JASON GREENE leaned back against the headrest and watched the clouds beneath the wing of the airplane. Used to traveling business class, with all six foot three of him now wedged into the narrow coach seat, he cursed every aeronautical engineer who had ever suggested refitting wide-bodied jets to accommodate more passengers.
He eyed the center section of the cabin with longing, regretting that he’d chosen a window seat. Several college students with more foresight were already stretched out on the few empty seats in the back to sleep during the long flight from Philadelphia to Paris. In the final analysis, however (and, exceptional lawyer that he was, he always analyzed), it was his fault alone that he should suffer the indignities of traveling like an eighteen-year-old again; it was his foolhardy last-minute decision that had landed him here.
What the hell were you thinking?
The thought had run like an endless loop through his exhausted mind for the past three hours. He knew the answer, of course: he hadn’t thought at all, he’d just reacted. He’d done a lot of that lately.
A female flight attendant—blonde, attractive, and in her midthirties—stopped at his row with a stack of plastic cups and a pitcher of water. “Something to drink?” she offered, her voice a sensual undertone. No doubt she appreciated the lone well-dressed man amidst the myriad students wired to iPods, iPads, and other devices.
He’d come to dismiss such attention; he’d long engendered this kind of response from women. With his wavy auburn hair, strong jaw, and bright-green eyes, he was, as his grandmother often reminded him, “quite a catch.” Add to that a salary well into the six-figure range and his job as an equity partner at a large Philadelphia law firm, and Jason Greene had never had much trouble finding women to date. Except that he hadn’t quite managed to keep the woman he’d fallen in love with happy.
“Yes, some water, please,” he replied, offering the flight attendant the same pleasant, reassuring smile he’d offered his clients for the past ten years. The same smile he’d offered Diane upon his return home to their high-rise apartment each night, having missed dinner yet again. It was far more effective with the flight attendant.
She handed him a cup of water. “Business or pleasure?” Perhaps she mistook his politeness for something more like interest. (He wasn’t interested—he’d had enough of women to last him a lifetime.)
“Neither,” he answered, forestalling any further discussion. She responded with a slight chuckle, then moved on to the next row back.
He closed his eyes and pressed the button to recline his seat. It only moved about an inch. He looked around. He hadn’t noticed his seat was right in front of an exit row. Figures. He shook his head. Resigned to his fate, he grabbed the extra pillow off the empty seat next to his and pushed up the armrest to give himself more room. He pulled the slippery blue polyester blanket over himself and shifted on an angle to tuck his long legs under the aisle seat in front of him. It wasn’t comfortable, but it would do.
He looked out the window once more. It was dark now, and here, above the clouds, he saw stars. He closed his eyes and rearranged the pillows so that his head rested against the cool bulkhead. He drifted off into an uneasy sleep with the drone of the engines in his ears.
ONLY A day before, he’d been dressed in a charcoal-gray Armani suit with a yellow-striped Brooks Brothers tie, looking out a wall of windows at the thickening gray clouds over Philadelphia. The forecast called for snow. Again.
“You want what?” Scott Reston, the managing partner of Halwell, Richardson & Dailey, leaned back in his chair and gaped at Jason as though he were an alien.
“I’m taking a leave of absence,” Jason repeated calmly. “Starting tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” Scott’s voice resonated with shock. “Jason, I know you’re pissed that Diane—”
“I’ve worked my ass off for this firm,” he countered before Scott could complete his sentence, all the while maintaining his calm resolve. His jaw tightened in spite of his control. “I’ve been pulling in enough billables to more than cover a few months off.”
“Months?” The word came out in a half-strangled gasp. “You want months? Look, Jaz, if you need help, I can put the new kid—what’s his name, Sanderson?—on some of your cases.”
“It’s not about the caseload. I haven’t taken time off in years, except the trip with Diane to her sister’s wedding. I need—”
“Then take a few weeks,” Scott interrupted, no doubt hoping this settled the matter. “Go somewhere warm. You can use our apartment in Cancun if you want. Maybe you can pick up some cute Mexican babe while you’re—”
“Two months, Scott.” Jason lapsed into his commanding courtroom voice without a second thought. “The other partners won’t question it if you’re on board. Hell, if you want, I’ll take a smaller draw this year.” The rumble of Jason’s deep baritone caused one of the paperweights on Scott’s desk to vibrate.
“Hell, Jaz Man. It’s me, remember? The guy you pulled all-nighters with in law school? That lawyer shit won’t work here. And since when do you let a bitch like Diane—”
“Drop it.” Jason knew his tone was colder than the icicles that hung on the eaves outside the building, but he didn’t give a shit. This was one subject he wasn’t going to get into with Scott—or anyone else, for that matter. “This wasn’t her fault.”
“The fuck! She cheated on you.”
“I said, drop it. Whatever she did, she had her reasons.”
Reason one: too many hours spent at the office. Reason two: too few hours spent at home. Both your fault.
“Jaz Man….” Scott groaned and leaned back in his chair with the same party-boy look Jason remembered from law school. “Jaz, you’re killing me. I’m up to my neck in depos in the Alvarez case, and TransAllied just sent me a class-action complaint in a race case out of Cleveland. You’re the only one licensed up there.”
“Nothing’ll happen in the next two months on the Cleveland case, and you know it,” he shot back. “I’ll remove it to federal court, and one of your new hires can start on a motion for summary judgment and getting documents together for discovery. And if the judge wants a local guy in on the scheduling conference, you can call my buddy Phil Lane up there to handle it. He owes me one.”
Scott’s frown deepened. “I can’t convince you that you’re a crazy asshole, can I?”
“Unlikely,” he replied with a self-deprecating laugh. “You’ve had more than ten years to try.” He took a deep breath, allowed his shoulders to relax a bit, and made an attempt to soften his expression. “Look, Scotty… I need this. It’ll only be for two months. I promise I’ll come back and make it up to you. Just two months.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Scott exhaled, sounding a bit like a pipe releasing steam. “Fine. I’ll take the heat from the big guns. With all the money you’ve been pulling in for the past few years, they’ll squawk a little, but they’ll be more worried about losing you for good.”
“Thanks.” Jason turned to leave.
“So where’re you going? Backpacking in South America? Some desert island in the Caribbean?” Scott asked. “Buddhist retreat in Tibet?”
“Paris.” Jason stopped at the door with his fingers curled around the handle.
“Paris in January?”
“Cold as hell, I hear.”
“Yeah. Something like that.”
THE PLANE touched down at Charles de Gaulle Airport on time in a misting rain. Pulling his small suitcase behind him, headed for the line of taxis, Jason laughed to himself. It was considerably warmer here than in Philly. It had snowed in this part of France a few weeks before, but nothing remained of the drifts that had paralyzed the region.
A taxi pulled to the curb, and the driver got out and put Jason’s bag in the trunk. “À 146 rue d’Assas,” he told the driver.
“Oui, monsieur” came the curt response.
Jason leaned forward, elbow on one knee, and watched the dull procession of warehouses that stretched between the airport and the city. The scenery didn’t look all that much different than the outskirts of Philly except for the tiny cars and French road signs announcing various autoroutes. It wasn’t until he saw the white stone basilica of Sacré-Cœur perched high atop Montmartre that he relaxed back into the seat.
It’s been too long.
The rain picked up as the taxi turned the corner onto rue d’Assas, affording a quick view of the grand fountain at the end of the Jardins du Luxembourg with its immense horses. The park looked gray, lifeless. He handed the driver a fifty-euro bill, pulled up the door code on his smartphone and entered it into the silver keypad, then walked into the tiled vestibule when the wooden door clicked open. After rummaging briefly in his pockets, he pulled out a set of keys and unlocked the door to the courtyard. As he pulled it, his suitcase clattered across the uneven flagstones toward yet another doorway. In spite of the cold, tiny vines of delicate yellow flowers climbed the side of the building. In spring, the entire courtyard would be full of colorful blooms tended by the building’s various residents.
The second door opened without a key, and he walked a few more feet to an apartment door painted a bright shade of blue, almost turquoise. He tapped the automatic lights, illuminating the corridor, and plunged his key into the lock. The apartment was cold—colder even than outside. It had been unoccupied for months, and the frigid air from the courtyard leaked in through the ancient windows.
He left his suitcase by the front door and flipped a switch to light the entryway. A burst of color on the dining room table caught his eye as he turned up the thermostat. Rosie, he thought with a smile. She must have asked the building superintendent to set the flowers there for him.
The edges of his mouth turned up as he inhaled the sweet scent of the bouquet. Freesia and irises. There was an envelope propped against the vase, with a typewritten message inside:
Looks like I’ll be in Milan until late March. Call me on my cell when you get in. I’ll take the TGV up for a weekend when you’re ready for visitors. I’ve had Rémy stock the fridge for a few days. The place is yours for as long as you need it. Remember to relax!
Three years older than he, his sister, Rosalie, had purchased the Paris apartment years ago, having done quite well in her work as a fashion designer. Jason had stayed here once, more than ten years before, between law school and his first job as an attorney.
She’s right—you need to relax. That’s what this is all about, isn’t it?
He hopped into the shower to wash away the long flight and tried to clear his mind. He knew this trip was about more than needing time off to relax. He was running—running from everything wrong with his life: the long hours, the loving relationship that had slipped through his hands, the pain of betrayal, and the desire to do something with his life other than earn more money than he could ever spend. He hadn’t taken the job because he’d wanted the money anyhow. He hadn’t wanted to end things with Diane. But he hadn’t done anything to change his life either. He’d just done what he’d been doing for years.
He toweled off, then clicked the remote on Rosalie’s sound system. Fifties jazz filled the apartment, and for the first time in weeks, he smiled.
For a half an hour, he lay on the couch, letting the music wash over him. At last, drawing inspiration from the music, he threw on a pair of jeans and a warm sweater, shoved his wallet and phone into his pocket, and grabbed his jacket and umbrella. With thoughts of a long walk, something to eat, and perhaps listening to some live music later on, he was out the door minutes later, uncombed hair and all.
“OY! HENRI!” Jules Bardon shouted over the din of clattering dishes. “You said you’d get your drums set up before you started working.”
Blond hair flopping into his eyes and up to his arms in soapsuds, Henri shouted back, “You can do it for a change, you lazy ass! You want to get me fired? If I lose my job, you lose a place to sleep, remember?”
Jules scowled, walked over to the sinks, and planted himself behind Henri. “And whose fault is it you’re so late getting to work? You spent the night with Pascal again, didn’t you?”
“Is that a problem?” Henri retorted without looking up from his task. “Maybe you’re just jealous. Since you dumped—” He paused for effect. “—what’s his name…?”
“Philippe,” Jules supplied.
“Right. Since you dumped Philippe, you haven’t gotten any.”
“Philippe was a shit,” Jules countered, only half joking.
“I’m sure I could convince Pascal to let you join us, if you’d like.” Henri smirked. A soap bubble rose from the sink, and Jules flicked an angry finger by Henri’s face to pop it.
“Not interested. But if you’re going to spend the whole night fucking, the least you could do is set an alarm. What the hell do I know about putting together a drum set?”
“You’ve watched me do it a hundred times,” Henri shot back, laughing and plunking several plates down on the side of the sink. Tiny rivers of water ran from the counter down to the drain. More bubbles floated up toward the ceiling. The place reeked of grease, cigarette smoke, and soap.
“Maurice doesn’t let us play here very often.” Jules was half-tempted to throttle his roommate. They’d been waiting for a chance like this for nearly a year, since the last time some band had canceled at the last minute. “You have to take this seriously. You never know who might be listening.”
Henri turned and put a soapy hand on Jules’s shoulder. “Dreamer.” He bit his cheek, then added, “Fine. I’ll set up my drums if you finish the dishes.”
“You got gloves somewhere?”
“Gloves?” Henri held up his bare hands and smirked. His fingers were puckered and white.
“If I do the dishes, my calluses will—”
“You’re a fucking prima donna, Jules,” Henri grumbled. He shrugged, turned back to the sink, and laughed again. “It’s all right. There are gloves on the shelf to your left.” He looked over his shoulder and winked.
Jules shook his head and reached for the gloves. He snapped the rubber menacingly at Henri before giving him a shove in the direction of the nightclub’s stage, just beyond the kitchen.
THE NIGHT sky had begun to clear as Jason left the small café where he’d eaten dinner, and he wandered up toward Île de la Cité, hoping to catch a view of the Eiffel Tower. Crossing the Seine at ten o’clock, he watched as the tower was illuminated in a shower of sparkles. His sister had told him the Parisians had so enjoyed the lighting for the millennium that they’d insisted the special effects continue for the foreseeable future. Leaning against the wall that ran along the river’s edge, Jason thought of nothing but the lights as he ignored the damp chill of the evening.
When the light show ended, Jason headed back down boulevard Saint-Michel in search of some of the jazz clubs he’d discovered hidden amongst the tiny streets years ago. Normally he’d have asked a friend for a recommendation or consulted a guidebook on his phone. But tonight he didn’t do either. Other than hopping the plane to Paris, how long had it been since he’d done something spontaneous? Other than the night he’d walked in on Diane having sex with someone else, his entire life had become predictable. Boring.
He had nowhere to go, nobody waiting for him, no deadlines to meet. He could sleep late. A few drinks and some good music would help him sleep a lot better anyhow. He grinned and walked onward, cold hands shoved into his pockets.
Why the hell not?
He spotted a club as he turned the corner—a small, grayish-looking dive with a purple neon sign above the entrance, nestled between a bakery and a store that sold Japanese manga. Inhaling the fragrance of pastries baking in the boulangerie, he walked over to peer inside. He couldn’t see anything, but the sounds of modern jazz wafted onto the street. He glanced up and read the sign: “Le Loup-Garou.” The Werewolf.
A fitting name for a hole like this. And just the kind of place where you’d expect to hear great music.
JULES GLANCED over at Henri and their pianist, David. David grinned and nodded as he caressed the keys of the upright piano, his touch so delicate that Jules could hear him breathe with each phrase. David complained that the instrument was out of tune and a “piece of shit,” but the sound he managed to coax from it was astonishingly sweet. Henri’s mellow brush strokes over the surface of the snare drum joined the soft piano, much like the sound of the rain on the city streets—understated yet insistent. Sexy.
Jules gripped the neck of his violin and tucked the instrument under his chin. There was a rough patch of skin there, a result of years of playing, that looked much like the mark of an overzealous lover. He drew his bow above the strings and allowed it to hover there for an instant before lightly catching the D string. The sound of the violin flickered like a candle flame blown by an unseen breeze, then grew and melded with the muted piano, sultry and inviting. Jules closed his eyes, letting the sound wash over him, responding to the slow harmonic progression on the piano, both instruments weaving the ghostly melody.
IN A dim alcove only a dozen or so feet from the musicians, Jason sat nursing his drink, transported by the sound of the violin. It wasn’t jazz in its purest form—it was more of a hybrid, combining the traditional jazz rhythms of the fifties with a modern yet classical approach. But whatever you might call the music, he found it transcendent. Between pieces, Jason glanced around the room to discover the group’s name but found no mention of it anywhere.
The set ended and the club erupted in applause. The musicians nodded, their manner casual, aloof, even a bit embarrassed. The violinist met Jason’s eyes and, for a brief instant, lingered there. Jason’s face heated. Breaking their eye contact to look down at his empty glass, he told himself that the heat in his cheeks was from the alcohol and the lack of sleep. He motioned to the lone waiter for a refill. When he turned back toward the stage, he found himself sitting face-to-face with the violinist.
“May I join you?” the violinist asked, a coy grin on his delicate lips. Jason figured that he might be nineteen, tops. As his companion brushed a stray lock of shoulder-length black hair from his eyes, Jason realized that he had one brown eye and one green. He was a waif of a kid, his face uniquely French, from the slightly pronounced nose to the sharper edge of his jaw. Even seated as he was, Jason could see that the kid’s body swam in a large pair of jeans that hung low on his hips, exposing blue plaid boxers. On top, he wore a body-hugging black T-shirt with the word “Quoi?” splashed across the front in bright red.
“Be my guest,” Jason replied in French, still unsure of what to think about the kid. “Seems as though you’ve already invited yourself.”
“You’re French-Canadian?” the newcomer inquired, grin widening.
“American.” Jason noted the rough edges of the uneven tattoo on the kid’s right forearm. Homemade, no doubt.
“Really? Your French is excellent.”
“And your music’s good,” Jason countered playfully. “What’s your trio called?”
“Dunno. We haven’t named it yet—we don’t play that much. Wouldn’t have played tonight except the group Maurice booked canceled and he couldn’t find a replacement. My roommate’s the dishwasher here.” He gestured at the drummer, who was watching them with interest from the edge of the small stage. “So, do you live in Paris?” he added after a moment’s pause.
The waiter deposited two drinks on the table and winked at the violinist.
“My name’s Jules. Jules Bardon.”
“Enchanté.” Jules took Jason’s hand across the table. The gesture was far too friendly. Flirtatious. Jason pulled his hand away and raised an eyebrow. Jules appeared unfazed. “Here on business?”
Jules laughed—a soft, almost girlish laugh. “Do I make you uncomfortable?” He fixed his gaze on Jason.
“No,” lied Jason, finding Jules’s gaze a bit too intense.
“I could make this a pleasure visit for you.” Jules absentmindedly traced a long finger across his own lips.
“I don’t bat for that team.” Jason borrowed the American expression wholesale as his French failed him at last. It was not the first time he’d spoken the words, although it was the first time he’d spoken them in French. They were also not entirely true; it was simply that the right opportunity had never presented itself.
Jules looked at him for a moment, clearly uncomprehending, then laughed again.
“What’s so funny?” Jason demanded, noting a hint of licorice on the air as his companion replaced his drink on the table.
“Oh,” Jules said, “I understand.” He laughed again. “Sorry. I’ve just never heard it put that way before. At first I thought you were asking me about baseball.” He took a swig of his drink and shrugged. “Too bad. You looked like you could use a good—”
“I have to go.” Jules sighed and appeared disappointed. “Time for the next set. It was nice to meet you, Jason.” He tripped over the name, and it came out sounding something like “Jah-sohn.” Jason chuckled in spite of himself, reminded of the various ways in which his name had been mangled by French speakers through the years.
Jules sucked down the rest of his drink in one swallow and stood up. “If you change your mind…,” he began, but the drummer grabbed him by the arm and dragged him back toward the stage.
Not likely, kid. Jason chuckled again. He had enough shit to deal with.
IT WAS nearly two in the morning when Jason left the club—a full twenty-four hours since he’d really slept well. The rain had begun to fall again, this time in torrents. In spite of the downpour, Jason decided to walk. The Métro had stopped running nearly an hour before, and the rain and exercise helped clear his mind.
He headed down boulevard Saint-Germain, past the darkened storefronts and the few cafés that were still open. He crossed a side street, glancing to his left to see the impressive Panthéon with its white stone surface still lit. In that moment, he realized that he’d never taken the time to explore Paris as an adult—he’d chosen instead to get wasted and hang out in clubs rather than do any serious sightseeing. No, most of his memories of the city were those from his childhood when his parents had dragged him and Rosalie around to all the museums and tourist destinations.
He reached the corner of Saint-Michel and waited for the light to turn. On the other side of the street, he spotted a lone figure waiting at a bus stop. “Jules?” he called out as he stepped onto the other curb.
“Jason?” Jules appeared surprised but pleased to see him. Jason noticed he was shouldering a neon-green violin case with a few peeling Rolling Stones stickers. Jules had no umbrella and no jacket and was soaked to the skin, his dark hair plastered to his pale cheeks as he shivered. His lips were already slightly blue.
“I enjoyed the music,” was all Jason said. Damn, but the kid looks young. He reminded Jason of a street kid.
“Thanks,” Jules mumbled as he wiped the rain from his cheeks.
“Missed your bus?”
“Yeah. There’s another in about an hour. They don’t run often this time of night.”
“Have a good night.” Jason offered Jules a sympathetic smile. He crossed the street and started back to his apartment as the rain began to fall even harder. Jason shivered and pulled his jacket a bit tighter around his neck.
He hummed one of the pieces Jules’s trio had played, the splash of his feet against the sidewalk mimicking the rhythm of the music. Something about the music had lingered with him.
A crack of thunder brought him back to himself. His jacket was growing soggy from the rain. He saw the taxi near the corner of the next street and stepped over a small river of water to hail it.
“Where can I take you?” the driver asked as Jason slipped inside the cab.
Jason thought of Jules standing on the street corner, freezing. He’d walked into the Loup-Garou on a lark. He’d taken a chance, done something different. He could imagine Diane’s voice in his mind: “Are you insane? Why would you even think about taking someone you just met home?” It probably was insane.
He thought of a hundred reasons he shouldn’t take the chance, including the way Jules had so openly flirted with him. But the hundred reasons morphed into the enticing sound of Jules’s music and the way Jason had felt as he listened.
Why not? If he listened to his brain, he’d still be in Philadelphia now, poring over documents, wondering what he could have done differently in his life. Wishing he had done things differently. “Do it,” his gut told him. “Take a chance. For once in your life, don’t hesitate.”
Why the hell not?
He gave the driver Rosie’s address but added, “Take me to the corner first. By the bus stop. There’s something I need to do.”
Jules’s face registered surprise as the cab stopped in front of the bus stop and Jason poked his head out. “Get in,” Jason said.
“I’ll take you to your apartment.”
Jules shook his head. “It’s nearly an hour from here by car. I can’t ask you to do that for me.”
“You can’t stay out here.”
Jules shivered. “I’ll be fine.” He pushed his soaking hair from his face. A clap of thunder nearly made Jason jump.
Why the hell not?
“You can spend the night at my apartment,” Jason said. “I’ve got a place nearby.” He immediately regretted these words—what the hell was he doing, asking a kid who had been hitting on him just hours before to spend the night? But he’d had a lot to drink, he was too tired to think straight, and Jules looked terrible.
This is crazy. He ignored the voice—was it Diane’s voice he heard again, or just his fear talking?
Why the hell not?
“In the guest bedroom,” he added quickly to clarify the sleeping arrangements.
Jules’s expression turned to one of astonishment. “I… I…,” he stammered. “Sure.” Then: “Hey, I thought you were visiting.”
“It’s a long story,” Jason replied, motioning Jules into the taxi. “Maybe I’ll tell you sometime.”
“I’d like that.” Jules pushed the hair out of his face. Jason said nothing as the cab took off down the street. “Oh, and Jason?”