We decided to start with a con. She was small, with blonde hair and an unidentifiable accent that gave her voice the warped vowels and ee-haw rhythms of a handsaw. She approached him on the footbridge, made a startled noise, and looked down. His eyes followed hers, and there—exactly midway between them—was a golden ring. She picked it up first, having been, after all, the one who had put it there the instant before he caught sight of her.
When you finish reading the last of these seven letters, you will be dead.
Oh, not right away, my enemy, my friend. There are still many pages to be turned, many words to be devoured. You will receive one letter every day, just like today, by courier with no return address, drip by drip, each morning’s venom, just in time, always just before you shut yourself tight and cozy inside your study to work on your most recent review, your daily dose of toxic excess.
The mortician had trimmed the chaos of hair that had once sprouted from the ears and nostrils of Colton’s grandfather, but a single black arc of eyelash still lay like an unmatched parenthesis atop one bratwurst-colored cheek. Colton licked his thumb, as if readying to turn a page, touched the eyelash, and then studied it against the meaningless swirls of his fingerprint.
“Doesn’t he look natural?” Colton’s grandmother said. She stared down at the body, squeezed a dead shoulder. “That’s how I found him, honey. Just like that, with his eyes closed. Peaceful.”
Colton brushed the eyelash against his slacks and straightened his tie.
In Copenhagen there is a street that on certain days looks, feels even, like Sarajevo. Kingosgade, or Kingo Street. The same sootiness, the frayed composure. Kingo was some white-ruffed Danish giant of piety and poetry centuries ago. Like everybody else’s in those days, his neckpiece looked like someone had smashed a platter over his head and he never got around to getting it off, and in his portrait he seems all the more sullen for it—angry with himself for going to the painter’s studio with the ridiculous crockery still around his neck. He wrote psalms and sermons, that kind of thing. But Sarajevo never was pious. It is a city of mischief and raillery, of street wisdom. At least that’s what it was before it became the city of siege and bombardment.
It was early September, the air still balmy, the perfect weather for a Venetian escapade. Caterina and Pascal were sitting in a café across a canal divining their future, in a quiet campo off the beaten track, away from the tourists and the film crowd who had invaded the city for the festival. They sipped their frothy iced cappuccinos, basking in the sun, their eyes fixed on its refractions dotting the greenish canal with specks of glitter. They felt that for once things were beginning to look promising for both of them.