Regular reader of this blog—both of you—know I am not above stealing an idea from anyone, especially when the person from whom I am appropriating is smarter than I am. (Not that this limits my range of targets) Patti Abbott has been providing backstories of characters from her new book, Shot in Detroit, as a way of giving readers some insights into the book through them. Writing up backstories for key characters is too much like work; you should know me better than that by now. The idea of letting the character carry the promotional ball a little does appeal to me. With that in mind, today marks the first in a series of excerpts from my new book, A Dangerous Lesson. Each will feature a character from the book, with a brief into, and 500 – 800 words from the book where that character figures prominently. I hope you enjoy them. I also hope you buy the book. (Those two hopes compete for primacy in my Pantheon of Hopes™ on a regular basis.)
Today’s character is Jeanne Archambeault. Her family fled France ahead of the Nazis and came to America, where she married another refugee who became wealthy through the stock market. Jeanne has asked detective Nick Forte to look into her granddaughter’s new suitor, who Jeanne finds less than exemplary.
“I must explain something of my granddaughter to you. She is my only family left alive. Her mother was an only child, married to this horrible Bosch.”
“Her father is German?”
“American, but of German blood. Vandenbusch.” She said the name as though it pained her to hear it but tasted too bad to keep in her mouth.
“Vandenbusch actually sounds Dutch to me.”
“Dutch? Perhaps. Not as if there is such a difference.” Even I realized it would be impolitic to point out that the surviving residents of Rotterdam might disagree. At least not until I had a signed contract. “He was a small man. An uncultured man. He could not distinguish Monet from Picasso.”
Heathen. Even I knew Monet was French and Picasso was…not French. Italian, maybe. Or Spanish. I nodded like I understood what a burden Vandenbusch must have been to someone of Jeanne’s refinement.
“The man was a shopkeeper. He was the manager – not the owner, mind you – of what you Americans call a hardware store.” Jeanne made it sound as though marrying a crack whore would make him a social climber. “He defined bourgeois. My Chloe was not meant for such a life, to be taken so far from what Henri and I built for her.”
“Was she happy?”
“She had not time to be happy. This – Dutch, as you say – gave her a child before the sacrament. They were married in time to avoid the infamy of a bastard, but Henri and I made them know they were no longer welcome here.” A pause for tea and a visible stiffening of her resolve. “Chloe and he were killed in an automobile accident when the child was but an infant. I have raised her as my own since then. It will be twenty years in Septembre.”
An idea of why I was there sparked far enough back in my mind not to disturb the conversation. “Your granddaughter. Does she have a name?”
Jeanne almost spoke before remembering to glare at my insolence. “The child’s name is Jeannine.” Jeanne beat me to my next comment. “It was a bald attempt to win my favor. A boy would likely have been named Henry.”
Nothing in that for me. I nodded to concede the point.
Jeanne said, “Jeannine has become involved with a man.”
“James Smith, fortune-seeking gigolo, right?”
Jeanne paused until she remembered she had mentioned Smith’s name herself. “Yes, James Smith. I believe his interest in Jeannine to be purely financial.”
“What makes you think so?”
“Jeannine is not an attractive girl.” Looking at Jeanne, I was shocked – shocked! – to think any female descendent would be unattractive. I suppressed my amazement. “Also she is not intelligent. Do not misunderstand me. I do not say she is stupid. Only she does not recognize that men are attracted more to her inheritance than to her charms.”
All of my grandparents were dead. Just as well, if this was how they talked about me behind my back. “Love is unpredictable. Maybe he sees something you don’t.”
“He knows her for only three months. I have known her all her life. I love her as a grandmother and mother, as well. I have no illusions.”
“What do you want me to do, Ms. Archambeault? I won’t run him off for you.”
“Is that why you think you are here? To be the strong arm? Tres gauche. I am very capable of getting vermin from my own home.” She coughed liquidly from deep in her chest and dabbed at her mouth with a handkerchief to catch what I guessed were pieces of lung. “What I cannot do, what I need you for, is to tell me if he should be…run off, as you say.”
“Sounds like your mind is pretty well made up.”
“I am trying to keep my mind open. I must confess it will not take much to convince me this Smith is unsuitable. If that is so, I will take whatever action is necessary.”
“That’s not always as easy as it sounds. Has it occurred to you that trying to force them apart may only pull them together?”
Jeanne’s eyes focused on me, brows drawn together. “I am a woman. I will handle the affairs of the heart. You will find out for me if I must do any handling. You are the detective, no?”