“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 Englishwoman 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.
Excerpted from THE POSTCARD KILLERS © Copyright 2011 by James Patterson and Liza Marklund. Reprinted with permission by Little, Brown and Company. All rights reserved.