“Thriller of the Year” – RT Magazine
“Readers won’t be able to put this one down.” —Tess Gerritsen
“Mosaic has all the ingredients — international intrigue, politics, and escalating danger — but it’s also an eloquent parable on the corruption of greed and the lust for power.” —Michael Connelly
While giving a concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall, blind pianist Julia Austrian’s sight returns as mysteriously as it disappeared a decade earlier. Within hours, she witnesses what seems like a simple robbery and murder.
Meanwhile, in upstate New York, a charming old man is secretly trying to escape the home in which he’s held.
On the national campaign trail, a coolly determined candidate prepares to beat the pundits and the polls with a devious plan guaranteed to win the U.S. presidency.
And at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, maverick CIA analyst Sam Keeline embarks on a forbidding journey to recover the fabled Amber Room — a priceless masterpiece whose disappearance is considered the most enduring mystery of World War II.
As the mosaic pieces fit together in this electrifying political thriller, Julia and Sam are hunted and hated as they track down the relentless powers that threaten the very foundation of America’s political system.
It is time to set the record straight and tell exactly what happened…
MONDAY, OCTOBER 30
WESTCHESTER COUNTY, NEW YORK
It was two o’clock, and the afternoon sun beat through the old man’s window. He was groggy from an injection designed to keep him cowed and immobile. He resented them all, every last one. Especially he resented their medicine and diplomas, perfect covers for their real purposes. But he had a plan. He was going to outwit them all and get the hell out of this prison. A sense of urgency swept over him.
Only this young orderly had promise. He was greedy, and the old man had always found greed useful.
“It’s real,” the orderly whispered as he pushed the old man’s wheelchair down the corridor toward the thin October sunshine. “A full carat.”
“Of course it’s real,” he muttered. “I wouldn’t waste my time if it weren’t.”
“What?” the youth leaned down.
The orderly pushed him out onto the parklike grounds created to assuage the guilt of the select few who could afford to dump their old and unwanted here in the middle of nowhere. In the summer, petunias and pansies bloomed brightly in neat beds that lined the nursing home’s winding walks. But it was late October now, and the beds were bare, waiting for the first snowstorm. This carefully groomed complex with the surrounding forests was owned by his sons, bought as an exclusive, high-security jail to isolate him from his family and the world.
The orderly stopped the old man’s wheelchair under a towering sycamore. Most of the leaves had fallen. The branches were a bony thatch above them. From their position on a knoll with the tree behind them, they could see the sweep of the grounds.
The old man sniffed the chill air, almost catching a good memory. He shook his head. It was gone, as he would soon be unless he got out of here. He turned his gaze to the orderly. He was a square youth with a heavy jaw and naive eyes. He needed a shave, but so many of them did these days. Yesterday the boy had been a swaggering bully, but today he was concentrating on earning another diamond.
“What did you do with the diamond?” the old man asked.
“Like you said. I went to the bank in Armonk and got a deposit box. I put it in there. I won’t sell it for six months, when I go on vacation.”
He studied the youth. “Sell it far away in some big city where no one knows you. And then leave as soon as you do. Listen to me. Pay attention. You don’t want the law to stop you and ask questions.” The boy had far worse than the police to fear, but the old man wasn’t about to tell him that.
“When do I get the other diamond?”
He smiled. Greed was his ally. “As soon as you send these off.” He looked around carefully, and from inside the heavy coat that covered his hospital gown he pulled out two packets. They were folded sheets of drawing paper wrapped in brown paper and sealed with tape. He gave specific directions to the boy.
One packet was addressed to a concert hall in London, the other to the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Virginia.
Except for the diamonds and some amber, which he’d smuggled into this hellish institution, he’d had nothing. He’d had to steal writing supplies from the craft room. Over the past year he’d written what he remembered, and he was still writing.
The youth grabbed the two packets and slid them inside his short white jacket. “I get off work in a half hour. I’ll drive into Armonk and mail them.”
“That will do.” His eyes narrowed. “Be careful. Do a good job, and there’ll be more diamonds. I have other tasks. I’m just beginning.”
“More diamonds?” The orderly surveyed all around as if suddenly worried. “Where do you keep them?” He tried to sound innocent and concerned for the old man’s welfare. “Perhaps we should find a better place. Somewhere safer.”
The old man chuckled. He’d been sent here to die, but he was still outwitting them. He knew far more than they’d ever thought possible. His chuckle grew until it engulfed him. He roared with laughter. He shook. He had to wipe his eyes. He waved his hand as the boy tried to shush him. And he laughed harder. He thought eagerly about what would happen when the packets arrived at Langley and in London. What he didn’t know was that hidden in the bark of the giant tree at his back was a recording device that would be listened to within the hour.
PRAGUE, THE CZECH REPUBLIC
It was midnight, and a cold wind whipped off the black Vltava River, cut through Jiri’s heavy coat, and bit into his flesh. Shivering, he hurried across Charles Bridge toward the spires, peaked roofs, and stately domes of crowded Old Town. But what he longed for was the cheer and intimacy of a smoky pub.
He was afraid.
The people he was occasionally forced to do business with had ordered him to be on this route, a fat envelope of stolen photos and copied documents under his arm. He’d learned the hard way that once you accepted their money and promises of protection you could never turn back. Jiri was his code name.
He had to do exactly as told.
Glancing nervously over his shoulder, he scurried past the last of the bridge’s sculptured saints and straight ahead on Karlova. Moonlight cast long, gloomy shadows from the baroque and Gothic buildings. The odor of burning coal stung his nostrils, and fear churned his belly.
At last he heard a folk tune ring softly from an alley he was passing. He stopped, heart pounding, and leaned back against a medieval stone wall. He pulled out a pack of Marlboros. With shaky hands he hunched over, pretending to light a cigarette.
A voice said in Czech, “Allow me.”
A concertina player in a thick plaid coat stepped from the black alley. He wore a brimmed cap pulled low over his face. He held up a lighter.
With quaking hands, Jiri returned the cigarette to his lips. A Škoda car cruised by, its headlights sweeping the dark, lonely street. The concertina player’s face was masked by shadows. He watched the vehicle vanish around a corner. Then he flicked the lighter, its flame erupted low and discreet, and Jiri inhaled the cigarette into life.
“Thank you.” Jiri relaxed his grip on the envelope under his arm.
“It is nothing. Good night.”
As he stepped away, the musician bumped Jiri. Apologizing for his clumsiness, he swiftly exchanged Jiri’s envelope for an identical one hidden between his concertina and his chest.
Looking all around, the musician gave what appeared to be a drunken chuckle. “Zivijo.” Long life.
A new chill ravaged Jiri. He whispered, “I hope I have given you everything you want.”
“If not, you will hear from us.” The musician’s words were a threat. Then he threw back his head, caressed his concertina, and strode away, playing and singing gaily:
A Bohemian lass, a golden beer . . .
Jirí scuttled quickly in the opposite direction, hugging the darkest shadows. Now he must worry about tomorrow and whether his employer, who was a great entrepreneur, would discover the thefts. He thought about what he had copied and stolen, went over all his movements, analyzed whether he had left any sign–
And then he almost fainted with ecstasy as an idea struck him. They must be after his employer now. That was what the documents and photos meant. His employer. He smiled, his lips pulling back over brown teeth in almost a grimace, a caged animal desperate for relief. It was the only possibility. He had to be right that it was his employer they wanted.
Surely he was right–
When he learned the woman had a suite at the legendary Hôtel de Paris and had been ensconced in its opulence for three weeks, Jean-Claude knew he’d go there with her eventually.
He’d wanted her from the first time he saw her at Jimmy’z nightclub, sitting at a table overlooking the water. She was trés belle. Magnifique. She was drinking champagne at $40 a glass and grandly ordering it for the tables around her and tossing her long golden hair back over her shoulders. Her honey-colored skin gleamed in the table’s low lamplight. Every time she laughed, her red lips curved up in a generous bow, and her tiny white teeth showed. She laughed often.
“Champagne’s Monaco’s national beverage!” she called in American-accented French as he stared across the room. She grinned boldly. “Come drink with me!”
He sat with her.
She told him her first husband collected Jackson Pollack and Jasper Johns and her second husband owned oil in Louisiana. A lot of oil. She was divorced, she said, and thirty years old. But she had a perfect body–all supple curves and alluring hips. That night he watched her dance with the jet-set boys, but she always came back to the table. To him.
He was a police inspector with a sexual appetite no one woman could ever satisfy. After all, this was Monaco, where everyone was rich and beautiful, where the famous and infamous flocked to shelter their fortunes from taxes and to display them like peacocks for one another. Here fabulous excess was de rigeur, and amour was not only tolerated, the air was heady with it. Of course, he was careful, but he did not deny himself. C’est la vie. He was a man with a man’s needs. And he had a particular weakness for American girls and their reckless abandon, especially when they were wealthy and beautiful, too.
He thought about her all week.
Finally he went looking for her. He found her at another bar, and she acted as if he were her long-lost best friend. They drank. They listened to music. She wore diamonds and gold and a very short designer dress that showed the insides of her thighs. They arranged to meet at eleven o’clock the next evening.
That went on four nights. The sexual tension between them built until it was volcanic. Dangerous, the way he liked it.
Tonight they were back at Jimmy’z . She wore a sheer white bodysuit. His crotch throbbed.
As soon as the music started, she jumped up on the stage. While the instruments pounded, her hips coiled and thrust. Her round breasts bounced and strained against the thin fabric of her skin-tight bodysuit. She raised her arms high above her head and closed her eyes, dancing to the relentless beat.
Breathing deeply, he ran a finger around the inside of his collar. He smoothed his moustache. He adjusted the waistband of his trousers. He never took his gaze from her. He needed the chase, the electric charge of prey in his sights, and the knowledge that as she moistened her lips and opened her eyes and stared openly at him across the crowded, bejeweled room that he would bring her down.
The music ended. He returned to sit at their table.
“You liked my little dance, mon ami?” She stood beside him.
His face was next to her belly. He inhaled her steamy, perfumed scent. Already he could taste her.
Abruptly, he stood. “We will go now.”
She cocked her head. “We will?”
“Oui.” He took her arm and led her out into the foggy Mediterranean night. “I will drive.” He pulled her keys from her evening bag, put her in the passenger seat of her Ferrari, and got behind the driver’s wheel. He gunned it away from the caravan of Bentleys, Rolls-Royces, and Mercedeses parked outside the tony nightclub.
Her laughter pealed out, rambunctious, challenging.
The heat in his groin burned and throbbed. They went directly to her hotel. As soon as they stepped into her luxurious suite, she lifted her lips. He reached for her.
She danced backwards, pouting. “You Frenchmen–”
“Not French. Monegasque. Come here, Stacey. It is time.”
“Ah, Jean-Claude–” she reached for the zipper at the top of her low-cut bodysuit “–don’t you want to see what you’re getting?”
He stopped, fascinated, and she pulled down the zipper. Her honey-colored body seemed to explode from the cloth, luminous and begging to be kissed and bitten and . . . she had shaved her pubic area.
Something erupted inside his head. A thunderclap of desire overcame him. American women did not shave there, but European women did, and the combination of her American wildness and the old European custom inflamed him.
He stalked toward her. She stepped out of the bodysuit and threw it at him.
He caught it. “Stacey!”
And then she was on him, her honey flesh rubbing against his clothes. His hands ran over her hot skin. His mouth devoured her. He was insane with desire.
She unzipped his pants and seized his pulsing erection. He groaned.
She stroked it and whispered into his ear, “You want me, Jean-Claude?”
He grabbed her hips and tried to pull her up so he could enter her and get it over with. After he rested, he would screw her again. And again. He would screw her until she could not remember anyone else ever screwing her. Until she was hurt and sore but it was so good that she begged for more. He would screw away her cowgirl craziness night after night until she was obedient, and then he could leave her forever.
He had to have her. Now.
She slid his cock between her hot, moist thighs and squeezed it there, trapping him in ecstasy. “No, Jean-Claude. Not just yet. I have certain requirements–”
As dawn broke in streaks of pink and lemon across the wintry Riviera, the police inspector stumbled from the hotel, exhausted, still excited. He had to go home to shower and dress for work.
Upstairs, still in bed, “Stacey” used a roving number to call Georgetown. It was midnight there.
“It’s all taken care of,” she told her employer on the other side of the Atlantic. “He behaved exactly as I expected. He’ll bring me the police records and all the pertinent documents today. Otherwise he thinks he won’t see me tonight. And he wants desperately to see me tonight, tomorrow, and–”
The male voice on the phone was hard and authoritative. It interrupted her, and she could hear urgency radiate from it. “Get him to make the changes right away. The altered documents must be in Berlin this afternoon. Then make certain he knows his silence buys his life. After that, fly to London. I’ve made the arrangements. Your next assignment’s a theft. It’s vital . . .”
As her employer related the details, she peeled off her blond wig. Her short, black hair fell free. She ran her fingers through it, her mind focused on her next assignment–a theft in London.