Gayle Lynds
 
“From London to New York, Mosaic takes us on an adventure of a lifetime.”
— The Literary Times
 
“A cyclone of a thriller.”
— Elizabeth Lowell
 
“Lynds is a think-tank editor with top-secret clearance and breathes authenticity into her artistic and political landscapes.”
— St. Petersburg Times
 
“Clever twists … fast-paced plot … splendid action.”
— Publishers Weekly
 
“Lynds has the top thriller writer’s knack of juggling characters, locales, secrets, and surprises while making the pages almost turn themselves.”
— Ellery Queen
 
“Sex, spies, and Steinways … entertaining.”
— Booklist

 
Mosaic
 
Mosaic
 
“A relentless and riveting thriller. Readers won’t be able to put this one down.”
— Tess Gerritsen
“Mosaic moves with the speed of an assassin’s bullet. It 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

The Story

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.

Prologue

MEMOIR ENTRY

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.

"Nothing."

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--

MONACO

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.

PART I
JULIA AUSTRIAN

Chapter One

7:58 P.M., FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 3
LONDON, ENGLAND

Julia Austrian was blind. Her blindness wasn’t caused by birth defect, nor by tragic accident. Instead it was almost as if the hand of God--or perhaps Satan--had reached into her bedroom while she’d slept and squeezed the life from her eyes. Her blindness had no known physical cause, the doctors had told her. It was a psychological problem: She was terrified of her audiences.

She’d never gotten used to being blind. Sight was a memory that lingered like a dream, and she ached to be able to see again. So she lied. She told interviewers that being blind was an advantage to a pianist. She told her family she was glad, because it enabled her to concentrate on her career. She told the three men she’d loved that sex was better being blind--pure emotion and physicality.

There was some truth in her lies.

She was on the road a lot throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. Her mother was her manager and her eyes, and together they toured the world of music, from great concert halls to intimate auditoriums, from grand rococo palaces to woodsy county bowls. Critics raved about her power, her beauty of tone, her complete technical command, and her temperament--that elusive quality that infused every note with excitement. At home, her wealthy, extended family thought the piano a strange choice for an occupation, but everywhere audiences loved her. It was one of those odd twists of life: She fed an audience’s soul, and they hers. But because of them, she was blind.

Her mother--Marguerite Austrian--was her bulwark through it all. Julia was her only child, and they’d developed one of those unusually close relationships between adults who have the same blood. They shared love and understanding and an intense insecurity that was rooted in family tragedy. Julia could get sappy about Marguerite. She could weep tears of gratitude for all Marguerite had done for her. She could feel ashamed for the easy life Marguerite had given up to manage her.

After all, Julia could hire people to do that. Wealth was the fix of choice in her family, and Julia wasn’t shy about applying it whenever necessary. But her mother brushed off her concerns, and with the years Julia began to understand this life of work and travel and being her sighted companion was what her mother wanted.

In the end, it always came back to the music. To her father, who’d recognized the talent in her and had sent her to Julliard. And to her mother, who not only had made her career possible through the ups and downs but had made much of it a delight--practice, concerts, men, touring, her ongoing struggle to do as much as possible for herself, the weight training and jogging that built her muscles so she’d play as strong as any man. Through the years her self-confidence had grown. Now she felt she could face anything.

This Friday night they were at the Royal Albert Hall in London for an evening to be broadcast live on the BBC. The air crackled with excitement, and the scents of expensive perfumes were everywhere.

She was eager to play. On the periphery of her consciousness were the whispers of the stagehands as the backstage quieted, while ahead the audience murmured and moved, as restless as a just-tamed beast. But as Julia waited to go on, it was the music that had her attention--throbbing through her brain, her fingers aching for the keyboard.

She smiled. It was time.

"Now, dear." Her mother’s voice was satin with hints of New York.

Julia released her mother’s arm and moved forward. Before a concert, she memorized the path to her piano, and then she walked it alone, without her white cane or tinted glasses or someone’s helpful arm. Over the years, she’d developed an inner sense of direction that was highly accurate. Anyone could do that. Blindness was very mental--your ability to think about what you were perceiving was the key.

What she didn’t notice was that her other inner senses were asleep now, drowned by the soaring notes and complex themes of the études she was about to play. Engrossed, driven by her need for her Steinway, she strode through the backstage area.

And fell.

With staggering suddenness, she walked straight into something, stumbled, and crashed down hard in the wings, completely disoriented. Pain radiated from her right hip and hands. She gasped.

Feet rushed toward her.

"Julia!" Her mother was at her side, propping her up. "Who left this stool here? Everyone was told to keep the area clear. Get it out of here! Julia! Are you all right?"

Her mother helped her to her feet. Fear shot through her. She was shocked not only by the fall, but by the disappearance of her "facial sense." Most of the time, it was almost as if her face could "see" a low-hanging branch ahead, or an overstuffed chair, or a stool. Sweat broke out on her forehead. When your life was lightless, you quickly lost left from right, front from back. You dwelled in a sea of black. Once you were off-balance, directions turned inside out in the darkness, and your head rattled with chaos.

Heightened senses vanished. Deciding where to move next became impossible.

She had to pull herself together.

Heart hammering, she froze and took stock. Her wrists ached. She must’ve landed on her hands a lot harder than she’d realized. More fear shook her.

Her hands.

She couldn’t injure her fingers, hands, or wrists. That’d be the end of her playing. Instantly she felt them.

"You’re hurt!" Her mother’s whisper was a shout in her ear.

There was no sharp pain. "Nothing’s broken." She relaxed with relief. Loudly to the stagehands and concert staff whom she knew from their low, concerned voices had crowded around: "I’m fine. Thank you. Really. I’m fine."

Her palms were sore. They felt bruised. But she was determined to play now, no matter what. Frantically she tried to recall her schedule for the next few days. "What’s on for tomorrow?" she whispered.

"We’re flying to Vienna. No concert for two days. Why? It’s your hands, isn’t it? How badly are you hurt, Julia?" Her mother’s voice was tight with worry.

"The palms are a little tender." She was lucky this time. "After I play tonight, I’ll rest a few days."

"Shouldn’t you see a doctor right away? Get X-rays?"

"This is like the other times, Mom. Do you have some aspirin in your shoulder bag?" That was for the inflammation and swelling.

As her mother left, Julia analyzed the shocked hush around her. No one’s facial sense was perfect, she told herself, although hers nearly always was. She’d been distracted by the music that filled her. In the beginning of her blindness she’d constantly walked into walls, door jambs, and street signs. What the sighted took for granted could still be catastrophic for her. She could stumble into an open manhole and break her neck. She could step off a balcony and plunge eighty stories.

The peril went with being blind, that and the bruises to body and ego. But with her there was a greater terror. She tried to push the fear away, but it was like a huge shadow dug into her shoulders, looming, ready to overwhelm her with the horror of never being able to make music again.

Sweat trickled down her face. Her breath came in frightened pants. Around her silence waited, worried, embarrassed. She mustn’t let the fear stop her, or be intimidated by the scent of vicarious humiliation that floated thick around her from those she couldn’t see.

Someone had inadvertently left a stool in her path. Nothing more.

"Can you play?" Her booking agent, Marsha Barr, arrived at her side. Anxious.

"I don’t think she should." Her mother had returned. She pressed two aspirin tablets into Julia’s hand, and then a glass of water into the other.

"Of course I can play," she insisted. She took the aspirin and drank the water.

"Julia!"

"Really, I’m fine." She couldn’t disappoint her audience.

"How are your hands now?" her mother demanded.

"A little sore." Julia gave a wry smile. "But I think we won’t have to amputate."

The low murmurs around her suddenly stopped, shocked. And then the crowd chuckled with relief.

Marsha Barr laughed and patted Julia’s arm. "Well, it seems things are getting back to normal." She stepped away. "I’m going to tell the audience there’s been a fifteen-minute delay."

As she left, Julia’s mother said, "Yes, amputation’s a bit extreme. Imagine how it would disrupt the tour." She gave a small laugh, but beneath the light tone Julia heard her mother’s agony of apprehension.

Besides having facial sense, Julia could usually hear and feel movement. It was all due to proprioceptors--tiny sensory organs found in everyone’s muscles, tendons, and other subcutaneous tissues, but largely ignored by the sighted. Over the years she’d taught herself to feel air adjust when an object moved. To hear minute sounds of impact on a carpet, or a body joint creak, or a stomach roll. To feel warmth as something living approached.

Tonight her facial sense was obscured long enough to crash into the stool. It gave her pause. And it frightened her that she could lose all her heightened senses just as she’d lost her sight--

She calmed herself and concentrated. With a sudden familiarity, she felt the air shift in front of her. Her heartbeat escalated with excitement as a mysterious force she’d never understood seemed to emerge from an enlargement of all her pores. With that, she sensed her mother reach for her hands.

With an internal explosion of joy, she held them out.

Marguerite’s voice was indignant, but also relieved. "Julia! Every time you anticipate me like that, you spook me!"

Julia smiled. "Just my proprioceptors."

Then she waited nervously as her mother took her hands and probed the fingers, palms, and wrists.

Marguerite said, "I think there’s nothing serious, but I’d still like you to see a doctor."

In other words, her mother had confirmed her own conclusion. Now Julia wanted to retreat into herself, prepare again to play. Grow calm, distant, self-absorbed.

She said lightly, "Nothing’s broken, Doctor Mom. You’ve diagnosed that yourself. In the morning, if they’re no better, you can call in one of your colleagues."

"You’re all heart."

"I try to cooperate." With another surge of happiness, Julia presented her cheek.

"Dammit, Julia! Will you quit doing that!" Her mother had been about to kiss her.

Julia’s facial sense had told her that. "I love you, Mom." She chuckled.

"I know, dear." Her mother sighed and kissed her tenderly on the presented cheek. "I love you, too."

"I’m ready to play. Take me back to where we started so I can count my steps and do it again."

"You’re sure?"

"Is the stool gone?" Julia asked.

"Yes."

"Then I’m sure. Absolutely. Full speed ahead."

Julia walked confidently through the solid darkness. Her long Versace gown rustled against her legs. Once more Liszt’s études filled her with their great beauty. She seemed to reverberate with the music, her heartbeat almost pacing itself to the rhythms. Automatically her other senses again went dormant.

As she stepped onto the stage, as if at a great distance she felt the sudden heat of lights and an ocean of people. The applause was so enthusiastic it thundered. Ahead on the stage her Steinway grand piano waited only ten steps away. She had it shipped to every concert. On arrival it was placed in the center of the stage, voiced, and regulated to her specifications. She’d rehearsed on it that afternoon and found it tuned, agile, and graced with its usual sonorous sound. A joy to play.

Eight steps. Tonight she’d give her listeners something very European--the Liszt Transcendental Études. Each étude was different technically and stylistically, and together the twelve were a monument to Romanticism. The opening étude, Preludio, resonated through her, challenging her to begin the extraordinary cycle.

Six steps. She’d been blind ten years now, her entire professional life since her debut as an eighteen-year-old at Carnegie. It startled her to realize how quickly the years had passed. Her world wasn’t forbidding and hopeless; it glittered as it had before, but now with odors, shapes, tastes, textures, and--most especially--sound . . . music.

Four steps. Her skin prickled with tension, and her heart pounded.

Two steps. She was almost there. She knew the piano was beside her.

One step. She breathed deeply. She was the music, and only it mattered.

Then in her stark blackness she saw a sliver of light.
 
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