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The Postcard Killers
By Liza Marklund
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around July 12, 2011. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Table of Contents
A Preview of Kill Me if You Can
A Preview of Witch & Wizard: The Fire
A complete list of James Patterson's books is here. For previews of upcoming books and more information about James Patterson, please visit JamesPatterson.com or find him on Facebook or at your app store.
"IT'S VERY SMALL," THE ENGLISHWOMAN said, sounding disappointed.
Mac Rudolph laughed, put his arm around the woman's slender neck, and allowed his hand to fall onto her breast. She wasn't wearing a bra.
"Oil on a wooden panel," he said. "Thirty inches by twenty-one, or seventy-seven centimeters by fifty-three. It was meant to hang in the dining room in the home of the Florentine merchant Francesco del Giocondo. But da Vinci never got it finished."
He felt her nipple stiffen under the fabric of the blouse. She didn't move his hand away.
Sylvia Rudolph slid up on the other side of her, her hand easing its way under the woman's arm.
"Mona Lisa wasn't her name," Sylvia said. "Just Lisa. Mona is an Italian diminutive that can be taken to mean 'lady' or 'her grace.' "
The woman's husband was standing behind Sylvia, his body pushed up against hers in the crowd. Very cozy.
"Anyone thirsty?" he asked.
Sylvia and Mac exchanged a quick glance and a grin.
They were on the first floor of the Denon wing of the Louvre, in the Salle des États. Hanging on the wall in front of them, behind nonreflective glass, was the most famous portrait in the world, and the guy was thinking about beer?
"You're right," Mac said, his hand gently gliding down the Englishwoman's back. "It is small. Francesco del Giocondo's dining room table can't have been very large."
He smiled over at the woman's husband.
"And you're right, too. It's time to drink some wine!"
They found their way out of the museum, down the modern staircase toward the Porte des Lions, and stepped out into the middle of a Parisian spring evening.
Sylvia inhaled deeply, breathing in the intoxicating mix of exhaust fumes, river water, and freshly opened leaves, and laughed out loud.
"Oh," she said, hugging the Englishwoman, "I'm so glad we met you. Honeymoons are all very well and good, but you have to see a bit of the world, too, don't you? Have you had time to see Notre-Dame yet?"
"We only got here this morning," her husband said. "We've hardly had time to eat."
"Well, we must do something about that at once," Mac said. "We know a little place down by the Seine. It's wonderful, you'll love it."
"Notre-Dame is fantastic," Sylvia said. "One of the first Gothic cathedrals in the world, strongly influenced by naturalism. You're going to love the South Rose Window."
She kissed the woman on the cheek, lingering for a second.
They crossed the river on the Pont d'Arcole, passed the cathedral, and arrived at the Quai de Montebello just as someone started playing a melancholy tune on an accordion.
"Order whatever you like," Mac said, holding the door of the bistro open. "It's on us. We're celebrating your honeymoon."
THEY GOT A COZY TABLE for four overlooking the river. The sunset was painting the buildings around them bloodred. A bateau-mouche glided past, and the accordionist switched to a more cheerful tune.
The tetchy Brit thawed out after a couple of bottles of wine. Sylvia felt his eyes on her and undid another button of her thin blouse.
She noted that the Englishwoman was stealing glances at Mac, at his fair hair, honey-colored skin, girlish eyelashes, and well-built biceps.
"What a magical day this has been," Sylvia said when Mac had paid the bill and she was pulling on her backpack. "I have to have a souvenir of this evening."
Mac sighed theatrically and put a hand to his forehead. She sidled up to him and cooed, "I think Dior on Montaigne is still open."
"This is going to be expensive," Mac groaned.
The British pair laughed out loud.
They took a taxi to Avenue Montaigne. Mac and Sylvia didn't buy anything, but the Brit pulled out his credit card and bought a hideous silk shawl for his new wife. Mac settled for a couple of bottles of Moët & Chandon from a nearby wineshop.
Out in the street again he took out a joint, lit it, and passed it to the Englishwoman.
Sylvia put her arms around the Englishman's waist and looked him deep in the eyes.
"I want," she said, "to drink these bottles together with you. In your room."
The Brit gulped audibly and looked at his wife.
"She can play with Mac at the same time," Sylvia whispered, and kissed him on the lips. "It's perfectly all right with me."
They hailed another taxi.
THE CENTRAL HOTEL PARIS WAS a clean, simple spot in Montparnasse. They took the lift to the third floor and tumbled, giggling and slightly stoned, into the room, which looked out on the Rue du Maine.
The walls were sunshine yellow. In the middle of the thick sky blue carpet was an enormous double bed.
"I'll get this bubbly stuff opened at once," Mac said, taking one of the bottles of champagne into the bathroom. "No one go anywhere."
Sylvia kissed the Englishman again, more seriously this time, using her tongue. She noticed his breathing get quicker. He probably had a full erection already.
"I expect you're a big boy, aren't you?" she said in a seductive voice, her hand moving along his leg, up toward his crotch.
She could see the Englishwoman was blushing, but she said nothing to stop this from proceeding.
"Bottoms up!" Mac said, coming back into the room with four improvised champagne glasses on the tray that had held the toothbrush glasses.
"Here we go!" Sylvia cried, swiftly taking one of the glasses and knocking it back.
The British pair were quick to follow her example. Mac laughed and went around refilling the glasses.
Then he lit another joint, which was perfectly rolled.
"How long have you been married?" Sylvia asked, inhaling and passing the marijuana cigarette.
"Four weeks," the woman said.
"Just imagine," Sylvia said, "all those lovely nights ahead of you. I'm jealous."
Mac pulled the Englishwoman to him and whispered something in her ear. She let out a laugh.
Sylvia smiled. "Mac can keep going for ages. Shall we try to beat them? I think we can."
She leaned over and nibbled at the man's earlobe. She noticed his eyelids were already drooping. The English-woman giggled, a low, confused sound.
"Only a minute or so now," Mac said. "We're close now."
SYLVIA SMILED AND SLOWLY UNDID the man's shirt. She managed to get his shoes and trousers off before he collapsed on the bedspread.
"Clive," the woman slurred. "Clive, I love you forever, you know that…"
Then she, too, fell asleep.
Mac had managed to take all her clothes off—apart from her underwear. He removed the underpants now, carried her to the bed, and laid her down next to her husband. Her hair, a little shorter than Sylvia's but more or less the same color, spread out like a fan.
Sylvia picked up her purse. She riffled quickly through the credit cards, then looked more closely at the passport.
"Emily Spencer," she read, checking the photo. "This is good, we look similar enough. That makes it easier."
"Do you think she's related to Lady Di?" Mac said, as he pulled off her wedding ring.
Sylvia gathered together Emily Spencer's clothes, valuables, and other important belongings and stuffed them in her backpack.
Then she opened the bag's outer pocket and pulled out latex gloves, chlorhexidine, and a stiletto knife.
"Mona Lisa?" she asked.
Mac smiled. "What else? Perfect choice. Help me with the cleaning first, though."
They pulled on the gloves, got some paper towels from the bathroom, and set about methodically wiping down everything they had touched in the room, including the two unconscious figures on the bed.
Sylvia stared at the man's genitals.
"He wasn't that big after all," she said, and Mac laughed.
"Ready?" she asked, pulling her hair up into a ponytail.
They took off their own clothes and folded them and put them as far away from the bed as possible.
Sylvia started with the man, not for any sexist reasons, just because he was the heavier of the two. She sat behind him and hauled him into her lap, his slack arms flopping by his sides. He grunted as though he were snoring.
Mac straightened the man's legs, crossed his arms over his stomach, and handed Sylvia the stiletto, which she took in her right hand.
She held the man's forehead in the crook of her left arm to keep his head up.
She felt with her fingertips for the man's pulse on his neck and estimated the force of the flow.
Then she thrust the stiletto into the man's left jugular vein. She cut quickly through muscle and ligaments until she heard a soft hiss that told her that his windpipe had been cut.
UNCONSCIOUSNESS HAD LOWERED THE BRIT'S pulse and blood pressure, but the pressure in his jugular still made the blood gush out in a fountain almost three feet from his body.
Sylvia checked that she hadn't been hit by the cascade.
"Bingo," Mac said. "You hit a geyser."
The force of the flow soon diminished to a rhythmic pulsing. The bubbling sound as the air and blood mixture seeped from the severed throat gradually faded away until finally it stopped altogether.
"Nice work," Mac said. "Maybe you should have been a doctor."
"Too boring. Too many rules. You know me and rules."
Sylvia carefully moved away from Clive, propping him against the cheap headboard. She got blood on her arms when she arranged the man's hands on his stomach, right on top of left, but didn't bother to wash it off yet.
"Now it's your turn, darling," she said to the doped-up Englishwoman.
Emily Spencer was thin and light. Her breathing had almost stopped already. Her blood scarcely spurted at all.
"How much champagne did she actually drink?" Sylvia asked as she arranged the woman's small hands on her stomach.
She looked down at her bloody arms and went into the shower. Mac followed her.
They pulled off the latex gloves. Carefully they soaped each other and the stiletto, rinsed themselves off, and left the shower running. They dried themselves with the hotel's towels, which they then stuffed into the top of Sylvia's backpack.
Then they got dressed and took out the Polaroid camera.
Sylvia looked at the bodies on the bed, hesitating, deciding if the look was right.
"What do you think about this?" she asked. "Does it work?"
Mac raised the camera. The brightness of the flash blinded them momentarily.
"Works pretty damn well," he said. "Maybe the best one yet. Even better than Rome."
Sylvia opened the room's door with her elbow and they stepped out into the corridor. No security cameras, they'd made sure of that on the way up.
Mac pulled his sleeve down over his fingers and hung the DO NOT DISTURB sign outside the door. The door closed with an almost inaudible click.
The sounds of the night faded into silence. The gentle patter of the shower inside the room could just be heard above the hum of the ventilation system.
"Stairs or elevator?" Mac asked.
"Elevator," Sylvia said. "I'm tired. Murder is hard work, darling."
They waited until the doors had closed and the elevator was descending before they kissed.
"I love being on honeymoon with you," Sylvia said, and Mac smiled brilliantly.
Thursday, June 10
THE VIEW FROM THE HOTEL room consisted of a scarred brick wall and three rubbish bins. It was probably still daylight somewhere up above the alley, because Jacob Kanon could make out a fat German rat having itself a good time in the bin farthest to the left.
He took a large sip from the mug of Riesling wine.
It was debatable whether the situation inside or outside the room's thin pane of glass was more depressing.
He turned his back on the window and looked down at the postcards spread out across the hotel bed.
There was a pattern here, wasn't there, a twisted logic that he couldn't see.
The killers were trying to tell him something. The bastards who were cutting the throats of young couples all over Europe were screaming right in his face.
They were shouting their message, but Jacob couldn't hear what they were saying, couldn't make out their words, couldn't understand what they meant, and until he could work out their language, he wouldn't be able to stop them.
He drank the rest of the wine in his mug and poured some more. Then he sat down on the bed, messing up the order he had just arranged for the postcards.
"Let's look at it this way, then. Let me see who you are!"
Jacob Kanon, a homicide detective from the NYPD's 32nd Precinct, was a long way from home. He was in Berlin because the killers had brought him here. He had been following their progress for six months, always two steps behind, maybe even three or four.
Only now had the magnitude of their depravity started to sink in with the police authorities around Europe. Because the killers carried out only one or two murders in each country, it had taken time for the pattern to emerge, for everyone except him to see it plainly.
Some of the stupid bastards still didn't see it, and wouldn't take help from an American, even a fucking smart one who had everything riding on this case.
He picked up the copies of the postcard from Florence.
The first one.
THE POSTCARD SHOWED THE BASILICA di San Miniato al Monte, and on the back was the now familiar quote. He read the lines and drank more wine, then let the card fall and picked up the next one, and the next, and the next.
Athens: a picture of the Olympic Stadium from 2004.
Salzburg: an anonymous street scene.
Madrid: Las Ventas.
And then Rome, Rome, Rome…
Jacob put his hands over his face for a few seconds before getting up and going over to the rickety desk by the wall.
He sat down on the Windsor chair and rested his arms on his notes, the notes he had made about the various victims, his interpretations, the tentative connections he had made.
He knew very little about the Berlin couple yet, just their names and ages: Karen and Billy Cowley, both twenty-three, from Canberra in Australia. Drugged and murdered in their rented apartment close to Charité University Hospital, for which they had paid two weeks in advance but which they hadn't had the chance to fully enjoy. Instead, they had their throats cut and were mutilated on their second or possibly third day in the apartment.
It was four days, maybe five or six, before they were even found. Stupid, arrogant German police! Acting like they knew everything, when they knew so little.
Jacob got up, went over to the bed again, and picked up the Polaroid picture of the couple that had been posted to the journalist at the Berliner Zeitung. This was the point where his brain had reached the limit for what it could absorb.
Why did the killers send first postcards and then grisly photographs of the slaughter to the media in the cities where they carried out their murders?
To get fame and acclaim?
Or did they have some other intention? Were the pictures and postcards a smoke screen to conceal their real motive? And if so, what the hell might that be?
What the hell, what the hell, what the hell?
He examined the photograph, its macabre composition. There had to be a meaning, but he couldn't see what it was.
Instead, he picked up the picture of the couple from Paris.
Emily and Clive Spencer, just married, propped up next to each other against a pale-colored headboard in a Montparnasse hotel room. They were both naked. The streams of blood that covered their torsos had gathered in congealed little pools around their genitals.
JACOB REACHED FOR THE WEDDING photograph he had asked Emily's mother to send him.
Emily was only twenty-one years old. Clive had just turned twenty-six. They were a stunningly beautiful couple, and the wedding photo radiated so much happiness and romance. Clive was dressed in tails, tall and handsome. Maybe a touch overweight, but that suited his status as a stockbroker in the London markets.
Emily looked like a fairy-tale princess, her hair in big ringlets framing her head. Slim and fragile, she looked quite enchanting in her ivory dress. Her eyes shone at the camera.
They had met at a mutual friend's New Year's party in Notting Hill, in one of those narrow trendy houses where the film with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts had been shot.
Emily's mother hadn't been able to stop crying when Jacob talked to her on the phone.
He could neither comfort nor help her. He wasn't even formally involved in the case, after all. As an American police officer, he had to be careful not to get involved in the work done by the authorities in other countries.
That could have diplomatic consequences and, even worse, could lead to his expulsion from the country.
A wave of despondency washed over Jacob with a force that took his breath away and made the mug of wine in his hand shake.
He quickly emptied it of its contents and went and poured some more. Pathetic, he knew.
He sat down at the desk once again, his back to all the photographs and postcards so that he didn't have to look at them.
Maybe he should go and shower. Head down to the communal bathroom at the end of the corridor in the hope that there was some hot water left. Did he even have any soap? Christ, had he even used soap since he arrived in Berlin?
He drank some more wine.
When the bottle was empty, he picked up the pictures of the dead couple from Rome. He placed them in front of him on the desk and put his 9-millimeter Glock 26 beside them, just as he always did.
The killers had sent two pictures of the murder in Rome: one image of the two naked victims and a close-up of two of their hands.
The woman's left and the man's right.
He picked up the picture of the hands and traced the shape of the woman's graceful hand with his finger, smiling as it reached the birthmark at the base of her thumb.
She played the piano, was an expert on Franz Liszt.
He breathed out deeply, let go of the picture, and picked up his gun.
He ran the palm of his hand over the dull plastic of the grip and put the muzzle in his mouth. It tasted of powder and metal.
He closed his eyes and the room slid gently to the left, the result of far too much Riesling.
No, Jacob thought. Not yet. I'm not done here yet.
Friday, June 11
THE POSTCARD LAY NEXT TO a harmless invitation to a boules tournament—the newsroom against a rival newsroom—and another invitation to a wine-tasting evening with the culture crowd.
Dessie Larsson groaned out loud and tossed the cards for the pointless social events into the recycling bin. If people paid more attention to their work instead of playing with balls and scratching one another's back, maybe this newspaper would have a future.
She was about to get rid of the postcard the same way but stopped and picked it up.
Who sent postcards these days, anyway?
She looked at the card.
The picture on the front was of Stortorget, the main square in Stockholm's Old Town. The sun was shining and the sky was blue. People were eating ice cream on the benches, and the fountain in the middle was purling with water. Two cars, a Saab and a Volvo, stood parked in front of the entrance to the Stock Exchange Building.
Dessie turned the card over.
TO BE OR NOT TO BE
THAT IS THE QUESTION
WE'LL BE IN TOUCH
What sort of insane crap was this?
She turned the card over and looked at the picture once more, as if it might give her a clue to the cryptic words on the back.
Ice cream was licked, water purled. Neither the Volvo nor the Saab had moved.
People need to get a life, she thought as she tossed the card into the recycling bin.
Then she went over to her desk in the crime section.
"Has anything happened in Stockholm today? Anything at all?" she asked Forsberg, her dumpy, disheveled news editor, as she put her backpack on the desk and set her bicycle helmet down next to it.
Forsberg looked up over his glasses for a fraction of a second, then went back to the newspaper in front of him.
"Hugo Bergman has written a big piece. The People's Party want a European FBI. And they've found another pair of young lovers murdered. In Berlin this time."
What sort of nonsense has Hugo Bergman come up with now? Dessie thought, sitting down at her desk. She took her laptop out of her backpack and logged into the paper's network.
"Anything you want me to do more work on, boss man?" she wondered out loud, clicking on the news about the double murder in Berlin.
"Talk about sick bastards, these killers," the news editor said. "What the hell's wrong with people like that?"
"Don't ask me. I specialize in petty criminals," Dessie said. "Not serial killers. Nothing big and important like that."
Forsberg stood up to get a cup of coffee from the machine.
The victims in Berlin were Australians, Dessie read. Karen and William Cowley, both twenty-three and married for a couple of years. They'd come to Europe to get over the death of their infant son. Instead, they had run into the notorious murderers who were killing couples all over Europe.
The postcard had been sent to a journalist at a local paper. The picture was of the site of Hitler's bunker, and there had been a Shakespeare quote on the back.
Dessie suddenly gasped. She felt almost like she was having a heart attack, or how she imagined that might feel.
To be or not to be…
Her eyes were pinned to the recycling bin in front of her.
"Forsberg," she said, sounding considerably calmer than she felt. "I think they've arrived in Stockholm."
"SO, DESSIE, YOU'VE NO IDEA why the postcard was sent to you in particular?"
- APPLAUSE FOR JAMES PATTERSON
- "The Man Who Can't Miss"—Lev Grossman, Time
- "Patterson boils a scene down to the single, telling detail, the element that defines a character or moves the plot along. It's what fires off the movie projector in the reader's mind."—Michael Connelly
- "Patterson's novels are sleek entertainment machines, the Porsches of commercial fiction, expertly engineered and lightning fast."—Publishers Weekly
- On Sale
- Jul 12, 2011
- Page Count
- 464 pages
- Grand Central Publishing