Chapter One

“It’s time you learned about The Beauty Rules.”
Young Max Buchholz looked quizzically at his father. “You mean like in beauty contests?”
“Hell, no, Son. Like in life!”
It was another in a series of tutorials by the elder Buchholz to prepare his boy for the perils of manhood. These were dour observations about life in general and in particular, about women. This installment was typical of the series and young Max quietly resigned himself to the lecture.
The father began, saying, “Beauty Rule Number One is that a beautiful woman can get away with just about anything.” He allowed time for the wisdom to soak in, then went on. “Beauty Rule Number Two, the greater her beauty, the greater her power to deceive.” He paused again, this time to mentally compose the final rule. When he felt he had the words just right he said, “And Beauty Rule Number Three is that men, even though they may know of Rules One and Two, are likely to be powerless against them.”
The boy was quick to spot the wrinkle. “Does that mean you probably aren’t protected, even if you know these rules?”
His father nodded grimly. “That’s the real beauty of The Beauty Rules.”

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Young Max blew off the rules as merely another toxic emission from the old man’s cavernous abyss of cynicism. When, as an adult, Max saw the rules play out time and again, he came to appreciate their inherent wisdom. His appreciation grew even more on the several occasions when he, himself, authenticated Beauty Rule Number Three. For example, he certainly should have known better than to believe anything Victoria said.
Aaron Weiss never heard of The Beauty Rules, but he also should have known better than to believe Victoria. A prominent L.A. County criminal defense attorney, a suspicious nature was etched into his psyche by the relentless stream of lies, deceit, and treachery that flowed through his office. From experience, his first impulse was always to assume the worst in people — that they were wicked, guilty, and everything they said was a lie. Yet, when The Beauty Rules came into play he was as powerless as the next guy.
Case in point is Victoria Maypearl. If there was such a thing as a Beauty Meter, Victoria would bury the needle. And, if men could order their women from a parts catalog—those eyes, these lips, that hair, this nose, and the body of their choosing—then most women would look like Victoria. Upon seeing her, men who had made other choices would probably wish they could re-order.
As an adolescent Victoria saw Elizabeth Taylor in, “A Place in the Sun.” She was so awed by the actress’ beauty that she set about making it her ideal, her model, her objective. Now in her early 20s, Victoria did not fall far short of the mark. She fashioned a soft look that enhanced her natural beauty. Long, auburn hair flowed over her small shoulders, subtle use of makeup, and a modest but stylish way of dressing. She never allowed jewelry to distract from her good looks. Her earrings were always pearls or zircon studs—never anything that dangled. Her necklace was a simple gold cross that may have been a symbol of faith, but was more likely there for its good effect. Her blue-gray eyes had a slightly sleepy look that men liked to think implied smoldering sexuality. She was a petite inch or two over five feet, with a perfect figure distinguished by a tiny waist. Her voice was pitched a little high for a mature woman, and softened by a faint southern accent. She spent her youth in South Carolina, not far outside Charleston, and her speech carried a touch of that regional drawl. When she thought it would help, she added a little extra honey to really make it drip.
A genuine warmth and sweetness completes the picture. Both men and women were disarmed by her manner, which was at once confident and self-assured, yet demure and slightly shy.
Yet for all her beauty and charm, Victoria had a piece missing. The honesty piece. Whatever fleck of human genome tells us, “Don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal,” was a blank spot in Victoria’s DNA. Her dishonesty was more amoral than immoral and functioned freely without the bother of a conscience.
As a consequence of her behavior she learned to use her beauty as a tool, like an opposable thumb, and in the process she discovered The Beauty Rules. She may not have been able to express them as crisply as had the elder Buchholz because she knew them instinctively and intuitively, in the same way she knew how to swallow and blink her eyes. Life had shown her the underlying, functioning principle behind The Beauty Rules—that when people see perfect beauty, they cannot imagine it to be capable of imperfect behavior. And, as the rules assert, she could get away with just about anything. And so she did.
These three — Victoria, Max Buchholz, and Aaron Weiss — met for the first time in Weiss’ office. This day she wore a smart powder blue suit that had an ambiguous effect on her eyes. They were gray, she turned, and then they were blue. Weiss found it hypnotic and had to shake himself from their spell as Buchholz arrived.
“Miss Maypearl,” Aaron said, “I want you to meet Max Buchholz. He’ll be doing our investigative work for us.”
She half-turned in her chair, smiled, and said, “How do you do?” in her gentle, little-girl voice.
Max nodded in reply. Aaron gestured to a chair next to Victoria, but Max ignored him and crossed the room to sit on the corner of a credenza. It gave him a better angle for watching the actions and reactions of clients during interviews. The credenza groaned softly as it took his weight. Weiss’ office at first glance seemed to be richly furnished, but it was all cheap, pine furniture stained to look like more expensive wood.
From the better angle Max was immediately diverted by her fabulous good looks. She was a marked contrast to the low-life trash that usually crawled through Weiss’ office. He had seen the pictures of her, of course, but she was even more striking in person. Because of her recent fame, or infamy, he had been looking forward to this meeting.
Max and Aaron would behave as if they were not influenced by, if not unaware of the firestorm of publicity that preceded her visit. They knew better than to invest wholesale belief in the media reports, but the scandalous revelations and, especially, the shocking and explicit photographs were impossible to disregard. Even if the tabloid stories and internet blather were half-true, then her infamy was well-deserved. Perhaps she wasn’t guilty in any legal sense, but she surely was not innocent in the broad meaning of the word.
Max was not so distracted that he failed to reach inside his jacket pocket and feel for the switch on his digital voice recorder. Note-taking can distract or inhibit witnesses. Max knew Aaron would record this, too. Maybe he told her so. Probably not.
“The D.A. is charging Miss Maypearl with blackmail, extortion, and some minor ancillary charges,” Aaron said. “There may also be a civil suit for defamation of character. You’ve seen all the publicity about this incident, of course. And I assume you know who Sean LaRosa is.”
“Sure,” Max said. “‘The Irish Rose.’ Damn good quarterback. Oakland Raiders by way of Notre Dame. Retired now, doing the sports announcer thing. Married to some TV newswoman, I believe.”
“Right. Miss Maypearl says there is also a corrupt police officer involved, so what is already a high-profile case is sure to grow higher. Victoria has sketched out some facts for me, but I wanted you here while we go through it in detail. There are things I’ll want you to dig into, Max, but let’s take this from the top so we can see how it fits together. We’re going to proceed as though none of us has read anything about this, Miss Maypearl, so why don’t you begin?”
“Very well,” she said faintly, and Max wondered whether the recorder would pick up her voice. She looked at her folded hands and said, “This is embarrassing to me. Personally. I’ve done many foolish things that I’m ashamed of, but I don’t want you to think I’m a bad person.”
“Of course not,” Aaron said. “We all make mistakes. Max and I are here to help and you can be completely open with us. We don’t judge. Just be sure to tell us everything. And, of course, be honest with us.”