Excerpt

What We Buried

Robert Rotenberg

The following is an exclusive excerpt from and cover reveal for What We Buried, by Robert Rotenberg, forthcoming from Simon & Schuster in February 2024. Robert Rotenberg is the author of several bestselling novels, including Old City Hall, The Guilty Plea, Stray Bullets, Stranglehold, Heart of the City, and Downfall. He is a criminal lawyer in Toronto, and also a television screenwriter and a writing teacher.

Good and bad.

Good. There were many good things in Daniel Kennicott’s life right now. He was entering his seventh year as a homicide detective and had advanced in record time to be one of the top officers on the Toronto homicide squad. After too many years of failed and near-miss relationships, he was living with a woman, Angela Breaker, who seemed to be his perfect match.

Bad. It had been ten years since his older brother, Michael, his only sibling, had been murdered. The case never solved. Twelve years since his parents had been killed in a car crash, and even though the driver had pled guilty to impaired driving causing death, Kennicott was still convinced there was more to the story.

Good. Earlier today he’d come back home from a small hill town in Italy, where he’d learned many things, including a delicious new tomato sauce recipe. This evening he was strolling through Little Italy, in his arms a brown paper shopping bag filled with groceries he was bringing home to make dinner. He’d bought his favourite Italian pasta, imported buffalo mozzarella, a big bundle of basil, a handful of cremini mushrooms, a pair of white onions, a homemade sausage, and a dozen locally grown field tomatoes. The tomatoes were in season in midsummer and would be perfect.

Bad. This uneasy feeling he’d had for the last half hour as he’d gone from shop to shop, greeting the merchants he’d gotten to know during the fifteen years he had lived in the neighbourhood. He’d been warned to be careful, so he kept checking behind him, looking for reflections in store windows, searching for something out of place. Someone watching him. Following him.

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Good. College Street on a summer night. The streets of Little Italy ablaze with colourful lights, banners, umbrellas, and decorations. The bars and restaurants and stores overflowing with people, laughter, and cheer. Music blasting out on every block. A cool rain had begun to fall, making the street scene look like a misty Hollywood movie set. Even better, he wouldn’t be alone tonight in his second-floor flat nearby. He was going home to Angela.

He always enjoyed the walk up from College, leaving behind the lights and traffic and streetcars and noise of the main street for the darkness and calm of Clinton, the side street where he lived. Heading home, Kennicott had convinced himself that his concerns were overblown. That there was nothing to worry about.

Almost convinced himself.

Excerpt continues after cover reveal.

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The narrow sidewalk had turned slick from the rain. He peered down at the muddy footprints of overlapping adult shoes, dog paws, children’s feet, residue from the park at the end of the street. What was it that he was looking for?

He glanced behind him back down the street. No cars coming. He looked up ahead to the top of the street. There was one set of headlights, far away. A vehicle pulled over at the end of the block, a no-parking zone. Its headlights were on, and its engine was running, spitting out vapour through its tailpipe, like a winded athlete exhaling into the cooling night air.

Six houses away from his home, he slowed his pace, watching the car. As his eyes adjusted to the dark street, he could see it wasn’t an ordinary vehicle but one of those trimmed-down, sleek SUVs. Black. It still wasn’t moving.

He thought about stopping, yet some instinct told him that was a bad idea. He kept walking. Five houses away now. None of these homes had side alleys he could duck into. His house did, a pathway that led to the side-door entrance to his second-floor flat. His landlords, the Federicos, had installed a motion-detector light when he told them that Angela, whom they adored, had moved in. It would click on once he got there.

Kennicott laughed to himself when he thought about Mr. Federico. Last week he had bought an expensive flexible hose and attached it to the wall at the side of the house.

“Better to water my tomato plants,” he told Kennicott. “See, it bends, like rope.”

“Impressive,” Kennicott said.

“Please, Mr. Daniel.” Federico looked around and lowered his voice to a conspiratorial level. “Not tell Rosa the price.”

“I would never tell your wife. Your secret is safe with me.”

The SUV at the end of the block pulled out into the street. It hadn’t put its turn indicator flasher on. Why did that seem menacing?

Kennicott fixed his eyes on the car. It crept toward him, like a tiger on the prowl. Behind it, he saw another SUV pull in at the top of the street. Same shape, same black colour. It stopped in the middle of the road, cutting off any other vehicle from entering the block.

Run, a voice in his head shouted at him. Daniel, run! Angela was a marathon runner, and in the last few years she’d gotten Kennicott into jogging again, something he’d done in what felt as if it were a lifetime ago when he was in law school.

The sidewalk was too slick. He slipped and almost tumbled to the ground, catching himself just in time. One of the tomatoes rolled around the top of the shopping bag like a basketball circling the rim of a net and tumbled out. It nestled under the streetlight, a red dot on a sidewalk painted pale with rain, like a red bubble nose on a white clown’s face.

He bent down to grab it, but the tomato slithered out through his fingers. He pivoted to look up the street. The SUV was charging toward him, accelerating at surprising speed.

Run, run, he shrieked to himself again. Forget the tomato.

His feet found purchase on the sidewalk, and he was off. Three houses, two houses, one. He was almost home. The SUV was racing down the empty street.

He made it to the pathway and took a sharp turn to his right. The motion-detector light clicked on. Bright, like a prison camp searchlight zeroing in on an escaping convict.

He was steps from his door. He knew he shouldn’t look back, but he couldn’t help himself. The SUV climbed the curb. In the blazing light he saw that its back window was down.

He saw the gun, saw it explode a split second before he heard it boom, a split second before he felt something tear into the top of his right arm. His body slammed onto the ground. The bag of groceries flew out of his hands.

Pain hit, searing into his brain, rocketing through him. He was aware of the sound of the SUV roaring away. The groceries. What about the tomatoes? Would they be crushed by his fall and ruin the sauce he was about to cook Angela?

He heard doors opening. Footsteps. Frantic.

“Daniel. Oh my God, Daniel!”

It was a woman’s voice. Who?

Angela. That’s right. That was good.

I’m sorry about the tomatoes, he wanted to tell her. But he couldn’t speak. That was bad.

“911!” someone was yelling. “Call 911.”

He felt something touch his arm. It was a hand. Pressing down on him.

“Daniel, Daniel, can you hear me?” the woman was saying.

The woman. Yes, Angie. Angela. He’d called her Angie once and she said she hated the name. Something about how her grandmother who called her Angie wouldn’t let her go out and play at night in the housing development where she grew up. Afraid of stray bullets. Bullets. Not good.

“Please, Daniel, please. Stay with me.”

Stay. With Angela not Angie. At home. He was almost home. Good.

He’d been shot. Bad. Angela was here with him. Good. What else was good? He searched his brain. He wanted something else to be good.

Ari Greene. Kennicott’s boss. His mentor. If anyone could catch the shooter it was Greene. He’d solved every homicide case except one. That was bad.

Kennicott could feel Angela pushing hard against his skin. He had to tell her she was doing the wrong thing, tell her the right thing to do. There was no time to waste. The words wouldn’t come out. All he could do was shake his head.

He closed his eyes. The rain was coming down harder now. His whole body felt cold.

“Daniel, hold on,” she said.

He forced his eyes open. He could still move his left arm. He reached up and touched her. Bare skin. Angela wasn’t wearing a coat. She’d be wet and cold. He wrapped his fingers around her arm. To pull her close. To tell her what she had to do to stop the bleeding. He was fading out.

Somewhere there was the sound of a siren. Footsteps, many footsteps. More sirens. People talking. Someone else was close now, saying something to Angie. He couldn’t speak. All he could do was hold on to her arm. Try to keep her warm.

“Please keep your eyes open,” she said to him. He rolled his head to the side. He could only open one eye. It was enough. He stared at the glimmering cement Mr. Federico watered down every night with his expensive new hose, shimmering in the motion-detector light. And the rivulets of red blood, leaching out across it, like an evil spider spreading its legs, readying to strike a final deadly blow.

 

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From WHAT WE BURIED. Used with the permission of the publisher, Simon & Schuster. Copyright © 2024 by Robert Rotenberg.




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