Although riding a beat-up old Vespa sounds incongruous for an assassin like Katla, her choice of urban transportation is deliberate.
Vespas have been designed with the urban commuter in mind, and specifically the commuters of Europe’s most congested cities. While you won’t see many scooters in American cities, with their wide roads that seemed to be made for automobiles, most European inner cities were built when people either walked or rode horses, with a few carriages for the wealthy. Amsterdam is no exception, driving a car in the inner city requires patience and nerves of steel. The canals of the city were not just to enhance the city’s beauty, but they serve as waterways. In the old days, ships would unload their cargo in the harbour into smaller vessels that would transport the goods by water to the warehouses.
Amsterdam roads are narrow with steep bridges and high kerbs and/or metal posts everywhere, making any kind of four-wheeled transport daunting. Even locals avoid driving through Amsterdam, preferring public transport, bicycles, mopeds and motorcycles. Which makes Katla’s choice for a Vespa motor scooter a lot more practical than you’d think.
Vespas are pretty much invisible in Amsterdam, because they are ubiquitous. The older vintage Vespas are rare, and the modern sleek Vespas are numerous but their value makes them prone to theft. It’s mainly the P/PX 150/200 Vespas and their little moped brother, the PK50, that are everywhere. And when they are dented and primer-spotted, like Katla’s, they become unwanted and invisible, while still providing fast urban transport.
Katla rides other motorcycles as well. Other vehicles she uses on the job are Yamaha XT350 motorcycles, which might seem as underpowered as her Vespa, but their motocross heritage makes them excellent transport in a city filled with potholes and speed bumps, while light enough to use as a trial bike and climb stairs and pedestrian bridges. In the hands of an experience rider like Katla, they are the fastest transport through the city. Still, they have a few drawbacks. For one, they’re noisier and more obtrusive than a Vespa, and their aggressive appearance makes riding pedestrian areas and bicycle paths less acceptable.
Katla being a tinkerer, her Vespa also has a souped-up engine and better brakes and suspension, as well as a cut-off switch in the glove box, but its dented silver body makes it unattractive and unobtrusive, whether it’s parked in the rundown sections of the city like Osdorp or Geuzenveld, or the posh areas like Zuid or Museumbuurt. The simple two-stroke engines makes the older Vespas easy to maintain and repair and the bulbous covers over the engine keep the noise down.
Many Vespa riders enjoy individualising their scooters with an assortment of aftermarket additions, but Katla keeps her Vespa unadorned to avoid making it stand it out. She also has a score of domestic and foreign license plates to make her Vespa difficult to track. Another advantage of the Vespa’s friendly appearance that riding the Italian scooter on Amsterdam’s bicycle paths draws less attention. Most people won’t be able to discern between the P150/200 motor scooter and the PK50 moped version, which is almost the same size.
Another advantage of the Vespa is the manoeuvrability: the extremely short wheelbase of the Vespa allows the scooter to make U-turns on even the smallest roads, plus with the weight packed mainly on the rear most riders can lift the front wheel and turn the Vespa on a dime.
Of course the Vespa has disadvantages, like radius and stability.
The tiny fuel tank under the saddle hold seven litres of fuel, with two litres being the reserve. However, even souped-up Vespas will do fifty-six miles per gallon or twenty four kilometers per litre, so you can ride a cool hundred-and-fifty kilometers before you need to visit the gas station. And in European cities, a filling station is rarely more than five kilometers away. If you want to extend your radius, there are auxiliary tanks that will double your radius, or you can carry extra fuel in a jerry can, although I haven’t seen anyone to that even in the mountains of Italy.
Stability is another factor. With the weight mainly on the rear, hard braking on a Vespa can be an adventure. Add to that the mediocre suspension and the short wheelbase and you’ll understand that you won’t want to take a Vespa up to higher than factory speeds without some modifications. And even with quality tyres, better suspension and a souped up engine, the Vespa will never be as stable as an ordinary motorcycle.
Even so, for an assassin who wants urban transport that will be invisible everywhere and pass effortlessly through the most congested cities in the world, the scooter is second to none.
I went on a motorcycle trip from July 1st till July 20th. Just me, my trusty BMW R1100GS motorcycle, and my iPad with Adonit Writer keyboard in my tankbag. And camping gear, obviously. From Amsterdam I rode 700 kilometers motorway to Dijon, from where I rode secondary roads exclusively. First down to the Vercors, then Alpes Maritimes, Parc de la Mercantour and crossing from Sospel to Olivetta in Italy. The coast turned out to be even warmer than I expected, so I spent most of my time riding deserted mountain roads and visiting dusty villages that didn’t see many tourists as I rode a figure-eight through Tuscany. Firenze, Siena, Pisa, Parma.
Taking the example from the Italians themselves, I parked the motorcycle in a shady place around noon and spent a couple of hours writing until the heat dissipated enough to resume riding. My iPad has a longer battery life than most laptops, but I could always use an outlet. In many cases, the cafe/restaurant/hotel were so honored that I used their facilities to write on my novels, that I was treated with a pleasant hospitality, the staff leaving me alone and keeping other guests away from me so I could concentrate.
At home, I have many distractions, but in Italy I didn’t have many other things to do then ride, camp and write. Watching television was useless, since my Italian is ‘Amsterdam Restaurant Italian’, meaning that I knew how to greet and order food, but following an Italian conversation was impossible. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have enjoyable conversations in a mish-mash of Italian/French/English, but an Italian television drama went over my head.
I rarely spent more than one night in one place. I spent two nights in the Vercors to acclimatize myself to camping again, two nights in Firenze because I enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere and the beautiful city, two nights in Parma, and two nights in Rocaforte because I didn’t want to travel in France on their Quatorze Juillet (July 14th, Independance Day). Instead, I spent most of July 14th in Caffe La Bottega Errante in Mondovi, a very pleasant cafe with excellent cappuccini, high ceilinged cool rooms and an English speaking staff. The atmosphere at La Bottega Errante proved inspirational – I think I wrote close to 8,000 words that day. Other places that were very conducive to writing:
– Chiar di Luna, an Albergo/Ristorante/Pizzeria in Careggine. A glass serre in shadow with a view of the fields and mountains, with a fragrant breeze coming in through the open windows, great pizza and excellent cappuccino.
– Ostello della Giuventu di Parma, the Youth Hostel in Parma, where the English speaking staff helped me with Italian phrases (thank you, Alessio). Along with the comfortable and stylish Auberge de Jeunesse in Liege, these youth hostels were the only places when I didn’t use my tent. In both cases because there were not many campings in the vicinity and the prices for a bed in a dorm were comparable to most Italian campsites.
– Lino’s Caffe in Parma. These coffee shops are part of a chain, but still, sitting in the shadow on a terrace with WiFi provided by the Municipality of Parma while being served strong and tasty cappuccino is difficult to beat. By way of thanks Katla kills someone in Parma’s La Cittadella…
– Caffe Bertaina in Mondovi, who graciously safeguarded my motorcycle gear so I could tramp around Mondovi in cargo pants and sandals, as well as enjoy the shady breeze of their terrace under the arches around Piazza Maggiore.
– The restaurant of Camping Michelangelo in Firenze, where I could write while looking out over this glorious city, with a friendly staff who clearly enjoyed their work.
All in all, when I returned to Amsterdam, I updated my Scrivener file and found that I’d written some 27,000 words while on the road, which comes to an average of 1,350 words a day. Most of the time, at home, I won’t get over 1,000 words a day, if that, so my French Italian motorcycle trip was enjoyable, refreshing and productive as well.
Rogue – A Katla Novel (Amsterdam Assassin Series 3) is now at 86,000 words, with a goal of 100,000+ words in September… Keep your fingers crossed.
Sample Sunday: Fragment from WIP “Fundamental Error”, a new Katla KillFile in Amsterdam Assassin Series.Posted: June 23, 2013
This is a fragment from Fundamental Error, the third Katla KillFile in the Amsterdam Assassin Series, soon available on Amazon, Kobo and iTunes. See the ABOUT page.
Assassin Katla is hired by a client whose brother is planning a terrorist attack…
The Fundamental Error KillFile (9,700 words) follows Katla Sieltjes, freelance assassin and corporate troubleshooter, on her most dangerous assignment yet. When Peter Brandt watches his brother Roel convert to Islam and turn into a domestic terrorist, Katla needs to enter into the mind of a fanatic suicide bomber in order to thwart a mass-murder attack in the shopping mecca of Amsterdam.
The Katla KillFile short stories chronologically precede the novels in the Amsterdam Assassin Series. Each KillFile features Katla Sieltjes, expert in disguising homicide, executing one of her contracts. While not mandatory reading, each KillFile provides insight both in Katla’s work methods and skill, and additional background information in her character and personal history. The KillFiles can be read out of order, as the contracts are random samples from Katla’s past.
Right behind the Royal Palace, at the intersection of Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal and Raadhuisstraat, you can find one of the most elegant buildings in Amsterdam, if not the world. Built to serve as the main post office in 1899 by esteemed architect Cornelis Hendrik Peters in Neo-Gothic style—a mixture of Gothic and Romantic elements similar to the Parliament buildings in London—this beautiful building was added in 1992 to the list of Amsterdam’s ten most valuable monuments. That same year, four renowned architects were invited to submit a renovation plan to transform the building into the first covered shopping and lifestyle centre in the heart of the city. With the new destination came a new name: Magna Plaza.
None of the shoppers or security staff paid much attention to the well-dressed Caucasian man strolling inside and standing silently next to the grand piano in the middle of the hall, gazing upward at the glass dome that covered the roof but let in the sunlight. Roel Brandt—known as Muhammad by the brotherhood—was well aware of Magna Plaza’s history. In fact, the venerable building’s glorious past was one of the main reasons for Magna Plaza becoming the target of the brotherhood’s first public display.
Muhammad turned on his heel, looking down the marble ramp of the main entrance.
After nearly a century of serving as the main post office, the building started its second life in 1992 with only minor additions or changes, the most significant to the façades undoubtedly concerned the main entrance. The almost inaccessible entrance of the central post office would’ve made public use of the building as a shopping centre difficult. After numerous studies trying to balance the accessibility with the integrity of the building’s design, the decision was made to bridge the connection between street level and the 1.5 meter higher main level as smoothly as possible inside the building. The new porch above the main entrance reinforced the improved access above the three new entrances.
Muhammad turned back to the interior. Originally, public access to the huge building was restricted to part of the black-and-white tiled lobby, leaving visitors able to just gaze up at the upper floors where only postal workers were allowed to tread. He studied the interior through the viewfinder of the Olympus camera around his neck, careful not to touch the button designed to operate the shutter. The interior parts of the camera had been removed to house the remote detonator, leaving only the lenses and viewfinder intact.
Even after the conversion from post office to shopping mecca, the central hall remained the building’s main feature. New arches were added to the already present gallery bridges to merge the central part of the building into one large open space surrounded by shops. To the rear of the building opposite the main entrance new elevators were installed, as well as escalators that allowed shoppers to rise slowly and feast their eyes on this Valhalla of greed. The basement—cleared of any unimportant partition walls—was adapted structurally where necessary, currently featuring an exhibition of paintings by Rembrandt van Rijn. As a result of these changes, the spaces of the central part connected to form an open triptych, though the new spaces and arcades required structural additions—steel girders masked by prefab concrete covers that fitted in with the existing elements, painstakingly designed to continue the pattern of the existing structure. The new columns and arches—barely recognisable to the average unsuspecting shopper—were glaringly obvious to the man now quietly observing the graceful interior that would soon be turned into rubble and screams.
Muhammad lowered his fake camera, his face a polite mask hiding his disgust. Like the Bijenkorf and Kalvertoren department stores, Magna Plaza was a bastion of capitalism, crowded with people who filled their spiritual void with vapid consumerism. Popular brands like Emporio Armani, Swarovski, Mango, America Today, and Gsus Industries flanked smaller boutiques like Velvet and Sarah Pacini, the enormous shiny plate glass windows displaying their clothes, trinkets, ointments, and multimedia to lure the materialistic morons.
He knew why the brotherhood had chosen him for his current task of bringing down this shining symbol of the perverted Western civilisation. While Roel Brandt had disavowed his name and materialist upbringing—and shown in the camp to be fully prepared to be a martyr for the cause—the blond hair and blue eyes granted by his Dutch heritage allowed him to move effortlessly and without suspicion where his brothers of the faith would be instantly noted. His appearance alone made him valuable beyond the mere possibility of martyrdom through self-sacrifice, not to mention his technical prowess.
So Muhammad had been chosen for a more difficult task.
Despite spiritual guidance and mental cleansing, those who sacrificed themselves for the cause might have doubts before they embraced their martyrdom. Even the strongest believer was still human, still fallible. Any martyr, no matter how well prepared, might have difficulty following the true path and bringing their mission to a satisfactory conclusion. Standing before their God, they might entertain second thoughts, and their flagging determination might need a gentle nudge.
A nudge Muhammad could provide with the remote detonator in his camera.
The phone in his pocket vibrated to signal the imminent arrival of the martyr, so Muhammad went to the escalator, ascending to the first level. Going up another level required walking down the arcade to the next escalator. A deliberate set-up to force customers to pass at least half the shops on a floor to ascend to another level. Probably wouldn’t bother most customers, but Muhammad was disgusted by the manipulative efforts of the capitalist architecture. He looked away from the window displays at the empty space above the lobby as he made his way to the next ascending escalator.
If you enjoyed this fragment of Fundamental Error, check my ‘About’ page for a link to the Amsterdam Assassin Series.
Follow my blog and you will be notified about publication dates, more fragments and snippets, and articles on Katla’s Amsterdam.
If you’d like to become a beta reader or reviewer for the Amsterdam Assassin Series, email Martyn V. Halm at email@example.com and put ‘beta reader’ in the subject line. Thanks for your support.
To get the Amsterdam Assassin Serie noticed among the many books already out there, I offer free copies of Reprobate in exchange for reviews on Goodreads, Scribd, Amazon, Kobo and iTunes.
Assassin Katla breaks her own rules when confronted with an unusual witness…
Blessed with an almost non-existent conscience, Katla Sieltjes, expert in disguising homicide, views assassination as an intricate and rewarding occupation. Hidden behind her male alter ego Loki, Katla receives anonymous assignments, negotiates the terms with clients through electronic means, all to protect her identity. Her solitary existence satisfies her until she meets a blind musician whose failure to notice a ‘closed’ sign causes him to wander in on Katla’s crime scene. And Katla breaks one of her most important rules – never leave a living witness.
Reprobate is the first novel in the Amsterdam Assassin Series. With authentic details and fast-paced action, featuring an uncompromising heroine and a supporting cast of unusual characters, Reprobate gives a rare glimpse in the local Dutch culture, information on the famous Dutch capital, the narcotics trade, computer hacking, motorcycle gangs, mehndi bridal tattoos, martial arts, the psychology of social engineering, and the brutal effectiveness of disciplined violence.
This e-book now features a glossary.
So, if you want to support me and help me get noticed, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Reprobate Review’ in the subject and tell me what e-reader you use and I’ll send you the Reprobate e-book file attached to the email. You can download the file and upload it to your e-reader. Available files are .mobi, for the Amazon Kindle, and .epub for the Nook, Kobo, Sony, iPad and most smartphones with e-reader compatibility.
Thanks to everyone for your support.
This is a fragment from Peccadillo – A Katla Novel, the second novel in the Amsterdam Assassin Series, available on Amazon, Kobo and iTunes. See the ABOUT page.
Chang lay spent on the bed, enjoying the best feature of his hotel room. From the bed, he could look through a window pane straight into the bathroom, where Jacqueline was lounging in the bath. She’d been energetic, almost aggressive in her lovemaking, but the heroin had dulled his libido and he’d taken ages to climax, which seemed to have pleased her.
She tapped the window and gestured for him to join her in the bath. He shook his head, gestured that he liked looking at her and blew her a kiss. She arched back in the soapy water and started giving him a show of what he was missing, caressing herself with her eyes closed and her mouth half open, showing her cute little overbite as she panted with excitement.
While he’d waited for her to arrive for dinner, he’d borrowed a book from the concierge on the history of the building. He’d been aware that the building had been erected for the Burgerziekenhuis and had been designed by the same architect as the famous Concertgebouw, but the book had been informative.
Last time Chang had been in Amsterdam, the graceful Burgerziekenhuis building had become an office for the City Council, which always struck Chang as a disgrace for a historical building, where Queen Wilhelmina and her daughter Princess Juliana had stayed, when Juliana’s husband Bernhard was recuperating from a serious accident in 1937, and soccer genius Johan Cruyff was born ten years later.
When the Burgerziekenhuis opened in 1891, the hospital had been a technical as well as an esthetic marvel, with a huge main building and a spacious garden with separate pavilions, electric illumination, central heating and water-powered elevators. Economic recession and the Second World War depleted the budget and the Burgerziekenhuis hovered on the brink of closing in the post-war years, but in the 1960s the building was renovated and regained its position as a modern hospital until it became superfluous when the Academic Medical Center and the VU Medical Center were built in the 1980s. One month before its Centennial, the Burgerziekenhuis closed its doors and moved to Almere.
The hospital pavilions, situated behind the main building, were converted into offices and housing, but the beautiful main building needed to be rescued. With minor renovations that left most of the old building intact, the decentralized City Council used the building in 1992 to house Stadsdeel Oost, the local council for the East borough. When the East borough merged with Watergraafsmeer, the need for more office space caused the Stadsdeel to move out again in 2008. For almost four years the former Burgerziekenhuis temporarily housed a police station, until it came into the hands of the Eden hotel chain, who turned it into their latest four star hotel, the Manor. When Chang became aware of the chance to book a room in the famous building, he didn’t hesitate at all. At least he wouldn’t have to worry about tripping over Rolling Stone fans camping out on the steps, like he had the last time he stayed at the Amstel Hotel.
Jacqueline was climaxing in the bath and slipped down under the soapy surface. She reappeared a moment later, her blond hair plastered around her face and her eyes shining. Chang smiled as she pranced wet and naked into the room.
“Would you like to chase the dragon?” he asked and showed her the heroin. Her eyes twinkled and she kneeled by the bed, resting her head on his thigh and blowing kisses at his penis while he warmed the heroin with the butane lighter and handed her the silver pipe.
If you like this fragment of Peccadillo, check my ‘About’ page for a link to the Amsterdam Assassin Series. You can download a sample with the first few chapters for free from Amazon, or the whole novel (105,000 words or 420 pages) for only $4.99. The first book in the Amsterdam Assassin Series, has been temporarily reduced in price, from 4.99 to 2.99 USD, until January 4th, 2013.
If you follow my blog, you will be notified about publication date, more fragments and snippets, and articles on Katla’s Amsterdam. If you’d like to become a beta reader for the Amsterdam Assassin Series, email Martyn V. Halm at email@example.com and put ‘beta reader’ in the subject line. Thanks for your support.