Matt let his gaze travel up the seventeenth-century gables to the Californian-blue sky hovering over the narrow shopping street that connected two canals. He tried to close his ears to Victoria’s incessant yapping about how she loved Amsterdam and how she loved the hot weather even if it was only May. Her every sentence started with an Oh My God, lined with ear-piercing cries of amazement. Matt hid his balled fists in his pockets. Why had he let her talk him into going after a bloody Dutchman and not an American? They could’ve found someone in Silicon Valley. The Bay area was overpopulated with losers. He shouldn’t have let her persuade him to walk heads in this crowded and cramped city. It imprisoned him, kept him from breathing. Even the strip of blue sky couldn’t open up his windpipe wide enough to give his lungs the oxygen he so desperately longed for. Worse even, the longer he looked up, the more the gables seemed to lean over, as if they’d cave in any moment and bury him under a heap of brick and dirt. After four days, he wanted nothing more than return to vast emptiness of the US, back to the indifference of Americans who knew how to leave you alone.

He directed his attention back to the woman next to him. Blond and dumb was how people tagged her. But most people never bothered to look any further than the slick outside and the grin chiseled on her face. He’d type her as sharp and cunning. Zealous and avaricious, too. Her petite figure hid her age well. She could be fifteen. She could be twenty five. He knew she was well in her thirties. He also knew that she’d do anything for money, because hard cash was the one thing that could push her best-before date forward.

Victoria hadn’t lifted her hand off his arm since they’d left the hotel on Dam Square. Every few steps he stifled the impulse to shake her off. It wasn’t the possessiveness of the gesture that needled him, a gesture that lured the world into thinking they belonged together, or that she had some sort of power over him. He could live with that. What drove him insane was the actual physical contact. The feeling of her skin on his, the irritation of sweat building up in between, sweat that would dry if she’d lift her hand, leaving a film of salt on his arm. As if a layer of sticky earth covered him. He drew in a deep breath to suppress the cold shiver that ran from his wrist to his armpit. They circled a group of girls, who were squealing at a shop window. Victoria stopped and squealed along. A few more weeks. A few more weeks and he could get rid of her. A few more weeks and he could get rid of the overpowering feeling of being buried alive.

“Let’s go back to the hotel, V,” he said, ignoring her exalted cries. “This ain’t gonna work.”

She whipped around. “Perseverance, Turing,” she said, without a moment’s pause, almost as if she’d expected him to give up. “All we need is one douche that fits the profile. One loser. All we have to do is find him, set him up and cash the money.” She peered past him, away from the sun that cast a glow of molten gold over trees and houses, and spied the street behind them. “What about him?” Her hand slid from his arm and moved to his waist. She pulled him closer, slightly turning him, her powdered cheek brushing his biceps. “That’s him,” she whispered. The urgency in her voice set his teeth on edge. “Dammit, Turing, that’s him.”