To the wilds of South Africa in the late 19th century came a band of adventurers, driven by the same obsession: diamonds. One of the hopefuls was 18-year-old Jamie McGregor, who journeyed from his home in the Highlands of Scotland to Klipdrift, a brawling frontier town where he amassed a fortune. When his only son was murdered by Bantu tribesmen, his daughter, Kate, was reared to carry out Jamie’s dreams for the family dynasty. At 21, she became head of’ Kruger-Brent, Ltd., her father’s multimillion-dollar conglomerate. Inheriting his determination and her mother’s beauty, she proved formidable in the world of big business. In the following excerpt, the first of two from Sidney Sheldon’s just-off-the-press best-seller, Master of the Game, the year is 1923. Kate is married to David Blackwell, a young executive in the Company. They have moved their headquarters to New York.
New York was exciting. Kate had felt the quick pulse of the city, and living there was like being caught up at the center of a matrix. Kate and David selected a site for the Company on Wall Street, and the architects went to work. Still another architect designed a 16th-century French Renaissance chateau on Fifth Avenue for their home.
“This city is so damned noisy,” David complained.
The chatter of riveters filled the air in every part of the city as skyscrapers soared. Kate loved it and couldn’t understand David’s unhappiness.
“Darling, this is the future, don’t you see? This place is growing, and the Company will grow with it.”
“My God, Kate—how much more do you want?”
And without thinking, she replied, “All there is.”
How could David even ask that question? The name of the game was to win, and you won by beating everyone else. It was so obvious. David was a good businessman, but there was something missing in him, a hunger, a compulsion to conquer, to be the biggest and the best. Her father had had that spirit, and she had it. Kate was not sure what moment it had happened, but at some point in her life, the Company had become the master—she the slave.
When she tried to explain her feelings to David, he laughed and said, “You’re working too hard.” She’s so much like her father, David thought. He was not sure why he found that vaguely disturbing.
How could one work too hard? Kate wondered. There was no greater joy in life. It was when she felt most alive. Each day brought a new set of problems, and each problem was a challenge, a puzzle to be solved, a new game to be won. She was caught up in something beyond imagination. It had nothing to do with money or achievement; it had to do with power. A power that controlled the lives of thousands of people in every corner of the earth. As long as she had power, she would never truly need anyone. It was a weapon that was awesome beyond belief.
In March, a year after they had moved to New York, Kate felt unwell. David insisted that she see a doctor. “His name is John Harley. He’s good. You’ll like him, Kate.”
Reluctantly, Kate went to see him. John Harley was a thin, serious-looking young Bostonian about 26, five years younger than Kate.
“I warn you,” Kate said, “I don’t have time to be sick.”
“I’ll bear that in mind, Mrs. Blackwell. Meanwhile, let’s have a look at you.”
Dr. Harley examined her, made some tests, and said, “I’m sure it’s nothing serious. I’ll have the results in a day or two. Give me a call on Wednesday.”
Early Wednesday morning Kate telephoned Dr. Harley. “I have good news for you, Mrs. Blackwell,” he said cheerfully. “You’re going to have a baby.”
She had never seen David so thrilled. He scooped her up in his strong arms and said, “It’s going to be a girl, and she’ll look exactly like you.” He was thinking: This is what Kate needs. Now she’ll stay home more. She’ll be more of a wife. And Kate was thinking: It will be a boy. One day he’ll take over Kruger-Brent.
Kate’s body grew large and clumsy, and it was getting more and more difficult for her to go to the office, but whenever David suggested she stay home, Kate’s answer was: “My brain is still working.” Two months before the baby was due, David was in South Africa on an inspection tour of the mine at Pniel. He was scheduled to return to New York the following week. Kate was at her desk when one of her top executives, Brad Rogers, walked in unannounced. She looked at the grim expression on his face and said, “We lost the Shannon deal!”
“No. I—Kate, I just got word. There’s been an accident. A mine explosion.”
She felt a sharp pang. “Where? Was it bad? Was anyone killed?” Brad took a deep breath. “Half a dozen. Kate—David was with them.”
Suddenly, everything became dark and silent.
One hour later, the baby was born two months prematurely. Kate named him Anthony James Blackwell, after David’s father. I’ll love you, my son, for me, and I’ll love you for your father.
The Fifth Avenue château was ready, and Kate and the baby and a staff of servants moved into it. Two castles in Italy had been stripped to furnish the house. It was a showplace, with elaborately carved 16th-century Italian walnut furniture and rose marble floors bordered with sienna red marble. The paneled library boasted a magnificent 18th-century fireplace over which hung a rare Holbein. There was a trophy room with David’s gun collection, and an art gallery that Kate filled with Rembrandts and Vermeers and Velázquezes and Bellinis. There was a ballroom and a sun room and a formal dining room and a nursery next to Kate’s room and countless bedrooms. In the large formal gardens were statues by Rodin, Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Maillol. It was a palace fit for a king. And the king is growing up in it, Kate thought happily.
In 1928, when Tony was 4, Kate sent him to nursery school. He was a handsome, solemn boy, with his mother’s gray eyes and strong chin. He was given music lessons, and when he was 5 he attended dancing school. Some of the best times the two of them spent together were at Cedar Hill House, an estate Kate had bought in Dark Harbor, Maine. Kate bought a yacht, an 80-foot motor-sailer she named the Corsair, and she and Tony cruised the waters along the coast. And they both adored it. But it was the work that gave Kate her greatest pleasure. There was something mystic about the Company Jamie McGregor had founded. It was alive, consuming. It was her lover, and it would never die on a winter day and leave her alone. It would live forever. She would see to it. And one day she would give it to her son.
When Tony was old enough to travel, Kate took him on business trips during his school holidays. He was fond of museums, and he could stand for hours looking at the paintings and statues of the great masters. At home, Tony sketched copies of the paintings hanging on the walls, but he was too self-conscious to let his mother see his work. Kate had no idea how much Tony was in awe of her.
In 1936, on Tony’s 12th birthday, Kate returned from a trip to the Middle East. She had missed Tony and was eager to see him. He was at home waiting for her. She took him in her arms and hugged him. “Happy birthday, darling! Has it been a good day?”
“Y-yes, M-Ma’am. It’s b-b-been wonderful.”
Kate pulled back and looked at him. She had never heard him stutter before. “Are you all right, Tony?”
“F-fine, thank you, M-Mother.”
“Just speak more slowly, Tony. You mustn’t stammer. Now…Slowly…”
Over the next few weeks, the stammer grew worse. Kate decided to talk to Dr. Harley. When he finished the examination, Dr. Harley said, “Physically, there’s nothing wrong with the boy, Kate. Is he under any kind of pressure?”
“My son? Of course not. How can you ask that?”
“Tony’s a sensitive boy. Stuttering is very often a physical manifestation of frustration, an inability to cope.”
“You’re talking nonsense, John. Tony is at the very top of all the achievement tests in school. Last term he won three awards. Best all-around athlete, best all-around scholar and best student in the arts. I’d hardly call that unable to cope.”
“I see.” He studied her. “What do you do when Tony stammers, Kate?”
“I correct him, of course.”
“I would suggest that you don’t. That will only make him more tense.”
Kate was stung to anger. “If Tony has any psychological problems, as you seem to think, I can assure you it’s not because of his mother. I adore him. And he’s aware that I think he’s the most fantastic child on earth.”
And that was the core of the problem. No child could live up to that. Dr. Harley glanced down at his chart. “Let’s see now. Tony is 12. Perhaps it might be good for him if he went away for a while. Maybe a private school somewhere. Let him be on his own a bit. Just until he finishes high school. They have some excellent schools in Switzerland.”
Switzerland! The idea of Tony’s being so far away from her was appalling. He was too young, he was not ready yet, he—Dr. Harley was watching her. “I’ll think about it,” Kate told him.
That afternoon she canceled a board meeting and went home early. Tony was in his room, doing homework. “What would you think of going to school in Switzerland, darling?” she asked. And her son’s eyes lit up, and he said, “M-m-may I?”
Six weeks later, Kate put Tony aboard a ship. He was on his way to the Institut Le Rosey in Rolle, a small town on the shore of Lake Geneva. Kate stood at the New York pier and watched until the huge liner cut loose from the tugboats. Then she turned and walked back to the limousine waiting to take her to the office.
At Kruger-Brent, Ltd., Kate and Brad Rogers had become good friends through the years. Brad was unmarried and had a variety of attractive girlfriends, but gradually Kate became aware that he was half in love with her. More than once he made studiously ambiguous remarks, but she chose to keep their relationship on an impersonal, business level. She broke that pattern only once.
Brad had started seeing someone regularly. He stayed out late every night and came into morning meetings tired and distracted, his mind elsewhere. It was bad for the Company. When a month went by and his behavior was becoming more flagrant, Kate decided that something had to be done.
She had planned to travel to Paris alone to acquire an import-export company, but at the last minute she asked Brad to accompany her. They spent the day of their arrival in meetings and that evening had dinner at Le Grand Vefour. Afterward, Kate suggested that Brad join her in her suite at the George V to go over the reports on the new company. When he arrived, Kate was waiting for him in a filmy negligee.
“I brought the revised offer with me,” Brad began, “so we—”
“That can wait,” Kate said softly. “I wanted us to be alone, Brad.”
And they moved into the bedroom.
Kate was a sensual woman, but all of her sexual energy had long since been harnessed into other channels. She was completely fulfilled by her work. She needed Brad for other reasons.
“Kate, I’ve loved you for so long…”
He was making love to her, and she thought: They’re asking too bloody much for the company. They’re going to hold out because they know I really want it.
Brad was whispering words of endearment in her ear.
I could call off the negotiations and wait for them to come back to me. But what if they don’t? Do I dare risk losing the deal? No. They could easily find another buyer. Better to pay them what they want. I’ll make up for it by selling off one of their subsidiaries.
Brad was moaning in a frenzy of excitement.
I’ll tell them I’ve decided to meet their terms.
She lay in Brad’s arms all night, thinking and planning, while he slept. In the morning when he woke, she said, “Brad—that girl you’ve been seeing—”
“My God! You’re jealous!” He laughed happily. “Forget about her. I’ll never see her again—I promise.”
Kate never went to bed with Brad again. When he could not understand why she refused him, all she said was, “You don’t know how much I want to, Brad, but I’m afraid we wouldn’t be able to work together. We must both make a sacrifice.” And he was forced to live with that.
In the forefront of Kate’s mind was always Tony. One day she decided to telephone the head of Le Rosey. “I’m calling to find out how my son Tony is.”
“Ah, he is doing very well, Mrs. Blackwell. Your son is a superb student. He—”
“I wasn’t referring to that. I meant—” She hesitated, as though reluctant to admit that there could be a weakness in her son. “I meant his stammering.”
“Madame, there is no sign of any stammering. He is fine.”
Tony arrived home four weeks later, and Kate was at the airport to meet him. He looked fit and handsome. Kate felt a surge of pride. “Hello, my love. How are you?”
“I’m f-f-fine, M-M-Mother. How are y-y-you?”
On his vacations at home, Tony looked forward to examining the new paintings his mother had acquired while he was away. Tony was awed by the Old Masters and enchanted by the French Impressionists in the collection: Monet, Renoir, Manet and Morisot. They evoked a magic world for Tony. He bought a set of paints and an easel and went to work. He thought his paintings were terrible, and he still refused to show them to anyone. But he could not stop.
“One day all these paintings will belong to you, darling,” Kate told him. The thought of it filled the 13-year-old boy with a sense of unease. His mother did not understand. They could never truly be his, because he had done nothing to deserve them. He had a fierce determination to earn his own way. These paintings would always belong to his mother. Everything around Kate was always exciting. She was at the center of a whirlwind, giving orders, making incredible deals, taking him to exotic places, introducing him to fascinating people. She was an awesome figure, and Tony was inordinately proud of her. He felt guilty because it was only in his mother’s presence that he stuttered.
He wanted so much to please Kate. He knew how much the Company meant to her, how much she planned on his running it one day, and he was filled with regret, because he knew he could not. That was not what he intended to do with his life. When he tried to explain this to his mother, she would laugh, “Nonsense, Tony. You’re much too young to know what you want to do with your future.” And he would begin to stammer.
The idea of being a painter excited Tony enormously. To be able to capture beauty and freeze it for all eternity; that was something worthwhile. He wanted to go abroad and study in Paris, but he knew he would have to broach the subject to his mother carefully.
They had wonderful times together. Kate was the chatelaine of vast estates. She had acquired homes in Palm Beach and South Carolina and a stud farm in Kentucky, and she and Tony visited all of them during his vacations. They watched the America’s Cup races in Newport, and when they were in New York, they had lunch at Delmonico’s and tea at the Plaza and Sunday dinner at Luchow’s. Kate was interested in horse racing, and her stable became one of the finest in the world. When one of Kate’s horses was running and Tony was home from school, Kate would take him to the track. They would sit in her box, and Tony would watch in wonder as his mother cheered until she was hoarse. He knew her excitement had nothing to do with money.
“It’s winning, Tony. Remember that. Winning is what’s important. You know, Tony, Kruger-Brent, Ltd. will be yours one day. You’ll run it and—”
“I d-don’t want to r-run it, Mother. I’m not interested in big business or power.”
And Kate exploded. “You bloody fool! What do you know about big business or power? Do you think I go around the world spreading evil? Hurting people? Do you think Kruger-Brent is some kind of ruthless money machine crushing anything that gets in its way? Well, let me tell you something, Son. We’re the next best thing to Jesus Christ. We’re the resurrection, Tony. We save lives by the hundreds of thousands. When we open a factory in a depressed community or country, those people can afford to build schools and libraries and churches, and give their children decent food and clothing and recreation facilities.”
She was beautiful in her anger. “We build factories where people are hungry and out of work, and because of us they’re able to live decent lives and hold up their heads. We’re their saviors. Don’t ever again let me hear you sneer at big business and power.”
All Tony could say was, “I’m s-s-sorry, M-M-Mother.”
And he thought stubbornly: I’m going to be an artist.
When Tony was 15, Kate suggested he spend his summer vacation in South Africa. He had never been there before. “I can’t get away, Tony, but you’ll find it a fascinating place. I’ll make all the arrangements for you.”
“I was s-sort of h-hoping to spend my vacation at Dark Harbor, M-Mother.”
“Next summer,” Kate told him. “This summer, Tony, I would like you to go to Johannesburg.”
Kate briefed the company superintendent in Johannesburg, and together they laid out an itinerary for Tony. Each day was planned with one objective in view: to make every moment as exciting as possible, to make him realize his future lay with the Company. Kate received a daily report about her son. He had been taken down into one of the gold mines. He had spent two days in the diamond fields. He joined a guided tour of the Kruger-Brent plants, and had gone on a safari in Kenya.
A few days before Tony’s vacation ended, Kate telephoned the company manager in Johannesburg. “How is Tony getting along?”
“Oh, he’s having a great time, Mrs. Blackwell. In fact, this morning he asked if he couldn’t stay on a little longer.” Kate felt a surge of pleasure. “That’s wonderful! Thank you.”
When it was time for Tony’s return, Kate left an important meeting to greet her son at the airport. Tony looked tan and fit, and his handsome young face was filled with enthusiasm. “Did you have a good time, darling?”
“South Africa’s a f-fantastic country, M-Mother. You know what I loved inmost? The colors. I p-painted a lot of landscapes t-there. I hated to leave. I want to go back there and p-paint.”
“Paint?” Kate tried to sound enthusiastic. “That sounds like a wonderful hobby, Tony.”
“No. I don’t m-mean as a hobby, Mother. I want to be a p-painter. I’m going to P-Paris to study. I really think I might have some talent.”
Kate felt herself tensing. “You don’t want to spend your life painting.”
“Yes, I do, M-Mother. It’s the only thing I really c-care about.”
And Kate knew she had lost. In September, the decision was taken out of both their hands. Europe went to war.
“I want you to enroll in the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce,” Kate informed Tony. “In two years, if you still want to be an artist, you’ll have my blessing.” Kate was certain that by then Tony would change his mind. It was inconceivable that her son would choose to spend his life slapping daubs of color on bits of canvas when he could head the most exciting conglomerate in the world. He was, after all, her son.