Read The Dream Merchants Online

Authors: Harold Robbins

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The Dream Merchants (40 page)

BOOK: The Dream Merchants
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He looked down at the desk again in disgust. In America they called these women? Bah! In the old country they had women—real women. Here they were all alike. Made in mass production like the automobiles that covered the roads. Too skinny. Too much make-up. Too short haircuts. In Germany they had women. There the women had what he called the three B’s—breasts, bellies, and behinds. Without them what good was a woman?

Worriedly he walked over to the window of his office and looked out. From his window he could see the entrance to the casting department. He took a cigar from his pocket and stuck it in his mouth and chewed on it morosely.

The door of the casting department opened and a girl came out. She stood there on the steps for a moment and opened her purse. She took a cigarette from the purse and lighted it. The sunlight falling on her hair made it seem like a ring of gold. She puffed at the cigarette, and when she was sure it was going she started down the steps. Admiringly von Elster contemplated her. That was a woman. She had the three B’s all right.

She was wearing a white simple sports dress that clung to her body. Her short skirt swirled, showing long, slim legs. For a moment she stood on the walk in front of the casting building as if undecided in which direction she should go. She turned and came toward his window.

The phone on his desk began to ring. He turned and walked back to his desk and picked it up. “Hello,” he said into the phone, still looking out the window. “This is Conrad von Elster.” The girl was almost opposite the window now.

“Mr. Kessler would like to change the time of your appointment to four thirty this afternoon. Will that be all right?” a woman’s voice asked him.

“Yes,” he replied, “it vill be all right.”

“Thank you,” the voice said, and the phone clicked off.

He placed his phone back on the desk, his mind still on the girl outside the window. He saw her face for a moment as she walked by. “
Gott in Himmel!
” he swore to himself. “That one is a beauty. Why can’t they send me one like that?” He turned and picked up a match from the tray on his desk. He snapped it against his thumbnail and held it up to his cigar. Absently his eyes looked at the photographs on his desk and suddenly his hand shook and the match fell to the floor.


Dummkopf!
” he almost shouted aloud at himself. He turned and ran to his door and opened it. Leaving it open behind him, he ran down the corridor to the street entrance.

In the street he looked frantically from side to side. He didn’t know which way the girl had gone. At last he saw her. She was walking toward the administration building, her white skirt swinging in the sunlight.


Fräulein!
” he shouted, forgetting his English, “
Fräulein!
” He began to run after her. His heart pounded against his side; it had been a long time since he had demanded such effort from his body.

He was drawing closer to her. “
Fräulein!
” he shouted again. She didn’t hear him and kept on walking. He tried to run faster; his side began to ache. “
Fräulein!
” This time his voice was shrill, it was almost a scream.

The girl heard him and turned around. He slowed down to a walk and held both hands in the air waving to her to wait for him. He was breathing heavily as he came up to her.

A lifted eyebrow and a studied disdainful smile was on the girl’s face as she watched him approach. Her body stood quietly, perfectly poised, ready to move on if it was a case of mistaken identity.

He gasped for breath with which to speak. It was as it should be. The girl was too young to have appreciation for the difficult exercises of middle age. And those ignoramuses in the casting office had sent her away. He found his voice. “Are you an actress?”

The girl looked puzzled for a second, then nodded her head.

“That’s right,” he said. “In pictures you don’t have to speak!” He waved his hands in the air dramatically. “I, Conrad von Elster, will make you the greatest star on the screen!”

Dulcie had a wild impulse to laugh. For a moment she thought of telling this funny little man who she was. Then she changed her mind. It would be fun to see what would happen. Johnny was tied up all day and she had nothing better to do anyway. It was like that almost every day and she was getting bored with sitting around and waiting for him.

Von Elster didn’t wait for her to speak. He took her arm and was leading her back to his office. “Ve must immediately make for you a screen test.”

“A screen test!” Dulcie thought. “Johnny would get a kick out of that!” But deep inside she knew he wouldn’t like it and was preparing an explanation for him. If she did anything, she would do it for herself and because she wanted it and not for anyone else, even Johnny.

They were in von Elster’s office now. He motioned her to a seat and picked up the phone. “Mr. Reilly in casting, please,” he said into the phone. He waited for a moment, then a man’s voice answered.

“Mr. Reilly, this is von Elster. I haff a girl here in my office I vant immediately to test.” He paused for a moment. “No, Mr. Reilly, not this afternoon. Right avay! I haff a meeting vit Mr. Kessler to look at it at four thirty.” He was silent for a moment while the man spoke, then he looked at her. He put one hand over the mouthpiece of the phone. “Qvick, vat iss your name?” he hissed at her.

Dulcie hesitated for a moment. She could still back out and end this little farce. But she didn’t want to. She wanted to be an actress. She had always wanted it. Why should things be any different now because she was married to Johnny? She stared back at von Elster. “Dulcie,” she said, “Dulcie Warren.”

Her breath caught in her throat as von Elster repeated the name into the phone. Suddenly her tenseness was gone and she felt relaxed and at ease again. Johnny wouldn’t like it, but what did it matter? What had she married him for if not this—among other things?

The test was good. No one had to tell Dulcie, she knew it. She had spent enough time around the theater to know when something was good. She could tell from how the people on the set had acted. At the beginning they were bored. It had been just another job to them, another test. They made dozens of these every week. There wasn’t any reason for them to think this would be different from any of the others. But it was.

Maybe at first they had been attracted by that nervous little foreign director. He had been so excited that they could hardly understand his instructions. When they finally understood him, they had opened their eyes wide in amazement. His style, his technique, was certainly different, something they had never seen before. But their professional minds had grasped it at once and wondered why no one had used it before. It was that simple and that good.

Up to the moment when Dulcie took her place before the cameras, the interest, the excitement, had all been intellectual. A style, a technique, a way of mechanics. But when Dulcie stood there, with all the lights beating down on her, everything the little man had done suddenly made sense. Emotionally as well as intellectually. It was then they realized that this funny little man had created a new technique especially for this actress, and they looked at him with a quick and deep respect. The little man gave the actress her final instructions; then he stepped back from the set and sat down in his chair.

All eyes turned to the girl when the little man dropped his hand. Quiet fell across the small set; only the clicking of the cameras could be heard; the intense heat coming from the overhead lights could be felt as the girl began to act.

The sweat was pouring from von Elster’s pale face as he watched her. This had to be right. He was convinced now that fate had given him this one last chance. Suddenly there was a tension in the air. It was as if a spark of electricity had reached out from the girl and made contact with every person there.

Von Elster’s breath whistled out between his lips in a long sigh of relief. Slowly he turned his head away from the girl and looked at the others. The script girl had forgotten her script, it lay on her lap as she watched the girl. He turned his gaze to the men. It was the men who would feel the full impact of this woman. He was right. The props men, the grips, the electricians were staring at her. The same look was on all their faces.

It was a look as old as time. Von Elster turned his gaze back to the girl and settled back comfortably in his chair. His eye saw with the eye of the camera. He had been right about the girl. She projected. He smiled happily to himself at the thought, visions of a long line of one-thousand-dollar checks dancing before him. She projected in more ways than one. He didn’t have anything to worry about.

9

She put the paper down and drew the bed jacket around her shoulders. It was growing chilly. She looked over at the clock. It was almost midnight and Johnny hadn’t come in yet. It had been an exciting day.

She could still hear von Elster’s panicked cry through the closed doors of the projection room as she waited in the outer hall. “But, Mr. Edge, how did I know she vas your vife? She didn’t tell me!” And then she fled.

Something of the panic in von Elster’s voice had transferred itself to her. She could imagine the mood Johnny was in that could bring it about and she didn’t want to face him. Not there. Not on his grounds.

She would face him in their apartment in the hotel, where she could meet him on her terms. Where she could talk to him not only with her lips but with her body. She had confidence in her body. She knew Johnny.

She had remained close to the phone all afternoon. She expected Johnny to call her and ask her about it. But he didn’t call until it was almost seven o’clock.

Then his voice was cool and impersonal. “I’ll have to miss dinner, darling,” he said. “I’m stuck at the studio for a while tonight. You have dinner and go to bed. I’ll be home about midnight.”

“Yes, Johnny,” she breathed obediently into the phone, and waited for him to say something about the test.

He hesitated for a moment, she could hear him clear his throat. “So long, Dulcie,” he said.

“So long, Johnny,” she said into the phone, and heard the click of the receiver being put back on the hook. A vague feeling of disappointment swept over her. He hadn’t spoken about it. Then she smiled to herself. Good. The battle would be fought on even more favorable grounds for her than she had expected.

She heard footsteps in the hall and the sound of a key being inserted in the lock. Quickly she reached up and turned off the lamp near the bed, plunging the room in darkness. She threw her bed jacket onto a chair and lay back against the pillow.

The door opened and she could hear him walking through the other room to the bedroom. He stopped on the threshold and stood there.

She sat up in the dark. “Johnny?” Her voice was low and almost frightened.

She could hear him expel a deep breath. “Yes.”

She reached out an arm toward the bed lamp. She felt a shoulder strap of her gown slip as she reached out. She let it slip all the way before she snapped on the light.

There was a hurt look on his face as he stood there.

“I must have dozed off while I was waiting for you,” she said lamely.

He didn’t answer. He walked over to the closet and took off his jacket. He moved stiffly as if he weren’t sure of himself.

She watched him from the bed. “Did you have a tough day, darling?” she asked in a sympathetic tone of voice.

He turned and faced her. His face was impassive and she couldn’t tell what he was thinking. He was silent for a long moment while they looked at each other. At last he spoke. “You didn’t make it any easier,” he said heavily.

She looked at him appealingly. “You’re angry with me,” she said in a very small voice.

He took off his tie and placed it on the tie rack in the closet before he answered. He unbuttoned his collar and looked down at her. “No, I’m not angry, Dulcie,” he said slowly, “I’m hurt.” She could see a muscle working in his face. He turned away, stiffly walked to the dresser, and put his cuff links on it. His voice was filled with pain. “Dulcie, why did you do it?” He didn’t turn around.

She scrambled from the bed and ran to him. He half turned toward her and she slipped her arms under his and around him. She placed her head against his chest. His arms hung loosely at his side.

“Oh, Johnny,” she cried in the same small voice, “I didn’t mean anything! I thought it would be fun and you would get a laugh out of it!”

Involuntarily his arms went around her. He looked down at the top of her head. She was so warm against him. His voice was softer now. “It wasn’t funny,” he said, his voice trembling a little.

She kissed his chest where the shirt was open. She didn’t look up, she knew she had him. Her voice seemed almost at the point of tears. “We’re quarreling, Johnny.”

He put a hand under her chin and turned her face up to his. He looked deep into her eyes, then he kissed her and placed his cheek against hers. “We’re not quarreling, darling,” he whispered. “But why did you do it? Aren’t you happy with me? I thought you’d forgotten about being an actress.”

“I had, Johnny,” she said quickly. “Honest, I had. But something happened. I don’t know what it was. Maybe it was being alone all day. You’re always at the studio. You’re so busy. When that funny little man came up to me on the street, I didn’t think. It happened almost before I knew it. It was something different to do, something to do to fill up the time until I saw you.” She hesitated for a second and then looked up into his face. “It’s so lonely staying here in the hotel all day waiting for you. I don’t know anybody here.”

His voice was sympathetic now. “I’m sorry, darling,” he apologized. “I should have realized how it was for you.” He kissed her cheek and smiled. “Anyway, we won’t be here for long. Soon we’ll be back in New York.” A thought struck him, and his smile grew a little broader. “Maybe soon you won’t have to worry about taking up your time,” he added meaningfully.

She stood very still within his arms. It was time for him to learn his first lesson. That was not the time-killer she wanted. Ever. She looked at him silently. Slowly the tears began to well into her eyes.

BOOK: The Dream Merchants
10.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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