Sample Sunday: Fragment from WIP “Fundamental Error”, a new Katla KillFile in Amsterdam Assassin Series.

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.

 

PRESENT DAY

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 katlasieltjes@yahoo.com and put ‘beta reader’ in the subject line. Thanks for your support.


WRITING: Getting Unexpected Reviews…

I got some great five star reviews of Reprobate and a couple of five star review of Peccadillo.

This is an interesting angle I didn’t realize when I wrote Reprobate: Some people are more interested in other characters than the protagonist, assassin Katla. If you read the reviews, you must’ve read this passage in the ‘Great New Series’ review by DevoGirl:

“But for me, the best part was the romance between Bram and Katla. Bram is a terrific character, one of the more realistic portrayals of a blind person that I have read in a while. He’s well-adjusted and capable, but not superhuman. He plays the saxophone, practices shiatsu on the local yakuza, and studies aikido. He’s just the right combination of strong and vulnerable, and it’s oh so sexy. With so many books appearing lately with blind characters that are totally unrealistic, I really appreciate that the author went to the trouble to do the research and get it right.”

The fact that the blind character Bram is considered ‘hot and sexy’ by this reader, led me to my WordPress Stats, where I can see if people visit me from certain websites or forums. And I found this thread on paradevo, a website for devotees of disabled persons, where books are discussed and reviewed when they have disabled characters. And the website has its own review section, on books and movies, where an extended review is given, with more attention to what makes Reprobate attractive to devotees of disabled persons.

Although I’m aware of the fact that there are people who are specifically attracted to disabled persons, Reprobate hadn’t been written with the idea that people would read the series because it also features disabled characters. And the fact that people who are familiar with disabled persons judge my portrayal of the blind characters realistic is immensely gratifying. Being a stickler for verisimilitude seems to be paying off, if readers are searching me out in their quest for believable characters.

DevoGirl contacted me with questions for an author interview with emphasis on how and why I wrote about disabled characters, which can be found here. While the interview touches on several sensitive issues, I think it might be illuminating for those who read my books, whether they read the Amsterdam Assassin Series for the suspense, the kick-ass heroine, or the blind, but capable, characters.

Enjoy the series, and please, let me know what you think!


Like to REVIEW Reprobate for Free?

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.

REPROBATE

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 katlasieltjes@yahoo.com 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.


Sample Sunday: Fragment from Peccadillo, second novel in Amsterdam Assassin Series.

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 katlasieltjes@yahoo.com and put ‘beta reader’ in the subject line. Thanks for your support.


Sample Sunday: Fragment from Peccadillo, second novel in Amsterdam Assassin Series.

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.

Nicky Wang missed riding the hills around Kowloon, but the Galaxy enduro motorcycle he’d left behind in China was no comparison to his current ride. He raced down the Herengracht to the Brouwersgracht, and noticed at a glance that the pedestrian bridge across the canal was empty, so he pulled the KTM 690 in a controlled skid and rode up the steps. The bridge itself was wide enough, but the posts on the steps were little wider than his handlebars. Nicky popped a wheelie and braked slowly at the end of the Melkmeisjesbrug, keeping his front wheel aloft as he rode between the posts down the steps back to the road. As soon as the front wheel hit the road he went full on the front brake, lifting the rear and tilting it sideways. Compared to the Galaxy, the KTM was a heavy brute, but it handled exquisitely. His rear wheel landed on the bricks again and he balanced for a moment, then rode off down the Brouwersgracht in the direction of the Haarlemmerdijk.
He slowed down as he spotted a couple of motorcycle cops on enduro motorcycle. Not that he was afraid that he couldn’t outrun them, but he couldn’t outrun their radios, so he limited his urban enduro escapades to avoid attracting too much attention.
His dashboard clock told him he had ten minutes before he had to meet Lau at the restaurant. He rode the KTM in the direction of Centraal Station, unable to suppress his inner hooligan as he took the bicycle path across the Singel, turned left and sidled past the waiting cars, hooked a right onto the Prins Hendrikkade and raced between cars to get to the front of the queues at the traffic lights. A few minutes later he parked his KTM in front of Prins Heerlijk Snacks, next to the Ducati Monster from the blonde behind the counter. He waved at her as he strode onto the Zeedijk, knowing she’d keep an eye on his prized possession until he returned.
Pulling a ball cap down low over his eyes to make sure the police cameras didn’t get a straight shot of his face, Nicky moved like a shadow down the Zeedijk and entered the restaurant. He walked all the way to the back where a table was reserved for the Red Poles. As he passed one of the waitresses she asked him if he wanted tea, but he told her to bring tea when Lau joined him. Sitting with his back against the wall next to the stairwell that led up to Zhang’s office, he could survey the whole restaurant in a single glance.
Nicky disliked having to report in, running the risk of being filmed by the police cameras, when most of the times the orders he received could just as well be relayed through burner phones. Lau didn’t like to use cell phones, though, and being the senior Red Pole, he could pretty much do as he wanted.
Lau appeared in the stairwell, and Nicky rose from his seat to give his senior the corner seat. Before he sat back down the waitress came running and placed a pot of tea on the table. Nicky served Lau first before he poured himself a cup.
Lau was the first to break the silence. “You checked out the crane, Sai-Lo?”
In Triad hierarchy, even among equals in rank, there is always the Dai-Lo, Elder Brother, and Sai-Lo, Younger Brother, relationship.
“Yes, Elder Brother. The controls are in a different order, but that’s not a problem.”
“You will be responsible for the perimeter, Nicky. I’ll take Chen and Wu into the office with the accountant.”
“Can Chen help me arrange the funnel?”
Lau lit a cigarette, drawing some irritated glances from customers nearby, but they didn’t dare meet his gaze. “Chen has to be on quay when Sieltjes arrives. I want him to escort her inside. Until then you can do as you see fit.”
Nicky rose from the table. “See you later, Elder Brother.”
He pulled his ball cap down low over his eyes and left the restaurant.

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 katlasieltjes@yahoo.com and put ‘beta reader’ in the subject line. Thanks for your support.


KATLA FAQ: Why I chose an assassin for my protagonist…

Why I write what I write is very simple in essence. I write what I write because no-one else writes it. And I want to read what I write. I wanted to read a story about a female freelance assassin, someone who enjoys her job without being a freak, pervert or weirdo. Someone whose view of the world is bleak enough to do the job without remorse, but not so bleak as to make her bitter. With a heart cold enough to make dispassionate decisions, but still warm enough to trust and love someone who accepts her for who she is.

In stories, whether books or movies, hired killers, in any shape or form, are mostly perverted weirdos, as if killing in exchange for money debases someone more than killing for God and Country. A soldier can justify his actions, as he is ordered by his superiors to kill ‘the enemy’. A mercenary can be ethical, following certain ideals in joining an army that fights for what he thinks is right. But a freelance assassin is a realist, someone who accepts the responsibility of taking a life without justification, for there can be no justification for the taking of a life. Reasons, sure. There are always plenty of reasons to kill another human being, but rarely a justifiable reason. But then, isn’t justification just another illusion? Is there justice in this world? Are the evildoers punished and the righteous rewarded? Anyone who takes a good look around them knows better.

Katla is a realist, pur sang. She knows there are more reasons to kill other people than people to do the job. Do the job properly, that is. There are always ambitious punks who can be hired to kill for a nickel. As Creaux says in Reprobate: “The world is overrun by amateurs, but bereft of professionals.” If you have carefully built a company and your business partner is driving your company into the ground, and you know you cannot buy him out or talk sense into him, maybe it’s time to get a professional to do the job.

Katla is an expert in disguising homicide, which makes her a particular breed of assassin. Most professional killers want to remain detached from their targets, needing the distance to separate themselves from the act. Dispatch the target with the minimum amount of fuss. Use a suppressed semi-automatic Ruger .22 Mark II and shoot a dumdum into the base of the skull, with just enough power to enter, but not to exit the cranium, so the bullet will bounce around the dome of bone and shred the brains. Just a trickle of blood, maybe bulging eyes from the pressure in the head, caused by the gases that exited the barrel pressed against the entry wound. Clean and easy. Except that such a kill would send up a red flag at any law enforcement office. Warning: Professional At Work. Same goes with any kind of skilful applied violence. Whether you garrotte someone or bomb his car, if you cannot disguise the homicide, there will be an investigation. And since your client most likely stands to benefit from the death of your target, any criminal investigation is to be avoided. Unless the investigation clears your client, or rules the demise of your target accidental or self-induced.

Katla has the mind of a hunter and trapper. Not the kind of hunter who runs around the woods drunk with a bright orange vest to avoid getting shot by his equally drunk buddies who will use an elephant gun to shoot a squirrel. Katla studies her targets like a dedicated hunter tracks his prey, like a trapper finds the places to position his snare. Stalking her target and constructing the perfect strategy towards the demise is as much an intellectual endeavour as a physical challenge, demanding both acumen and stamina. To become the perfect assassin requires a study both of human nature and human biology, its inherent flaws and how to put them to full advantage. With that pursuit of excellence taken into account, Katla’s fascination with her job make her choice of occupation not only understandable but even admirable, to an extent.

My own life has had its moments of violence, enough to make me realise that violence lurks in pretty much everyone, although the veneer of civility may have more substance on some people than others. To the outside world, Katla seems more than composed, she has an almost Zen-like attitude towards life, but it’s rooted less spirituality than reality. Katla knows how fragile life is and how easily destroyed, which makes her appreciate her own life and that of her loved ones. Fate is fickle and the wrong circumstances or timing can extinguish any life prematurely, so celebrate the life you have today and don’t live in the future life you might never receive. To be aware of the present is the greatest gift.


Sample Sunday: Fragment from Peccadillo, second novel in Amsterdam Assassin Series.

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.

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.

Fuckfuckfuck.

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?”

Shit.

“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?”

Anouk nodded.

“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.”

“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?”

“That’s illegal.”

“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.

Thanks for your support.


KATLA’S AMSTERDAM: Zeeburg Peninsula

Katla’s Amsterdam is a series of articles on the Amsterdam locales that makes an appearance in the Amsterdam Assassin Series.

Zeeburg Peninsula Bay

(Photo by M. V. Halm)

In the Amsterdam Assassin Series, Bram Merleyn’s best friend and fellow musician, Zephaniah Catadupa, lives on an old freighter, The Mojo, berthed in the bay south of the Zeeburg peninsula. Living alone, with just his Rottweiler bitch, Shaitan, for company, Zeph is a devout Rastafarian and grows organic cannabis in one of the holds of The Mojo, selling the majority of this crops through Bram’s ex, Anouk, a sculptress with contacts in the art world. Anouk and Zeph have a platonic friendship, mainly because Anouk still hankers after Bram, and Zeph cannot separate his feelings from his loyalty to his best friend. While Zeph plays a minor role in Reprobate, the first novel, he manages to get himself more involved in Katla’s business in the second novel, Peccadillo, getting a bit more action on his plate than he’d bargained for.

View of the Zeeburg Peninsula Bay from the Zuiderzeeweg

(Photo by M. V. Halm)

The Mojo doesn’t exist in real life, but the bay where Zeph’s floating ganja hothouse is berthed does exist. Zeeburg is a peninsula on the east side of Amsterdam. Remote and near the IJsselmeer, the small island attracted people who like to live on the outskirts of society. The island has a bay on the south side, separated by just a narrow embankment from one of the busiest waterways in the world, the Amsterdam-Rijnkanaal, which connects Amsterdam to the industrial agglomeration of the Ruhr Gebiet in Rheinland-Westfalen, Germany. The Zuiderzeeweg, that crossed the bay and connected Amsterdam to Zeeburg peninsula, culminated at its highest point in the Amsterdamsebrug, arching high enough above the narrow strait of the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal to allow vessels with stacks of four sea containers stacked on top of each other. The Amsterdamsebrug was the first bridge to connect Amsterdam with its northern counterpart. Before the bridge was built, in 1952, all traffic was ferried over the Y and the waterways. The bridge was intended mainly for traffic, but pedestrians can cross the Amsterdam Rhine Canal by climbing open air staircases that descend on both sides of the bridge down to the embankments flanking the strait.

In Reprobate, Katla spots Bram using the stairs to cross the Amsterdam-Rijnkanaal to the tram stop on the other side, and surprises him with her Hell on Wheels. This is also the place where Katla shoots one of the antagonists trying to ambush her in Peccadillo. Despite the distance from the historic city center Zeeburg is quite popular with tourists for the excellent Zeeburg Camping, and with locals for the wildlife and nature that makes this area ideal for walking, cycling and rollerblading. To the south used to be one of the filthiest garbage dumps of Europe, with industrial waste sinking deep in the marshlands, but the area has undergone a rigorous clean-up and the dump site is now Diemerpark, a recreational park, mainly because the site was unsuitable for building houses. The ground has been contained though, and several meters of topsoil protect visitors from the remnants of the industrial waste. Asphalt bicycle paths meander around the former dump site and the park is extremely popular with rollerbladers in the summer months.


KATLA’S AMSTERDAM: Entrepotdok

Katla’s Amsterdam is a series of articles on the Amsterdam locales that makes an appearance in the Amsterdam Assassin Series.

Entrepôtdok is the area where Katla has her apartment. Strategically placed in the center of Amsterdam with several access and egress points that allow for Katla to take different routes to her apartment, the Entrepôtdok is a historically interesting complex.

(Photo by M. V. Halm)

The Entrepôtdok is a huge complex of warehouses and a canal with the same name, between Kadijksplein and the Sarphatistraat, and running parallel to the Hoogte and Laagte Kadijk to the North, and the Plantagekade (quay) and Artis (the zoo) to the south. It’s the largest inhabited warehouse complex in Amsterdam.

The eastern half of the Entrepôtdok is separated from the western half by the Entrepôtdoksluis [locks] that are rarely used. The Eastern part contains the Kalenderpanden (Calender Warehouses, featuring the names of the months) and the former Municipal Power Station Hoogte Kadijk, now a museum and luxury apartments.

Entrepôtdok is part of the area called Kadijkseiland, which is connected to the other parts of the city by bridges. The bridge that is most often mentioned in the Amsterdam Assassin Series is the Nijlpaardenbrug (Hippotamus Bridge), a multi-coloured bridge for pedestrians and cyclists, built in 1987, that connects Entrepôtdok with the Plantage Kerklaan and the entrance of the zoo Artis.

The oldest warehouses in the complex were built in 1708. From 1827 until 1895, the complex became property of the Algemeen Rijksentrepôt and the warehouses were used to temporarily store non-declared goods in transit. This required the whole area to be sealed off. A wall was built around Laagte Kadijk and an arch with a gate was built at Kadijksplein. The eighty-four warehouses in the middle part of the Entrepôtdok were built during this period, 1830 to 1840. In 1890 the Entrepôtdok became redundant when the New Entrepôtdok was built at the Cruquiusweg. The warehouses became mostly empty space with some small companies occupying the lower floors, but the shoddy maintenance meant the warehouses were deteriorating rapidly. In the surrounding area a lot of buildings were demolished, but Entrepôtdok was saved because the complex became listed as a National Monument.

Converting the warehouses to apartments took a lot of work. After decennia of deliberation concerning the financial budget, a plan was made in 1980, with architect Joop van Stigt’s idea to gut the long dark warehouses, construct apartments against the façades around a communal courtyard in the middle, to provide enough sunlight for the apartments. The ground floor houses mostly companies and the basements have been converted into storage and parking spaces for the inhabitants of the complex. The entrances to these warehouses all bear names to Dutch and Belgian cities, and are now converted into tunnels that lead to the courtyards and the modern apartments at Binnenkadijken. The tunnel closest to Katla’s apartment is ‘Middelburg’, but the whole Binnenkadijken is connected, so you can also enter Binnenkadijken through another tunnel and cross over.

The first apartments, in warehouses 79-84, were delivered in 1984. Quite unique was not only that the apartments were rent-controlled, but the council also allowed the future inhabitants input in designing the lay-out of the kitchen and bathroom spaces. The rent for the apartments was between 300 and 400 guilders.

After the conclusion of this enormous social housing project, the warehouses between Entrepôtdoksluis and the Geschutswerf became luxury apartments. The Calender Warehouses were initially occupied by squatters, but the council had them forcibly removed and created 42 apartments in the 12 warehouses, costing about 800,000 euro per apartment.

The former Municipal Power Station was also converted to luxury apartments in 2001. The complex, designed by Liesbeth van der Pol, uses a support wall of the original coal storage to become the complex façade.

Under: View of the Nijlpaardenbrug, as seen from the quay.

(Photo by M. V. Halm)