Authors: Donald Bain
Table of Contents
The Margaret Truman Capital Crime Series
EXPERIMENT IN MURDER
Murder, She Wrote
CLOSE-UP ON MURDER
PRESCRIPTION FOR MURDER
TROUBLE AT HIGH TIDE
THE FINE ART OF MURDER
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First published in Great Britain and the USA 2014 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
19 Cedar Road, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM2 5DA
eBook edition first published in 2014 by Severn House Digital
an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Copyright Â© 2014 by Donald Bain
The right of Donald Bain to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, designs & Patents Act 1988.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Bain, Donald, 1935- author.
1. MafiaâFiction. 2. Suspense fiction.
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8358-2 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-514-7 (ePub)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
For my best friend, RenÃ©e, who also happens to be my talented wife.
For my agent, Bob Diforio of the D4EO Literary Agency, who has given me a new lease on my writing career.
And for all the Smythes out thereÂ â¦Â and the women who've ended up with a Smythe in their lives.
thing defines humans more than their willingness to do irrational things in the pursuit of phenomenally unlikely payoffs. This is the principle behind lotteries, dating, and religion.'
e'd just dropped his drawers when the lights went out.
The plunge into darkness was so abrupt that it was almost audible. One minute his hotel room overlooking Times Square had been bathed in soft, yellow light from floor lamps mixed with the glow from the TV screen on which an adult movie played. Now, everything was black.
He pulled up his boxers, decorated with little red-and-white Canadian maple leafs, and went to the window. A moment ago, the neon lights on the streets below had dazzled, but now the only illumination came from the chaotic movement of automobile headlights.
âGood evening, Mr Smith,' said the desk clerk who answered his call.
âIt's Smythe. Like Blithe.
âYes, sir, Mr Smythe. There's been a blackout.'
âI don't know, sir. It will probably be over soon.'
âI certainly hope so.'
Smythe felt his way across the room, found the small transistor radio he always traveled with, and tuned to a local all-news station that had gone to auxiliary generators. He plopped on the bed and listened to the announcer: âThe blackout appears to have affected all areas of the city. I've just been handed a report that this power outage extends into Queens and Staten Island. Police and fire units have beenâ' A burst of static drowned him out.
Smythe flipped on his cell phone. The battery was low and there was no way to recharge it. Even if he could, cellular transmitters would have only a few hours of battery backup before they, too, gave out. He called home.
âWhere are you?' his wife asked.
âI thought you were coming back today.'
âMy meetings ran longer than expected andâ'
âYou know we're having guests tomorrow night.'
âYes, Cynthia, I know that. I'll try and catch the earliest plane in the morning. It depends on how long this blackout lasts. I'm sure all flights are cancelled â the airports are dark â they'll be backed up. I'm not sure thatâ'
âWhat dreadful timing,' she said.
âI'll do my best.'
âThink of something, Carlton. The mayor and his wife are coming andâ'
Smythe held the phone away and made a harsh squawking sound.
Another squawk from him. âBattery running l-o-w â losing p-o-w-e-r.
He closed the phone. He knew the landline phone in the room would work but didn't pick it up. Instead, he returned to the window and watched the erratic jumble of traffic below, headlamps bunching up at intersections, the faint wail of sirens penetrating the hotel window's allegedly soundproof glass.
He pulled a small penlight from his travel kit and used it to illuminate the dial on the room's wired phone. It took a while to get through the voicemail's myriad prompts until a live person at Air Canada spoke.
âIs it possible to book an early morning flight to Toronto?' Smythe asked.
âEverything is down, sir, the computers â there's a blackout.'
âI know that,' Smythe said, trying to keep pique out of his voice, âbut can't you reserve a flight for when it ends?'
âYou'll have to call again when that happens, sir. I'm unable toâ'
Smythe quietly placed the handset into its cradle. At least he could tell Cynthia that he'd tried to get home for the party. He wasn't unhappy about missing it â another party, another dull round of conversation with Toronto's movers-and-shakers, their place on Cynthia's invitation list determined by the position they occupied in the city's social and leadership hierarchy.
He stretched out on the bed. Ironic, he thought, to be the victim of a blackout. He'd spent his entire professional career working as an engineer for Power-Can, a huge Ontario power company on the outskirts of Toronto. Until his dismissal eighteen months earlier he'd been instrumental in calling for fail-safe procedures at the plant in the hope of avoiding another blackout like the one in 2003 that had paralyzed much of the Mid-West and East Coast. He'd urged his employer to begin substituting a new generation of giant electronic switches for the increasingly inefficient mechanical ones that failed to react fast enough in the event of a power glitch that could, and had, within seconds, wreaked havoc with a large portion of the North American power grid. He'd been tenacious in calling for this change, evidently too much so for his bosses who called him in a year and a half ago to announce that he was being phased out. Downsized. Fired! The patronizing words of his boss had stayed with him to this day: âChange is inevitable, Carlton. Spearheading teams these days takes the energy and drive of younger people, young Turks on their way up. It's time for you to enjoy the good life with that lovely wife of yours, travel, bask in your golden years.'
Golden Years? He'd just turned fifty-three.
Smythe had wanted to say to his boss, a toad-like creature with a perpetual crooked smile. But he didn't. He accepted the buyout and packed up his office, his smiles to well-wishers masking his inner fury.
It had been a wrenching experience. He'd devoted the best years of his professional life to Power-Can, a dedicated and loyal employee who'd received numerous citations and promotions. Being summarily axed enraged this otherwise contented engineer. The severance package, generous by any standard, did nothing to mitigate his anger â and hurt.
He stewed about it for weeks in the home he and Cynthia shared in the prestigious Rosedale section of downtown Toronto. His dismay at being fired had nothing to do with money. He'd married into wealth. Cynthia Smythe's father had been Toronto's most successful venture capitalist. His firm, Wiggins Capital, had arranged funding for many of the city's largest renewal projects: hotels, condominiums, office buildings. He was a power broker in Ontario politics, a king-maker of the first order, and never reluctant to let people know it.
Smythe closed his eyes and allowed his mind to wander. He wanted pleasant thoughts, but unpleasant ones kept bumping the good ones to the sidelines. As hard as he tried to avoid it, memories of one particular day many years ago took center-stage.
âI'll be straight with you, Smythe,' Walter Wiggins said as they sat at a table in a secluded corner of the National Club's Blake Lounge, âI'm more than displeased that you've knocked up my little girl. In fact I'm pretty damned angry about it.'
The year was 1981. Carlton H. Smythe was within a month of graduating from Toronto University with a degree in electrical engineering from the School of Applied Science and Engineering. Cynthia Wiggins was also scheduled to graduate. Her degree was in opera performance from the university's esteemed Music Department. That she'd passed the audition and had been accepted into the program surprised everyone. Her voice was considered mediocre. Had her father's name on the university building he'd funded played a role in the decision? She preferred to think that it hadn't; her father knew damn well that it had. In the end, it didn't matter. It was what his only daughter wanted, and that was good enough for Walter Wiggins.
Cynthia had met Carlton following a performance in the university's MacMillan Theatre. She'd had a small role in that evening's production of Mozart's
The Magic Flute
. She wasn't happy with the size of her part and pouted late into the evening at a pub frequented by art and music students. Carlton and his roommate had gone to the movies and stopped in at the bar on their way back to the dorm.
Carlton had met Cynthia before and considered her sexy in a non-glamorous way. She wouldn't win any beauty contests, but she had a nice smile, and all the female lumps were where they were supposed to be. He'd heard rumors that she was easy: âCynthia Roundheels' was the way a male student once characterized her to Smythe, perhaps unfairly, maybe not.
She was tipsy when Carlton started up a conversation at the bar. After a half hour she suggested that they go back to the apartment her father maintained for her to avoid, as she'd told him, âthose shallow, petty girls in the dorm.' Their clothes were off within minutes of walking through the door, and Smythe, who wasn't a virgin but whose sexual experiences were not of the notches-on-the-bedpost variety, found himself on top of the naked, aspiring diva, whose skin felt cold and clammy, and whose only words were, âDo it deep and hard. Make me forget!'