Murder Thy Neighbour – James Patterson

AT A QUARTER TO nine in the morning, Judge Stacy Moreno sits in her chambers at the Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh, reviewing the file of the case she is about to hear. Moreno’s office is austere, with no file out of place, no disorganized stack of papers to be seen. The shelves are lined with law books. The judge’s robe hangs from a hook on the back of the door. The case she is reviewing is an appeal of an earlier ruling. Both the city’s building and health departments have levied fine after fine against a homeowner named Roy Kirk, who bought one half of a row house in an up-and-coming neighborhood known as North Hills Estates, in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh. Apparently, the long-abandoned house needed a lot of work, but the work never got done. In fact, according to complaints from the neighbors, the house is in a greater state of disrepair now than when Kirk bought it. A woman named Ann Hoover, who owns the adjoining house, has pushed again and again for the city to do something about the problem. She is scheduled to appear in court to testify against Kirk. Hoover’s property and Kirk’s share a yard, a porch, and a roof. She is the most affected, but there are other neighbors involved, many claiming that Kirk’s property is an eyesore that is bringing down the home values of the whole neighborhood. Judging from the photographs in the file, the judge can see why everyone is upset. The place is a dump. The siding is in desperate need of a paint job.

Some of the windows are broken and boarded up. The roof is missing so many shingles that bare patches of plywood are clearly visible. And the lawn is not only overgrown with weeds, it’s also full of garbage bags, as if Kirk has been using it as his own personal trash heap. Kirk’s appeal today claims that he is making a good-faith effort to restore the property, and that fines will only hinder his ability to get the work done. Judge Moreno checks her watch and sees that it’s 8:59. She rises from her cushioned chair and fastens her judge’s robe around her. At nine o’clock on the dot, she steps through the door at the back of her chambers, which takes her directly to the raised bench overlooking the courtroom. “All rise!” the bailiff announces. “The Honorable Judge Stacy Moreno now presiding.” Everyone in the courtroom rises.

“Thank you,” Moreno says. “Please be seated.” From her elevated position, she can see everything in the courtroom clearly: the court reporter seated close to the bench, ready to take notes; the jury box, empty for the purposes of this hearing; the bailiff’s dais, off to one side. The gallery is unusually full of spectators—presumably neighbors, all interested in the outcome of the hearing. And front and center, of course, the tables where the plaintiffs and defendants—and their lawyers —are meant to sit. A lawyer from the solicitor’s office represents the city. But the lawyer for Roy Kirk sits alone. There’s no sign of his client. Kirk’s lawyer rises, looking embarrassed, and asks if they can have a short recess as he tries to get nine in the morning, Judge Stacy Moreno sits in her chambers at the Allegheny Kirk’s lawyer rises, looking embarrassed, and asks if they can have a short recess as he tries to get in touch with his client. “Your Honor,” the assistant city solicitor interjects, “I support the motion for a short recess.

Mr. Kirk’s neighbor, Ann Hoover, is also not here. She is a key witness for the city.” Judge Moreno purses her lips, thinking. It’s highly unusual for neither the defendant nor the key witness to show up. “Aren’t these two next-door neighbors?” she says. A woman in the second row of the gallery stands up and catches the judge’s attention. “Your Honor, if I may,” the woman says. “I live in the neighborhood. We went by Ann’s home on the way to the courthouse this morning.

We’d made arrangements to all come together.” She gestures to a man seated next to her—another neighbor, apparently—who nods his head in agreement. Both the man and the woman look concerned. “There was no answer at her door,” the woman continues. “I’m worried about her. I think something might have happened.” Judge Moreno thanks her and asks her to be seated. All eyes in the courtroom stare back at her. “Bailiff,” she says, turning to her longtime court official, “contact the Pittsburgh police and ask them to send someone to check on the whereabouts of Ann Hoover and Roy Kirk.” “Yes, Your Honor.

” Judge Moreno turns back to the courtroom. “Let’s get to the bottom of this,” she says. “Attorneys, please contact me in my chambers if you hear from either Mr. Kirk or Ms. Hoover. We’ll be in recess until we hear something.” With that, she smacks her gavel down on its block, and the bailiff once again says, “All rise!” Judge Moreno walks back to her chambers with a sinking feeling. She can’t explain it, but she feels certain the courtroom will not be called back to order today. in touch with his client. “Your Honor,” the assistant city solicitor interjects, “I support the motion for a short recess.

Mr. Kirk’s neighbor, Ann Hoover, is also not here. She is a key witness for the city.” Judge Moreno purses her lips, thinking. It’s highly unusual for neither the defendant nor the key witness to show up. “Aren’t these two next-door neighbors?” she says. A woman in the second row of the gallery stands up and catches the judge’s attention. “Your Honor, if I may,” the woman says. “I live in the neighborhood. We went by Ann’s home on the way to the courthouse this morning.

We’d made arrangements to all come together.” She gestures to a man seated next to her—another neighbor, apparently—who nods his head in agreement. Both the man and the woman look concerned. “There was no answer at her door,” the woman continues. “I’m worried about her. I think something might have happened.” Judge Moreno thanks her and asks her to be seated. All eyes in the courtroom stare back at her. “Bailiff,” she says, turning to her longtime court official, “contact the Pittsburgh police and ask them to send someone to check on the whereabouts of Ann Hoover and Roy Kirk.” “Yes, Your Honor.

” Judge Moreno turns back to the courtroom. “Let’s get to the bottom of this,” she says. “Attorneys, please contact me in my chambers if you hear from either Mr. Kirk or Ms. Hoover. We’ll be in recess until we hear something.” With that, she smacks her gavel down on its block, and the bailiff once again says, “All rise!” Judge Moreno walks back to her chambers with a sinking feeling. She can’t explain it, but she feels certain the courtroom will not be called back to order today. CHAPTER 2 Ten months earlier AS ANN HOOVER’S FINGERS dance over the keys of her Steinway piano, the notes of Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 float through her home.

The hardwood floors and decorative brick walls make for good acoustics, one of the many things she loves about her house, where she’s lived for the past decade. She takes a break from playing, plucking her half-full wineglass off the smooth surface of the piano, and walks down the hall to the front of the house, then steps out on the porch to enjoy the sunset. The humidity of the day seems to be breaking, and the temperature isn’t quite as suffocating as it’s been. The warm glow of dusk fills the neighborhood. Ann watches a teenage girl walking a dog, a man pedaling by on a bicycle, and a couple taking a stroll together, sharing an ice cream cone they bought down the street. Ann loves this neighborhood. The houses are affordable because most of them need some work. That was the case with hers. After she bought it, she had to put some serious effort into repairing it. As a capable single woman in her midthirties at the time, she did a little bit of the work herself—patching drywall, painting, even installing tile in the bathroom—but mainly she relied on friends or hired contractors to do the work.

She learned a lot about what it takes to restore and maintain a house like this. It wasn’t easy, but she loves the results. The house is two stories tall, with additional space in the basement, and she’s renovated and decorated it to be exactly the way she wants it. There’s only one thing she doesn’t like about the house. It’s also the only thing she doesn’t like about the neighborhood. The house next door. Ann’s home is a row house, meaning it’s half of a single building. When she purchased her property, it didn’t look much different from the one next door. But there haven’t been any buyers interested in the other side, which has continued to fall into disrepair. The FOR SALE sign sitting out front is hardly visible from all the weeds growing in front of it.

The house itself looks unappealing. Paint is flaking off all the exterior siding. The roof is full of bald spots where shingles have blown off in windstorms. The wooden supports holding the porch are rotten. Bricks have come loose from the foundation. Just standing next to the place is spoiling her mood. She takes her glass and heads back inside. She debates whether to crack open a new bottle and decides to indulge herself. She heads to the basement, where she keeps a small wine cabinet. The wooden steps creak underfoot as she descends, and the temperature drops ten degrees, like she’s walking into a cave.

The basement is dark, with cobwebs hiding in the exposed floor joists above her. She hurries across the concrete floor to the cabinet, which abuts the brick foundation wall her home shares with the neighboring property. She plucks out a bottle of cabernet and heads back upstairs. At the top of the stairs, she glances at a series of signatures written in permanent magic marker Piano Sonata No. 2 float through her home. The hardwood floors and decorative brick walls make for She takes a break from playing, plucking her half-full wineglass off the smooth surface of the piano, adorning the basement door. These were all the friends who helped her renovate the house after she bought it—she’d asked them to sign the door when she’d hosted a housewarming party after the work was finally finished. After she pours herself a new glass, Ann walks back to the piano and sits down, her fingers poised over the keys. She takes a deep breath. But as she’s about to play the first notes, she stops herself.

She cocks her head. Did she hear something? She rises from her seat and heads back to the front door. She peeks out the sidelight and sees that a truck has pulled up in front of the neighboring property. A young man, probably in his midtwenties, is unloading tools from the truck bed. She can’t believe it. She steps out onto the front porch as the man comes up the walk, holding a circular power saw in one hand and an extension cord in the other. “Excuse me,” she says. “Are you from the realtor’s office?” She’s been trying to get them to repair the roof. The house needs work all over, but the roof is her main worry. She’s afraid it might start leaking onto her side of the property, causing damage inside the walls.

“Nope,” says the man, grinning broadly. “I own the place. I just bought it.” Ann can’t help but smile. “Oh, wonderful,” she says. “I’m your new neighbor.” The man tucks the extension cord under his arm, freeing up his hand to offer it to Ann. “Pleased to meet you,” he says. “I’m Roy Kirk.” adorning the basement door.

These were all the friends who helped her renovate the house after she bought it—she’d asked them to sign the door when she’d hosted a housewarming party after the work was finally finished. After she pours herself a new glass, Ann walks back to the piano and sits down, her fingers poised over the keys. She takes a deep breath. But as she’s about to play the first notes, she stops herself. She cocks her head. Did she hear something? She rises from her seat and heads back to the front door. She peeks out the sidelight and sees that a truck has pulled up in front of the neighboring property. A young man, probably in his midtwenties, is unloading tools from the truck bed. She can’t believe it. She steps out onto the front porch as the man comes up the walk, holding a circular power saw in one hand and an extension cord in the other.

“Excuse me,” she says. “Are you from the realtor’s office?” She’s been trying to get them to repair the roof. The house needs work all over, but the roof is her main worry. She’s afraid it might start leaking onto her side of the property, causing damage inside the walls. “Nope,” says the man, grinning broadly. “I own the place. I just bought it.” Ann can’t help but smile. “Oh, wonderful,” she says. “I’m your new neighbor.

” The man tucks the extension cord under his arm, freeing up his hand to offer it to Ann. “Pleased to meet you,” he says. “I’m Roy Kirk.”

.

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