This is a fragment from Peccadillo – A Katla Novel, the second novel in the Amsterdam Assassin Series.
Still amazed that Katla had so readily accepted her lunch invitation, Anouk looked at the kitchen clock for the fourth time in five minutes. Katla didn’t strike her as the type of person to be late, but then, she didn’t know that much about her. She stepped back and studied the lunch spread, mentally checking her list. Ciabatta, warm from the oven. Vegetarian salad, with a separate plate of smoked salmon and smoked chicken. Another plate with cold cuts and slices of cheese. Tea pot rinsed and ready for boiling water. Percolator on the stove, filled with water and coffee…
Newk and Baaba sat outside on the kitchen window sill, disgruntled at being banned from the kitchen, but Anouk didn’t know how Katla would react to the cats. And their tendency to steal food at every opportunity. Better to leave them outside for the time being.
She sighed. Maybe she should’ve suggested lunch at a café instead. Too late now. The memory of Katla’s predatory gaze gliding over her skin brought back the goose bumps. Anouk rubbed her arms. Bram, reticent as always, steered away from the topic of his mysterious new girlfriend whenever Anouk mentioned her. And Zeph described her appearance as ordinary.
Although Katla did her utmost to appear inconspicuous, only casual observers would overlook those vibrant eyes and that cruel mouth. Like one of those Gustav Klimt women—coolly observant, detached and slightly hostile. The thought sent shivers through her bruised spine.
Five minutes past one.
Well, either Katla wasn’t punctual, or she thought being on time was impolite.
She felt a bit queasy and looked out the kitchen window. Newk and Baaba pawed at the smooth glass and meowed, though the drizzling rain didn’t touch the window sill.
She needed to pee.
She looked at the clock. Six past one.
Anouk hurried down the hallway to the toilet, pulled up her dress and sat down.
The doorbell rang.
The urge to pee was unstoppable. She wadded up toilet paper while she urinated.
The bell rang again.
Fuuuuuuuck. Pleasepleaseplease. Don’t be impatient.
Quickly she wiped herself, flushed the toilet, and was about to storm to the front door when she realised that she had not washed her hands. The bell rang for a third time as she rinsed her hands and took the towel with her to the front door.
Katla combed her fingers through her tousled hair, probably from the motorcycle helmet in her hand. Behind her, a battered XT350 motorcycle was parked on the sidewalk. Her bright blue eyes glittered with amusement, as if she could guess why Anouk was late to the door. “Hallo.”
“Let me take that.” Anouk took her helmet and stepped back into the hallway. “Please come in.”
Katla entered in an aura of cold damp air and wet leather, closed the door behind her with one hand and touched Anouk’s shoulder with her other hand as she kissed her softly on both cheeks. Flustered Anouk felt the blood rise to her face, but Katla didn’t notice and strolled down the hallway to the kitchen.
“Smells good. Did you bake bread?”
“Ciabatta,” Anouk replied, grateful the hallway was dimly lit. She returned the towel to the toilet and followed Katla to the kitchen, where she put her helmet down on a chair.
“What would you like to drink? Coffee? Tea?”
“Coffee would be great.”
Katla shrugged out of her jacket and hung it over the back of a kitchen chair. Underneath she wore a maroon blouse from rough silk, with cut-outs that left her muscular sun-kissed shoulders bare.
She turned to the window and finger-waved at Newk and Baaba. “Your cats don’t look happy.”
Anouk busied herself at the stove, hoping the warmth of her oven would provide an alibi for her flushed cheeks.
“They’d eat our lunch if they have half a chance, so I opted to leave them outside. At least until you arrived. You mind if I let them in again?”
“Not at all.” Katla grinned. “I’m prepared to fight any cat for my lunch.”
Newk and Baaba stormed inside and wrapped themselves around Katla’s long leather-clad legs. As she reached down to stroke their fur, Anouk stole a glance into her blouse showing just a bit of cleavage. Her small high breasts were cupped in a frilly Chantelle bra, not a Marlies Dekkers as she had expected. As Katla straightened Anouk turned back to the stove to grab the percolator. “Cream, sugar?”
“Black. Thanks.” Katla took a sip from the hot coffee. “Lovely cats. Siamese?”
“Yes. You have cats?”
“No cats. A macaw.”
“Ah, yes, Zeph told me.”
Katla’s impossibly blue eyes fixed on her. “Zeph told you?”
“He takes care of my cats when I’m away.” Anouk smiled back uncertainly. “He told me he’d taken care of your macaw, when you were, uh, you know. Hurt.”
“Hurt. What a wonderful euphemism.” Katla looked around the table. “This salad is vegetarian?”
“I put the salmon and the chicken separate, so you could choose.”
“That’s considerate.” She took one-third of the salad and added salmon. “I’m not vegetarian, though. In fact, I’m mostly carnivore. You made this dressing yourself?”
“You’re not shy, are you?” Katla tilted her head. “Or are you afraid of more faux passes?”
“You make me nervous.”
“Because I got hurt?”
If that’s what you’d like to think. Anouk shrugged. “Well, yes.”
“I rarely get hurt.” Katla rubbed her thigh. “Last time was a mistake.”
“What you might call ‘an occupational hazard’?”
“No. What you might call ‘a mistake’. And the matter was rectified.”
“The person who hurt me is no longer in a position to hurt anyone.” Katla gave her a predatory smile. “Retired, you might say.”
“But you walk with a limp.”
“Which is better than not walking at all.”
“Mistake or not, if you’d had another job, you wouldn’t have been hurt.”
“Wishful thinking is an exercise in futility.” Katla spooned some salad in her mouth and chewed enthusiastically. “You’re not worried about me, are you?”
“I’m concerned about Bram. If you can get hurt, so can he. By association.”
“By association? How close would this association have to be to become perilous?”
“I don’t know. That’s what worries me.”
“Well, don’t worry. I don’t take Bram to work.”
Anouk tilted her head. “What is your work?”
“I’m a businesswoman.”
“You’re not an ordinary businesswoman, Katla. Ordinary businesswomen don’t tend to get… hurt.”
“You can say the word. Shot. I got shot.”
“Why did you get shot?”
“Because someone made a mistake. Like I said before, I rarely get injured on the job.”
Anouk chewed slowly. “So what is it that you do? Exactly?”
“I’m a corporate troubleshooter.”
“That’s not exactly specific.”
“That’s about as specific as I can be.” Katla made herself a sandwich. “The corporations I work for wouldn’t want me to go into detail to someone without the proper security clearances.”
“Say I’d want to hire you. Hypothetically.”
“If you want to discuss hypotheses, I can give you a theoretical answer.”
“Let’s say, I’m a corporation and I have problems with the competition.”
Katla chewed her sandwich. “You have to be more specific. Security problems? Or is their product commercially more viable?”
“What can you do in that case?”
“If the product is more viable? Shift the balance.”
Anouk tilted her head. “How?”
“By making the competitor’s product less viable.”
“I understand that, but how would you proceed?”
“Clients rarely ask specifics. Results are all that matter.”
“Seriously? Why? Because you do illegal things?”
Katla pursed her lips. “Not necessarily illegal, but involvement might taint a corporation’s reputation. I rarely report what I do. Or even specify invoices.”
“So you have a free hand?”
“Nobody really wants to know what I do, as long as I get results.”
“How do you get a job like that?”
Katla shrugged. “How did you become a sculptor?”
“I always wanted to create, and that’s my medium.”
“You can be creative in more ways than one. I’m creative in finding solutions to other people’s problems.”
“Like opening my door?” Anouk asked. “Without keys?”
Katla gazed at her, her eyes inscrutable. “Bram had a key.”
“You opened the door, not Bram. And I overheard him say you did it quicker than with a key, so I know you didn’t use one.”
“I picked your lock.” Katla shrugged. “So?”
“Not for me.” Katla fished a wallet from her coat and showed her an ID card. “See?”
“Locksmith?” She studied the card. “I can’t tell if this is real or not.”
“It’ll stand up to official scrutiny.”
Anouk shook her head. “Lockpicking isn’t part of a locksmith’s curriculum.”
Amusement glittered in the cool blue eyes. “How would you know?”
“Because they drill out the lock if you lose your key…” Anouk held up her hand. “Wait, they replace the lock so they can charge more money?”
“Replacing the cylinder also reinforces the client’s false sense of security,” Katla replied. “Makes them think not even a locksmith can pass their locks without power tools.”
“But it’s not more difficult?”
“Depends on the lock.” Katla fished in her jacket again, took out a leather case and opened the flaps to reveal an array of delicate steel instruments that reminded Anouk of dentist equipment. From her bag she took an ordinary portable toolkit with a folding set of pliers and several screwdrivers and placed it next to the opened case with the picks. “These tools open seventy-five percent of all locks. Including yours.”
Anouk studied the picks. “These are only available to locksmiths, right?”
“Those are high quality picks, but starter sets are commercially available. If you have the money, you can buy all the equipment you need.”
“But, even if I bought these tools, I wouldn’t know how to use them.”
“I can teach you in an hour, but proficiency takes practice. And you have to train regularly to keep up your skill.”
Anouk poured a generous amount of sugar in her cappuccino and stirred until the foam disappeared. “You always carry this equipment with you?”
“Sure,” Katla replied. “Why not?”
“You have that card, but wouldn’t it be illegal to carry burglary equipment?”
“Burglars carry glass cutters, metal wire, and suction cups. Lockpicks are not illegal to carry. It’s illegal to use them without authorisation, but Bram authorised me to open your door.”
“You’re prepared for everything, aren’t you?”
“Of course.” Katla stuck her tools away. “Does that surprise you?”
“Not really. You don’t strike me as someone who leaves a lot to chance.”
“Neither are you, judging by this wonderful spread.”
Anouk smiled and took some salad, while she watched her eat. Katla studied the sculpture in the garden, the metal beak dipping into the pond and rising, the huge bird slowly revolving with water dripping from the beak.
“I saw something similar to your sculpture in Boston, in a private Zen garden.”
“At Christopher Melling’s house? That’s one of mine, yes.”
“Melling. That’s it. Wow, that is impressive.”
Anouk smiled. “Thanks. I hope it’s still there.”
“Why wouldn’t it be?”
“Melling died and his house was sold. I don’t know if the new owner is into Zen.”
Katla pursed her lips. “Melling died?”
“Yes, real tragic. Autoerotic asphyxiation gone awry.”
“Melling didn’t strike me as a kinky guy. But then, neither did that Australian singer.”
“From INXS?” Anouk took another sandwich. “I guess you never know. It’s a shame, Melling was so close to becoming the next Frank Gehry.”
“But you must be famous too, if you sold work to Melling.”
“I sold about two pieces in America, one in Dubai, two in Europe, and eight in Asia.”
“Dubai?” Katla’s eyes widened. “You’re Nouk?”
“My agent advised me to shorten my name, so my brand would be more unique.”
“You made the Whirling Dervish.”
“Yes. I had to rebuild it three times, because the fine sand screwed up the works.”
“I love the Dervish. I watched it for over an hour.”
Anouk blushed. “Glad you liked it.”
“I had no idea.”
“What were you doing in Dubai? Working?”
Katla held out her cup. “Do you have another coffee for me?”
“Sure.” Anouk poured her another cup from the percolator. “Work-related?”
Katla looked at her sculpture in the garden. “The Dervish is more elaborate. This one is more like the one in Melling’s garden.”
“Melling bought a sculpture from my early collection. The Dervish had more input by the client.”
“You don’t sound happy about that.”
Anouk pursed her lips. “It was frustrating. I’m not a designer, I’m an artist.”
“Rich people expect things to be done their way.”
“I didn’t care for that. Clients can choose from what I’m making or have made, but I’m not allowing anyone input in my work anymore.”
Katla spooned some more salad on her plate. “So what are you working on now?”
“I can show you later.” Anouk looked at a drop of salad dressing in the corner of her mouth. A delicious ripple of pleasure and anticipation made her hands tremble and her mouth dry. “I’d love to hear what you think about it.”
Katla’s tongue snaked across her lips and removed the tantalizing drop of salad dressing. “The pleasure is all mine.”
If you like this fragment, check my ‘About’ page for links to the Amsterdam Assassin Series. You can download a sample with the first few chapters for free from Amazon, or the whole novel (113,000 words or 380 pages) for only $4.99.
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