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Authors: Robert Rotenberg

Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Adult, #Suspense

Old City Hall

BOOK: Old City Hall
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First published in Great Britain in 2009 by John Murray (Publishers)
An Hachette UK Company

© Robert Rotenberg 2009

Grateful acknowledgment is made for permission to reprint excerpts from the following previously published material:

“King of the Road,” copyright © 1964 (renewed 1992), Sony/ATV Songs LLC. All rights administered by Sony/ATV Music Publishing, 8 Music Square West, Nashville, TN 37203. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

“Suzanne,” copyright © 1967 Sony/ATV Songs LLC. All rights administered by Sony/ATV Music Publishing, 8 Music Square West, Nashville, TN 37203. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

“Cross Road Blues (Crossroads),” words and music by Robert Johnson. Copyright © (1978), 1990, 1991 MPCA King Of Spades (SESAC) and Claud L. Johnson. Administered by Music & Media International, Inc. International copyright secured. All rights reserved.

The right of Robert Rotenberg to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.

All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library

Epub ISBN 978-1-84854-396-6
Book ISBN 978-0-7195-2114-0

John Murray (Publishers)
338 Euston Road
London NW1 3BH



And she shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed
There are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever

—Leonard Cohen, “Suzanne”


uch to the shock of his family, Mr. Singh rather enjoyed delivering newspapers. Who would have thought that Gurdial Singh, former chief engineer for Indian Railways, the largest transportation company in the world, would be dropping newspapers at people’s doors commencing at 5:05 each morning. He didn’t need to work. But since coming to Toronto four years earlier, he had absolutely insisted on it. No matter that he was turning seventy-four years old on Thursday next. Yes, it was a silly little job, Mr. Singh was forced to concede to his wife, Bimal, and their three daughters, but he liked it.

That’s why Mr. Singh was humming an old Hindi tune to himself as he walked briskly through the early-winter darkness on a cold Monday morning, the seventeenth of December.

He entered the marble-appointed lobby of the Market Place Tower, a luxury condominium on Front Street, and gave a friendly wave to Mr. Rasheed, the night concierge. The
Globe and Mail
newspapers were neatly stacked just inside the door beside a diminutive plastic Christmas tree. How strange, in a country covered in forests, that they would use plastic trees, Mr. Singh thought as he hitched up his gray flannel pants and bent down to cut the binding cord with his pocketknife. He sorted the papers into twelve piles, one for each floor on his route. It had been easy to memorize which residents took a paper, and it was a simple matter to walk down the deserted hallways and drop one squarely at each door.

The solitude was very nice. So unlike the clutter of Delhi. When he arrived at the top floor, Mr. Singh knew he would see the one person who was always awake. Mr. Kevin something. Mr. Singh could never remember Mr. Kevin’s last name, even though the gentleman was one of the most famous people in Canada. There he would be, in his shabby bathrobe, a cigarette cupped in his right hand, a mug of tea in his left, scratching his gray beard with his shoulder, anxiously awaiting his paper.

Mr. Kevin was the host of a morning radio show that was broadcast across the country. Mr. Singh had tried to listen to it a few times, but it was just a lot of chatter about fishing in Newfoundland, fiddle music in the Ottawa Valley, and farming on the prairies. These Canadians were funny people. Most of them lived in cities, but all they seemed to discuss was the countryside.

Mr. Kevin, despite his unkempt appearance, was very much a gentleman. Rather shy. Mr. Singh enjoyed the ritual conversation they had each morning.

“Good morning, Mr. Singh,” Mr. Kevin always said.

“Good morning, Mr. Kevin,” Mr. Singh always said in reply. “And how is your beautiful wife?”

“More beautiful than ever, Mr. Singh,” Mr. Kevin would say. Putting the cigarette in his mouth, he’d open his palm and pass an orange slice over to Mr. Singh.

“Thank you,” Mr. Singh would say, giving Mr. Kevin his newspaper.

“Freshly sliced,” Mr. Kevin would answer.

They’d then follow up with a short discussion about gardening or cooking or tea. Despite all he must have had on his mind, Mr. Kevin never seemed rushed. It was simply courteous and respectful conversation at an ungodly hour. Quite civilized.

It took the usual twenty-five minutes for Mr. Singh to methodically work his way up to the twelfth floor. There were only two suites on the top floor. Mr. Kevin’s suite, 12A, was to the left, around the bend, near the end of a long corridor. The resident to the right, an older lady who lived alone, took the other paper, which he always delivered last.

Mr. Singh arrived at Mr. Kevin’s door, and as usual it was halfway open. But there was no sign of Mr. Kevin. I could just leave the newspaper here, Mr. Singh thought. Then he’d miss their daily conversation.

He waited for a moment. Of course, he could not knock, that would be highly improper. Humming louder, he shuffled his feet, hoping to make enough noise to announce his arrival. Still, no one came.

He hesitated. It was the engineer in him. He liked routine. Order. He remembered the day his eleventh-form mathematics teacher taught the class that there was no such thing as parallel lines. That because the earth was round, any two parallel lines would eventually meet. Mr. Singh didn’t sleep for a week.

There was a noise from inside the apartment. An odd, hollow sound. That was strange. Then a door closed. Good, he thought as he waited. But there was silence again. Maybe he should leave.

Instead, he took Mr. Kevin’s newspaper and dropped it onto the parquet floor just outside the door. It landed with a loud smack, which he hoped would signal his presence in the doorway. He’d never done anything like this before.

There was another noise inside. Distant. Were they footsteps? What should he do? He certainly could not enter.

Mr. Singh waited. For the first time, he looked down at the front page of the newspaper. There was a picture of an ice hockey player raising his arms in the air and a story about the local team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. How odd that the name was misspelled: Leafs and not Leaves. And the color of the leaf on the jersey was blue. Mr. Singh had seen lovely red and yellow maple leaves. But never a blue one.

At last he heard footsteps approaching the door. Mr. Kevin came into the hallway, wearing his usual bathrobe, and opened the door all the way. Mr. Singh heard a soft tap as it rested on the door stopper.

But where was his cigarette? His tea? Mr. Kevin was looking at his hands. Rubbing his fingers. Mr. Singh noticed something red on his fingertips.

He had a pleasant thought. Blood oranges. He so loved to eat
them back home, and he’d recently found that they arrived in Canadian stores this time of year. Had Mr. Kevin been cutting one?

Mr. Kevin raised his hands to the light. Mr. Singh could see the red liquid clearly now. It was thick and heavy, not thin like juice from an orange.

Mr. Singh’s heart began to race.

It was blood.

Mr. Singh opened his mouth to speak. But before he could say a word, Mr. Kevin leaned closer. “I killed her, Mr. Singh,” he whispered, “I killed her.”


fficer Daniel Kennicott was running flat out. “Where do you want me to go?” he called back to his partner, Nora Bering, who was half a step behind him.

“I’ll cover the lobby,” she said as they rushed into the Market Place Tower. “You go up.”

A uniformed man standing behind a long wooden desk looked up from his newspaper as they hurried past. Inside, the marble walls were covered with textured sculptures, bouquets of fresh flowers seemed to be everywhere, and classical music was playing softly.

As the senior officer, it was Bering’s job to assign tasks in urgent situations. As they were running, she’d called the dispatcher directly on her cell phone to avoid the scanners who picked up police calls. The key facts were that at 5:31, twelve minutes ago, Kevin Brace, the famous radio host, met his newspaper deliveryman, a Mr. Singh, at the door of his penthouse, Suite 12A. Brace said that he’d killed his wife. Singh found a body, adult female, apparently deceased, in the bathtub. He reported that the body was cold to the touch and Brace was unarmed, calm.

That the suspect was calm, almost placid, was common in domestic homicides, Kennicott thought. The passion of the moment had dissipated. Shock was setting in.

Bering pointed to the stairway door beside the elevator. “Two choices, stairs or elevator,” she said.

Kennicott nodded and took a deep breath.

“If you take the elevator,” Bering said, “procedure is to get off two floors below.”

Kennicott nodded again. He’d learned this in basic training when he joined the force. A few years before that, two officers had answered what sounded like a routine domestic call on the twenty-fourth floor of a suburban apartment building. When the elevator door opened, they were gunned down by the father, who’d already killed his wife and only child.

“I’ll take the stairs,” he said.

“Remember: every word the suspect says is vital,” Bering said as Kennicott gulped in more air. “Be one hundred percent accurate with your notes.”


BOOK: Old City Hall
9.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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