Margaret Maron

The Right Jack

The fourth book in the Sigrid Harald series, 1987

For David C Brown, who was born with a deck of cards in his hand-Shut up and deal!

My thanks to Carl Honeycutt,

Peter Klausmeyer and Harold Medlin for their help with certain technical details.


IN the main kitchens two levels below the Hotel Maintenon's glittering lobby, the midday rush was winding down. In the dessert and pastry kitchen next door, however, an orderly bustle continued as exquisite raspberry tarts, miniature eclairs, and tiny cream puffs were tucked into individual lace cups and arranged on large silver trays. Two almond cakes and a silver platter of thinly sliced fruitcake sat beside four dark chocolate multilayered tortes which awaited a final ribbon of buttercream icing across their satiny tops.

In less than half an hour, tea would be served in the beautiful Cristal Galerie just off the Maintenon's mezzanine, so the staff hurried with its finishing touches. Upstairs, the huge silver urns would already be filled with fresh boiling water and slender tea hostesses in white silk blouses and long black velvet jumpers would be giving the room a final check, assuring themselves that there were no smudges on any of the beveled mirrors that lined the walls between gilded pilasters, that none of the tall vases of cut flowers had dropped petals over the ivory brocaded chairs, and that the tins of tea-all twenty-two different varieties were full and lined up alphabetically beside the urns.

Trays of triangularly cut sandwiches filled with shrimp salad, watercress, smoked salmon and the Maintenon's special blend of herbed cream cheese had already been sent up to the serving pantry behind the elegant room, where hot buttered scones also waited in a specially heated basket. The cozy aroma of warm raisins permeated the area.

Downstairs, in the pastry kitchen, workers had begun to load the tea carts, frivolous-looking but sturdy contrivances of silver and glass, which would be wheeled through the Cristal Galerie for the teatime dessert course, tempting New York sophisticates and visitors alike to forget about diets and calories and give themselves up to sybaritic indulgences. Tiny silver pots de creme nestled beside a cut-glass bowl of poires au gratin and a woven silver basket of fresh strawberries.

At a nearby counter, a newly apprenticed assistant chef was so absorbed in his task of cutting a bunch of sugared grapes into individual clusters that he failed to notice when a sudden silence fell over the room.

'Gently, gently, mon petit!' said a sharp voice.

The youth turned, realized who had spoken and became so flustered that he dropped the scissors he had been using.

His fellow employees held their breath, watching the shapely blonde woman who had appeared seemingly out of nowhere.

To the uninitiated eye, there was nothing intimidating about the Maintenon's owner. To her guests, Madame Lucienne Ronay could be, and usually was, Gallic charm personified. Her staff, who knew a different side of the French coin, called her ' La Reine' behind her back because of her regal off-with-his-head manner when any employee was caught debasing the impeccable standard she set for her hotels. And the guillotine blade could fall at any moment, since Madame did not remain safely aloof in her throne room on the thirtieth floor, where the executive office lay. She prowled her kingdom relentlessly, bestowing the largesse of a radiant smile when pleased or, more often, slicing a malefactor into tattered shreds with her sharp tongue.

Today, it pleased her to be merciful and she stooped gracefully for the dropped scissors and gave the terrified youth a gentle reproof as she demonstrated the Maintenon way to snip sugar-coated grapes.

'Regardez. Thus and thus we do, mon petit. More gently so the sugar it does not shatter. Comprenez-vous? You see?'

'Yes, Madame,' replied the chastened worker.

'Bien!' She returned the scissors and, with a benevolent smile for the rest of the staff, exited from the dessert kitchen. A palpable easing of tension swept over the room as Madame Ronay's employees returned to their preparations for high tea.

'Like so we do, comprenez-vous?' mimicked a pastry chef, twirling a tray of petit fours on fingertips above his head before depositing them safely on the glittering glass-and-silver serving cart.

The others laughed but there were several nervous glances toward the door, and the tea carts were fully loaded and on their way up to the Cristal Galerie before everyone felt free to relax.


AS chairman and majority stockholder of Maritime National Bank, Zachary Wolferman commanded sophisticated global resources to keep him abreast of current economic trends. Reports came by teletype and satellite, came hour by hour, even minute by minute if he so desired, to tell him what was happening in the money markets of London, Bonn, or Tokyo.

Yet in times of real decision making, when storms of adversity threatened, Mr. Wolferman preferred to cast other straws upon the wind.

It was not enough to read The Wall Street Journal or Economics Today, Mr. Wolferman was fond of lecturing his fellow board members. Nor was it enough to study the four-color graphs and charts of which those energetic young chaps assigned to strategic planning were so proud. No, said Zachary Wolferman, gravely shaking his silvery head, to find out where the economy was really going, one must get down and rub elbows with the common folk, listen to what the man in the street was saying.

The thought of the fastidious and aristocratic Zachary Wolferman rubbing elbows with ordinary people amused the youngest member of the board.

And how, he was once audacious enough to inquire, did Mr. Wolferman go about meeting such people? Did he invite the paper boy in for a drink or leave his limousine and chauffeur at home occasionally and take a cab?

'Those are good possibilities,' Mr. Wolferman conceded approvingly, 'but cribbage is better. It's an old sailors' game, you know. My grandfather Augustus was quite fond of it. Learned it as a gunner's mate during the Cuban blockade back in 1898. Taught it to my cousin Haines and me when we were boys. As a matter of fact, it was his cribbage winnings that led him into banking.'

Since Augustus Wolferman had parlayed a sailors' dime savings plan into one of the country's largest financial institutions, the newest board member wondered if perhaps he ought to look into the game.


At six-fifteen of that same Friday evening. Lieutenant Sigrid Harald was still at her desk. A slender, dark-haired

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