French Twist

A Detective Luc Moncrief Mystery


By James Patterson

With Richard DiLallo

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Someone is killing New York’s most beautiful women . . . and Detective Luc Moncrief and his partner are the only ones who can solve the mystery.

Gorgeous women are dropping dead at upscale department stores in New York City. Detective Luc Moncrief and Detective Katherine Burke are close to solving the mystery, but looks can be deceiving….

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Chapter 1

“I have absolutely no appetite! Absolutely none! So don’t waste your money, Moncrief!”

This is Katherine Burke speaking. K. Burke is my NYPD detective partner and she is furious with me. This is not an unusual state of affairs between us.

“We’re supposed to be on the job, and instead we’re sitting in this ridiculously fancy restaurant having a thousand-dollar lunch,” she says.

“But you have never tasted anything so magnificent as the oyster and pearls appetizer served here at Per Se,” I say.

I raise a small spoonful of the appetizer and move it toward her.

“White sturgeon caviar, icy just-shucked oysters, a dollop of sweet tapioca and…”

“Get that food away from me,” she says. “I am way too angry to eat.”

“But I am not,” I say, and I pop the spoonful into my mouth and put an exaggerated expression of ecstasy on my face.

Don’t get the wrong impression. K. Burke and I are great friends and a great detective team. Our methods, however, are very different. Burke is a tough native New Yorker. She plays by the book—strict procedure, always sticking to the rules. I, on the other hand, believe in going with my instinct—feelings, intuition. By the way, I am a native Frenchman, Luc Moncrief.

These different approaches lead to occasional disagreements. They also enable solutions to very tough cases.

I eat my appetizer in absolute silence. Then I say, “If you’re not going to eat yours…”

She pulls the plate back toward herself and takes a bite. If a woman is able to chew angrily, then K. Burke chews angrily. In a few seconds, however, her mood transforms into peacefulness.

“This time you are pushing things too far. It’s almost three o’clock. We should not be sitting here still having lunch.”

“K. Burke, please, if you will. Our assignment is completed. And I must remind you that it was an assignment that amounted to absolutely nothing. A complete waste of time. In any event, we did what we were told to do. Now we should enjoy ourselves.”

I signal the waiter to pour us each some more Bâtard-Montrachet.

I am, by the way, telling K. Burke the absolute truth about the assignment. And she knows it. Here is how it all went down…

Per the instructions of our boss, Nick Elliott, we arrived at Pier 94 on 54th Street and the Hudson River at 5 a.m. Let me repeat the time. Five a.m.! When I was a young man in Paris, 5 a.m. was when the evening ended.

In any event, Inspector Elliott said that he had unimpeachable, impeccable, irreproachable information that the stolen parts of rare 1950s-era American automobiles—Nash Ramblers, Packards, Studebakers—were being shipped to collectors worldwide, ingeniously smuggled into supply boxes for cruise ships at the 54th Street shipping pier.

We arrived (at 5 a.m.!) with detectives from Arts and Antiquities, four officers from the New York Motor Vehicles Bureau, and three NYPD officers with .38 Special handguns.

Beginning at 6 a.m. the officers, using crowbars and electric chainsaws, began uncrating large wooden boxes that were about to be loaded on board. Or, as K. Burke informed me, “laded on board.” Apparently her second cousin was a longshoreman. K. Burke is full of revelations.

To no one’s complete surprise, the crates marked “Steinway & Sons” contained pianos. The crates marked “Seagram’s” contained whiskey. The crates marked “Frozen Ostrich Meat” contained…you guessed it.

By eleven o’clock we had uncovered properly tax-receipted crates of video games, mattresses, antacids, bolts of silk, but no automotive parts.

At noon I texted Nick Elliott and told him that we discovered nothing.

He texted back an infuriating, Are you sure?

I refused to answer the insulting question. So Detective Burke texted back, Yes, Moncrief is sure.

While Burke was texting Elliott, I was texting Per Se, making a lunch reservation. And that is where we now sit.

“You always make me sound like a hard-ass workaholic, Moncrief,” Burke says.

“Hard-ass?” I say. “I think not. A little difficult. A little stubborn. But not a hard-ass. You are a woman, and because you are a woman…”

“Don’t you dare say anything vulgar or sexist, Moncrief. I swear I’ll report you to NYPD Internal Affairs.”

“But I never say anything vulgar or sexist,” I say.

Burke squints for a moment, puts down her salad fork, then says, “You know something? Come to think of it, you never do. I apologize.”

Ce n’est rien. It’s nothing.”

Burke lets a small smile sneak on to her face. We’re aligned again. And that’s truly important. Her friendship means the world to me. I’ve had a very bad year, to say the least. My beloved girlfriend, Dalia, died, and I was left with an impossibly broken heart. Shortly after Dalia’s death my not very beloved father died. This left me with an obscenely large inheritance, but a great sum of money did nothing to repair my heart. Only my friend and partner K. Burke kept me sane through all of it.

Two waiters now swoop in and lift our empty appetizer plates from the table. Almost immediately two different waiters swoop in with our main course of butter-poached sable with a mission fig jam. The sable is accompanied by toasted hazelnuts and…

K. Burke’s cell phone rings.

“I asked you to turn off that foolish machine,” I say.

“Yes, you did, and I told you that I would not.”

She looks at her phone. Then she looks at me.

“We are wanted at 754 Fifth Avenue,” she says.

“Bergdorf Goodman, the store for rich women,” I say.

“You got it.”

“Well, we cannot leave before we are served our main course.”

“Yes, we can. There’s a dead woman in a dressing room at Bergdorf Goodman. Inspector Elliott will meet us there in fifteen minutes.”

I toss my napkin onto the table.

“I know we cannot decline the job, K. Burke. But I am disappointed,” I say.

She stands at her chair and speaks.

“Why not ask the waiter for le petit sac pour emporter les restes?”

“This is a French expression that you know and that I do not,” I say.

She smiles broadly.

“Translation: a doggy bag.”

Chapter 2

The very efficient K. Burke calls for a squad car as I sign my Per Se house account receipt. The police car speeds us along Central Park South. In five minutes we are at Bergdorf Goodman.

We exit the squad car, and we both immediately realize that something very weird is going on. Burke and I are not greeted with the usual crime scene madness. There’s nothing to indicate that a homicide has occurred inside this famous store. No flashing lights, no zigzag of yellow DO NOT CROSS POLICE LINE tape, no police officers holding back a curious crowd.

“What the hell is going on here?” Burke asks. “It looks so…so…not like a crime scene.”

For a second I think we may have the wrong location. As if she could read my mind, Burke says, “I know this is the right place. But…let’s go in and see.”

Inside, the same thing. A busy day for the wealthy. Everything is calm and beautiful. Elegant women and an occasional man examine five-thousand-dollar handbags, perfumes in crystal bottles, costume jewelry as expensive as the real thing.

Our boss, Nick Elliott, is waiting right inside the entrance for us.

Elliott looks serious and concerned. His greeting is typical: “You two are finally here.” Then he gets right to the point.

“Before I take you upstairs I’ve got to tell you something. This scene plays out like a typical natural death. A twenty-five-year-old woman, name of Tessa Fulbright, suddenly drops dead in a dressing room. Maybe a heart attack or a drug OD or a brain aneurysm. But it’s not. It’s a shitload bigger than that.”

Elliott says that he’ll give us the most important details upstairs in a few minutes.

“They gave me details in the car on the way over, but nobody thought to mention what floor it’s on. Lemme check,” Elliott says. He begins to punch into his cell phone. Before he gets the correct floor number, I speak.

“It’s the sixth floor,” I say.

Almost in perfect unison Elliott and Burke say, “How’d you know that?”

“Floor six has the youthful designer clothing.”

They know what I am not going to say: I am remembering the days before Dalia died.

Two minutes later, with a store detective and a floor manager accompanying us, Burke, Elliott, and I are standing in a very large, very lovely dressing room. It is furnished with two armchairs and a small sofa, both of them upholstered in pale purple, the signature color of the store.

One other thing: there is a stunning, beautiful, red-haired young woman lying on the floor. She is wearing a Chloé summer gown with the price tag still attached.

Burke and I kneel and examine the body closely. Other than the dead woman’s beauty, there is nothing unusual about her.

“I assume you noticed the tattoo behind the right ear,” says Burke.

“The tiny star? We got it,” says Elliott. Then he looks down at the deceased, shakes his head, and speaks to the small police staff around him.

“You can take Ms. Fulbright downtown. Don’t dare release the body. She belongs to us until I say so.”

The medical examiner nods. Then Elliott looks at me and Burke.

“Here’s the deal,” he says. “In the last two weeks there have been two other deaths exactly like this one. The first one was in Saks Fifth Avenue, ten blocks away.”

Elliott explains that a twenty-three-year-old woman, Mara Monahan, died suddenly—literally dropped dead—while she was paying for shoes. Elliott and his teenage daughter were having lunch around the corner at Burger Heaven when the call came in. So after lunch, when Elliott’s daughter took off, he went over to Saks to take a quick look-see.

“So this Mara Monahan turns out to be the wife of Clifton Monahan, the congressman from the Upper East Side. Maybe you’ve seen her picture online or something. This Mara Monahan is a beautiful, I mean beautiful, blonde.”

“I heard about this,” K. Burke says. “The Post and Daily News were having a field day with their covers. She was beautiful.”

I interject. “I was at her table at the gala dinner for the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen. She was a knockout.”

“Could we refocus on the pertinent parts of the case, gentlemen?” Burke says.

“Anyway. I figure I’d better make nice to her husband, the congressman. I’ll be under a crushing amount of pressure and scrutiny to close this case. So I go see him. He’s broken up. Really broken up, I mean. Two days later there’s a funeral. I go. Lots of big-shots. Cuomo’s there, Cardinal Dolan does the service. Over and out. Sad stuff.”

But there’s one more chapter in Nick Elliott’s story. He tells us that the following Monday, almost a week after the Monahan woman dies, a few days before today’s date, a second-string Broadway actress dropped dead in one of the only restaurants in New York as expensive as Per Se. It’s called Eleven Madison Park, and yes, the woman was young and beautiful and…

“Brunette this time,” I say.

“No,” Elliott says. “This one is blond, also.”

One quick glance at Burke, and I can tell that she’s pleased that my hunch was wrong.

Elliott explains that this woman is the understudy to the female lead in the latest Broadway smash hit. But, perhaps as a measure in case her acting career doesn’t work out, the woman, Jenna Lee Austin, recently married a multimillionaire hedge funder. Elliott also points out that the medical examiner’s reports in both deaths show no sign of trauma, no injuries, or, almost as important, no sign of any foreign substance in the victims’ systems, nothing that could indicate a cause of death. And looking at victim number three here, she seems like she’s going to match the pattern.

So, NYPD has three young, beautiful, rich women, all of them apparently dead from natural causes, all of them dead in the middle of an ordinary day in three of the fanciest places in Manhattan.

“What do you need us to do?” K. Burke asks.

“Frankly, everything. Hit the computers. Pull all the info on all the women, their husbands, their friends. The first one seemed like a tragedy, the second more suspicious, and now with three—there’s obviously some sort of connection. And we don’t have one goddamn idea what it is. So I want you two to take over from Banks and Lin, who are working the first two. See them and get caught up.”

I nod. Burke gives her typically enthusiastic, “Got it, sir.”

Elliott says, “I’ll see you at the precinct tomorrow.”

“A small problem, Inspector,” I say. Then Burke jumps in.

“We have one of our rare long weekends. But we can cancel all that and come in to work.”

I interrupt her quickly, almost rudely.

“No, we cannot,” I say. “Detective Burke seems to have forgotten. We do have some plans for the weekend.”

K. Burke looks slightly startled, but she is smart enough to know that she’d better trust me on this one.

“Okay,” Elliott says. “Bang the hell out of the computers tonight. See what you can find. By Sunday you’ll have the ME’s report. I’ll assume you two will be in on Sunday?”

“But of course,” I say.

He nods to the store detective. They both begin to walk toward the elevator. Then Elliott stops for just a moment. His face has the barest trace of a smile. Then he speaks, “Have a good time.” God only knows what he is assuming about Burke and me.

Nick Elliott makes his way through the sea of Carolina Herrera dresses and Stella McCartney jackets. Katherine Burke looks at me. Her eyes narrow slightly.

“Okay, Moncrief. What the hell is going on?”

“What’s going on is this: I shall pick you up at your apartment tomorrow morning at 6. And please, K. Burke, be sure to bring some nice clothes. Yes, this case looks very interesting. But, my friend, so is this little trip that I’ve planned.”

Chapter 3

Very little traffic in Manhattan. Very little traffic on the Hutchinson River Parkway. Very little traffic on Purchase Street. Everything is going our way. So, in thirty-five minutes K. Burke and I are walking through the Westchester County Airport in White Plains, New York.

Burke is, after all, a detective, accustomed to ridiculously early hours. So she is wide-awake and bright-eyed, and also a trifle confused. We walk through a small gate marked PRIVATE AIRCRAFT


On Sale
Feb 7, 2017
Page Count
160 pages

James Patterson

About the Author

James Patterson is the world’s bestselling author, best known for his many enduring fictional characters and series, including Alex Cross, the Women’s Murder Club, Michael Bennett, Maximum Ride, Middle School, I Funny, and Jacky Ha-Ha. Patterson’s writing career is characterized by a single mission: to prove to everyone, from children to adults, that there is no such thing as a person who “doesn’t like to read,” only people who haven’t found the right book. He’s given over a million books to schoolkids and over forty million dollars to support education, and endowed over five thousand college scholarships for teachers. He writes full-time and lives in Florida with his family.

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