Copyright © 2014 by Owen Laukkanen
The billionaire picked a heck of a day to die.
It was a sunny Saturday in early April, a beautiful afternoon, the kind of day that seemed to chase away any memory of the long Minnesota winter just passed. It was not the kind of afternoon for a murder.
An hour before the billionaire met his end, a plain-looking man and a beautiful woman met for a greasy lunch at the old dining car on West 7th Street, and when they’d finished, dawdled slowly along St. Peter toward the Mississippi River.
They made an odd couple. He was paunchy and balding, pale and comfortably middle-aged. She was brown-skinned, statuesque, and maybe even a little severe, more than a decade his junior. And though they walked close beside each other, talked easily, and laughed quickly, there was a slight hesitation in their manner, an unresolved tension. They were something more than simply passing friends.
They reached 5th Street and turned west, walked past the stately old Saint Paul Hotel and into Rice Park, an oasis of calm amid the rush of the city. The day was sunny but still crisp, and the park was filled with families and other couples, native Minnesotans and tourists alike. The man and the woman walked aimlessly, took a leisurely tack past the Landmark Center, with its pink granite towers and turrets, and then crossed through the park toward the vast Central Library. They bought coffees inside the Saint Paul Hotel, and then wandered back out and found a bench in Rice Park. It was a Saturday afternoon, and neither Kirk Stevens nor Carla Windermere had anywhere else to be.
In truth, they looked forward to these meetings, Stevens and Windermere both. They weren’t always so languid—work, the Minnesota weather, and the demands of Stevens’s family made routines a fantasy—but they happened, a couple times a month, maybe, and that was almost enough.
Windermere sipped her coffee and tilted her head skyward, basking in the 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 survived another 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 live through.”
“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 took another 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 the fountain, the Landmark Center, the hotel, the statues of the characters from the comic strip Peanuts—homage to its creator, Charles Schulz, a Twin Cities native. Windermere w
“[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