Kill Fee by Owen Laukkanen

Kill Fee

byOwen Laukkanen

Hardcover | August 19, 2015

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The new Stevens and Windermere novel from one of the most dazzlingly acclaimed new writers in crime fiction.
 
The billionaire picked a heck of a way to die.

On a beautiful Saturday in downtown Saint Paul, Minnesota, state investigator Kirk Stevens and his occasional colleague FBI special agent Carla Windermere witness the assassination of one of the state’s wealthiest men. The shooter is a young man, utterly unremarkable—except in his eyes. There is something very wrong in his eyes.

And it’s only the beginning. The events of that sunny springtime day will lead Stevens and Windermere across the country, down countless blind alleys, and finally to a very flourishing twenty-first-century enterprise: a high-tech murder-for-hire social media website. But just who has the dead-eyed shooter targeted next . . . and who’s choosing his victims? That’s where things get complicated.

About The Author

Owen Laukkanen’s first novel, The Professionals, was nominated for multiple honors, including the Anthony Award, Barry Award, the Spinetingler Magazine Best Novel: New Voices Award, and the International Thriller Writers’ Thriller Award for best first novel. A resident of Vancouver, he is now at work on a fourth book featuring Stevens ...
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Details & Specs

Title:Kill FeeFormat:HardcoverDimensions:400 pages, 9.5 × 6.5 × 1.5 inPublished:August 19, 2015Publisher:Putnam AdultLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0399165525

ISBN - 13:9780399165528

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1The billionaire picked a heck of a day to die.It was a sunny Saturday in early April, a beautiful afternoon indowntown Saint Paul, the kind of day that seemed to chase away anymemory of the long Minnesota winter just passed. It was not the kind ofafternoon for a murder.An hour before the billionaire met his end, a plain-looking man and abeautiful woman met for a greasy lunch at the old dining car on West 7thStreet, and when they’d finished, dawdled slowly along St. Peter towardthe Mississippi River.They made an odd couple. He was paunchy and balding, pale andcomfortably middle-aged. She was brown-skinned, statuesque, and maybeeven a little severe, more than a decade his junior. And though theywalked close beside each other, talked easily, and laughed quickly, therewas a slight hesitation in their manner, an unresolved tension. They weresomething more than simply passing friends.They reached 5th Street and turned west, walked past the stately oldSaint Paul Hotel and into Rice Park, an oasis of calm amid the rush of thecity. The day was sunny but still crisp, and the park was filled with fami-lies and other couples, native Minnesotans and tourists alike. The manand the woman walked aimlessly, took a leisurely tack past the LandmarkCenter, with its pink granite towers and turrets, and then crossed throughthe park toward the vast Central Library. They bought coffees inside theSaint Paul Hotel, and then wandered back out and found a bench in RicePark. It was a Saturday afternoon, and neither Kirk Stevens nor CarlaWindermere had anywhere else to be.In truth, they looked forward to these meetings, Stevens and Win-dermere both. They weren’t always so languid—work, the Minnesotaweather, and the demands of Stevens’s family made routines a fantasy—but they happened, a couple times a month, maybe, and that was almostenough.Windermere sipped her coffee and tilted her head skyward, basking inthe sun’s warmth. “This is what I’m talking about, Stevens,” she said.“This is what I’ve been waiting for. Sunlight. Warmth. Vitamin D.”Stevens grinned at her. “Summer’s coming,” he said. “You survivedanother winter. You’re practically a Minnesotan now.”“Like hell.” Windermere glanced at him sideways. “I’m a warm-weather girl, always will be. No matter how many snowstorms I livethrough.”“You like it up here, though,” he said. “Kind of. Admit it.”“Maybe. It ain’t the weather, though.”He cocked his head. “Then what is it?”Windermere shook her head, the hint of a smile on her lips. She tookanother sip of coffee and set the cup down on the bench between them.Then she looked around the park.People milled about, enjoying the sunshine, taking pictures of thefountain, the Landmark Center, the hotel, the statues of the charactersfrom the comic strip Peanuts—homage to its creator, Charles Schulz, aTwin Cities native. Windermere watched a family crowd around CharlieBrown, all of them smiling wide, posing for the camera, laughing andjostling one another. She waited until the picture had been taken and thefamily had wandered off before she turned back to Stevens.“It ain’t you, either,” she said. “So don’t get any ideas. It’s not the food,or the scenery, or the nightlife. Miami’s got Minnesota beat every time.”“Then it must be the work,” Stevens said. “Is that it?”“The work.” Windermere pursed her lips. “Yeah, I guess so, Stevens. Itmust be the work.”Two and a half years earlier, Kirk Stevens had driven from Saint Paulto the FBI’s regional headquarters in downtown Minneapolis, where he’dmet a woman with bewitching eyes and a slight southern accent who’d sathim down in her cubicle in the Criminal Investigative Division and lis-tened as he outlined a sensational theory about a group of nomadic youngkidnappers. The woman was Windermere, and Stevens, a Special Agentwith the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, needed her helptracking the kidnappers out of state.He’d intended to drop the case in Windermere’s lap and forget aboutit—he was, after all, just a state policeman—but Windermere had in-sisted he join her, put in a special request, and Stevens had found himselfon a plane to Chicago less than a day later. It was the start of the roller-coaster ride of Stevens’s career.A year or so later, it happened again. Carter Tomlin, a wealthy SaintPaul accountant-turned-bank-robber, an acquaintance of Stevens’s. Win-dermere sniffed him out. Stevens hadn’t believed her. Neither had her FBIpartner, or her superiors, not until Tomlin had started to kill. Not untilhe’d dragged Stevens and his family into the middle of his murderousspree.They’d drifted apart after that first kidnapping case. The secondtime, after Tomlin, they stayed close. Even amid the awful terror andthe adrenaline rush, the sickening race against time and Tomlin’s dwin-dling sanity, Stevens had missed Agent Windermere. And though theFBI agent was about as prickly as a sea urchin, Stevens knew she feltthe same.So now here they were, a year after Carter Tomlin, sharing a parkbench in downtown Saint Paul, drinking coffee and enjoying the sun,talking and laughing like lifelong friends. It was, Stevens thought as helooked around at the park, an almost perfect day.Across the street, a silver Bentley sedan turned in to the driveway infront of the Saint Paul Hotel. Stevens watched it glide to a stop outside thebuilding’s ivy-covered façade. Windermere nudged him. “Check it out,”she said. “Maybe it’s Prince.”“I get it.” Stevens shook his head. “Because this is Minnesota, right?Everybody in a nice car has to be Prince.”“Or F. Scott Fitzgerald. But I don’t think he rolls in a Bentley.”“I don’t think he rolls, period,” said Stevens. “I figure at this point he’spretty much stationary.”They watched as the driver climbed out of the Bentley and circledaround to open the rear passenger door. A short, white-haired man in anexpensive suit stepped out to the pavement.“Fitzgerald,” said Windermere. “What did I tell you?”Stevens squinted across the driveway. “He looks old enough, anyway.”The white-haired man leaned on a cane as he stepped away from the bigsedan and started slowly toward the hotel’s front doors. Windermere castan eye at her companion. “Barely looks older than you, Stevens.”Stevens arched an eyebrow. Started to reply, but never got the wordsout. A shot cracked out from somewhere, cutting him off. Someonescreamed. A split second later, the white-haired man collapsed to thepavement. 2Windermere was on her feet before the white-haired man hit theground. She ran across the cobblestone street and up the hoteldriveway, dodging angry taxicabs as horns blared. Someone was stillscreaming. Bystanders ducked for cover.The man was dead; Windermere knew it instantly. He’d taken theshot to the back of his head, just behind his right ear, and the results werenot pretty. There was blood, lots of it. Bone, too. Gore spattered thedriveway. Windermere dashed toward the hotel doors and ducked behindthe big Bentley, wishing she’d brought her service Glock. “Everybody staydown,” she said. “And someone call 9-1-1.”Stevens crashed in beside her, breathing hard. Looked across at thewhite-haired man. “Shit,” he said. “Where’s the shooter?”Windermere crouched low and played the scene back in her head.Heard the shot again; watched the white-haired man fall. Pictured theentry wound and tried to map the bullet’s trajectory. “Sniper,” she said.Stevens got it immediately. He twisted around and peered across theback of the big sedan. Behind them, the Landmark Center loomed, itsmyriad turrets and towers excellent vantage points for any would-be killerwith a rifle and a scope. Stevens nudged her. “Up there.”3Lind dropped the rifle as soon as the target fell. He pulled the windowclosed and walked out of the room and onto the balcony surroundingthe inner courtyard.Already there were sirens outside. Word was spreading. People stoodon the balcony, their office doors open, cell phones and paperwork stillclutched in their hands. They shot quizzical looks in Lind’s direction. Heignored them and walked along the balcony to the stairs.The sirens grew louder as he descended to ground level. The stairwellwas crowded. Clerks. Secretaries. Librarians and curators from the muse-ums housed inside the center. Lind walked past a tour group and de-scended quickly to the main level, then crossed the courtyard to thebuilding’s front doors. He slipped around another group of confusedworkers and hurried out into daylight, passing a man and a woman on thefront stairs, a black woman and an older white man, their jaws set, bothof them moving quickly. Lind didn’t slow down. He turned right on 5thStreet, away from the swarm of police cars outside the hotel, and keptwalking. Stevens and Windermere hurried into the Landmark Center, dodgingscared civilians every step of the way. It was chaos inside, people every-where. Stevens pushed through to the inner courtyard, Windermere rightbehind him. “The towers,” Stevens said. “How do we get up there?”Windermere searched the courtyard. Spotted a set of stairs. “Come on.”A woman flew out of the stairwell just as they approached. Nearlycollided with Stevens, her eyes wide and wild. Windermere caught her.“Whoa,” she said. “Slow down. What’s the rush?”The woman squirmed. Fought Windermere’s grasp. “Let me go,” shesaid. “I have to find the police.”“We’re police,” Stevens told her. “BCA. FBI. What’s the story?”The woman looked at Windermere. Then at Stevens’s badge. “ThankGod,” she said, pointing across the courtyard. “He went that way.”“Who?” said Windermere.“The shooter. He went that way. I followed him down.”Windermere swapped glances with Stevens. “Describe him,” she said.“A smaller guy. Brown hair in a buzz cut. Young. Mid-twenties,maybe.” She looked at them, her expression urgent. “He’s getting away.”“We passed him,” said Stevens. “On the steps. We walked rightpast him.”Windermere was already halfway across the courtyard. “You comingor what, Stevens?”4They left the woman in the Landmark Center and burst out onto 5thStreet, Windermere in the lead, moving fast. She turned right andkept running. Stevens struggled to follow. He kept himself in decentshape, mostly, but Windermere was a heck of a lot younger. Plus she’dbeen some kind of track star back home in Mississippi.Windermere reached the end of the block and slowed to look up anddown Washington. Then, just as Stevens caught up, she took off again.Stevens paused, caught his breath. Then he hurried after her. Lind walked wesT down 5th Street, skirting the high, windowless brickwalls of the stadium where the pro hockey team played. He walkedquicker now on the empty sidewalks, the sirens and the chaos retreatinginto the background. He walked quicker, but he didn’t run. Runningwould attract undue attention.He circled the arena until he reached 7th Street, and then cut acrossthe busy intersection, toward the bus station. Downtown was behind himnow; the land here was vacant—event parking for the hockey arena,mostly. In the distance, he could see the spire of the Cathedral of SaintPaul.Lind cut through a thin copse of trees lining 7th and came out into ahalf-empty parking lot. He walked across the dusty gravel until he reachedhis car, and was about to climb in when someone called out behind him.Lind turned and saw the black woman from outside the LandmarkCenter hurrying toward him. Her companion followed, about thirty feetback, both of them running hard, their faces determined. Lind watchedthem approach.“Stop!” Windermere called across the parking lot. The kid did as he wastold. He straightened. Turned from his little hatchback and looked at her.Windermere met his gaze and felt a chill run through her.He was a normal-looking guy, just as the woman at the LandmarkCenter had described. Probably five seven or five eight, he had close-cutbrown hair and was dressed like your everyday rube. He looked normal.Except that he didn’t. He didn’t look normal at all. It was his face. His eyes. It was his slack expression, the way he studiedher with no hint of malice, no fear, barely any comprehension at all.Windermere slowed, involuntarily, wishing again that she’d rememberedher Glock.The kid looked at her for a couple seconds. Then he turned around—calm, deliberate. Slid into the car and turned the engine over and droveout of the lot.5Stevens caught up to Windermere. “Why’d you slow down?” he said.“You had him.”Ahead of them, the car reached the end of the parking lot and pulledout onto 7th Street. It drove fast, but not wild. Not out of control.“Chevy, right?” Stevens said, pulling out his cell phone. “An Aveo, Ithink. You get the plates?”“Yeah,” Windermere said. “I got them.”Stevens had his phone to his ear. “Crowson,” he said. “Get a pen. Theshooting downtown, the Saint Paul Hotel. We make the shooter’s ride.”He handed Windermere the phone. Windermere recited the platenumber and handed the phone back to Stevens.“Get that to Saint Paul PD,” Stevens told Crowson. “It’s a little Chevyhatchback, gray, an Aveo, most likely. Get them looking.” Stevens endedthe call and turned back to Windermere. “So what the hell happened?”Windermere looked out to where the gray car had disappeared intotraffic. Didn’t answer a moment. “I just lost it, Stevens,” she said finally.“The kid looked at me and I spooked.”“Spooked. What the heck do you mean?”“I just lost it.” She shrugged. “It’s like I was a potted plant, the way helooked at me. A cloud or something, insignificant. Like I wasn’t a cop andhe wasn’t a killer.”“You didn’t show him your badge,” said Stevens, “or your gun. Maybehe didn’t make you for a cop.”Windermere shook her head. “It was more than that,” she said. “Hejust murdered somebody. He was making his escape. And he looked at melike he was waiting for a bus.”She frowned, staring across the parking lot toward 7th Street, wherethe traffic slipped past, normal, like nothing had happened at all.They walked back along 5th Street toward Rice Park and the Land-mark Center and the Saint Paul Hotel. There were police everywherenow, and ambulances and the rest. TV news trucks. Bystanders. Like amovie scene.Here we go again. Stevens flashed back to the kidnappers, ArthurPender and his gang. Carter Tomlin and his team of bank robbers. He felta brief twinge of excitement, and nursed it as long as he dared. Then hechased it from his mind.Not your case, he thought. Not Windermere’s, either. This is Saint PaulPD all the way.They waded back into the mix. Showed their badges to the uni-form holding the line outside the hotel’s driveway. Then they walked upto the entrance, where the white-haired man’s body still lay on thepavement.Uniforms lurked at the margins. Forensic techs combed the body. Acouple dour-faced men in rumpled suits stood by the Bentley, sippingcoffee, watching the techs. Every now and then one of them would cracka joke and the other would laugh a little, grim. Homicide cops.Windermere flashed her badge at them. “Windermere, FBI,” she said.“Who’s working point?”The men glanced at each other. Then the older guy stepped forward.“Parent,” he said. “Remember me?”“The Tomlin case,” Windermere said, nodding. “You worked thatpoker game, right? This one yours, too?”“At least until the FBI takes it off my hands.”“No such luck. We’re just witnesses, Detective. This one’s yours.” Sheintroduced Stevens.Parent looked at them both. “Witnesses, huh? The two of you to-gether?”“Interdepartmental bonding,” said Stevens. “We saw the shootingfrom that bench over there. Got a look at your suspect and the plates offhis car.”“No shit.” Parent glanced back at the body. Then he pulled out a note-pad. “Well, all right, witnesses,” he said. “Tell me what you know.”6lind drove the speed limit southwest down 7th Street, trying to blendin with traffic. Trying to ignore the little pinprick of panic that hadstarted to itch in his mind.The black woman would have memorized his plates. She would havecalled them in to the police. Right now, the police would be looking forthe car.Remove yourself from the scene without being detected. Don’t attract un-due attention. Secondary objective.Lind checked the road for police cars. Checked his rearview mirror,oncoming traffic, the parking lots that lined the road. He saw a couplecruisers. They didn’t follow him. He kept driving.He followed 7th Street until it merged with the highway and turnedsouth to cross the Mississippi River, and he drove past the lakes and thegrassland and forest until he reached the airport turnoff. He parked in therental car lot and waited as a man scanned something off the windshield.The man grinned at Lind. “Enjoy your visit?”Lind didn’t answer. The man frowned and handed Lind a receipt,glanced back at him once before hurrying away. Lind was already walkingto the terminal. He found a garbage can and tore up the receipt, just likehe’d been taught. Then he rode the concourse tram to the main terminalbuilding and found the Delta line.The woman at the counter frowned when she read his alias off thecomputer. Lind felt the little niggle of panic return. “You’re a frequentflier, you know,” the woman said finally. “You could have skipped thiswhole line.”Lind relaxed. “Next time,” he said. He took his ticket and walked tothe security lineup. The guard waved him through. The metal detectordidn’t beep.He boarded the plane with the frequent fliers and the first-class pas-sengers in the priority lane. Sat in his window seat as the plane slowlyfilled, as it taxied from the gate, as it careened down the runway andreached a safe cruising altitude. He didn’t look out the window. He didn’tread the in-flight magazine. He sat in his seat and wondered if the blackwoman and her companion constituted undue attention.Two and a half hours later, the plane landed in Philadelphia. It wasdark outside, and raining. Lind walked off the plane and out through theterminal to the parking garage, where he retrieved his car and drove awayfrom the airport.He drove along Interstate 95 over the Schuylkill River and into down-town Philadelphia, navigated the busy, rainy streets, and parked in anunderground garage and rode the elevator to the apartments above.He stepped off the elevator to his apartment on the building’s topfloor. Kicked off his shoes and then moved from room to room, turningon every light he could find. When the whole place was daytime bright,he went into the living area and turned on the television and turned upthe volume. Took a TV dinner from the kitchen freezer and heated itin the microwave, brewed a strong pot of coffee, and brought the dinnerand the coffee into the living area.It was dark out, and rainy. The city’s sounds were muted far below.Lind ate his dinner and drank from his coffee mug, sat on his couch inthe middle of his bright living room, watching the television play an end-less loop of movie previews. He sat on his couch all night, drinking coffeeand watching the TV, praying his phone would ring again soon.7The dead man’s name was Spenser Pyatt, and he was very rich.“Media conglomerations,” Detective Parent told Stevens andWindermere. “Satellite TV. Built an empire from a radio station out inthe hinterlands.”“I’ve heard of him,” Stevens said. “Fergus Falls. That’s where hestarted.” Windermere looked at him funny, and he shrugged. “Kind of astate treasure, I guess. Made a billion dollars with his own two hands.”“I get it,” said Windermere. “This guy here’s the state hero.”“Hero’s a bit strong,” said Parent. “He’s just a good story.”Windermere looked across the driveway to where the Ramsey Countymedical examiner was loading Pyatt’s body into the back of the van. “Notso much with the happy ending, though.”Stevens and Parent followed her gaze. Then Stevens cleared his throat.“You need anything else?” he asked Parent.“Not unless the BCA wants to take this thing off my hands.”

Editorial Reviews

Praise for KILL FEE “Laukkanen’s fast-paced, no-frills style is brisk, blunt, and fueled entirely by adrenaline.”—Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review“Enthralling . . . Kill Fee works well as an in-depth police procedural and an insightful look at amorality and greed. Laukkanen employs the same strengths of brisk plotting and incisive character studies that he established in his first two novels.”—Associated Press“[Kill Fee is] further proof that Laukkanen is one of the best young thriller writers working today. His pace is relentless, his plots are satisfyingly intricate and his prose is cut-to-the-bone lean . . . Perhaps as importantly, his books boast social relevance. Like David Baldacci, a veteran of the thinking man’s thriller genre, Laukkanen understands the value of tying an exhilarating adventure back to the pressing concerns of the real world.”—Richmond Times-Dispatch“Just two books in [The Professionals and Criminal Enterprise] and Laukkanen is a master at elevating stakes and keeping those prize pages turning. Book No. 3 in the Stevens & Windermere series, Kill Fee, is even better.” —Sarah Weinman, National Post “Blistering pace and a stomach-turning homicide-for-hire scheme . . . Laukkanen keeps readers engaged with a serpentine plot that writhes through high-tech and low-life corruption.” —Publishers Weekly“Pulse-pounding…you won’t put this third Stevens and Windermere installment down unfinished.”—Kirkus Reviews Praise for CRIMINAL ENTERPRISE: “[Criminal Enterprise is] one hell of a wild ride – full of corkscrews, cutbacks, blind curves, and barrel rolls. The pace is quick, the plot is intricate, and the stakes start out high and increase exponentially over the course of the tale.”—Crimespree  “Laukkanen, one of the best thriller writers to emerge in the wake of the Great Recession, has a keen understanding of what readers expect in a crime thriller. His pace is relentless, and he shifts expertly between his characters’ perspectives, short chapter by short chapter, as he hurls readers toward an inevitably explosive finale.” ––Richmond Times-Dispatch  “"Criminal Enterprise" showcases Laukkanen's original storytelling. We can't wait to find out which everyman-turned-criminal Carla and Kirk tangle with next.”—South Florida Sun-Sentinel"Fans of crime thrillers shouldn't miss this one or anything else with Laukkanen's name on the cover. The writing is so crisp, the pages almost want to turn themselves. He's a terrific storyteller."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)"Laukkanen as clearly avoided the sophomore slump, deftly alternating taut narratives and building toward a grand climax that's completely organic to the story.  Windermere, Stevens, and Tomlin are strikingly realistic characters sharing varying degrees of dissatisfaction with their lives, and readers will identify with their struggles to reconcile their own needs with their responsibilities to others."—Booklist (starred review) “Criminal Enterprise is a bloody good thriller” ––Ft. Worth Star-Telegram “Laukkanen keeps the tension high…this is a suspenseful ride.”––Houston Chronicle “Owen Laukkanen: Latest novel is Criminal Enterprise. Laukkanen’s 2012 debut The Professionals was my favorite debut of the year and seems to have set a tone for his series—focusing on the impact of the economic downturn. While that might not seem to be the basis of an exciting thriller, Laukkanen has made it so. His are action-packed stories that also are contemporary cautionary tales. Laukkanen also gives a vivid look at amorality, entitlement and consequences.”—Mystery Scene  “If you’ve ever wanted to write a terrific crime novel, Criminal Enterprise could well be the blueprint.” ––New York Journal of Books “This high-voltage thriller practically deserves a warning label on its cover... the writing is so crisp you can almost hear it crunch between your teeth, and the action builds to a jaws-clenching finish.”–– Read Me Deadly “The Professionals was highly and rightly praised...Criminal Enterprise is even better. Laukkanen has a plot line built on the death of the American Dream.” –– The Globe and Mail