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Paris to Die For
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Young Jacqueline Bouvier's first CIA assignment was supposed to be simple: Meet with a high-ranking Russian while he's in Paris and help him defect. But when the Comrade ends up dead, and Jackie-in her black satin peep-toe stiletto heels-barely escapes his killer, it's time to get some assistance. Enter Jacques Rivage, a French photographer and freelance CIA agent who seems too brash and carefree to grapple with spies, though he's all too able to make Jackie's heart skip a beat.
Together the two infiltrate 1951 high society in the City of Lights, rubbing shoulders with the likes of the Duchess of Windsor, Audrey Hepburn, and Evelyn Waugh. Jackie, no longer a pampered debutante, draws on her quick intelligence, equestrian skills, and even her Chanel No. 5 atomizer as a weapon to stay alive in the shadowy world of international intrigue-and to keep her date with a certain up-and-coming, young Congressman from Massachusetts . . .
Table of Contents
A Preview of Havana to Die For
Paris, May 8, 1951
Jacqueline Lee Bouvier wasn't exactly dressed for discovering a corpse. A black Givenchy evening ensemble was no substitute for a white lab coat or whatever those people who examined dead bodies were supposed to wear. Nor was she dressed appropriately for this place—a cramped garret in a rundown apartment building in one of Paris's less fashionable arrondissements.
Jackie found to her surprise that she could handle stumbling over the dead man on the floor of the garret, even though this was the very first corpse she had ever encountered.
She could handle it when she saw the obscenely gaping wound in his chest with the blood still dripping down, although the sight of blood, even in films, usually made her sick.
She could even handle it when she watched as a scrawny rat scurried across the scarred wooden floor and tentatively began to taste the blood that had pooled beside the corpse's torso.
What she couldn't handle was the "dead" man reaching out with his hand to grab her by the ankle.
Jackie jerked her knee up—a knee-jerk reaction if ever there was one—to get away from the apparently not-so-lifeless hand, trying to stifle the scream that was fast rising up in her throat, and asked herself what she, une fille américaine, was doing here. Born to wealth and privilege, crowned Queen Deb of the Year when she was presented to society at eighteen, schooled at Vassar and the Sorbonne, and recently graduated from George Washington University with a degree in French literature, how on earth had she wound up in this improbable apartment, babysitting a corpse?
Why, just twenty-four hours ago, she had been dining with this same dead man, the Russian, Petrov, at Maxim's. Of course, he hadn't been dead at the time.
And just twelve hours before that, she had been cocooned in the plush belly of a four-propeller Lockheed Constellation, curled up with a good book while flying across the Atlantic from National Airport to Le Bourget in Paris on her way to meet the Russian.
And just twelve hours before that, she had been at a party at her parents' estate in a suburb of Washington, D.C., where a chance encounter with a family friend, Allen Dulles, had set these events in motion like a rogue gene or a wayward train barreling toward an unforeseeable destination. But Jackie was forced to put all thoughts of this surreal chain of circumstances out of her head as she jumped back several steps to avoid the dead man's hand.
The Russian convulsed on the floor, and his hand opened spasmodically. Something fell out and floated across the floor to her. She leaned down to pick it up, mindful to keep a safe distance.
She looked fleetingly at what she had retrieved. It was a single ticket for the opera. She stuffed the ticket in her evening bag, then looked once more at the Russian. This time, he appeared to be well and truly dead, lifeless as the end of time. The convulsions had stopped, and he lay still. She could detect no rising and falling of his chest. She knew that she should do something. Listen for a pulse. Hold a mirror over his mouth and check it for condensation. But somehow, she couldn't bring herself to do any of those things. The fey thought nibbled at the edges of her mind that Death might be something contagious, and if she weren't careful, she could catch it too.
Incongruously, an old line from Oscar Wilde came to her: "Dying in Paris is a terribly expensive business for a foreigner."
For the first time, Jackie became aware of her surroundings. She had discovered the corpse almost as soon as she entered the garret. Now, looking around, she took in the room's few furnishings. A bed with an iron bedstead and a sagging mattress. A threadbare Algerian rug on the floor, its rucked-up condition showing that a struggle had definitely taken place here. A wooden chair and desk, both heavily pockmarked and worn with age. In the two open windows overlooking a cityscape of low rooftops, twin moth-eaten curtains fluttered in the breeze. From outside, a recording of Edith Piaf singing "La Vie en Rose" wafted through the steamy air of a Parisian summer night. The poignant music and the sultry night air created an alluring mood. And if it hadn't been for the corpse on the floor, Jackie could have seen the romantic possibilities of even such an impoverished garret. She could imagine Rodolfo and Mimi and their bohemian friends feeling right at home in this seedily seductive attic setting.
The room was illuminated by a single bare lightbulb set in an uncovered fixture in the low-hanging ceiling. The light from the lone bulb was dim, but not so dim that she couldn't see it shining off the tips of a pair of men's shoes peeking out from the bottom of the hanging sheet that served as a closet. And when one of those shoes moved ever so slightly, she knew, with a chill that froze her breath, that she was not alone in the garret.
Suddenly, the shock-induced aplomb that had carried her along like a robot until now shattered, and her numbed senses jangled alive. Every nerve in Jackie's body screamed for her feet to make for the exit. But that closet stood between Jackie and the door leading to the hallway. She was afraid of being seized as soon as she attempted to move past it. There was no other way out of the garret except through the window. But she was saving that as a last resort.
The only thing left was to stay and defend herself against an almost certain assault. But she wasn't armed. Dulles hadn't allowed for that eventuality. So Jackie looked around the room and inventoried it as quickly as possible. She saw nothing obvious that she could use as a weapon. No lamp. No heavy ashtray. Even the modest kitchenette looked bare of utensils. Where was a steak knife or a meat cleaver when you really needed one? Not that she had any expectation she could ever use one to defend herself. That kind of self-defense had not been part of her finishing-school education.
And then a lightning flash of inspiration struck, divinely, and she realized there was something in her evening bag that she could use as a weapon. Not for killing certainly, but for causing a distraction. She flicked open the clip on her beaded evening bag with her French-manicured thumbnail and fumbled around until she found what she was searching for.
With one hand in her bag and the other left free, palms sweating and her heart thumping insanely in her chest, Jackie approached the sheet-covered closet. It was only a few steps, but it felt like the longest journey of her life. With the warped floorboards creaking shrilly with each movement of her feet, there was no chance of her sneaking up on whoever was hiding in the closet. But Jackie came from a long line of storied military heroes—it was well-known among her relatives that twenty-four of her ancestors came over to America from France to fight in the Revolutionary War. As a young girl growing up in a household with a proud history, she listened in on many fascinating accounts of relatives' exploits on the battlefield. And she knew that a good general didn't wait to be attacked, but always took the attack to the enemy.
Arriving at the closet, Jackie took a deep, deep breath and flung back the sheet. A beefy, sinister-looking man was standing there inside the empty closet, and it was difficult to judge which of them was more surprised. The man recovered first and abruptly brought up a wicked-looking knife. It gave off a deadly gleam, even in this dim light.
As the knife began its swift downward plunge toward Jackie's chest, she grasped the object of her search in her handbag and held it up in front of him. She dropped her purse so she could squeeze the bulb, and the atomizer jetted a pungent spray of Chanel No. 5 smack into his face. The man screamed, pawing at his burning eyeballs, and was forced to drop the knife.
Jackie kicked the weapon across the room—it skidded under the bed—and tried to make it to the door. But the man reached out blindly, caught her by the arm, and flung her back across the cramped room. Fortunately, Jackie landed on the sagging mattress, and it broke her fall. With no other way out, she knew she had no choice but to go with the dead Russian's original plan.
She levered herself off the bed, then quick-stepped over to the nearest window and went through it, first one leg over the sill, then the other, cursing Givenchy for making this season's skirts so tight. Holding on to the windowsill with both hands, she felt around below until her feet came in contact with the narrow ledge that, according to the Russian, would be there. Jackie looked down and saw that it was six dizzying stories to the courtyard below. The Russian said to follow the ledge around the building and escape to the roof of a neighboring building in the next rue. As forbidding as it looked, she would take this dangerous route to avoid the killer, who looked much too big to follow her onto the ledge. Before moving any farther, she kicked off her shoes—there was no way she could negotiate this narrow ledge in black satin peep-toe stiletto heels—and heard them land with a clatter in the courtyard below.
Just then, the ledge beneath her feet crumbled away, and she lost her grip on the windowsill. So much for the Russian's plan. Jackie could feel herself falling and closed her eyes, her panic mercifully turning into stoicism. She braced herself, hoping that the impact wouldn't hurt too much or make a grisly mess in the courtyard.
Something unexpectedly arrested her fall. She opened her eyes, looked up, and saw that the man, blinking rapidly from the sting of the perfume spray, was gripping her by her right hand. He had the iron clasp of a catcher in a trapeze act, and it was this steadfast grip that had saved her life. Jackie's body swung like a pendulum from her one outstretched arm. But she was wearing silk evening gloves. Her hand began to slip ever so slowly but inexorably out of its glove, and she knew that her salvation was only temporary. This is what happens when you're a slave to fashion, she told herself as she felt her hand slip even farther.
As she dangled six stories above the courtyard, alone except for a dead body in the room above her and a killer providing a lifeline just so he could do her in himself, Jacqueline Lee Bouvier asked herself, for God's sake, how did I get into this mess?
McLean, Virginia, forty eight hours earlier
Jackie came down the elegantly winding staircase, one white-gloved hand on the curved balustrade, to a familiar scene of tasteful festivity. Her mother and stepfather were having a party at Merrywood, their magnificent forty-six acre estate, to celebrate her graduation from college. Their baronial mansion was ensconced like a giant mythical bird atop a high, luxuriant bluff overlooking the Potomac. The entire first floor was crammed with the usual crowd of friends, neighbors, and relatives, all of whom had known Jackie since her childhood. Everyone greeted her with affection and good wishes for what they were sure would be a brilliant future, meaning a successful marriage to one of their own.
Jackie thanked them as graciously as possible, wending her way politely but purposefully through the crowd of guests and black-uniformed butlers weaving in and out like shadows across the deep burgundy carpets. Her goal was the French doors that led to the terrace. She had some serious thinking to do, and this vantage point over an endless sea of emerald trees was the only place that afforded the peace and quiet she needed.
Outside, the air was thickly perfumed with the sweet scent coming off the lilac and honeysuckle bushes bordering the terrace. It was a typical summer night here in Virginia, hot as a furnace, and the air was leaden with humidity. Ordinarily, Jackie loved being home at Merrywood—riding her favorite jumper horse, Sagebrush, over the sprawling grounds, reading a book by the sun-dappled river, swimming in the pool, playing tennis or badminton in the enclosed courts, and in the winter, watching the snow fall like a benediction on those great steep hills. But tonight, she desperately wanted to be somewhere else—far away from the inescapable sound of her mother's angry voice still reverberating in her brain after the fight they'd had while getting dressed for the party.
An hour ago, her mother had been sitting at her dressing table applying her makeup when Jackie knocked on the door. "Mummy, can I come in?"
"Certainly, Jacks, what is it?" her mother asked, peering at her face in the lighted cosmetics mirror as she brushed mascara onto her eyelashes with brisk upward strokes.
Trying to control the fluttering in her gut, Jackie padded into the room in her slippers and sat down on the bed. "There's something I have to tell you. Mummy, I… I…" She faltered, her last ounce of courage leaching out of her just when she needed it most. God, why was this so hard?
"Come on, Jacks, what is it? We haven't got all night," her mother prompted, without turning her head. "You know how long it takes you to get dressed."
Ah, good, that verbal nettle was all she needed to get her nerve back up again. "Mummy, I can't go through with my engagement to John. I can't marry him. We have to break up."
Jackie said it in a rush, and when the words were out, she felt as if a wrecking ball had been lifted off her.
Her mother dropped her mascara brush, leaving a dark brown smear on the glass tabletop, and whirled around, glaring at Jackie with eyes as menacing as storm clouds. "What do you mean you can't go through with it? John's parents are friends of ours. His family is in the Social Register. They're the Husteds; they're Old Guard. John is a Yale graduate, and he's already a stockbroker on Wall Street." She took a breath and conceded, "I'm not happy that he's making only seventeen thousand dollars a year, but he has his whole life ahead of him. Is that what's bothering you?"
Jackie shook her head in frustration. Now it was her turn to get angry. "No, that's not what's bothering me," she said through clenched teeth. "You're the one who's obsessed with wealth… the Social Register… the Old Guard. I'm not concerned about what he does for a living or how much money he's making." She knew this would get her mother, so she tossed it at her like a quick javelin thrust. "After all, Daddy is a stockbroker too."
She watched her mother wince, resentful of how much Jackie idolized her father, drawing the purse strings of her mouth into a pinched O. "All right then, what is it? What's so wrong with John Husted that you can't marry him?"
Jackie thought of what her life would be like if she became Mrs. John G. W. Husted Jr., another name on the society page, whose days and nights would be bound up in a relentless round of parties, teas, dances, charity balls, and banquets. She would be walking into a one-way entrance to a lobster trap, lured into a tunnel of netting by a piece of bait—in this case, social status. She wanted no part of it.
She tried to make her mother understand. "Look, there's nothing wrong with John. It's the kind of life I would have as a society matron. It's not what I want."
"What do you want? Do you have any idea?" her mother shouted at her, stung by this repudiation of her highest ambition for herself and for her daughters.
"I want to become my own person, do something on my own, not just be somebody's wife. Can't you understand that?"
A fleeting look of sympathy crossed her mother's face before it hardened again. "What I understand is that this is a phase you're going through. We've all gone through it, dreaming big dreams of fame and success, but as women, we have to be realistic, know our place. And believe me, marriage to a wealthy man who loves you and will take care of you and provide the best for you and your children is no small accomplishment."
"But things are changing for women—"
Her mother cut her off impatiently. "Then think about taking a temporary job of some sort to get this out of your system. Right now, we have to finish getting dressed before the guests start arriving." She picked up her mascara brush and turned back to her mirror. Case closed. Final decree: "We'll announce the engagement in the Washington Times-Herald and have the wedding next June."
Tears sprang into Jackie's eyes, and she flinched as if she'd been slapped hard in the face—an indignity Jackie knew her mother was capable of when her redoubtable temper raged out of control—but she recovered quickly. "Fine, have the wedding in June if you want, but don't expect me to be there," she retorted vehemently, amazed at her own bravado, and stormed out of the room.
Jackie blotted her perspiring forehead with the palm of her hand as she stood on the terrace staring at the vast expanse of greenery. She wasn't used to this sweltering heat because usually she was away for the summer—either at her stepfather's waterfront estate in Newport, Rhode Island, or traveling Europe with school friends—but she shook off all thoughts of the outside weather and tried to contend with her own internal storm.
As long as she could remember, Jackie had been caught in the middle of a marital tug-of-war between her two mismatched parents. Pulling her on one side was her materialistic, controlling, propriety-driven mother, and on the other, the dashing, free-spirited father she adored, a glamorous sex symbol who seemed to have sprung to life from the pages of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. He was the epitome of the jazz age playboy, always dressed in high-style sartorial splendor and sporting a rakish pencil-thin mustache, a signal to the ladies that he was a dangerous man. Over time her mother grew disgusted with his drinking, gambling, and womanizing, but he could do no wrong as far as Jackie was concerned. It was magical growing up in her family's Park Avenue apartment when her parents were married. Who else but the man whose gorgeous dark hair and year-round tan had earned him the nickname "Black Jack" would have bought her a pony when she was six or let her keep a pet rabbit in the bathtub?
Her parents' divorce when she was eleven tore her world apart. But the moments she spent with her father took some of the terrible sting out of the divorce: every Sunday, half of every school vacation, and six weeks each summer. On Sundays, he would take Jackie and her younger sister, Lee, to baseball games or to the racetrack (places her mother abhorred) or to the movies, the zoo, or just Central Park. They would end each outing by consuming enormous ice cream sundaes at Rumplemayer's in the St. Moritz Hotel.
One of the best parts of dating John Husted during her senior year of college was that she got to stay at her father's apartment on East 74th Street. If she got engaged to John, she realized now, the real reason would be that she was afraid that no one else would ever marry her and she'd end up a housemother at Miss Porter's, her old finishing school. Oh, John was sweet and fun and affectionate, but he wasn't worldly enough for her, too tame. Yes, he was a stockbroker like her father, but there the resemblance ended. She took pains to keep it hidden, but there was a side of her that was very much her father's daughter. An adventurous, passionate side that her upbringing and high social status forced her to keep concealed under her straitlaced debutante's facade, like a butterfly trapped in a bell jar. But she was ready to let it out. And she was not going to let her mother stop her.
Although they had their differences, Jackie was happy for her mother when she found someone she deemed wealthy and prominent enough to remarry. Hugh Auchincloss was not only one of the most affluent and influential bankers in D.C., he was also a wonderful stepfather, protective and generous to a fault. Jackie relished being at Merrywood from the time she moved here at thirteen with her mother and Lee, but as grand as this life was, she hungered for something more.
But what? "What do you want? Do you have any idea?" She could still hear her mother's voice railing at her, both irritated and perplexed. At the age of nearly twenty-two, when most of her friends were already married and starting to have children of their own, Jackie Lee Bouvier had no idea what she wanted to do with her life. But she knew what she didn't want. No matter how hard her mother pushed, she was not going to settle for, in her father's words, "some funny-looking 'gink' who you think is wonderful because he is so romantic-looking in the evening and wears his mother's pearl earrings for dress-shirt buttons, because he loves her so."
Jackie couldn't ignore the part of her that wanted something else for herself. Something that had to do with expressing herself and being more than just a helpmeet to a man of accomplishment.
Her mother didn't want to hear that roles for women were not as rigid as they once were, but it was true. World War II had shown that women could compete with men at typical men's jobs—working on assembly lines, flying planes, and even playing on baseball teams. These days, women by the score were going to college for more than just a chance to snag a husband. They were using their college educations as a springboard for going on to law school or medical school or into business. Jackie couldn't quite see herself working on an anesthetized patient in an operating room or pleading a case before a jury of twelve inscrutable citizens or standing with a pointer in front of a graph of projected annual earnings. But she did want to do something worthwhile with her life beyond the usual charity work that women of her class did according to the unstated rules of noblesse oblige.
Sometimes Jackie thought about moving back to New York and getting a job in book publishing. Maybe, while going through the slush pile, she could discover the next From Here to Eternity.
Or maybe she could make her mark in magazine publishing, covering runway shows and writing about the latest fashion trends. She already had her foot in the door at Vogue after beating out more than a thousand other contestants to win the magazine's Prix de Paris writing contest with her essay "People I Wish I Had Known." Her passion for Oscar Wilde, Charles Baudelaire, and Sergey Diaghilev—something she never would have revealed to her peers for fear of being branded an intellectual snob—so impressed the judges that they offered her a year-long position as a trainee, dividing the time between their offices in New York and Paris. But she'd entered the contest at her mother's urging, never expecting to win, and now her mother was afraid that if her unsettled daughter spent six months in Paris, her favorite city on earth, she'd never come home. Even if her mother hadn't about-faced and wasn't urging her to decline the position, Jackie suspected that writing about hemlines and hairstyles was not her true calling. The great American novel was more her speed.
Sometimes she thought about making the clean break her mother most feared—moving to Paris altogether and leading a bohemian existence on La Rive Gauche. She could just picture it. She would dress all in black complete with beret, smoke Gitanes, work all day in a used bookstore (where occasionally Gertrude Stein or Ernest Hemingway would stop in), and stay out all night listening to hot jazz or arguing with friends about existentialism.
Then there was her ability as an equestrian that she might parlay into something. She'd been riding in horse shows from the time she was twelve. Of course, riding professionally was out. Even if female jockeys were allowed, she couldn't see showering dung on her parents by working in a demimonde of Runyonesque disreputable types. But maybe she could breed horses and might even end up producing the next Seabiscuit. And then what would her parents say?
A polite ah-hem from somewhere nearby interrupted Jackie's thoughts. She looked around and saw that an old family friend was staring at her through his wire-rim eyeglasses. He seemed to be studying her appreciatively as if he were standing in an art gallery admiring a painting on the wall. She was grateful that people found her so attractive, but when she read how one society columnist described her "classic features, high cheekbones, wide-set luminous brown eyes, and voluptuous mouth, all set in a frame of thick, glossy black-brown hair," she could only think, is he writing about me? Personally, she thought her hair was too unruly, her face too square, and her eyes too far apart—so far apart, in fact, that it took three weeks to have a pair of glasses made with a bridge wide enough to fit over her nose.
"Oh, hello, Mr. Dulles," she said, feeling somewhat embarrassed at being caught in such a state of extended wool-gathering.
"Hello, Jacqueline," Allen Dulles said. In all the years she had known him, he had never once called her Jackie. She had always pegged Dulles and his brother, John Foster, as the ultimate Washington straight arrows. Despite the oppressive summer heat, he was wearing his customary uniform of dark gray banker's suit, starched white dress shirt, and dignified tie. "I'm sorry to interrupt you," he continued.
- "In this fun spy romp, none other than Jacqueline Lee Bouvier is graduating from college in 1951. [S]he is thrilled when [the] deputy director of the newly established CIA offers her a special assignment in Paris. Having studied at the Sorbonne, Jackie is confident and intrigued, but when a simple defection devolves into multiple murders, she calls for backup. This highly enjoyable first [novel] offers plenty of cameo appearances by luminaries of the post-WWII social and political scenes including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Christian Dior, and Marlene Dietrich."—Booklist
- "Great fun! Makes you want to buy big sunglasses and fly to Paris."—Rita Mae Brown, New York Times bestselling author of the Mrs. Murphy mysteries
- "Part mystery, part chick lit, Paris to Die For is all fun. It manages to bring together a satisfying mystery and Cold War espionage with a lighthearted romance and gushing tour of Paris. It's full of name-dropping, with cameos from Wallis Simpson to Ian Fleming to the then-unknown Audrey Hepburn, and peppered with delightful bits of pop culture. I'm already anticipating the next book in the series."—Historical Novels Review
- "JFK loved Ian Fleming's creation of James Bond so this intriguing novel may not be as far-fetched as you think."—Kitty Kelley, New York Times bestselling author of Jackie Oh!
- "A bold book that makes you rethink one of our most beloved 20th century American icons."—Mark Medoff, Tony Award-winning playwright of Children of a Lesser God
- "In her last year as an editor, Jacqueline Onassis was actually working on an espionage story that intersected with her own life at key points. I can imagine her paging through PARIS TO DIE FOR with a wicked smile."—William Kuhn, author of Reading Jackie: Her Autobiography in Books
- "Paris to Die For is a frothy romp through the City of Light with a determined young Jackie Bouvier. It goes down with a tickle, like a fine champagne."—Rebecca Cantrell, award-winning author of A Game of Lies
- "Having known the real Jackie, I can say that she loved adventure--and had a fantastic sense of curiosity--and our imagined heroine here is likewise enterprising, brave, and fun to follow."—Glenn Plaskin, interviewer and author of Katie Up and Down the Hall: The True Story of How One Dog Turned Five Neighbors into a Family
- "Jackie. Oh! Like never before. If you like suspense, romance, Paris, and Dior you'll love this book."—Laurie Graff, author of You Have to Kiss a Lot of Frogs and The Shiksa Syndrome
- "Interesting and insightful...explores the early adventures of our thirty-fifth first lady as Jackie struggles to find herself pre-John F. Kennedy. Leaving behind the privileged life of her wealthy parents to serve her country in clandestine, death-defying adventures, Jackie never has a dull moment in Paris to Die For."—Diane Dimond, journalist, author, and columnist
- "A ravishing romp through post-war Paris with our most elegant of icons. C'est un livre extraordinaire!"—Shari Shattuck, author of the Callaway Wilde mysteries
- On Sale
- Jul 28, 2011
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- Grand Central Publishing