Mac Macleod always assumed that the grandiose plans he achieved would define his life, that he would live on past his time in the international corporation he built, the workers employed, the generations educated—all that wonderful, big-picture stuff of a self-made man’s dreams.
But now he’s not so sure. And all it takes to turn his world upside down is a European divorce and a kidnapped 15-year-old daughter with a ridiculous ransom of just $200.
By the time Mac chases down his children, Sandy, Joe, and Darcy, in Bruxelles, Paris, New York, and finally in a small Ohio town, he finds winning and losing hopelessly confused in the non-stop wrangle of parenthood.
Darcy’s room was empty when her father woke up that morning and finally went looking for her. Mac took his time about it too. The girl had been driving him a little nuts over the divorce, and the guilty truth was, he needed a break from all the clinging. He hadn’t a clue how the mind of a precocious fifteen-year-old worked—much less this one, who reminded him day and night of her firestorm of a mother. Just now, all Mac wanted in his life was a little simplicity, and he wasn’t getting it.
Darcy’s room sat on the sixth floor of the townhouse in Bruxelles that the company had rented ever since Mac’s transfer from the United States. He almost never got up here. Besides the climb, he was busy. He had a business to run, responsibilities to people other than the angry wife and children the fates had dropped on him. From his offices on the ground floor of the same house, Mac ran an operation that spanned the globe and affected the lives of thousands of employees and customers. People depended on him, and he had never let them down. Everyone knew Mac Macleod was one guy whose word you could take to the bank, banque, or banco, no matter where you worked or lived.
Three doors awaited Mac on the sixth and top floor of the townhouse, each representing one of the thoroughly puzzling and infuriating children Joanie had born him before taking off for the deep end of her angst-ridden life. He tried the middle one, and wasn’t surprised to find it neat and empty of personality. His oldest daughter Sandy had never really shown up in Bruxelles—thank God, considering the drama of the last few years. The only hint of her lay in the canopied four-poster he had crated and shipped over from the States. Not that Sandy appreciated the effort—not that any of them appreciated anything.
Mac was pretty sure the door to the rear of the house still belonged to his son Joe. At last hearing, the boy was somewhere back in the States, carousing and spending Mac’s money as fast as he could on a pretense of an education. The last letter had Joe heading off for something called Woodstock, a music festival he apparently thought everyone on the planet, including his father, should have heard of. Joe’s room still stank from the cigarettes Mac had tried to cure him of. It was a sloppy, careless mess, like the boy himself. From the windows and the massive porch off the bedroom, you could see over the city and clear to Antwerp on a good day. Not that Joe had ever noticed, with his nose buried in the chaotic piles of books that dogged every horizontal surface.
Mac shut that door with a sigh of relief and turned in the gloom to find Darcy’s room waiting for him. Darcy’s wasn’t really a room at all, but the one-time parlor for Sandy’s empty, splendiferous bedchamber. Mac cracked the opening and, just as he had expected, was immediately assaulted by a foul odor of cat urine and feces. He had told Darcy to get rid of the damn animals, but apparently she hadn’t heard him. A pair of tabbies leapt off the bed and startled him as they fled through his legs and down the stairs.
Mac gazed down at the mattress in the corner of the floor and the pile of sheets and blankets dropped next to it. For the umpteenth time, he wondered at how little he understood of his children. Darcy had a bedroom downstairs on the same floor her parents had inhabited, a normal room with normal furnishings for a fifteen-year-old. Yet she had insisted on sleeping up here near the brother and sister who ignored her as thoroughly as Mac and Joanie ever had. It had to be the damn cats she was hiding. Nothing Mac detested worse than cats.
But no Darcy and no sign to indicate whether she had slept here in the last twenty-four hours, week, or even the last year. Just a ragged pile of clothes in the corner that had cost her father too damn much money for all she cared about such things. Mac wasn’t one to fool himself that his parenting skills would win any medals, but how was a depression-era kid who got his first pair of shoes at age seven and ate his first steak in his late teens supposed to deal with this? His wife Joanie might have been a sartorial tsunami, but Mac was an immaculate dresser who knew exactly where every superbly shined pair of shoes hid at any given time. He just couldn’t deal with sloppiness. He couldn’t deal with this.
Mac shut the door behind him and started down the stairs. He would have the cleaning woman Hélène come up here and for the last time wipe out this mess. As far as he was concerned, she could steal anything she wanted. And she would too, as soon as he retreated to the offices on the ground floor and shut the door. His secretary Valerie had warned him about this, that Hélène was a klepto. Valerie had watched the woman exit the front door more than once with arms full of grocery sacks, but couldn’t lever Mac out of his chair to give a damn. The more Hélène expunged of his old life, the better.
For a split second, Mac wondered if maybe Darcy had snuck across town to irritate her mother for a change. Joanie had moved out to an apartment on the East side, midway to Zaventem and the airport. Supposedly, she was planning on returning to Georgia and her parents’ house, once she and Mac settled the main issues—the main issues boiling down to the only things Joanie cared about, Mac’s money and testicles.
If Mac found Darcy difficult and impenetrable, Joanie outright despised the girl. Darcy was her accidental child and proof that you never let a man near you when he’d been drinking. Not that Mac drank very often—obviously. But climbing down the stairs, past the bathroom where Joanie had staged her last pretend suicide, Mac realized Darcy would have known better than to throw herself on her mother’s doorstep. She might not possess a lick of common sense, but she was no crash dummy for her mother to practice on.
Mac was standing at the front window of Darcy’s official room on the third floor, when he heard his secretary Valerie come in behind him. He froze himself stone cold, waiting for the inevitable arms to come circling around his chest with a hug. He loved the warmth of Valerie’s embrace, but couldn’t bear when she touched him up here in the residence. Scene of the crime and all that—the guilt drove him wild when he thought about it. But this time, Valerie simply coughed to announce her presence and said, “You have a call downstairs in the office.”
“So take a message.”
“It’s not a business call. I think you’ll want to take this one.”
Mac groaned, but made sure to not let her hear it. With her tight-knit little Belgian family, Valerie had no idea how it worked in his American atomic-family disaster. No doubt Sandy or Joe needed money. No doubt Joanie’s attorneys needed money. No doubt someone couldn’t wait to suck him dry.
Mac followed Valerie’s perfume out the door and down the stairs. He had never noticed her scent, until Joanie caught it one god-awful morning when Mac uncharacteristically left his suit, shirt, and tie lying on the bed to take a shower. From that morning, every stitch of Mac’s personal life had unraveled. Thank God, now it was over. Over, that is, except for the fifteen-year-old who had apparently taken off. Again.
Mac entered the office by the street doors and accepted the usual friendly nods from his people. He was a popular boss and knew it. Employees came to him with their problems, work or otherwise, and he labored patiently and tirelessly to help them solve them. In twenty years, he had had to fire only one man, and that was his proudest claim as a businessman. He was as far in his element down here, as he was out of it up in the residence. He understood people, knew how to motivate and cultivate them, as surely as he knew how to grow the plush roses in the garden out his rear-facing office window.
Mac sat down at his desk under the mural Joanie had painted of steelworkers coping with a ladle full of white-hot lava and gazed out at the roses. Hundreds of them, climbers, bushes, and trees, and every bloom a violent scarlet. It was the only color Mac could stand to look at. The other hues were all too weak and non-committal.
“Macleod,” he barked into the phone.
Valerie started to close his door from the outside, but he stopped her when the caller said, “Nous avons votre fille.”
“Excuse me?” Mac asked. “Can you speak English please?”
“Yanquee, nous avons—”
“Just a minute.” Mac shrugged a helpless glance at Valerie, who spoke every language under the sun. He said into the phone, “I’ve got to put you on speaker—”
“You put us on speaker, we keel her,” the voice threatened.
“Keel her? What are you talking about?”
“We have your daughter, Yanquee. She is keednapped. We—”
“What? Who? You mean Darcy? What do you want?”
Mac couldn’t believe it. One telex after another from headquarters in Cleveland had warned him about this. For an executive who kept as low a profile as he did, he had always blown off the paranoia. With so many of his more famous peers jet-setting around Europe these days, it made little sense to clutter up his more discreet existence and operating budget with security measures.
“Just a minute,” he told the kidnapper. He had changed his mind and now coolly motioned Valerie out of the office. The last thing he needed was for her to charge about bellowing the news to the staff. She shut the door, and Mac took a deep breath. He was less surprised than he expected. He had somehow known that Darcy was hanging out at Joe’s old haunts down in the bohemian section of Bruxelles. But it had always been easier to dole out tram fare and coffee money than to look into it too closely.
“What are you saying?” the calm crisis manager in him managed to ask now. That crisis manager recalled that the board back in Cleveland had insisted he take out kidnapping insurance. He had scoffed brazenly at the notion that anyone would demand ten million dollars for his sorry hide and flat-out refused to authorize the expenditure. And with the year he had just come off, the bonuses from all that expense control had bought a pristine new house for every employee in the outer office. Still…
Mac prided himself on being a quick judge of character, and that skill served him now. The caller didn’t exactly strike him as a genius or—for all the ill-spoken bluster—a killer. “Sorry about that,” he said, as calm as ever. “You—”
“We have your daughter, and—”
“Let me talk to her.”
As far as he knew, this was standard operating procedure when dealing with a kidnapper, but evidently the caller had missed that page of the manual. “Thees eese not a movie, Yanquee. You talk to her when we get ze money.”
“What money? How much do you want?”
“Two hundred dollars American.”