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Authors: John Lawrence Reynolds

Solitary Dancer

BOOK: Solitary Dancer
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Solitary Dancer
A Joe McGuire Mystery
John Lawrence Reynolds

Dedication

For Suzanne McPetrie and Bruce Litteljohn
Friends, mentors, beacons

Epigraph

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

—The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Phillippians

Chapter One

In the false New England winter, gray and damp, that envelops Boston in November, morning commuters emerge from subway stations beneath Boylston Street with expressions both purposeful and bewildered, as though waking from a sleep in which their destiny appeared in their dreams.

Among those who exited the subway one November morning was a woman with heavy Slavic features and a rotund body, her face pie-shaped and pink-cheeked and her pale eyes narrow and slanted, almost Oriental. Her legs, thick and sturdy as dock pilings, ended in scuffed vinyl boots salt stained from the previous winter's snows.

The woman's name was Stana Tomasevich. She crossed Boylston Street at Exeter and walked west toward Newbury Street a block away. At Newbury she turned left and glanced idly at a restaurant where wealthy housewives from Beacon Hill and the upscale suburbs to the west met to dally over smoked salmon, radicchio salads and California chardonnay.

Stana Tomasevich had never tasted smoked salmon or chardonnay. She had never enjoyed the luxury of a lunchtime spent exchanging gossip and muffin recipes over salad and chilled wine. Six days each week she cleaned the homes of people who indulged in such luxuries. She scrubbed other people's toilets, buffed other people's antiques and swept other people's floors before riding the subway back to her three-room flat in Dorchester at the end of the day.

Halfway along Newbury Street, she stopped in front of a four-storied nineteenth-century sandstone building, shifted the plastic bag to her other hand, gripped a cast-iron railing and pulled herself up a set of steps toward the twin front doors. Gilt lettering on the right-hand door identified “The Weiner Gallery,” whose large brass-trimmed window on the ground floor displayed an impressionist painting of a Victorian terrace of houses seen across a park dappled with autumn leaves.

The door on her left bore only the numerals 206A, and it was here that Stana Tomasevich paused to retrieve a heavy ring of keys from the depths of her coat pocket. Each key bore a short length of adhesive tape with a name painfully printed on it in blue ink. She sorted among them until she found one marked
Lorenzo
, which opened the door.

Locking the door behind her, she glanced ruefully at the steep stairs ahead before climbing them one by one up two floors, her body tilting first to one side and then the other with each step, her breathing labored and wheezing from the effort.

At the top of the stairs she turned to enter a large sitting area. Positioned over a large elaborate Oriental rug were several pieces of furniture in a mélange of styles: a Chippendale table serving as a desk, two Eames chairs, a cherrywood Edwardian pendulum clock, a stripped Nova Scotian pine armoire, a parson's table bearing a porcelain vase filled with wilting flowers and an oak corner cabinet displaying dozens of tiny ceramic animals from Paraguay. The wall behind the desk was crowded with framed photographs, some black and white, some in colour. The subjects in the pictures ranged from small children playing with puppies and kittens to shiny foreign cars that appeared to float in an expanse of dark space. There were also many food product packages, tropical scenes of palm trees and sunsets, and several nudes, both men and women.

As she always did, Stana avoided looking at the photographs of the nudes, resolutely crossed the room and pushed through two swinging louvered doors into a small kitchen.

It was eight a.m. The woman upstairs, the tenant of the apartment, would not descend from her bedroom until well after nine. Stana Tomasevich had time for tea and a short rest before beginning work.

Ten minutes later she was seated at the small pine table in the kitchen, watching the tea bag in the cup stain the hot water through shades of amber to deep mahogany.

The sounds of traffic on Newbury Street entered the apartment, muted like storms raging in a distant world. Stana heard only the steady ticking of the pendulum clock and the slow drip of . . . what? She rose and walked to the sink, tightened the faucet handle and returned to sit again at the table.

She raised the cup to her lips, frowned and looked back at the sink.

Drip.

Three breaths.

Drip.

A horn sounded from Newbury Street, two short beeps, a greeting from a driver to a passerby. The door to the art gallery downstairs opened and closed.

Drip.

The faucet was dry. The sound was further away.

Stana turned in her chair. From the far wall of the kitchen a set of steep stairs rose to the fourth-floor level and its three rooms: a large bedroom, a bathroom opening into the alcove at the top of the stairs and, to the right of the alcove, an inner office whose walls were lined with bookshelves and filing cabinets. The pine stairs leading to the top level were waxed and uncarpeted, dangerous to a woman of Stana's age and weight. At their summit, opening into the fourth-floor alcove, was a door with several secure locks. The door would remain closed until the tenant chose to descend the stairs and greet Stana with a cool smile and a slight nod of her head, wearing perhaps a pink peignoir or an oversized man's silk shirt or, as she had on one oppressively warm summer morning, a pair of lace panties and nothing more.

Now Stana rose from the chair and walked across the room to the foot of the stairs and stared up at the closed door.

Drip.

The blood had reached the third step from the top, gathering in a shining crimson puddle fed by the puddle above it and the puddle above that, all of it streaming from a partially coagulated pool on the top stair that leaked out from beneath the closed door, liquid seeking its own level down, down toward Stana Tomasevich's heavy feet and thick ankles and dock-piling legs.

Drip.

Tim Fox tested the strength of the Chippendale table, decided against resting his weight on it and remained standing to stare at the wall of photographs, his arms folded across his chest, a frown on his face. Naked men, naked women, naked men with naked women, naked women with naked women and, in the middle of them all, pictures of cake mixes, and cars and kittens, and bathtubs and flower arrangements.

“An agent. She was an agent for a bunch of photographers. Went out and brought in work for 'em, like a pimp.” Standing behind Fox, Phil Donovan sipped coffee noisily from a plastic cup. “Guess these pictures, they're all by the guys, the photographers she went out and hustled for, right?”

Fox nodded and turned to the window overlooking Newbury Street. This was Donovan's first homicide case as lieutenant. “He's only an acting lieutenant until he writes and passes his exam,” Fat Eddie Vance had assured Fox half an hour earlier. “You're still running the team. So show him the ropes, but treat him like any other louie,” the captain of detectives had ordered.

Fox had muttered in reply, “The son of a bitch is barely five years out of a whistle's uniform and he's an acting louie? Why, because he's a red-haired blue-eyed pink-cheeked potato eater?” Fat Eddie had just blinked and ignored him.

Ten years older than Donovan and with twelve years more seniority, Tim Fox had been promoted to lieutenant barely a year earlier and was still the only black cop above sergeant in the entire police force. And Donovan, whose reputation was based primarily on chasing women and being two months behind on his paperwork, was now an acting louie.

Somebody tell me again that Boston's not a racist city, Tim Fox thought.

Out on Newbury Street, traffic was jammed, drivers slowing as they encountered the murder scene where an ambulance and several police cars sat at angles against the curb and uniformed cops stood in the street, their faces calm, their presence signifying disaster.

“Coop's finished,” Donovan said, and Fox walked through the louvered doors to the kitchen. Norm Cooper was descending the stairs, stepping carefully in his crepe-soled shoes, avoiding the pools of darkened and congealed blood on the steps. The ID specialist carried his oversized valise in one hand and gripped the railing with the other.

“Stairs like these, it's a wonder she didn't break her neck years ago,” Cooper said when he reached the bottom. He set the valise on the floor, pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and swept a hand through his thinning gray hair.

“What'd you find?” Tim Fox asked, leaning against a windowsill, arms folded.

“Zip.” Cooper looked up at Tim. “One set of prints, hers, I'll bet. Nothing else. Place was wiped down. Guy who did it knew what he was doing.”

Fox grunted.

“Doitch'll want the body now,” Cooper said. Two minutes after arriving to make an official death declaration, the overweight medical examiner had retreated to a restaurant on Boylston where he was eating a second breakfast of French toast and bacon, waiting to escort the body back to the morgue for an autopsy. Cooper paused at the door leading to the stairs and outside to Newbury Street. “Want me to send Mel up?”

Fox nodded absently. “Tell him to take his time,” he said. All the specialists had completed their work. Death officially acknowledged, photographs taken, fingerprints lifted, the cleaning woman interviewed. Fox crossed the kitchen and began to climb the stairs to view, for the second time in an hour, the body of the woman identified as Heather Lorenzo, keeping to one side of the stairs, avoiding the blood. Jesus, so much blood.

Behind him, Phil Donovan followed. Acting Lieutenant Donovan, Fox reminded himself.

Heather Lorenzo had been severely beaten at various locations in her fourth-floor apartment. Blood was spattered on the walls of her bedroom where the assault had begun. A trail of blood led from the bedroom to the top of the stairs, along the hall to the office, back to the alcove and toward the bathroom where she had collapsed. A red smear traced her path as she had crawled to the door and slid into unconsciousness, her heart pulsing blood from her body.

The filing cabinets in the office had been ransacked and the contents of one drawer removed. In the bedroom, on a high ledge running across the wall facing the bed, a small steel bracket dangled as though wrenched violently from the wall. Flanking the bracket was a collection of earthenware vases; two lay shattered on the floor where they had toppled from the ledge.

All of the telephones on the top floor had been ripped from their wiring.

“She crawled from the john to the door, top of the stairs,” Donovan had said when they viewed the scene upon arrival. “See the marks, there? Looks like she passed out, maybe, over near the bathroom, see how the blood's already hard?”

Tim Fox saw it all again. He stood staring at the streak of crimson leading across the carpet to where the body lay.

“Preliminary, I'd say she's been dead less than two hours,” Mel Doitch surmised soon after arriving. “Unconscious longer than that, probably. She lay here bleeding.” Then he announced he was going out for something to eat and hefted his oversized bulk through the door and down the stairs.

Fox nodded to himself now, understanding. “He stalked her,” Tim Fox said aloud.

“With what?” Donovan stood with his hands in his pockets, looking around through the open door to the bedroom, across the hall to the business office. “Musta had a weapon with him. Don't lay that kind of hurt on somebody with a pair of fists. Even Tyson on a mad-ass tear can't do that with his fists.”

Tim Fox knelt to inspect the body of the woman again.

She lay on her back, one arm extended, her eyes clouded with death. She had not died in this position. The door at the top of the stairs opened inward and the officers responding to the cleaning woman's telephone call had pushed the body aside as they entered.

She wore a black silk dressing gown over black lace panties and brassiere. Her jaw appeared to be broken and there were dark bruises the length of her body, along her rib cage, down the inside of her forearms and across the line of her shoulders. The gown had been partially pulled from her body as she dragged herself, dying, toward the doorway. The middle fingers of one hand were shattered and several bones, white and delicate like ivory, glistened against the torn skin.

She had been stabbed once in the stomach, a deep abdominal wound that had leaked her lifeblood over a period of . . . how long? It was important to know.

Fox guessed her age at between thirty-five and forty. Her hair was dark and short and her figure was trim, lithe, the breasts unnaturally firm and round above tell-tale hairline scars. He had seen an exercise bicycle and weights in her bedroom.

“Whoever it was, he wasn't trying to boink her,” Donovan said as Tim Fox stood upright.

“Go down and tell the foreign woman, the cleaning lady, she can go home now,” Fox said to Donovan. “Ask her if she can remember anything else, then tell her we'll get in touch with her.”

Donovan paused for a moment, frowning. He's pissed because he's an acting louie and I'm giving him orders like he's still a whistle, Tim Fox thought. To hell with him. I've got seniority and I'll use it.

“Sure,” Donovan answered and began descending the stairs.

Tim Fox stepped across the smear of blood marking the woman's path from the bathroom to the closed door at the top of the stairs, walked down the short corridor and entered the ransacked office.

She had fled into this room in terror. He saw the trail of blood on the floor leading to the old oak desk against the wall. But she had turned abruptly to flee again. Maybe going for the telephone. Fox peered over the far edge of the desk to where the telephone had crashed to the floor. The instrument was marked with a blue sticker initialled by Norm Cooper to indicate it had been dusted for prints.

Fox turned away, then looked back at the over-sized telephone a second time, staring at its base where four gray buttons flanked a small black window. He knelt and bent forward, his weight resting on his hands, studying the lettering below the buttons. Message Play, he read. And Reset/Erase. Answer On. Record Greeting.

Two wires led from the telephone. One was a standard phone jack. The other was a thin power line, ending in a black box the size of a cigarette package. Fox unplugged the transformer, inspected it and replaced it in the receptacle, prompting a mechanical click from within the phone. Replacing the receiver, he noticed the black window was now lit with the numeral “3.” He pressed Message Play.

BOOK: Solitary Dancer
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