Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.

Harper Lee

 
 
 
 
 
Tác giả: Sidney Sheldon
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Language: English
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Few Madison Avenue advertising agencies are actually located on Madison Avenue, but Berkley and Mathews was an exception. The agency owned a large, modern building at the corner of Madison and Fifty-seventh Street. The agency occupied eight floors of the building and leased the other floors. In order to save a salary, Aaron Berkley and his partner, Norman Mathews, decided Alexandra Blackwell would replace a young copywriter hired six months earlier. The word spread rapidly. When the staff learned the young woman who was fired was being replaced by the granddaughter of the agency's biggest client, there was general indignation. Without even having met Alexandra, the consensus was that she was a spoiled bitch who had probably been sent there to spy on them. When Alexandra reported for work, she was escorted to the huge, modern office of Aaron Berkley, where both Berkley and Mathews waited to greet her. The two partners looked nothing alike. Berkley was tall and thin, with a full head of white hair, and Mathews was short, tubby and completely bald. They had two things in common: They were brilliant advertising men who had created some of the most famous slogans of the past decade; and they were absolute tyrants. They treated their employees like chattels, and the only reason the employees stood for such treatment was that anyone who had worked for Berkley and Mathews could work at any advertising agency in the world. It was the training ground.
Also present in the office when Alexandra arrived was Lucas Pinkerton, a vice-president of the firm, a smiling man with an obsequious manner and cold eyes. Pinkerton was younger than the senior partners, but what he lacked in age, he made up for in vindictiveness toward the men and women who worked under him.
Aaron Berkley ushered Alexandra to a comfortable armchair. "What can I get you, Miss Blackwell? Would you like some coffee, tea?"
"Nothing, thank you."
"So. You're going to work with us here as a copywriter."
"I really appreciate your giving me this opportunity, Mr. Berkley. I know I have a great deal to learn, but I'll work very hard."
"No need for that," Norman Mathews said quickly. He caught himself. "I mean—you can't rush a learning experience like this. You take all the time you want."
"I'm sure you'll be very happy here," Aaron Berkley added. "You'll be working with the best people in the business."
One hour later, Alexandra was thinking, They may be the best, but they're certainly not the friendliest. Lucas Pinkerton had taken Alexandra around to introduce her to the staff, and the reception everywhere had been icy. They acknowledged her presence and then quickly found other things to do. Alexandra sensed their resentment, but she had no idea what had caused it. Pinkerton led her into a smoke-filled conference room. Against one wall was a cabinet filled with Clios and Art Directors' awards. Seated around a table were a woman and two men, all of them chain-smoking. The woman was short and dumpy, with rust-colored hair. The men were in their middle thirties, pale and harassed-looking.
Pinkerton said, "This is the creative team you'll be working with. Alice Koppel, Vince Barnes and Marty Bergheimer. This is Miss Blackwell."
The three of them stared at Alexandra.
"Well, I'll leave you to get acquainted with one another," Pinkerton said. He turned to Vince Barnes. "I'll expect the new perfume copy on my desk by tomorrow morning. See that Miss Blackwell has everything she needs." And he left.
"What do you need?" Vince Barnes asked.
The question caught Alexandra off guard. "I—I guess I just need to learn the advertising business."
Alice Koppel said sweetly, "You've come to the right place, Miss Blackwell. We're dying to play teacher."
"Lay off," Marty Bergheimer told her.
Alexandra was puzzled. "Have I done something to offend any of you?"
Marty Bergheimer replied, "No, Miss Blackwell. We're just under a lot of pressure here.
We're working on a perfume campaign, and so far Mr. Berkley and Mr. Mathews are underwhelmed by what we've delivered."
"I'll try not to be a bother," Alexandra promised.
"That would be peachy," Alice Koppel said.
The rest of the day went no better. There was not a smile in the place. One of their co-workers had been summarily fired because of this rich bitch, and they were going to make her pay.
At the end of Alexandra's first day, Aaron Berkley and Norman Mathews came into the little office Alexandra had been assigned, to make sure she was comfortable. The gesture was not lost on Alexandra's fellow workers.
Everyone in the agency was on a first-name basis—except for Alexandra. She was Miss Blackwell to everyone.
"Alexandra," she said.
"Right."
And the next time they addressed her, it was "Miss Black-well."
Alexandra was eager to learn and to make a contribution. She attended think-tank meetings where the copywriters brain-stormed ideas. She watched art editors draw up their designs. She listened to Lucas Pinkerton tear apart the copy that was brought to him for approval. He was a nasty, mean-spirited man, and Alexandra felt sorry for the copywriters who suffered under him. Alexandra found herself shuttling from floor to floor for meetings with department heads, meetings with clients, photographic sessions, strategy discussion meetings. She kept her mouth shut, listened and learned. At the end of her first week, she felt as though she had been there a month. She came home exhausted, not from the work but from the tension that her presence seemed to create.
When Kate asked how the job was going, Alexandra replied, 'Fine, Gran. It's very interesting."
"I'm sure you'll do well, Alex. If you have any problems, just see Mr. Berkley or Mr.
Mathews."
That was the last thing Alexandra intended to do.
On the following Monday Alexandra went to work determined to find a way to solve her problem. There were daily morning and afternoon coffee breaks, and the conversation was easy and casual.
"Did you hear what happened over at National Media? Some genius there wanted to call attention to the great year they had, so he printed their financial report in The New York Times in red ink!"
"Remember that airline promotion: Fly Your Wife Free"! It was a smash until the airline sent letters of appreciation to the wives and got back a flood of mail demanding to know who their husbands had flown with. They—"
Alexandra walked in, and the conversation stopped dead.
"Can I get you some coffee, Miss Blackwell?"
"Thank you. I can get it."
There was silence while Alexandra fed a quarter into the coffee machine. When she left, the conversation started again.
"Did you hear about the Pure Soap foul-up? The angelic-looking model they used turned out to be a porno star ..."
At noon Alexandra said to Alice Koppel, "If you're free for lunch, I thought we might—"
"Sorry. I have a date."
Alexandra looked at Vince Barnes. "Me, too," he said.
She looked at Marty Bergheimer. "I'm all booked up."
Alexandra was too upset to eat lunch. They were making her feel as though she were a pariah, and she found herself getting angry. She did not intend to give up. She was going to find a way to reach them, to let them know that deep down under the Blackwell name she was one of them. She sat at meetings and
listened to Aaron Berlcley and Norman Mathews and Lucas Pinkerton tongue-lash the creators who were merely trying to do their jobs as well as they could. Alexandra sympathized, but they did not want her sympathy. Or her.
Alexandra waited three days before trying again. She said to Alice Koppel, "I heard of a wonderful little Italian restaurant near here—"
"I don't eat Italian food."
She turned to Vince Barnes. "I'm on a diet."
Alexandra looked at Marty Bergheimer. "I'm going to eat Chinese."
Alexandra's face was flushed. They did not want to be seen with her. Well, to hell with them. To hell with all of them. She had had enough. She had gone out of her way to try to make friends, and each time she had been slapped down. Working there was a mistake.
She would find another job somewhere with a company that her grandmother had nothing to do with. She would quit at the end of the week. But I'm going to make you all remember I was here, Alexandra thought grimly.
At 1:00 p.m. on Thursday, everyone except the receptionist at the switchboard was out to lunch. Alexandra stayed behind. She had observed that in the executive offices there were intercoms connecting the various departments, so that if an executive wanted to talk to an underling, all he had to do was press a button on the talk box where the employee's name was written on a card. Alexandra slipped into the deserted offices of Aaron Berkley and Norman Mathews and Lucas Pinkerton and spent the next hour changing all the cards around. Thus it was that early that afternoon Lucas Pinkerton pressed down the key that connected him to his chief copywriter and said, "Get your ass in here. Now!"
There was a moment of stunned silence, then Norman Mathews's voice bellowed, "What did you say?"
Pinkerton stared at the machine, transfixed. "Mr. Mathews, is that you?"
"You're damned right it is. Get your fucking ass in here. Now!"
A minute later, a copywriter pressed down a button on the machine on his desk and said,
"I've got some copy for you to run downstairs."
Aaron Berkley's voice roared back at him. "You what?"
It was the beginning of pandemonium. It took four hours to straighten out the mess that Alexandra had created, and it was the best four hours that the employees of Berkley and Mathews had ever known. Each time a fresh incident occurred, they whooped with joy.
The executives were being buzzed to run errands, fetch cigarettes and repair a broken toilet. Aaron Berkley and Norman Mathews and Lucas Pinkerton turned the place upside down trying to find out who the culprit was, but no one knew anything.
The only one who had seen Alexandra go into the various offices was Fran, the woman on the switchboard, but she hated her bosses more than she hated Alexandra, so all she would say was, "I didn't see a soul."
That night when Fran was in bed with Vince Barnes, she related what had happened.
He sat up in bed. "The Blackwell girl did it? I'll be a sonofa-bitch!"
The following morning when Alexandra walked into her office, Vince Barnes, Alice Koppel and Marty Bergheimer were there, waiting. They stared at her in silence. "Is something wrong?" Alexandra asked.
"Not a thing, Alex," Alice Koppel said. "The boys and I were just wondering if you'd like to join us for lunch. We know this great little Italian joint near here ..."
From the time she was a little girl, Eve Blackwell had been aware of her ability to manipulate people. Before, it had always been a game with her, but now it was deadly serious. She had been treated shabbily, deprived of a vast fortune that was rightfully hers, by her scheming sister and her vindictive old grandmother. They were going to pay in full for what they had done to her, and the thought of it gave Eve such intense pleasure that it almost brought her to orgasm. Their lives were now in hei hands.
Eve worked out her plan carefully and meticulously, orchestrating every move. In the beginning, George Mellis had been a reluctant conspirator.
"Christ, it's too dangerous. I don't need to get involved in anything like this," he argued. "I can get all the money I need."
"How?" Eve asked contemptuously. "By laying a lot of fat women with blue hair? Is that how you want to spend the rest of your life? What happens when you put on a little weight and start to get a few wrinkles around your eyes? No, George, you'll never have another opportunity like this. If you listen to me, you
and I can own one of the largest conglomerates in the world. You hear me? Own it."
"How do you know this plan will work?"
"Because I'm the greatest living expert on my grandmother and my sister. Believe me, it will work."
Eve sounded confident, but she had reservations and they concerned George Mellis.
Eve knew she could do her part, but she was not sure George would be able to do his. He was unstable, and there was no room for error. One mistake, and the whole plan would fall apart.
She said to him now, "Make up your mind. Are you in or out?"
He studied her for a long time. "I'm in." He moved close to her and stroked her shoulders. His voice was husky. "I want to be all the way in."
Eve felt a sexual thrill go through her. "All right," she whispered, "but we do it my way."
They were in bed. Naked, he was the most magnificent animal Eve had ever seen. And the most dangerous, but that only added to her excitement. She had the weapon now to control him. She nibbled at his body, slowly moving down toward his groin, tiny, teasing bites that made his penis grow stiff and hard.
"Fuck me, George," Eve said.
"Turn over."
"No. My way."
"I don't enjoy that."
"I know. You'd like me to be a tight-assed little boy, wouldn't you, darling? I'm not. I'm a woman. Get on top of me."
He mounted her and put his tumescent penis inside her. "I can't be satisfied this way, Eve."
She laughed. "I don't care, sweetheart. / can."
She began to move her hips, thrusting against him, feeling him going deeper and deeper inside her. She had orgasm after orgasm, and watched his frustration grow. He wanted to hurt her. to make her scream with pain, but he dared not.
"Again!" Eve commanded. And he pounded his body into her until she moaned aloud with pleasure. "Ahh-h-h ... that's enough for now."
He withdrew and lay at her side. He reached for her breasts. "Now it's my—"
And she said curtly, "Get dressed."
He rose from the bed, trembling with frustration and rage. Eve lay in bed watching him put on his clothes, a tight smile on her face. "You've been a good boy, George. It's time you got your reward. I'm going to turn Alexandra over to you."
Overnight, everything had changed for Alexandra. What was to have been her last day at Berkley and Mathews had turned into a triumph for her. She had gone from outcast to heroine. News of her caper spread all over Madison Avenue.
"You're a legend in your own time," Vince Barnes grinned.
Now she was one of them.
Alexandra enjoyed her work, particularly the creative sessions that went on every morning. She knew this was not what she wanted to do for the rest of her life, but she was not sure what she wanted. She had had at least a dozen proposals of marriage, and she had been tempted by one or two of them, but something had been lacking. She simply had not found the right man.
On Friday morning, Eve telephoned to invite Alexandra to lunch. 'There's a new French restaurant that just opened. I hear the food is marvelous."
Alexandra was delighted to hear from her sister. She was concerned about Eve.
Alexandra telephoned her two or three times a week, but Eve was either out or too busy to see her. So now, even though Alexandra had an engagement, she said, "I'd love to have lunch with you."
The restaurant was chic and expensive, and the bar was filled with patrons waiting for tables. Eve had had to use her grandmother's name in order to get a reservation. It galled her, and she thought, Just wait. One day you'll be begging me to eat at your crummy restaurant. Eve was already seated when
Alexandra arrived. She watched Alexandra as the maitre d' escorted her to the table, and she had the odd sensation she was watching herself approach the table.
Eve greeted her sister with a kiss on the cheek. "You look absolutely marvelous, Alex.
Work must agree with you."
They ordered, and then caught up with each other's lives.
"How's the job going?" Eve asked.
Alexandra told Eve everything that was happening to her, and Eve gave Alexandra a carefully edited version of her own life. In the midst of their conversation, Eve glanced up.
George Mellis was standing there. He was looking at the two of them, momentarily confused. My God, Eve realized, he doesn't know which one I am!
"George!" she said.
He turned to her in relief. "Eve!"
Eve said, "What a pleasant surprise." She nodded toward Alexandra. "I don't believe you've met my sister. Alex, may I present George Mellis."
George took Alexandra's hand and said, "Enchanted." Eve had mentioned that her sister was a twin, but it had not occurred to him that they would be identical twins.
Alexandra was staring at George, fascinated.
Eve said, "Won't you join us?"
"I wish I could. I'm afraid I'm late for an appointment. Another time, perhaps." He looked at Alexandra. "And soon, I hope."
They watched him leave. "Good heavens!" Alexandra said. "Who was that?"
"Oh, he's a friend of Nita Ludwig. I met him at her house party."
"Am I crazy, or is he as stunning as I think he is?"
Eve laughed. "He's not my type, but women seem to find Mm attractive."
"I would think so! Is he married?"
"No. But it's not because they aren't out there trying, darling. George is very rich. You might say he has everything: looks,
money, social background." And Eve skillfully changed the subject.
When Eve asked for the check, the captain told her it had been taken care of by Mr.
Mellis.
Alexandra was unable to stop thinking about George Mellis.
On Monday afternoon, Eve called Alexandra and said, "Well, it looks like you made a bit, darling. George Mellis called me and asked for your telephone number. Is it all right to give it to him?"
Alexandra was surprised to find that she was smiling. "If you're sure you're not interested in—"
"I told you, Alex, he's not my type."
"Then I don't mind if you give him my number."
They chatted a few minutes more, and Eve hung up. She replaced the receiver and looked up at George, who was lying next to her on the bed, naked. "The lady said yes."
"How soon?"
"When I tell you."
Alexandra tried to forget that George Mellis was going to telephone her, but the more she tried to put him out of her mind, the more she thought about him. She had never been particularly attracted to handsome men, for she had found that most of them were self-centered. But George Mellis, Alexandra thought, seemed different. There was an overpowering quality about him. The mere touch of his hand had stirred her. You're crazy, she told herself. You've only seen the man for two minutes.
He did not call all that week, and Alexandra's emotions went from impatience to frustration to anger. To hell with him, she thought. He's found someone else. Good!
When the phone rang at the end of the following week and Alexandra heard his deep, husky voice, her anger dissipated as if by magic.
"This is George Mellis," he said. "We met briefly when you and your sister were having lunch. Eve said you wouldn't mind if I telephoned you."
"She did mention that you might call," Alexandra said casually. "By the way, thank you for the lunch."
"You deserve a feast. You deserve a monument."
Alexandra laughed, enjoying his extravagance.
"I wonder if you would care to have dinner with me one evening?"
"Why—I—yes. That would be nice."
"Wonderful. If you had said no, I should have killed myself."
"Please don't," Alexandra said. "I hate eating alone."
"So do I. I know a little restaurant on Mulberry Street: Matoon's. It's very obscure, but the food is—"
"Matoon's! I love it!" Alexandra exclaimed. "It's my favorite."
"You know it?" There was surprise in his voice.
"Oh, yes."
George looked over at Eve and grinned. He had to admire her ingenuity. She had briefed him on all of Alexandra's likes and dislikes. George Mellis knew everything there was to know about Eve's sister.
When George finally replaced the receiver, Eve thought, It's started.
It was the most enchanting evening of Alexandra's life. One hour before George Mellis was due, a dozen pink balloons arrived, with an orchid attached. Alexandra had been filled with a fear that her imagination might have led her to expect too much, but the moment she saw George Mellis again, all her doubts were swept away. She felt once again his overpowering magnetism.
They had a drink at the house and then went on to the restaurant.
"Would you like to look at the menu?" George asked. "Or shall I order for you?"
Alexandra had her favorite dishes here, but she wanted to please George. "Why don't you order?"
He chose every one of Alexandra's favorites, and she had the heady feeling he was reading her mind. They dined on stuffed
artichokes, veal Matoon, a specialty of the house, and angel hair, a delicate pasta. They had a salad that George mixed at the table with a deft skill.
"Do you cook?" Alexandra asked.
"Ah, it's one of the passions of my life. My mother taught me. She was a brilliant cook."
"Are you close to your family, George?"
He smiled, and Alexandra thought it was the most attractive smile she had ever seen.
'I'm Greek," he said simply. "I'm the oldest of three brothers and two sisters, and we are like one." A look of sadness came into his eyes. "Leaving them was the most difficult thing I ever had to do. My father and my brothers begged me to stay. We have a large business, and they felt I was needed there."
"Why didn't you stay?"
"I will probably seem a fool to you, but I prefer to make my own way. It has always been difficult for me to accept gifts from anyone, and the business was a gift handed down from my grandfather to my father. No, I will take nothing from my father. Let my brothers have my share."
How Alexandra admired him.
"Besides," George added softly, "if I had stayed in Greece, I never would have met you."
Alexandra felt herself blushing. "You've never been married?"
"No. I used to get engaged once a day," he teased, "but at the last moment I always felt there was something wrong." He leaned forward, and his voice was earnest. "Beautiful Alexandra, you are going to think me very old-fashioned, but when I get married, it will be forever. One woman is enough for me, but it must be the right woman."
"I think that's lovely," she murmured.
"And you?" George Mellis asked. "Have you ever been in love?"
"No."
"How unlucky for someone," he said. "But how lucky for—"
At that moment, the waiter appeared with dessert. Alexandra was dying to ask George to finish the sentence, but she was afraid to.
Alexandra had never felt so completely at ease with anyone. George Mellis seemed so genuinely interested in her that she found herself telling him about her childhood, her life, the experiences she had stored up and treasured.
George Mellis prided himself on being an expert on women. He knew that beautiful women were usually the most insecure, for men concentrated on that beauty, leaving the women feeling like objects rather than human beings. When George was with a beautiful woman, he never mentioned her looks. He made the woman feel that he was interested in her mind, her feelings, that he was a soul mate sharing her dreams. It was an extraordinary experience for Alexandra. She told George about Kate, and about Eve.
"Your sister does not live with you and your grandmother?"
"No. She—Eve wanted an apartment of her own."
Alexandra could not imagine why George Mellis had not been attracted to her sister.
Whatever the reason, Alexandra was grateful. During the course of the dinner, Alexandra noted that every woman in the place was aware of George, but not once did he look around or take his eyes from her.
Over coffee, George said, "I don't know if you tike jazz, but there's a club on St. Marks Place called the Five Spot..."
"Where Cecil Taylor plays!"
He looked at Alexandra in astonishment. "You've been
"Often!" Alexandra laughed. "I love him! It's incredible how we share the same tastes."
George replied quietly, "It's like some kind of miracle." They listened to Cecil Taylor's spellbinding piano playing, long solos that rocked the room with arpeggios and rippling glissandi. From there they went to a bar on Bleecker Street, where the customers drank, ate popcorn, threw darts and lis-tened to good piano music. Alexandra watched as George got into a dart contest with one of the regular patrons. The man was good, but he never had a chance. George played with a grim intensity that was almost frightening. It was only a game, but he played it as though it meant life or death. He's a man who has to win, Alexandra thought.
It was 2:00 a.m. when they left the bar, and Alexandra hated for the evening to end.
George sat beside Alexandra in the chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce he had rented. He did not speak. He just looked at her. The resemblance between the two sisters was startling. I wonder if their bodies are alike. He visualized Alexandra in bed with him, writhing and screaming with pain.
"What are you thinking?" Alexandra asked.
He looked away from her so she could not read his eyes. "You'll laugh at me."
"I won't. I promise."
"I wouldn't blame you if you did. I suppose I'm considered something of a playboy. You know the life—yachting trips and parties, and all the rest of it."
"Yes..."
He fixed his dark eyes on Alexandra. "I think you are the one woman who could change all that. Forever."
Alexandra felt her pulse quicken. "I—I don't know what to say."
"Please. Don't say anything." His lips were very close to hers, and Alexandra was ready.
But he made no move. Don't make any advances, Eve had warned. Not on the first night.
If you do, you become one of a long line of Romeos dying to get their hands on her and her fortune. She has to make the first move.
And so, George Mellis merely held Alexandra's hand in his until the car glided to a smooth stop in front of the Blackwell mansion. George escorted Alexandra to her front door. She turned to him and said, "I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed this evening."
"It was magic for me."
Alexandra's smile was bright enough to light up the street "Good night, George," she whispered. And she disappeared
inside.
Master Of The Game Master Of The Game - Sidney Sheldon Master Of The Game