I stared out the taxi window at the empty Toronto streets. An early-morning autumn mist had settled over the downtown area. The cab turned onto Grenville Street, its headlights cutting through the mist.
“Here we are, ma’am,” the driver said. “Coroner’s Building.”
As I paid the fare, a red-haired man holding a Starbucks cup opened the taxi door. I glanced at my watch. Five fifty-seven.
“Bright and early, Ms. Tierney.”
What’s his name? Hardy. Detective Sergeant Neil Hardy. Toronto Police Service, Homicide Division.
Hardy ushered me into a waiting room with soft lighting, a pale blue couch and a few chairs. He opened the door to an adjoining room. “I’ll see if they’re ready next door.”
I sat on the sofa, steeling myself for what was to come. I’d never been in a morgue before.
Hardy held a door open. “They’re all set up in here. You’ll be looking at the body on a closed-circuit monitor.”
In the viewing room, a bearded young man in jeans and a tropical shirt waited beside a television with a blank screen. I sat in a chair facing the screen.
“Ready?” Hardy asked.
Hammering started up in my head. No, I’m not ready but I have no choice. I nodded.
“Let’s see if this is your Barry Saunders.”
“Busy day?” Barry had asked the evening before.
I smiled. “They all are.”
I glanced around the Jackman Lounge. The Four Seasons Centre’s VIP room, with its floor-to-ceiling windows, was filled with well-dressed men and women. The lounge was for the use of the Canadian Opera Company’s big donors. Barry was apparently a patron of the arts.
“Let me guess.” Barry drew his chair closer to mine. “Your clients are complaining about the markets.”
“That’s putting it mildly.” I took a sip of wine. “But it comes with the territory when you’re a financial advisor.”
“What do you tell them?”
“To hang on. That the last quarter was a temporary blip and things are already looking up. But some people are impatient.”
“Your daughters can manage on their own this evening?”
I chuckled. “They’re no longer children. Tracy is twenty-four. She finished law school this year and she’s articling with a Bay Street firm. Laura, my baby, is seventeen and in her last year of high school.”
“Seventeen. Patty, you were seventeen when we met.”
I didn’t like him bringing up the past. And I didn’t like him calling me Patty. No one called me Patty anymore.
He tilted his silver head. “You haven’t changed. Yes, you have a career you probably never dreamed of back then and two children. But you have the same smile. And you still have the knack of really listening.”
Getting much too heavy. I was saved by the chimes that called us to the performance.
“This is a first,” I said as Barry held the door for me. “I’ve never seen Cosi Fan Tutte.” I stepped into a tier of boxes, one level above the theater’s main floor.
“A box?” I asked.
Barry nodded. “The Grand Ring.”
I was impressed.
We took our seats, then Barry leaned forward and raised an arm in greeting.
I scanned the floor below, but I couldn’t distinguish anyone in the crowd that was coming into the theater. “Who was that?” I asked.
“Someone I worked with a while back.”
When the house lights went down, I found myself uncomfortably aware of Barry beside me. There I was, seated beside my first heartthrob, a bundle of nerves. I crossed my legs so my thigh wouldn’t brush against his.
Get a grip. I focused on the stage.
I soon relaxed under the magic of Mozart’s music. And such music! Rapturous solos and duets and trios and quartets, backed by a superb orchestra.
When the curtain came down after the first act, I smiled at Barry with real pleasure. “Bravo!”
“You liked it.”
He rose from his seat. “Why don’t you order us coffee in the lounge? I’ll join you in a few minutes.”
I ordered two coffees. But Barry was longer than I’d expected, and he’d only taken a few sips from his cup when the chimes called us back to our seats.
The theater was almost full when he reached inside his jacket. “Cell’s vibrating,” he muttered.
He flipped his phone open. “Damn,” he muttered, glancing at a text message. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
He hadn’t returned when the curtain rose. I assumed he’d have to wait for a suitable break in the performance to be seated. I turned my attention to the stage.
Fifteen minutes into the act, Barry still hadn’t returned. Conscious of the empty seat beside me, I couldn’t completely give myself up to the music.
The seat was still empty when the audience roared its applause at the final curtain call. Watching the company take its bows, I was thoroughly ticked. Barry had asked me to come to the opera with him, then he vanished.
When the house lights came up, two male ushers came through the doorway behind my seat. “A224 is empty,” I heard one of them say.
“You here with Simon Megarry?” the second man asked.
I shook my head.
“Do you know who had a ticket for A224?”
I looked at the number on Barry’s seat. A224! “My friend did,” I said, “but his name is Barry Saunders.”
“Come with us, please,” the usher said.
The back of my neck prickled. “What’s happened?”
“Come with us,” the usher repeated.
I followed the two men out of the Grand Ring. In the lounge, we were joined by a red-haired man in a rumpled navy suit and a dark-haired, heavyset man in a beige sports jacket.
“Toronto Police Service.” The redhead flashed his ID.
The ushers left the lounge. A uniformed officer stationed himself at the door.
“Detective Sergeant Neil Hardy.” The redhead showed me his badge.
He motioned me to a chair at a table, and sat down across from me. “This is Detective Constable Mario Mancini,” he said as the officer in the sports coat pulled up another chair. “Homicide Division.”
Homicide! I studied the officers’ faces but they were as blank as statues.
“Your name?” Hardy asked.
“Your friend had a ticket for A224?”
“Yes. Barry and I watched the first act. We’d just taken our seats after intermission, when he got a message on his cell. He left the theater. Said he’d be gone a few minutes.”
“A text message?” Hardy asked.
“Do you know what it said?”
“No. What’s wrong?”
“He didn’t return to the seat?”
“No. Where is he?”
“Ms. Tierney, you know Barry Saunders well?”
I sighed. “I knew him years ago. In high school. We met again recently.”
“How did you meet up?”
“On the Internet.”
“One of those online dating sites?" Mancini asked, his black mustache twitching.
I winced. My business partner had suggested checking out schoolbuddies.com to look up former classmates. I visited the website and saw that Connie Blair, my best friend in high school, was listed. I submitted a short profile and promptly forgot about schoolbuddies.com. Then, the week before, I received an e-mail from Barry, my date for the graduation prom. I accepted his invitation to lunch. We had lunch on Monday and he invited me to the opera on the weekend.
“It’s a site that connects former school friends,” I said. “Schoolbuddies.com.” What do I care if they think I troll the Internet for men?
Mancini scribbled in his notebook, and Hardy fixed his piercing blue eyes on me. “So you caught up with your old school chum. This your first, uh, date?”
“Second. Now, tell me what’s happened.”
“Ms. Tierney, a body of an adult male was found in one of the men’s rooms. We’re treating it as a suspected homicide. We found a ticket stub in the jacket pocket for seat A224 for this evening’s performance.”
A dead body in a washroom? That didn’t happen at the opera, at least not in Toronto. “Barry?” I whispered.
“The driver’s licence and the other cards he was carrying identify the deceased as Simon Megarry.”
“So it’s not Barry!”
Simon Megarry. The name sounded familiar but I couldn’t place it.
Mancini closed his notebook.
“We have a body, some ID and a ticket stub for the seat next to yours,” Hardy said. “Ms. Tierney, you’ll have to go to the morgue in the morning to identify the body.”
He paused. “One more question. Did your friend see anybody he knew tonight?”
Mancini started taking notes again.
“No one. No, wait! Barry waved to someone when we got to our seats.”
“Did you see who it was?”
“No. He said it was someone he’d worked with.”
Hardy cleared his throat. “Where does Saunders live?”
I felt like an idiot. I’d never asked Barry where he lived. The subject had never come up. “Somewhere downtown, I think,” I said. “I have his e-mail address and a phone number. But I’ve never been to his home.”
“According to his driver’s licence, Simon Megarry lived at 35 Harbour Court. That’s one of the big condo towers on the lakefront. His suite is 1501.”
Barry hadn’t mentioned having a condo overlooking Lake Ontario. “I don’t know where Barry lived,” I said, “and I don’t know anything about Simon Megarry.”
Hardy stood up. “You have a car around here?”
I shook my head. “Barry drove me.”
“We’ll call you a taxi,” Hardy said. “I’ll see you early tomorrow, Ms. Tierney.”
“Six. Coroner’s Building. Twenty-six Grenville Street.”
“That’s him,” I whispered, my eyes fixed on the screen. “That’s Barry.”
I watched the image fade. Then I pulled back my chair. When I tried to stand, I found my legs had turned to jelly.
“Rest a minute,” Hardy said. “It’s always a shock, even at a distance like this.”
I held my head in my hands. What happened to Barry?
Hardy took out his cell phone and spoke a few words into it.
“D.C. Mancini is bringing the car out front,” he told me. “We’ll take you to the station for a video statement.”
I followed Hardy out of the building. None of this makes sense. Who is Simon Megarry? And why was Barry carrying his identification?
Born and raised in Montreal, Rosemary McCracken has worked on newspapers across Canada as a reporter, arts writer and reviewer, and editor. She is now a Toronto-based freelance journalist, specializing in personal finance and the financial service industry. So it’s not surprising that Pat Tierney, the protagonist of Rosemary’s mystery series, is a financial advisor and a champion of small investors.
Safe Harbor, the first novel in the series, was shortlisted for Britain's Crime Writers' Association's Debut Dagger Award in 2010. It was published as a paperback and an ebook by Imajin Books in 2012. Its sequel, Black Water, was released in May 2013.
Jack Batten, The Toronto Star’s crime fiction reviewer, calls Pat Tierney “a hugely attractive sleuth figure.”
This excerpt from Last Date is the opening of a Pat Tierney mystery-in-progress.
Bianca’s Note: Well, first dates don’t get much worse than this! Thanks to Rosemary for giving us a sneak peek at her mystery-in-progress. For a chance to win a paperback copy of either Safe Harbor or Black Water (Winner’s Choice), make sure to enter below!