As the plane began its descent into Paris, Max Maguire peered down through the frothy clouds hovering over the city and, catching a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, felt a frisson of excitement. Her mother, Juliette, seated in the aisle seat, dozed with her head against her husband’s shoulder. Hank sat scrunched in the middle, reading a book on Juliette’s tablet. The family was on their way to meet up with Juliette’s mother at her summer house in Burgundy. Mid-October was not considered an ideal time to visit; it could get quite cold and many of the second homes weren’t equipped for winter, but so far it had been unseasonably warm, and the prediction was that it would continue.
It had been Max’s dream, after meeting her maternal grandmother the year before, to spend time with her in Burgundy, where her mother had spent her summers growing up. Hank, who had just retired from the NYPD with too many accolades to count, had been disgruntled about the trip. “I cut off my roots a long time ago,” had been his response when Max had first brought up the subject of reconnecting with her mother’s family. “Besides,” he had said, “her parents were rotten to her when she married me. They disowned her, for Christ’s sake.” Juliette had taken Max’s side, telling Hank that she and Max would go without him. She added that just because they had lost their roots didn’t mean Max had to lose hers. He’d laughed at that and said, “Neither of you are fooling me. Olivier Chaumont will be in Burgundy with his family, and has invited Max to visit.”
Max closed her eyes, aware of the sensation of being in a time machine, rushing toward her future at five hundred miles an hour. In an hour she was going to be in Olivier’s arms again. He had postponed his vacation in order to have a month with her in Burgundy, and if she were being honest with herself, which she rarely was, she was hoping he would propose.
They had met two years before at a wedding in Champagne, where the aunt of the bride was murdered. And last year they were thrown together again when an American wine critic, whom Max was hired to guard, was murdered. It was then that Max knew she wanted to commit to the man who everyone agreed was essentially her opposite—that is, if he proposed. The six-month separation had felt like an eternity at times, and mercurial at others. At thirty-two, Max felt ever more aware of what a trickster time could be.
Although Olivier had responded succinctly and lovingly to her texts and e-mails, it was his long, handwritten letters that convinced her of his devotion. Until then, she had had no idea of the power of language to sweep one into a state of longing or love very far removed from the stress-inducing, staccato beat of a text pinging in on her cell phone.
Max’s first attempts at responding in kind to Olivier were frustrating. She wrote about her latest arrests, and told him about winning a jiu-jitsu competition. But how to write about her feelings? Eventually she stopped shaking her foot and hopping up for a cup of tea or snack every few seconds and held still, pen in hand, until something came. In her last letter, written two weeks ago, she had responded that she could not imagine her life without him, and that she counted the days and hours until they were together. He’ll think I’m on crack, she had thought, after rereading it. Frustrated, she texted him: no time to write. see you soon.
Hank interrupted her thoughts. “I hate these gadgets,” he said. Max asked him what the problem was. He complained that he couldn’t bookmark a page on the Kindle, and Max showed him how. “What are you reading?” she asked.
“Your Ma thought I’d like this Bruno, Chief of Police, mystery series. She said he reminded her a little of me.”
Max knew the series by Martin Walker set in the Périgord and smiled. “That’s flattering. Bruno’s a pretty romantic guy, though.”
“And you think I’m not?” Hank turned off the Kindle.
“Let’s just say it’s not obvious. Burgundy might give you a new perspective. Good food and wine. Fire in the fireplace. Long walks.”
“I thought we were supposed to be focusing on your romance.”
They fastened their seat belts and prepared for landing. She felt certain Olivier had been on the verge of proposing in New York when they were summoned to the airport to track down a serial killer. He had come to the point of reaching into his pocket, but was he pulling out a ring or a handkerchief? After the case closed, by chance they found themselves opening a bottle of a fabulous wine, a 1945 Mouton Rothschild, a perfect moment to propose, but the ring never emerged. Now she had these handwritten love letters with a few lines suggesting a future together.
The plane gently bumped the runway. Hank said, “You know, I gave Olivier a lecture last year about patience not always being a great virtue, like everybody thinks. If I had been patient with your Ma we wouldn’t be in this plane right now.”
“Oh, God, Dad. Why tell me now? He obviously didn’t grasp the meaning since there was no hint of a proposal six months ago when he came to visit.”
“He got the meaning, alright. My hunch is he got cold feet.”
The plane came to a halt. Juliette leaned over and said to Max, “Your feet are cold?”
Hank barked a laugh, and Max turned her face back to the window.
Olivier Chaumont stood in the Gare de Lyon in Paris with his assistant, Abdel Zeroual. They had driven together to Paris from Bordeaux a few days before, and now Abdel was on his way to Lyon. If all went as planned, Abdel would be transferred to Paris to continue as Olivier’s assistant after his final interview with the Police Nationale. Abdel’s grandmother, who arrived in France after the Algerian war ended in 1962, had served as both housemaid and nanny to the Chaumont family. Once Olivier became a juge d’instruction, or investigating magistrate, one of the youngest ever to have achieved such status, she decided to accept his offer to work for him in Bordeaux. Olivier had become a mentor to the boy and was at least partly responsible for Abdel’s decision to become a police officer. Olivier was aware that a few of his peers questioned how he managed to manipulate the powers-that-be in order to have Abdel as his assistant whenever he was transferred, but so far no one had officially complained.
Olivier looked around the station. “We have time. Let’s have a coffee upstairs in Le Train Bleu.”
“D’accord.” They walked up the flight of stairs, and entered the restaurant that had been built in 1900 for the World Exposition. It was like entering a palace with the vast ceiling covered with frescoes, ornate chandeliers, and paintings. “Mon dieu, what is this place?” Abdel said. The garçon led them down an aisle to a smaller room enclosed by a wall of windows, where people sat sipping drinks or coffee.
“It’s amusing,” Olivier said, “how tourists go to the Left Bank to sit where some of the great artists and writers hung out, but this restaurant was a haunt of Coco Chanel, Jean Cocteau, Colette, and Brigitte Bardot.”
“I adore Bardot,” Abdel said, “and don’t give a shit about the rest.”
Olivier laughed. He ordered deux express and turned to Abdel. “How long do you plan to spend with your cousin in Lyon?”
“Two weeks. He agreed to come to Paris to help me move into my new apartment.”
“And where exactly is it?”
“The neuf-trois. Infested with immigrants.” Olivier made note of the anger on Abdel’s face, though he spoke calmly. “My apartment is near where some of the Paris attackers holed up waiting to commit murder last November.”
“I wonder if you will be conflicted about your new potential job of arresting jihadists, or would-be jihadists.”
“Monsieur, pardon, but I consider your comment racist. I have never had a problem arresting criminals, and they are criminals.”
Olivier was taken aback.
Abdel didn’t wait for a response. “The term jihad has been hijacked by the media as a blanket term for terrorists. When in fact the word refers to one’s personal struggles, be that with one’s own fears, or with a flat tire.”
Olivier realized they were dealing with a different vocabulary in these troubled times. A different reality, too. France was under siege, which was why he had applied to work with fellow investigative magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguière, who had handled some of France’s most famous terrorism cases. The decision had come after the attacks on the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January of 2015. The final death toll was fourteen people. He had marched in the streets with his fellow citizens, which was a first. But even that paled when over one hundred young people were murdered in the Paris attacks in November. A few weeks ago he was accepted as an antiterrorist magistrate, and from then on it all felt like a blur. Depression had been offset by action, but what had been put aside was his personal life.
“I’m not convinced, Abdel, as I have been under the impression that the murderers call themselves jihadists. And when I use the term, I’m not referring to Muslims.”
“I admit to being sensitive on the subject.”
Their attention was drawn temporarily to an elegant woman who had stood up to slide her arms into her coat. Olivier said, “I think when France created the law in 1996 against “association de malfaiteurs en relation avec une entreprise terroriste—establishing guilt by association—it was a mistake.”
“I agree. Proof was not always established when young suspects were arrested. They were put in prison for participating in a group intent on creating an act of terrorism. This crime carried a maximum sentence of ten years. Many became radicalized in prison, served their time, and are now free. They will seek revenge.”
“It’s interesting to me how they seem to have no strategy.”
Abdel leaned forward. “What few understand is that Sunni jihadists—and okay, we will use that term—don’t reason like the French. Western terrorists would have an objective, acquire the means, and only after they were organized around their goal would they take action. For these terrorists the target is often chosen very late in the mission.”
“Almost impulsively, right? They were clever to strike in several places at once during the Paris attacks.” Olivier glanced at his watch. “Time for us to go down to the train.” He beckoned to the waiter. “Did you read that they want to build a glass wall about the Tour l’Eiffel? As if that’s going to solve anything!”
Abdel grinned. “The politicians want to protect the tourists. Maybe they’ll hire immigrants to build the wall.”
Olivier ignored the sarcasm, but it reminded him to be diligent that no wall be allowed between him and Abdel. He turned to his assistant as they walked toward the train. “The cousin you’re visiting in Lyon? He’s a mechanic, right?”
“Yes. And I’m going because family rumor has it that he is on opioids. My grandmother wants me to check.”
“I hope that’s not the case. Drug use has reached epidemic status in the U.S. We mustn’t let that happen here.”
“I did some research. Abuse in Europe is highest among those in a low socioeconomic status, which automatically puts the problem on the back burner. It was declared a major public health issue in 2015. The focus today is on twenty thousand general practitioners prescribing buprenorphine to treat the opioid-dependence cases, and now that’s an entry drug for many.”
“It makes me think of a sci-fi film. Entire populations on drugs. It doesn’t sound as if you’ll have much of a vacation.”
“On a positive note, I get to see Max and meet her famous father.” They stood in line, waiting for the signal to board. “Which reminds me, what does she think of your new position with the counterterrorist office?”
“I didn’t include her in the decision. When I mentioned my interest six months ago, she was concerned that it would activate my depression gene. She hasn’t forgotten that awful spell I went through in Champagne.”
“You wouldn’t be alone today. Everyone I know is depressed.”
“I promised her that Burgundy is the place that restores my soul. It will be okay.”
“You are always better around Max, I’ve noticed.”
Uh-oh, thought Olivier. He knew where the conversation was headed. “No comment.”
Abdel smiled. “Allow me to pass along something my grandmother told me. She said there is a small window of time when everything will work perfectly and we intuitively know when that is. Many ignore the open window, and when it slams shut, regret often follows.”
“Hank Maguire told me that patience is not a virtue. I think he was encouraging me to propose.”
Abdel laughed. “So propose.”
Abdel vanished into the crowd before Olivier could respond.
Olivier drove to Charles de Gaulle Airport. He hadn’t seen Max in six months when he had gone to New York for a brief visit. Marriage had not come up, though he still had the ring he had bought at Cartier’s for her when they were solving the Bordeaux counterfeiting ring. Twice he had come close. The pursuit of a serial killer had interrupted his first attempt, and the second time he was drinking the finest wine imaginable, a 1945 Mouton Rothschild, which had overshadowed the intention to propose. In other words, he had lost his nerve.
He and Max were in almost constant touch daily through texting, the addictive tendencies of which he loathed. Max’s humor in short snappy sentences had won him over, though he realized early on that he didn’t have her skill. He sent letters instead, and though she teased him about it, after a few weeks he received a five-page letter from her, written in large letters with many words crossed out and affectionate epithets interspersed throughout. They had also attempted FaceTime, which he thought made her features look slightly distorted. He didn’t think he came across well, either, speaking louder than usual, and self-conscious about being on camera.
Her last text had been preemptory, which made him wonder if she might be experiencing the same uncertainty he was. As they had only spent time together solving murders, he was interested to see how they would be together, without the adrenaline flowing. What better place than Burgundy, where, other than a few thefts, crime didn’t exist? She liked to play Scrabble, and he had picked up the French version. She had expressed her intention of rereading War and Peace—the greatest novel ever written in Olivier’s mind. As far as he knew, her other hobbies were action-packed. She participated in jiu-jitsu competitions and went on long runs through Central Park. She had begun taking salsa dancing lessons with her new police partner, Carlos, and showed Olivier the latest moves on FaceTime. Another favorite activity was drinking beer with her buddies at a bar on Amsterdam Avenue, evidence of which arrived regularly in the form of selfies.
He used his ID to park in an illegal zone, and rushed five minutes late in to the arrivals section of the airport. Max’s tall silhouette filled the doorway leading from customs; pausing to scan the room, then striding with long legs to him, a big smile on her face. She wrapped her arms around him, and squeezed him in a bear hug, after which she bestowed kisses on each cheek, and then his lips were on hers. Max was back. All doubts dispelled in one breathtaking moment.