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Inspired by an actual letter in the John F. Kennedy Library written by Jackie and revealing her job offer from the newly formed CIA
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 ...
Inspired by an actual letter in the John F. Kennedy Library written by Jackie and revealing her job offer from the newly formed CIA
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 . . .
"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
Republic of Balazistan, November 1939
She heard the pop-pop-pop of small-arms fire coming from beyond the palace walls and knew the revolution had begun.
Alert but strangely calm, the girl sat upright in her canopied bed just as the door to her bedroom opened, and Dexter, her personal bodyguard, stood framed in the doorway. His massive form almost completely eclipsed the hallway behind him. “The time has come, your Highness,” he said to his young charge.
“Yes, I know.” The girl slipped out of bed, ducked behind a filigreed screen gilded with silvery moons and stars, and began to put on her traveling clothes. Dexter didn’t need to be told to turn around and give her privacy. He did it routinely as part of a well-rehearsed and often-repeated practice.
She dressed quickly, slipping on woolen leggings, a cable-knit turtleneck sweater, and a sherpa-lined hooded jacket in a blur, not even stopping to run a brush through her thick mass of russet curls, one of her few vanities.
“Where are my parents?” she asked as she finished preparing for her journey.
“They are already on their way to the airport. We will meet them in Paris.”
The princess’s mother was of French origin so the royal family would be granted sanctuary there. The girl took one last look around her room, fixing it in her memory and summoning all the warm emotions this beloved sanctuary encompassed. Then she composed herself and turned to Dexter.
“I’m ready,” she said. Dexter took note of the moisture glistening in the little princess’s eyes and remarked to himself on what a brave soul she was at such a tender age.
Dexter led her down the grand staircase and out through the hammered-brass main doors of the palace into the biting cold of the early-morning air. An old Bugatti touring car, its top up for concealment of its royal passenger and protection against incoming fire, waited in front of the entrance. Its motor was running, and a khaki-uniformed soldier—not the usual royal chauffeur—sat behind the wheel. Dexter opened the car door and ushered the princess into the backseat. She was just about to sit down when she suddenly bolted out of the touring car and headed back up the steps to the main doors.
“Where are you going?” Dexter wanted to know.
“I forgot something,” the princess called back to him.
“There is no time, your Highness.”
“I’ll be right back.” The haughty tone the princess had learned from her mother was very effective, he had to admit.
Dexter watched with a feverish sensation churning in the pit of his stomach as the princess disappeared back into the palace. The Palace of Shadows, it was called. And with good reason. Even now, with the morning sun glimmering behind the foothills of the Trans-Asian mountain chain, he had a difficult time seeing across the shadows still blanketing the courtyard. Beyond the gate, the military revolution was just now getting under way, and he could hear the stutter of machine-gun fire as a counterpoint to the percussive pop of small arms. It wouldn’t be long before the violence would erupt in full fury, dragging them into a maelstrom from which any escape would be impossible.
He stared at his watch, each second that ticked by sending a fresh twinge of anxiety rippling through him. A distant rumble that grew into a loud drone drew his eyes skyward, and he watched in alarm as the low-hanging gray clouds parted to reveal the nose of a plane. A wing emerged next, and the noise steadily mounted to a low roar as the plane drew nearer to the palace.
Dexter was assailed by an ominous feeling. Why was a military plane circling overhead? Had it been hijacked by the rebels? Was it up to some harm? He glanced again at his watch and shook his head impatiently. What was keeping the princess? They needed to leave now. Silently, he implored her to hasten back to him like a precious turtledove completing its flight and landing safely at home.
And then, almost as though responding to his prayers, the princess reappeared, clutching to her side the one belonging he realized that she could not leave behind and had gone back in the palace to get. He could only hope it was worth it as he urged the driver to head for the airport without a moment to waste.
No sooner had the Bugatti sped through the palace gate than the deafening sound of a volcanic explosion rocketed through the air and reverberated in their ears. The plane had indeed been hijacked by the rebels, just as Dexter suspected. The palace symbolized all that the revolutionaries both envied and despised, and they had come on a mission to obliterate it, bombing it into a wild fountain of fire shooting flames into the sky.
Dexter pasted his hands over the back window, attempting to shut out the hideous sight from the princess’s eyes, but he was too late. The cry she let out expressed a jumble of raw emotions—shock, terror, grief, rage, and the horrified relief of a survivor who narrowly missed being incinerated alive. Dexter put his arm around her to comfort her, but her sobs soon subsided and she grew quiet, falling into a reverie that lasted for the remainder of the ride.
The airport was located on the opposite side of the capital from the palace. Dexter told the driver to detour around the town and take the Ring, the elevated mountain road, instead. Going through town, a maze of narrow streets heavily trafficked even at this hour, was an obstacle course, at best. But today, there was always the chance that they might encounter an impromptu barricade thrown up by the rebels to snare some fleeing member of the royal family.
The Bugatti safely entered the gates of the airport and approached the one-story brick building that served as both arrival and departure terminal. Next to it, a raised wooden platform on stilts acted as the control tower. It looked abandoned, a lonely wind sock fluttering from its roof.
The Bugatti pulled up in front of the terminal. Dexter noticed that the airfield was bathed in an unnatural orange light. He looked out and saw a DC-3 engulfed in flames on runway 101. A sudden awareness surfaced inside him with a sick thrust as he realized who the passengers on that plane had to be. His first instinct was to shield the princess from the sight of the fiery remains of the plane, obviously the victim of a precision mortar attack, but he did not.
A soldier approached the Bugatti. He saluted and said, “The perimeter’s been re-established. The mortar’s been silenced.”
Dexter nodded in response. He told the princess to duck down, then ordered the driver to make for runway 102, where a second DC-3 configured for passenger transport was waiting. Miraculously, it was in one piece. The perimeter guard, Dexter surmised, had taken out the rebel mortar squad before it could destroy the second plane.
Dexter hustled the princess from the touring car to the plane, shielding her body with his and whisking her past the shot-down DC-3 too quickly for her to wonder who might have been in it.
Once on board the plane, he belted the princess in place, then did the same for himself. He looked down at her to make sure she was all right. Dexter had been a soldier and a mercenary before joining the royal family’s personal guard and ultimately becoming the princess’s private bodyguard. He had fought bravely and well in many wars and border skirmishes. But he knew that what he had to do tonight—the tragic news he had to break to the princess once they arrived in Paris, the terrible truth he would not be able to hide from her any longer—called for a different type of bravery entirely.
There was no one else on board the plane. The princess was tired and slept for most of the flight. The DC-3, a real workhorse of the air, put down only twice to refuel. Both times, Dexter unbuckled his seat belt and sat there, hand never straying far from the .45 he carried in a holster at his waist.
Finally, the plane touched down at its ultimate destination, Le Bourget. Dexter looked out of the window and saw, to his dismay, that a press contingent was waiting for them on the tarmac, notepads and Speed Graphics at the ready. At first, he thought he would wait for them to get tired and leave. But he saw that the princess, who had just awakened, was restless. It was probably best—and safest—to get her to the royal residence outside Paris as soon as possible.
Dexter stepped down from the door of the DC-3, then took hold of the princess and lowered her carefully to the tarmac. The herd of reporters rushed forward. At first the princess cowered in front of them. But then she looked up at Dexter and grabbed his meaty hand with her tiny one.
“Don’t worry,” he said, “everything is going to be all right.” And the amazing thing was, he believed it, every word.
One photographer on the tarmac that day won the Pulitzer Prize for his picture of the princess. It ran on the cover of Life magazine later in that fateful year of 1939. It shows Her Royal Highness, the eight-year-old Princess Nureen, last surviving member of the House of Mansour, clutching Dexter with her right hand and in her left holding the possession she went back into the palace to get—her teddy bear. It is the teddy bear that makes her look so young and vulnerable. But her eyes are implacable and fierce. And in the aching chasm between these two emotional states, the photographer froze the moment, and Princess Nureen Mansour entered immortality.
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.
“That’s all right,” she said, hoping to put him at ease. “I was just enjoying the night air.” What a ridiculous thing to say, she chided herself. The only form of life capable of enjoying this night air was a mosquito from a malarial swamp.
He took a sip of his drink, and his lips widened into the hint of a disarming smile. “What I just said before was not quite true. Actually, I was hoping I could interrupt you.”
Dulles seemed to be stalling for time. Jackie prayed that he wasn’t going to ask what everyone asked when they knew a girl of her age was “going steady”—have you set a date for the wedding yet?—and mentally started drafting a face-saving answer.
But instead Dulles asked, “Jacqueline, now that you’ve just graduated from college, what are your plans for the future?”
Jackie tried not to show her surprise. Was he reading her mind? Could he tell just by looking at her how she was floundering, thrashing about at sea without a life raft? “I’m mulling over a couple of options,” she told him.
“Well, that’s good,” Dulles responded blandly. He took another sip of his drink before asking point blank, “Did you ever think of coming to work for me?”
Jackie blinked as if blinded by a headlight. Since Allen Dulles was the deputy director of the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency, her silent answer was an astonished no. The only female spy she knew of was Mata Hari, and she couldn’t see herself seducing spies in order to wheedle secrets out of them in bed.
“I didn’t know the CIA accepted female candidates,” she said finally.
“Normally, we don’t, except for the usual secretarial pool and translation mill.” Dulles twirled the stem of his glass between his fingers, carefully considering what he was about to say next. “But I have a special assignment that calls for a woman’s touch. Someone attractive and intelligent in equal measure. Are you interested?”
Jackie was flattered but embarrassed to be complimented that way by an older man, even one who was an old family friend. Too flustered to speak, she just shook her head no.
“That’s too bad,” Dulles said, “because the assignment’s location is Paris.”
Paris. He had said the magic word. The city where she was dying to go. But now, instead of working there as a drone in Vogue magazine’s office for six months, she had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to carry out a mission of high-level intrigue in the city of her dreams. Maybe she would get to wear that black beret after all. A chance to prove herself and justify breaking off with John Husted was being offered to her, ironically, on one of her mother’s own canapé-laden silver platters.
But how to do a 180-degree turn without looking like a flighty little fool to Allen Dulles? Jackie’s training in the social graces of a debutante came to the fore. “Mr. Dulles, why don’t you let me freshen your drink?” she asked. “And then you can tell me all about that special assignment of yours in Paris.”
“Fine; it’s a dry martini with ice, Beefeater gin, just a whisper of vermouth, no fruit or vegetables,” Dulles said as he drained his drink and handed her the empty glass.
Doesn’t leave much to chance, does he? Jackie thought, as she went off to fetch his drink, wondering what it would be like to work for a man who operated with such clockwork precision, even in his personal life.
“He’s a potential walk-in,” Dulles told Jackie when she returned.
No other sounds could be heard on the terrace save for the pulsating song of the cicadas and the clinking of the ice in Dulles’s glass, but Jackie leaned toward him, listening intently to every word he spoke.
“What’s a walk-in?” she asked.
“A walk-in is a defector,” Dulles explained in a pedantic style that went along with his scholarly look and demeanor. His wire rims, patrician nose, and high forehead topped with strands of thinning gray hair reminded Jackie of one of her college professors at George Washington U. One would never guess that during World War II, from his headquarters in Bern, Switzerland, this mild-mannered man was the very OSS station chief who had boldly penetrated to the heart of the German intelligence network and arranged for the surrender of the German war machine.
Jackie nodded, anxious to hear more.
“In recent days, it has come to our attention through circuitous means that the third cultural attaché at the Russian embassy in Paris is giving serious thought to defecting to us.”
“Cultural attaché?” It was a term Jackie had heard of, but wasn’t sure what it meant.
“Cultural attaché is just the usual embassy cover for SMERSH—the Soviet counterintelligence agency. It means ‘Death to Spies.’ Typical Russian understatement. Getting the third cultural attaché to defect would be something of a coup. Of course, we always ask that any prospective walk-in come bearing a gift.”
“Really?” Jackie was well versed in the basic rules of upper-class hospitality, but she was surprised to find that the same rules applied to the world of international espionage.
“To establish his bona fides—a relatively new idea for us. You see, Jackie, like any young government entity, the CIA is making itself up as it goes along, improvising its codes, its rules, and its protocols on a daily basis.”
“Ah, yes,” Jackie said knowingly, just to show that she was still with him.
“And we think this third cultural attaché really has something we want to see.”
“I see.” Jackie hoped Dulles wouldn’t think she was parroting him. “But where do I come in?”
Dulles took a swig of his drink and cleared his throat, dropping his voice to a confidential pitch that made Jackie lean in even closer to hear him. “The name of the third cultural attaché is Mikhail Petrov. We keep dossiers on all Soviet agents, and Petrov’s says that he thinks of himself as a real ladies’ man. Apparently, he’s on the fence about defecting. But we think a female agent could provide the right incentive to convince him to make the leap to our side of the fence, if you know what I mean? There’s only one problem.”
Jackie waited while the answer hung suspended in the pause.
“We don’t have any female agents.”
Now Jackie understood where she fit into this particular scenario.
“Oh, I guess I could ask my secretary,” Dulles went on, “but she’s fifty-three and a grandmother three times over. I don’t think our Mr. Petrov would be attracted to her. Do you?”
Jackie wanted to chide Dulles for his ungallant assumption that an older woman couldn’t be sexually appealing, but she dutifully smiled at his little joke.
“You, on the other hand,” he said, looking her straight in the eye, “are the perfect person for this assignment. You’re attractive, speak French like a native, and are smart enough to ascertain his intentions and report back to me with your impressions of Comrade Petrov.”
“Thank you.” How did this man know so much about her? Jackie wondered. He was an old family friend, true, but not close with her parents the way other relatives and friends were. And then it struck her—the CIA must have a dossier on her too. The very thought of some stranger knowing all about her life made her feel distinctly uncomfortable. Despite the sodden heat, she felt a shiver inside.
“Unfortunately, our communication with Comrade Petrov is only one way. He calls the shots. He says he wants someone to meet him at Maxim’s for dinner. We propose that person be you.”
Once again, Dulles fixed Jackie with that direct stare. She found it impossible to turn away from it after having locked eyes with him.
“All you have to do is have dinner with him, find out what his intentions are, then report back to me. I’ll give you a secure telephone number. Under no circumstances are you to go to the American embassy. Nobody there will know who you are. Nobody there knows about Petrov’s intentions. The fewer people who know anything about this, the better off we’ll all be.”
“But who does he think he’s meeting?”
“We have all that arranged. He’s going to be meeting with a journalist from an American dance magazine. An interview about the Bolshoi’s upcoming visit to Paris. Don’t worry, she’s a real person. But she’s on assignment in Argentina, and her editor, a friend of a friend, owes me a little favor. So you’ll be borrowing this journalist’s identity for a few days. We just don’t have the time to craft you a whole new legend starting from scratch.”
“Craft?” “Legend?” This was all going a bit too fast for her. “Mr. Dulles, don’t I need training for this?”
“For dinner and some conversation? I assume you already know which fork goes with which course.”
This time, Jackie didn’t feel duty-bound to laugh at his little joke. “But what about the conversation? I don’t speak Russian.”
“He speaks French, at least as well as you do. So I don’t think communication represents any kind of challenge.”
Jackie was stumped. She couldn’t think of any more objections.
But Dulles seemed compelled to further persuade her, letting her know that the Cold War had escalated to a point of white-hot intensity. “I’m sure you can understand the pressure the CIA is under now that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg have been convicted of passing our country’s nuclear secrets to the Soviets. They’ll be the first civilians executed for espionage in United States history, but their trial unveiled a nest of other Communist spies within our scientific community we never suspected were there.” Dulles shook his head, nonplussed by this conundrum. “Then there are those two British secret agents you must have read about, Sir Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean. The ones who were both working in America and suddenly disappeared a few months ago? Well, the CIA and MI6, our British cousins, are just waiting for word that they’ve turned up in Russia as guests of Moscow Center.”
He was starting to sound exasperated. “To make matters worse, now Kim Philby, MI6’s official liaison with our agency, is rumored to be somehow implicated in the twin disappearances. He’s highly placed and highly respected. But also highly suspect. And of course, we have Senator Joe McCarthy in the news almost every day accusing the State Department of being riddled with hundreds of secret Communist agents.”
Dulles downed the rest of his drink in a single gulp and gave Jackie a questioning look. “Do you see what we’re up against and why I’m placing such a high priority on the success of my proposed operation in Paris?”
“You have a lot on your plate,” Jackie had to concede. Although she wasn’t a political person—her interests lay more in the arts—Jackie knew enough about the Rosenberg case to be bothered by doubts about the fairness of the trial. She had to find out if Dulles shared her reservations about Ethel Rosenberg, the thirty-six-year-old mother of two young sons, a petite sparrow of a woman who looked like Edith Piaf with a pinched bow-shaped mouth, going to the electric chair.
“This might be beside the point, but I’m just curious,” she began tentatively. “Do you really think Ethel Rosenberg deserves to die?” She saw his eyebrows shoot up, and she hurried on. “I mean, throughout the trial, the only conspiracy attributed to her was typing up the information from the spy meetings. If that’s all she did, the death penalty seems far too harsh a sentence.”
Dulles looked at her as if he were seeing her for the first time. Jackie sensed that he hadn’t expected her to know enough about the espionage trial to question the media’s unanimity about the couple’s guilt. The talk she’d heard about from her stepfather of a protest movement forming here and in Europe hadn’t gathered much steam so far.
“Well, their lawyers are appealing, so I’m sure justice will be served in the end,” Dulles assured her.
The mention of Senator McCarthy had also given Jackie pause. He gave her a creepy feeling when she saw him on television—something about his anticommunist ferocity smacked of a witch hunt. She was afraid that the net he was casting to catch disloyal subversives might be too wide and that many innocent left-leaning members of the intellectual community might be trapped in it as well. But she trusted Dulles to keep a cool head when many around him were losing theirs in an age of anticommunist hysteria.
Dulles patted her shoulder. “If you’re worried about your parents’ not approving of your undertaking this mission, you needn’t be. I’ve already cleared it with them. Your stepfather’s gung-ho about it, and your mother thinks it might be good for you to get away for a few days.”
Oh, sure, and come back ready to fall in line with her wedding plans, Jackie thought.
“But there’s just one catch,” Dulles said to her, almost as an afterthought. “The dinner will take place in less than twenty-four hours. You have to be in Paris no later than tomorrow. If you are going to say yes, you have to do so now.” He tried to placate her with assurances that she had a bright future with the CIA. “Look, when you come back from Paris we’ll have you undergo intensive training before we send you out on another project in October. But right now, I need your commitment to have dinner with Petrov tomorrow. Otherwise, I’ll have to find someone else to take your place.”
“How long do I have?”
“You have the next five minutes.” He turned away from her to give her a little privacy.
Jackie thought about it, weighing excitement against possible danger. But this wasn’t going to be a dangerous assignment. This old family friend wasn’t going to do anything that would risk getting the stepdaughter of a man as rich, powerful, and connected as Hugh Auchincloss killed. Still, there was always the unexpected, wasn’t there? She was born, she knew with certitude, for a more contemplative kind of life. But hadn’t she just said to herself that she wanted to make a difference?
And it was Paris, the city she loved more than any other in the whole world. Yes, she would have to write a letter to Miss Campbell, the editor at Vogue, declining the magazine’s kind offer of a trainee position, but she could handle that with aplomb and a little judicious bending of the truth. She wouldn’t tell Miss Campbell anything about the Petrov project—Dulles had made it clear that secrecy was of the utmost importance, and Vogue had an office in Paris. But Jackie would say that the CIA had come through with a project she’d lobbied for before she entered the Prix contest, never thinking she’d make the finals, and the CIA had invested too much in her for her to refuse now.
Jackie’s veins pulsed with the bluest of blood, her genetic inheritance from a lineage of staunch, rock-ribbed conservatives who worshipped the god of gentility. Her forebears were, above all else, sensible people. Every fiber of her being, every particle of her existence, every trace memory of her heritage, cried out for her to say no to Allen Dulles’s outlandish proposal.
Jackie said, “Yes.”
Maxim’s was Lutèce in New York City, La Caravelle in Washington, D.C., and Perino’s in Los Angeles all rolled into one. It was the grande dame of all sumptuous French dining. To dine there was a singular experience, and that feeling never left you no matter how many Maxim’s meals you allowed to threaten your waspish waistline. Every time at Maxim’s was the first time, just as falling in love with a new lover always felt like the first time.
Unwittingly, Jackie became part of this rarefied allure as she entered the restaurant on the arm of Mikhail Petrov. Always uncomfortable in crowds, she kept her eyes straight ahead as she walked through the dining room filled with some of the most beautiful women in Paris, many of them mistresses of the city’s most wealthy and powerful men. Jackie wanted only to get to her seat, but her combination of uncommon beauty, youth, and natural elegance made all heads subtly turn to follow her as though helpless to do otherwise.
The maitre d’ led Jackie and Petrov to the center of the Belle Epoque–style room and pulled out an elegant dining chair for her at a glass-topped table for two decorated with a fluted velvet apron edged in scalloped satin. Jackie’s eyes swept over the colorful art nouveau scrollwork, plush red banquettes, gleaming inlays of brass and stained glass, and polished mahogany woods before coming back to rest on Mikhail Petrov seated across from her. He looked to be in his late thirties and was even more handsome than the photograph Dulles had shown her. The grainy surveillance picture in his dossier didn’t do justice to his suave manliness. Jackie took it all in with a visceral flurry of excitement: the square jaw, insouciant dimple in his chin, and crest of wheat-colored hair that brought out the crystalline blue of his eyes, sparkling with a playful expression as he caught her surveying him with obvious approval.
“I trust mademoiselle is finding the ambience to her liking?” he asked teasingly, smiling as Jackie blushed and nodded yes.
“The décor is even lovelier than I imagined it would be when I read about Maxim’s in Colette’s Gigi,” Jackie said, quickly recovering and playfully assuming the magazine writer’s role that Dulles had assigned her. “On a journalist’s salary, the swankiest place I ever get to in Paris is the Ritz bar.”
“Ah, the Ritz bar,” Petrov said familiarly. “I’ve spent many a pleasant cocktail hour there myself, socializing with diplomats and people interested in cultural affairs. That and the Jeu de Paume museum are two of my favorite places in Paris.” He spoke French with just the slightest trace of a Russian accent. He was as fluent in the language as she was, although Jackie doubted that, like her, he had come by his conversational skills at the Sorbonne. Petrov was every bit as charming as she had expected him to be, and in his expensively tailored Savile Row suit, he appeared to be far more worldly than most of his fellow countrymen.
Two of those countrymen had accompanied Jackie and Petrov from the hotel to the restaurant, following behind at a discreet distance. Dressed in poorly fitting suits stretched out of shape by their muscle-bound bodies, these two henchmen looked more like wrestlers than embassy officials. They reminded Jackie of characters out of some comic opera or parodies of stereotypical American gangsters dressed in black-and-white pinstriped zoot suits. And suddenly, the wisdom of Petrov having made plans to meet Jackie here at Maxim’s occurred to her. His two shadows had to remain outside because they would never be permitted inside such a bastion of refinement, and he could dine with Jackie in privacy.
For the sake of verisimilitude, Jackie opened up her purse and took out a notepad and a Mont Blanc pen. If her cover was that of a journalist, it would be a good idea, she thought, to act like one. That was elementary tradecraft. But before she could launch into her first question, Petrov drew back his chair and stood up.
“I’ll be delighted to provide you with any information that might assist you with your assignment,” he offered pleasantly, “but first there is a small matter that requires my attention. I’ll only be a moment.”
Jackie guessed he was going to the bathroom as an excuse to make sure that his shadows were still in position across the street from the restaurant. Actually, she was relieved to see him go. She had lived in such a whirlwind state for the last twenty-four hours that it was a pleasure just to sit quietly by herself for a few moments and enjoy the amuse-bouche and Evian water that had already been brought to the table.
She quickly thought back on what had transpired between her conversation with Dulles on the terrace of her parents’ house and now. Dulles had a cover story arranged with her parents to account for her movements over the next forty-eight hours. The following morning, a package had arrived with her new identity papers (passport, driver’s license, American Express travelers’ checks) and a round-trip airline ticket in her new name with a Paris destination. She had packed as quickly as possible, fighting her usual habit of taking more clothes than were needed, and rushed to the airport. She had tried to rest on the plane, but found herself too keyed up to close her eyes for more than a few minutes at a time. Arriving in Paris feeling slightly sleep deprived, she had checked into a businessman’s hotel located in the shadow of the avenue Daumesnil viaduct in the 12th arrondissement. It wasn’t the four-star French hotel she’d been hoping for, but in her role of a mere working journalist, there was no way she could afford to stay at the Georges V or the Ritz. She barely had time to change into her evening clothes before the concierge called up to her room to say that a man named Mikhail Petrov was waiting in the lobby for her.
At the end of her conversation with Dulles, the deputy director had taken out a piece of paper and written two phone numbers on it. The first was the secure telephone number she was to call after having dinner with the Russian. The second was a number to be used in case of emergency only. Dulles explained that the number belonged to a casual, a civilian who, in the course of his daily occupation, was occasionally called on to do some contract work for the agency. This particular casual was a French photographer working as a stringer for an American wire service. It was called the Allied Press Service, and the name of the casual was Jacques Rivage. Dulles said he seriously doubted Jackie would need to contact him, and Jackie seriously hoped he was right.
Petrov returned to the table.
“Where were we?” he asked in his lightly accented French.
She looked at the first blank page of her notepad and said, “The ballet.”
“Ah, yes, the ballet,” he echoed, continuing with the charade.
Jackie unscrewed her Mont Blanc pen and held it poised to take down his every word.
“Well, as you know, the Bolshoi will be coming to Paris this fall. It’s the same old program, I’m afraid. Sleeping Beauty. Swan Lake. All those Russian masterpieces have been done to death.” He paused and looked up at her. “Please don’t quote me on that. But there is one new thing happening…”
Jackie waited for Petrov to continue.
“A thirteen-year-old child prodigy has been accepted by the Bolshoi. His name is Rudolph Nureyev. He’s incredibly talented for one so young, probably the best Russian male ballet dancer to come along since Nijinsky. I know that’s heretical. But you mark my words if that doesn’t turn out to be true.”
Jackie dutifully jotted down everything Petrov said, intrigued by this name she’d never heard of before.
“Nureyev?” she asked him. For once, her look of wide-eyed innocence wasn’t the usual schoolgirl pose that she adopted to mask the intelligence she was afraid that others would find intimidating. Occasionally, one of her Yale dates would get wise to her at a football game when she would bat her eyelashes and ask why they were kicking the ball at fourth down near their own goalpost and say, “Oh, stop it, Jackie, you know better than that.” It was embarrassing that she was so transparent and a little degrading that she felt the need to dissemble in the first place.
But with Petrov she had no reason to hide how knowledgeable she was about ballet. In fact, as a writer for an American dance magazine, she was expected to be an expert on the subject. Borrowing someone else’s identity made Jackie feel like an actress, but ironically, the role she was performing was more like who she really was than the person she often pretended to be in real life.
“N-U-R-E-Y-E-V.” Petrov allowed himself a smug little smile, apparently pleased with himself for being able to give Jackie some inside information about the Bolshoi. He seemed eager to impress her with whatever means he had at his command.
“Thank you,” Jackie said, smiling back at him appreciatively.
He put his hand over hers, and she felt a tingling sensation dance up her arm. The man was irresistibly, irredeemably romantic. There was a long pause. Jackie looked up from her notepad, all thoughts of Nureyev and Nijinsky instantly forgotten. She could tell that the Russian was about to launch into their real reason for this dinner together.
“You know, of course, why we are here,” he said.
“I am to be a walk-in.”
A shadow fell over the table. Petrov abruptly stopped speaking. He and Jackie looked up together. The sommelier hovered over them. He had a long nose, all the better to look down on patrons who thought they knew wine better than he did. He proffered the wine list to the Russian like a knight of old hurling down his gauntlet in challenge. Petrov surprised him by looking it over in cursory fashion before authoritatively ordering a ’37 Mouton Rothschild.
With a condescending “Very good choice, monsieur,” the sommelier retreated to the wine cellar, and Petrov turned back to Jackie. “When in doubt,” he said, “always order the Mouton Rothschild.”
They made small talk until the sommelier returned, not wanting to have their covert conversation interrupted again.
As they spoke, Jackie looked around the dining room and took note of one man having dinner seul. Although he was well dressed, he had the extravagantly overmuscled bulk of a circus strongman, a persona enhanced by his florid mustache and completely bald head. He looked like he could single-handedly lift up his table complete with the mountainous plat de fruits de mer he was so intently enjoying. Jackie stared at him a second longer than was considered polite while she tried to remember where she had seen this man before. Where could it have been? The hotel lobby when she first arrived? Standing under the viaduct as she and Petrov left the hotel? Or perhaps this was just her imagination running away with itself.
The sommelier returned, and Jackie dismissed her unsettling feeling of déjà vu and turned her attention back to Petrov. With a flourish, the sommelier uncorked the bottle, and Petrov went through the usual ritual of tasting the wine, pronouncing it perfection, and waiting while the sommelier poured two glasses for them. The sommelier left the bottle and returned to his station on the other side of the dining room.
Alone again, Petrov took a sip of wine before continuing. “As I was saying, you know why we’re here, don’t you?”
Jackie pretended to look at her notebook. “The walk-in.”
“Yes, the walk-in. It must be accomplished vitement.”
Jackie wasn’t prepared for any kind of immediate deadline and dreaded to hear what was coming next.
“I need your help,” Petrov said, all business now, the blue eyes steely, purpose hardening the creamy charm. There was an urgency in his tone, a chilling gravity, and his grip tightened on her hand. “You must help me.”
“I’m just the messenger,” Jackie demurred.
“No messages, please. I can’t afford to risk any leaks. My life is in jeopardy as it is. They already suspect me.”
“Who suspects you?”
“The organza?” Jackie asked, not sure she had heard him correctly. What could a silk fabric have to do with his safety?
“The Organyi,” he repeated, this time with added emphasis. “The organs of state security, the secret police.”
Organyi. Organza. If she heard one more espionage term, she was going to have to start compiling a dictionary.
“But I’m not an agent,” Jackie protested to the Russian. She could feel the panic rising within her. She was about to get into something over her head. This was quite beyond the scope of her brief from Dulles.
“All I need is for you to be my liaison with the American embassy.”
“But I don’t know anyone there,” Jackie protested.
“Why can’t you contact him?”
“Because no one in authority must know until the walk-in is a fait accompli.”
“And when is this supposed to take place?”
“Tomorrow night!” Jackie’s voice went up an octave, and several nearby diners looked her way. She lowered her voice again. “Why tomorrow night?”
“Because tomorrow night is the one night of the week I spend with my mistress. We meet at a small apartment near the Pont d’Ivry. Do you know it?”
His mistress? Jackie was surprised at the small stab of disappointment that the word aroused in her and hoped it didn’t show in her eyes. Oh well, she thought, so much for a liaison dangereuse.
“Yes, I know it,” she said evenly. The Pont d’Ivry was also known as the quartier chinois and was Paris’s answer to New York’s Chinatown. A European would stick out there like the proverbial sore thumb, making it easy for Petrov to catch sight of anyone who was following him.
“Tomorrow night, my mistress will not be there, but my shadows don’t know that. I have been planning this for the last six months. My shadows, they stay outside the building while they think I have my fun. One hour and a half only. One minute past that, and they will be at the door.”
Petrov leaned over the table and spoke to Jackie in a desperate whisper.
“You will meet me there tomorrow night. At eight o’clock precisely. I have an escape route all planned out. The room is on the top floor, the sixth. One can exit the window and follow a narrow ledge outside the building that eventually overlooks the roof of a neighboring building. A small jump is all it takes. Don’t worry, I have already tried it. The door there is always open. You take the stairs down and come out one street away. My shadows will be none the wiser. We will have a ninety-minute head start on them. More than enough time for us to make our way to your embassy.”
Jackie started another demurral, but was cut short by Petrov’s raised hand. “Do not worry. I have timed it out. There is not one element of this plan that I have not gone over and over again. It will work. Trust me.”
Jackie couldn’t believe what she was hearing. The audacity of the plan was impressive to her. But what was this business about going through windows and jumping to adjacent roofs? She didn’t like the sound of that at all. She was beginning to worry that Allen Dulles had hired the wrong girl for the job. Besides, she was a bit miffed that instead of an exotic Mata Hari–esque seductress, Petrov saw her only as a convenient decoy to fool the two fat goons who were tailing him and as an escort into the embassy rather than the bedroom.
But Petrov had something more to tell her. He leaned over the table even farther and said in a voice so low that Jackie had to tilt her head down to hear him, “I am bringing something with me. It is of vital importance that your people see it as soon as possible. There is an expiration date attached to this material. You must help to make sure it gets into the right hands.”
This is what Jackie was waiting to hear. The gift mentioned by Dulles in his brief. Now she would be hard put to turn down the Russian.
“Miss Bouvier,” Petrov said, using Jackie’s real name instead of the dance journalist’s whose identity she had usurped. “I need you. Will you help me?”
For the second time in twenty-four hours, every fiber of Jackie’s being, every particle of her existence, every trace memory of her heritage, cried out for her to say no to Mikhail Petrov’s foolhardy scheme.
And for the second time in twenty-four hours, heaven help her, she said yes.
Excerpted from Paris to Die For by Kenneth, Maxine Copyright © 2011 by Kenneth, Maxine. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Get ready for a rollercoaster ride through glamorous 1950s Paris, where an equally glamorous, smart and sophisticated young Jackie Bouvier goes undercover for the CIA and changes the course of world events and the trajectory of her own life forever. Sparkling, suspenseful, full of romance and surprises - I didn't want the story to end. Can't wait for the sequel!
10 out of 10 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 16, 2011
LOVE this book. It's a smart, well written, roller coaster ride of a story, full of unexpected twists and turns. Every time I thought I had it figured out, I was thrown for a loop. The deeper into the story I got, the more difficult it became to put it down. Can't wait for the next one!
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Posted February 1, 2013
My book club read this book and that was the consensus. We also felt uncomfortable with the heroine being Jackie Kennedy, as we didn't see her in that role.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
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