“u r full of shit,” Max Maguire texted from her phone, as she watched her mother carefully fold the suit she had bought for her to wear to the wedding, and gently place it on top of the clothes in the suitcase.
“Your hat will be the most beautiful one there,” her mother said, filling the cavity of the millinery wonder with tissue paper, and putting it gently into a hat box.
“Wouldn’t a mother say you, not your hat, will be the most beautiful one at the ball?”
“In America, yes. In France, no.”
Max laughed, for la petite Juliette de Laval Maguire should know, having grown up in the French bourgeoisie. Max thought she might ditch the hat once she was out of her mother’s sight. It was enough to have to wear the mauve silk suit and stilettos that she had watched Juliette pack.
Hank Maguire stuck his head in the door, tapping his wrist-watch. “Time to get moving if you plan to catch your flight. We’re going in the cruiser.” Max rolled her eyes. That meant he would be blasting the siren all the way out to JFK. He waited for her to close the suitcase and in a few strides had picked it up and was on the way down the stairs of her apartment building. She picked up the small hat box and found it so light that it flew out of her hand. “Damn.”
“Give it to me, chérie,” Juliette said. “And hurry. Dépêche-toi!” She paused, “You are wearing cowboy boots to France?”
“I’ll be the envy of every woman there. I’m right behind you.” Max locked the door behind her and ran across the hall to say good-bye once more to her dog. An elderly woman looking like a munchkin opened the door and Max swept the toy poodle up in her arms. “Woof, you be a good boy for Irene.” She handed him back, planted a quick kiss on her neighbor’s cheek, and ran down the two flights of stairs.
“I wish you were coming, Maman,” Max said when she caught up with Juliette. “Thank you for making this happen.” “Pas de quoi. Think nothing about it. Next time I will go, but for now the money is too tight.”
“If you hadn’t spent the price of a plane ticket buying clothes and perfume for me, you could have come.”
“I was there a year ago, and now it’s your turn. Perhaps you will meet Mr. Right.”
“I couldn’t bear having a Frenchman correcting my French the rest of my life.”
Hank was waiting outside the cruiser, looking impatient. Ignoring her daughter’s remark, Juliette said, “Watch your tenses. You did okay with your French last week except for the tenses…” Max leaned down and kissed her mother on each cheek, then put her long arms around her tiny frame and squeezed her in a bear hug. “Max Maryse!” Her mother laughed.
“Je t’aime.” Max lowered herself into the passenger seat. Once the door was closed, she said to her father, “You’d think I was going to China. For two years.”
Hank simply sped off, not saying anything. Max’s phone rang and she picked up. Lowering her voice she said, “I told you that you were full of shit because I don’t believe you didn’t sleep with her. I’ll call you once I have my boarding pass.” She hung up and cast a surreptitious glance in Hank’s direction, who was scrutinizing her while waiting for the light to turn green.
When it did, and he had the cruiser moving again, he said, “If you think he slept with her, he did. You know I try to stay out of your personal business, but the rumor around the precinct is that you and Joe Laino are more than official partners. You’ll never make Level One that way.”
“Hank, I can handle it.” Max wanted to add that she was almost thirty and that it wasn’t easy dealing with helicopter parents, although she understood the hovering bit. Her brother Frédéric had been hit by a car and killed on his way home from school when he was twelve and she was eighteen. Sometimes she wondered if she had become a detective to deliberately tempt fate. Maybe, she thought, the money I’m investing in jiu-jitsu should go to therapy instead. Hank’s comment about Joe was on the mark, and it was hard to rally a defense when she also wondered how she had gotten herself into a relationship that was based solely on pheromones. She had used the excuse for a while that it hadn’t been easy coming into the precinct as the daughter of Captain Hank Maguire, NYPD legend. She had finished college before entering the police academy, which made her older than most of her fellow neophytes at the Eighty-Second Street Precinct. Joe—tall, lean, and hard—had been relentless in his pursuit of her, and she often wondered if it had to do with her easy access to Hank.
If Frédéric had been able to grow up he would have become the detective, she thought. The old guilt and sadness were creeping in when Hank suddenly pulled up behind a truck that was being pulled over by a cruiser with lights flashing. Hank was out of the car with no explanation, telling Max to stay put. She watched him, gun drawn, pursuing the two men who had jumped out of the back of the truck and run into the shadows of a subway bridge. Though she had barely been paying attention, she knew they were on the Van Wyck Expressway. She heard a gun report, and rolled out of the car into the ditch. No one in sight. Glancing back at the truck, she saw that the officer had his gun on a third man. She crouched and moved stealthily into the shadows where Hank had disappeared. Another sharp report and this time she ran toward the sound. An instant assessment told her that Hank’s bullet had grazed the arm of one of the men, who was swearing under his breath. The other man was nowhere in sight.
“Where’s the other one?” she asked.
“I’ll get him. Hold the gun on this one.” Too late. A short, panting guy was running at her with a pen knife. Max instinctively turned her body sideways to allow the expected jab to pass her on her left side while grabbing the wrist of his knife hand as it moved into the plane of her body. Max then lifted his wrist to her shoulder, and violently pulled and dropped his extended arm atop the hard bone found there, instantly breaking his arm at the elbow. He dropped the knife. She let go of him with her left hand to apply a hard elbow strike to his now exposed rib cage, which gave him something else to think about. She stepped forward and quickly pivoted to face him, still gripping his broken arm at the wrist. She formed a “C” with her right hand, and dealt him a hard, cupping strike to the throat, using it to drive him downward toward the ground as she easily and simultaneously swept his right leg out from under him with her own.
The officer ran up yelling, “Ma’am! What the hell are you doing?” He looked to be about her age.
“I’m Hank Maguire,” Hank said out of the side of his mouth. “That’s Detective Max Maguire. Where’s your partner?”
“A fourth guy ran from the truck, sir, and he chased him.” Max could see that the cop couldn’t believe how the scene was playing—legend, daughter, and all.
Hank stood while the officer handcuffed the two guys and said, “Where’s the one you caught?”
“Handcuffed to the steering wheel, sir. I’ve called for back-up.” “Take these two.”
Hank turned and starting walking toward the car, Max walking fast alongside. Back in the cruiser, he pulled out on the highway and blasted the siren. “I thought I told you to stay put. You’re a mess.” Looking down, Max saw that the front of her crisp white blouse was smudged with dirt. She was glad she had chosen black jeans.
This time she was prepared to argue. “I wasn’t going to let you go out there with no back-up.”
“You weren’t, huh?” Suddenly, Hank laughed. “That was some move you did back there.”
He was praising her, and it felt good. “I wish you’d come take a class with me. Get in shape.”
“I’m retiring next year. I’ve made it this far.” He veered off to the airport. “See, Max, you were behaving like a partner. I might be wrong about Joe Laino, but my hunch is he won’t have your back when you need it.”
She was relieved to see the Air France sign directly in front of them. “See you next week, Dad.” She gave him a quick kiss and hopped out of the car, slamming the door. She hadn’t gone ten steps when she heard a shrill whistle. She turned and saw Hank holding the hatbox up in the air. She paused, then shouted at him over the noise of the flight announcements. “I left it intentionally.”
“Do it for your ma.” He walked toward her.
She snatched the box away from him and walked inside.
# # #
Once in her seat, Max exchanged her usual allotment of five seconds of pleasantries with the woman in the seat next to her, and checked her cellphone before turning it off. A text from Joe read, “we r over.”
So he did sleep with her, thought Max.
If she hadn’t been on her way to France, it might have hurt more, but for the moment she was relieved. She removed her laptop from her big shoulder bag and began scrolling through her inbox to find her friend Chloé Marceau’s most recent email, which she hadn’t had time to open. As soon as the plane was airborne, she ordered a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon from the flight attendant and breathed a sigh of relief. A week in the lap of luxury in Champagne, France, she thought. What could be better? No drug arrests, no one threatening her life, no murderers to pursue around France. She began reading the email: I can’t believe we’ll be seeing each other again in a few days.
Max had spent a semester of her junior year at the Sorbonne, where she and Chloé had become close friends. Sending her to Paris had been her mother’s last-ditch effort to unearth the French side of her and it had failed. Max felt ashamed of the way she had partied the semester away and returned with only a slight knowledge of French—and the decision to follow in her father’s footsteps. Chloé had remained loyal throughout, making several trips to New York over the past five years, once with her parents. And, Max continued reading, you’ll be meeting Marc. To be honest, my parents are a little put off by his mother, but that has nothing to do with Marc and me. Max thought Chloé’s parents, Marie-Christine and Jacques, would only be happy if their beloved daughter married a prince. Your friend Ted and my aunt Léa de Saint-Pern are an item here. Since Marc started working for Léa, he refers to her as the tyran. Tyrant, Max translated.
Though Max had never met Léa, her life had taken on mythological proportions when she and Chloé were at university together. Léa had married the owner of de Saint-Pern Champagne Company, Charles de Saint-Pern, and the two were always being mentioned in the society pages. When Charles was killed while flying a small plane, Léa had inherited the company. She had taken the helm, and to everyone’s surprise displayed a remarkable business acumen, turning their champagne, L’Etoile, into one of the top ten most recognized labels.
Max returned to the email: Marc’s upset because the rumor mill is that Léa is thinking about selling her company. It was to be Marc’s future. Or, I should say, our future. Oh, it’s all ridiculously complicated. As for me? I’d love nothing more than to leave Cham- pagne and move to Paris, or maybe New York (?) and live in a tiny flat. I’m sure that I could get some journalism work. We shall see.
Max lowered her window shade. It did sound complicated, but what did she know about the trappings of vast wealth? With Marc’s degree in business, she wondered why he didn’t just find a job and forget about trying to be in the de Saint-Pern firm. What she had found most intriguing in the email was that her old college friend Ted and Léa were together. She wondered why he hadn’t mentioned it to her, though they only emailed intermittently. He had taken a couple of French immersion classes five years ago, then using a small inheritance from an aunt, moved to Paris into a small apartment near Place de la République and started his website for tourists. She had periodically checked out the enterprise and thought his blog fun. She didn’t know if he had made a success of it or not. But how had he met Léa? All the answers were waiting.
Max shut off the computer, put it under the seat, and pulled down her tray. Dinner arrived and she ravenously ate the chicken and rice, and ordered another glass of wine. The tone of Chloé’s email bothered her. Chloé would never complain outright, but Max could tell that something was amiss, and that it would take a couple of glasses of champagne to pry it out of her. She reached up and shut off the light above her, then placed her head against the pillow she pressed against the window, trying to keep her long legs from sidling off into her neighbor’s space.