Father and son Karpik had been petty thieves and swindlers when they lived in Warszawa, so the fact they killed widow Van der Maas in her Amsterdam apartment last Summer was purely accidental. Young Igor Karpik had even cried a little, his snot mixing with the pool of blood that was forming around the poor woman’s corpse. This happened when he stood bent over her, while his trembling fingers were searching her pockets for her purse. They were sure it held the rent they had just paid her and hopefully her credit cards. His father Lukasz, pockmarked and skinny where Igor was broad and compact, pushed his son aside, snatched the fat purse and after checking its contents, hissed between his yellow teeth:
“Come on, let’s go to the post office and take out all that old bitch’s cash.”
It was hot and busy in the small post office near the flower market and the two Poles shuffled nervously forwards in the annoyingly slow-moving row.
“Can I have a puppy, dad, when we get to America?” Igor’s morose eyes in a face that mostly resembled a mutated Vietnamese held a sudden glint.
“Shut up!” the father replied, touching the hand-rolled cigarette above his ear with blood-caked fingers.
“You shouldn’t have killed her,” the boy suddenly wailed, “look you have blood on your fingers, daddy.”
“Shut up, idiot!” the old one growled again, “Do you want us to get caught? We grab the old tart’s money and run, you understand?” This helped. The boy peeped around him, anxiously. His unintelligent eyes darted to the girl behind them in the row and he forgot this was serious.
It was hot and busy in the post office, but at least there was some shade after my walk through the sweltering streets. Two long rows of people, almost identical in length, were waiting for the two cash desks that said ‘Stamps & Cheques’ so I chose the one near the window overlooking the flower market. I counted the invitations in my hand once again and there were 21, I hadn’t lost any of them. I put the one for grandma in Lodz on top. She had promised to come to my 15th birthday, but she was ill now, so I gave the envelope a kiss and said a Hail Mary in silence. Grandma Aneta was dear to me if only because mummy missed her so much.
The row wouldn’t move, so I started to pay attention to the people around me. Two men were standing before me in the row and they looked odd. There was a smell coming from them that was odd, too, as if they’d been at the butcher’s for a very long time. I heard they were speaking Polish, so I listened to what they were saying.
I thought I would die on the spot. I wanted to run away but my feet were nailed to the ground. I wanted to scream, too, but my voice failed me. Still, I must have made some sound because he looked at me and then I was certain I was going to die.
The post office was an ordinary looking building on one of Amsterdam’s many canals. It had formerly been a Polish travel agency and the red-white bands of the Polish flag were still set in mosaic in the façade.
Its interior was as dull as it was practical. A brown linoleum floor full of scratches and white-washed walls in a square hall. Orange plastic seats were fitted at the rear end, facing the three cash windows on the opposite wall. A huge portrait of Queen Beatrix looked down on the crowd that shuffled forwards in two long rows (one cash desk was closed). She seemed to be the only one not sweating, or agitated or frightened out of her wits.