sat down. A waiter stood over them immediately.

"Beer," Ross said without looking up. He looked at her questioningly.

"Coke," she answered.

The waiter went away and the band began to play again. It was a soft fox trot.

"Ready?" Ross asked.

That strange smile came to her lips. "Always ready," she answered.

"Let's dance," he said.

His face was warm and flushed when he led her back to the table. There was no doubt in his mind about her dancing. She followed him as if she were part of him. Her rhythm was good, and though other girls danced closer and held him tighter, there was none who could make it seem as if the music flowed through them and held them together.

She smiled as he lifted his beer and drank it. "Well?" she asked.

"You can dance," he said grudgingly, lowering his glass. "Where did you learn?"

"I never took a lesson in my Ufe," she said, still smiling.

They were sUent a moment. She was waiting for him to speak.

'The girls here make between twenty and fifty bucks a week," he said.

The smile was still on her lips. "Just from dancing?'* There was an echo of skepticism in her voice.

He hesitated. "Mostly."

"The dancing averages about twenty," she guessed.

He nodded, watching her carefully.

She lifted her Coke and sipped it. "Yuh don't have to go?" she asked. "Only dance?"

He nodded again without speaking.

'That's a lot of dough," she said.

Suddenly he was disgusted with himself. He threw a bill on the table and rose to his feet. "Come on," he said, "let's

go."

She got to her feet silently. A man's voice boomed over her shoulder. "Hey, Ross, long time no see. Where yuh been?"

She turned, startled. A tall man with gray-black hair and dark, shadowed eyes was standing behind her. He was smiling.

The man looked at her and spoke again before Ross had time to answer. "So don't explain," he boomed. "No wonder my girls ain't good enough for yuh."

BOOK: 79 Park Avenue
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