THE CRITICS LOVE IT !!!
Zoe Barlow knows the pain of loss. By the age of 18, she'd already lost her father to suicide and her reputation to an ill-fated love affair, not to mention other losses too devastating for words. Exiled from her home and her beloved younger sister by their stepmother, Zoe has been dumped in Paris without a friend to help her make her way.
Now, four years, later Zoe has forged a new life as a painter amidst fellow artists, expats, and revolutionaries who are all struggling to make sense of the world in the aftermath of the Great War. Zoe has adopted this Lost Generation as her new family, so when her dear friend Hadley Hemingway loses a valise containing her husband Ernest's writings, Zoe happily volunteers to track it down. But she doesn't realize that her hunt has put her in the crosshairs of a merciless killer.
Chapter One of LOST IN PARIS
December, 1922. Paris
Despite the sudden snowstorm, Poker Friday was going well at the pretty little house on Rue Vavin. Zoeline Eustacia Barlow— "Zoe" to her friends—was almost fourteen hundred francs up. But then the Marquis had to go and ruin everything.
"Too bad about Hemingway, is it not?" Fortier said, in that aristocratic nasal twang that had always grated on Zoe's nerves. "His poor wife will certainly pay the price." Although well into his forties, Fortier's patrician face was clear of wrinkles, and despite the long scar on his cheek from German shrapnel—he'd fought bravely in the War to End All Wars—he was still handsome.
But handsome is what handsome does.
"What are you talking about, Antoine?" Zoe said, trying to keep the annoyance out of her voice. She held two pairs, treys and fives and a lonely jack, but had been counting the cards and knew Fortier held two eights and at least one ace. Her friend Jewel Johnson, lead dancer at the Moulin Rouge, appeared to be hoping for a flush, and the infamous artists' model, Kiki of Montparnasse, didn't have much of anything. Neither did Kiki's escort, Nick Stewart, of the filthy rich Boston Stewarts.
Zoe couldn't decide what to do. Raise? Hold? Draw?
Outside, a cruel gust of December wind rattled the house's tall windows, giving a twinge to her left leg, the one she'd broken as a child, but Zoe had fed enough coals into the ceramic-faced iron stove to keep the sitting room toasty. Even if a finger of chill did manage to creep inside, the excellent Montrachet they were drinking tasted robust enough to fight it off. With good friends, fine wine, and a possibly winning poker hand, all should have been well, but thanks to Fortier, it wasn't. Maybe she should stop inviting the old bore to her Poker Fridays.
Fanning away the cigarette smoke wafting towards her from his stinking DeReszke, she said, "The last I saw of the Hemingways, they were fine."
Fortier lifted one edge of his lip in a sneer, which irritated Zoe even more than his voice. On one of her many trips to the Louvre, she'd come across a portrait of Fortier's lordly ancestor, the sixth Marquis Antoine Phillippe Fortier de Guise, who'd lost his head in the French Revolution. The Marquis's sneer was the same as his descendant's.
Zoe tried her best to concentrate on her cards, but Fortier's comment stirred the other players, too. Count Sergei Ivanovic Aronoffsky—who had folded early--said, "You truly haven't heard of your friend Hadley's misfortune, Zoe? Why, all Paris is abuzz!"
Dominique Garron, the war artist who'd lost an eye covering the Battle of the Marne, glared at Fortier with her remaining hazel orb. "Who cares about the Hemingways? Shut up and play your cards, Antoine, so we can get started on another hand." Like the Count, Dominique had already folded, recognizing danger when she saw it. Same as sculptor Karen Wegner, with whom Dominique was finishing off a bottle of Cognac Gelas to drown her poker sorrows.
As the war artist leaned back against her chair, a glowing shred of tobacco from her Gitane drifted down to the chair's maple arm. The expensive fifteen-piece Art Nouveau dining set had only been delivered last week, and Zoe was quite proud of it. Trying not to think about her new chair's fate, she said to the Count, "Since Fortier's so busy smirking, perhaps you could tell me what's going on with the Hemingways. I've been too busy painting to keep up with the latest gossip."
The Count gave her a gentle smile. She'd always seen a touch of El Greco in Sergei Leonovich Aronoffsky's gaunt, hollow-cheeked face. His arms and legs were thin, too, testaments to the hungry months he'd spent on the run from the Bolsheviks. "You announce you've been painting? Ha! As if we couldn't tell, dear Zoe. We can smell the turpentine and linseed oil from here. I don't understand why you can't copy the others of your kind and maintain a separate studio. It's certainly not because you're hurting for money."
At this, Kiki giggled. Zoe didn't.
One aristocrat at the poker table was bad enough, but whenever two of them showed up the same evening, snobbery ran rife, and Zoe sometimes found herself in sneaking sympathy with the mobs who'd dragged her friends' lordly forebearers to their deaths on the guillotine. True, the Count's woes were more recent than Fortier's. Only five years earlier, when the Bolsheviks took over Russia, the poor man lost his wife, his grand estate, and two Rembrandts. In the odd way of the world, his luck had almost immediately turned. Upon reaching the welcoming arms of Paris, he'd met and married a wealthy French widow. Shortly thereafter, he found himself widowed again. Despite the Count's travails, he still looked down his nose on the untitled. One would think that Jewel's love would cure him of his snobbery, but it hadn't happened yet.
Zoe sighed, thinking it was no wonder the Bolsheviks had shot his kind against their tapestried walls. However, it was rumored Sergei had managed to escape the bloodbath with a small hoard of diamonds, and since he was a laughably bad poker player, she'd grown to appreciate the extra pin money his inclusion at her Poker Fridays earned her. Besides, despite his occasional bouts of arrogance, she'd grown fond of the man. Unlike other aristocrats she could mention, at least the Count had a heart.
Feeling the need to defend the acrid aromas in her snug little house, she said, "Now, now, Sergei. I'm a painter, and like most painters, I keep odd hours. Two and three a.m. often find me working, so having my studio here keeps me from walking the streets in the wee hours and being confused with another sort of woman."
At this, everyone laughed, but the mischievous Kiki pretended to find more than humor in Zoe's off-color joke. "Walking the streets? But, Zoe, chérie, it would be fun! Perhaps you and I could do that together."
Since the raven-haired model's spat with her lover, photographer Man Ray, she'd been attending Zoe's Poker Fridays with a variety of new suitors, all of whom had loads of money. Zoe didn't mind. The young men were always good for a laugh, and wasn't that what Paris was all about? Laughter and good times? Nick Stewart, Kiki's suitor-of-the-moment, wasn't a half-bad artist himself, despite the color-blindness that ran amok through his inbred Boston family. But color blindness had never hampered a Dadaist, what with the urinals, hair clippings, and other nonsense objects they hung on gallery walls and called Art with a capital A. Few of them bothered to paint anymore, including Nick, who was currently working on an installation combining shoe laces and chicken bones.
Kiki's outré begged an answer. "Walk the streets together, Kiki? Sorry, but I must decline. I don't have what you French ladies call savoir faire, or your beauty, and I'd wind up with a less than top-notch clientele. And who wants to have sex with hobos?" Directing her attention back to the Marquis, Zoe asked, "Now, what were you saying about Ernest and Hadley?"
Not that Zoe cared about Ernest Hemingway, having once observed the bully sucker-punch an inoffensive young man in the Closerie des Lilas café just for the thrill of seeing him fall. But she did care about Hadley. She'd often wondered how such a sweet-natured woman could put up with the ill-tempered man, who remained far from the success he imagined himself to have attained. Love, probably. Love, that old betrayer. Love, that old destroyer. For the past four years, Zoe had taken pains to avoid it. One broken heart was enough.
Oblivious to his hostess's feelings, Fortier was more than happy to expound on the Hemingway scandal. "The story I hear is that Hadley lost all of Ernest's manuscripts. Every word he ever wrote, even that certain-to-be-terrible novel he was working on."
Zoe frowned. "That makes no sense. How could Hadley lose his manuscripts? She's not his secretary."
"I know the answer to that," the Count said, his mournful countenance buoyed by a semi-smile. "It happened aboard a train. One of the porters at the Gare de Lyon, a Russian like myself, gave me chapter and verse of the incident."
"Do tell, since we're all agog," snapped Fortier, jealous that Sergei had stolen his place on the soapbox.
With an indulgent nod, the Count cleared his throat. The story he then related was a troubling one, in which poor Hadley did indeed emerge as irresponsible. A few days earlier, while Ernest was in Switzerland reporting on the Lausanne Peace Conference, he'd run into a publisher who asked to see some of his fiction. Thrilled, as any aspiring novelist would be, Ernest immediately telegraphed Hadley, who had stayed behind in Paris, to post him a few stories and his unfinished novel.
Under most circumstances, this would have been a sensible enough request.
But Hadley had fallen ill with the flu, Sergei continued, which is why she hadn't accompanied Ernest to Lausanne in the first place. Anxious to please her husband, she'd staggered around their tiny apartment collecting the manuscripts, and in her delirium, packed up the carbons as well. She stuffed everything into a valise. Hoping to surprise him, she hitched a ride with their landlord to the Gare de Lyon, where she bought a ticket on the Lausanne-Express. Once aboard, Hadley placed the valise under her seat. Still feverish, she went back out on the platform to purchase a bottle of Evian for the long journey.
"The porter told me when the poor woman returned to her seat, the valise was gone," Sergei finished. "So I ask you, Zoe, an important question, one for which you, as her most trusted friend, should have the most informed answer. Yes, all Paris is aware of Ernest's habit of knocking down unsuspecting men in cafés, but do you know if he is also in the habit of knocking down his wife? Given the enormity of her crime, should we worry about pretty Hadley's safety?"
Zoe was so miffed it took her a moment to answer, and when she did, she discovered she'd lost the poker hand. Kiki, the little sneak, had been holding an inside straight, and had been too foxy to let it show. The sly cat was still raking in the francs when Zoe finally found her voice.
"Ernest may be a bully-boy in the cafés, Sergei, but I doubt he hits Hadley. She's the one with the money, remember. Ah, did I hear you say she packed the originals and carbons?"
As much as Zoe hated to admit it, Sergei might be right.
Zoe had met Hadley earlier in the year, when the Marquis, already a poker-playing regular, invited Zoe to accompany him to one of Gertrude Stein's famous "evenings." Gertrude, who looked and acted like more a Roman emperor than a woman, had gained fame for her foresight in championing the talents of Picasso, Matisse, and others while they were still unknowns, and now she reigned supreme in the salons of Paris. To be granted entrée into one of her gatherings signaled that your work was being taken seriously, so Zoe was thrilled to accept Fortier's invitation. A meeting with Gertrude would surely turn her luck around!
It hadn't worked out that way.
The evening had started off promisingly enough, with everyone feasting at a table spread with rare delicacies. But after the housekeeper whisked away the remnants, the mood changed. Instead of allowing Zoe to join in the conversation with the other artists and writers—all male, she noted—Gertrude insisted she join the wives and mistresses in a small adjoining room. With a condescending smile, the big woman explained, "Ladies always enjoy talking to Alice. She knows so much about running a household, sewing and cooking and such."
Sewing and cooking and such? Oh, bushwa!
Deeply offended, the only reason Zoe hadn't sloshed her wine into Gertrude's face was because she didn't want to further humiliate Fortier. The moment Gertrude made her pronouncement, he'd flushed with embarrassment, and his mouth opened and closed, and opened again as he tried to find the proper words to decry their host's prejudice. Taking pity on him, Zoe stood up and with the rest of the rest of the ladies, filed out of the room. She was spoiling for a fight, though, and was looking forward to giving Alice a piece of her mind. But once she was settled in a room overstuffed with paintings and furniture, Hadley, who sat next to her on the uncomfortable horsehair sofa, leaned over and whispered, "Patience, Zoe. It'll be ugly, but you'll survive. We all will."
Zoe had noticed Hadley earlier, her enviable porcelain skin—much smoother than Zoe's own—the glorious auburn hair cut into a flapper's bob, and the dance of intelligence in those blue-gray eyes. Although appearing several years older than her husband and nowhere near as pretty, Hadley's long, slender fingers revealed the gifted pianist she was reputed to be.
"Does Gertrude do this often?" Zoe whispered back. "Banish the females to Purdah?"
"Every damned time."
Hadley placed a beautifully-manicured forefinger against her lips. "Shh. Here comes Alice."
Zoe found Alice Toklas less condescending than Gertrude. If anything, the small woman seemed a bit shy. But the following discussions of petite-point and the proper mincing of truffles bored her, and only Hadley's witty asides made the experience bearable. By the time the evening was over, Zoe realized she'd found a kindred spirit. Since then, hardly a week passed when she and Hadley did not share a drink or three at La Rotonde. Sometimes Hadley would even visit the little house on the Rue Vavin and serenade her with mini-concerts of Bach or Handel on Zoe's Gaveau upright. When in a particularly rebellious mood—usually after another humiliating visit to Gertrude's with her vain husband—she'd pound out jazz.
Now Zoe's friend was in big trouble...
LOST IN PARIS is available at all fine bookstores