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Doug Policzki was late for the party.
Here on Comm Ave, where town houses routinely car-ried seven-figure price tags, the presence of a half-dozen emergency vehicles had brought out the neighbors. They stood in small, hushed clusters, chatting quietly and cast-ing nervous glances toward the house. One of the local TV stations had already caught wind of the situation. If this had been Dorchester, where kids were shot dead on the street dailyblack kids, of coursethe media wouldn't have bothered to show up. Murder in Dorchester wasn't news. WASP prosperity was deemed newsworthy. Policzki rec-ognized the on-air reporter, a striking redhead who stood with shell-pink compact in hand, checking her makeup before the camera started rolling. She glanced up, met his gaze and studied him for a little longer than was necessary returned to checking her makeup.
The house was impressive, one of those brick and stone monstrosities that the wealthy had built before the turn of the last century as a stronghold against the plebeian masses. He paused to gaze up at it for a moment before he showed his ID to the uniform whose job it was to keep liczki," he said. "Homicide."
The uniform waved him on. Policzki climbed over the yellow tape that had been used to secure the scene, and sprinted up the granite steps.
At the broad double door, another uniform glanced without interest at his ID and gave him a curt nod. Policzki opened the door and stepped inside the house. Above his head, a massive chandelier threw a million crystalline par-ticles of light over a foyer bigger than Rhode Island. Brass wall sconces highlighted the most spectacular staircase he'd ever seen. Most Boston homes of this vintage had nar-row stairways steep enough to test the hardiest Puritan constitution. Whoever had built this house had deviated from the norm, building a wide, graceful spiral that seemed to hang in midair of its own free will.
The rooms were empty. Following the echo of voices to the back of the house, Policzki took in the scene in a sin-gle, sweeping glance: the corpse that lay in a crumpled heap on the kitchen floor, one arm outflung, palm up as if pleading for mercy; the forensic tech who whistled tune-lessly as he dusted the briefcase on the broad granite is-land for prints; the paunchy, middle-aged man in a Ralph Lauren suit who sat, seemingly forgotten, on a folding canvas stool, mopping his bald pate with a snow-white linen handkerchief.
Two women knelt beside the corpse, studying it with clinical detachment. As Policzki approached, Lorna Abrams said without looking up, "About time you got here."
interest the hole drilled into the dead man's temple. Be-neath the man's head, a pool of blood had started to con-geal on the slate floor. "No need to be testy," he told his partner. "Our friend here's already dead."
Neena Bhatti, the doe-eyed assistant M.E., glanced at him, eyes alight with humor, and made a valiant, if unsuc-cessful, attempt to suppress a grin. "Hey, Doug," she said.
He was always surprised to hear that nasal Queens ac-cent coming from the lovely and exotic Bhatti. It was like expecting Princess Grace and getting Fran Drescher in-stead. "Neena," he acknowledged. "What do we have here?"
"What we have here," Lorna said briskly, "is a John Doe." Policzki raised an eyebrow. "No ID?"
"No wallet, no wedding band, not so much as a sticky label on his shirt that says, Hi. My name is Bruce."
"As you can see for yourself," Neena said, "it appears that he died from a single gunshot wound to the head. Small caliber. Nice, neat entry hole. Exit wound's a little messier. The bullet tore off a chunk of his skull on its way out."
"Nice visual," Policzki said. "Any idea who he is?"
"Not a one," Lorna said. "But the house is for sale. The guy over there in the corner? His name's Philip Armentrout. He had a two-thirty appointment with Kaye Winslow, of Winslow & DeLucca Realty, to look the place over. He was running a little late, got here at approximately two forty-eight. The house was unlocked, so he walked in and found Mr. Doe here. What he didn't find was Ms. Winslow."
Policzki rocked back on his heels. "Any indication of where she might be?" "Nope," Lorna said cheerfully. "But the briefcase O'Connell's dusting for prints belongs to her."
Policzki glanced briefly in the direction she indicated and said, "So she was here at some point."
"It sure looks that way."
Which they both knew thrust Kaye Winslow into the un-enviable position of prime suspect, a position she shared with Philip Armentrout, at least until the evidence cleared one or the other of them. Policzki had learned early in his career to take nothing at face value, to question every-thing, no matter how it looked on the surface. Just because Armentrout said he'd stumbled across the corpse didn't mean he was telling the truth.
said to Neena, "Do we have an estimated time of death?"
"Need I remind you that fieldwork is an inexact science? I can give you a more accurate assessment once we get Mr. Doe into the lab."
"Ballpark?" Lorna asked.
"Couple of hours, tops. I'd say he died no more than a half hour before Mr. Armentrout found him." Neena stood and pulled off her rubber gloves with a snap. "I'm done here."
"Thanks," Lorna said. To Policzki she added, "And I ac-tually thought I might get home on time tonight."
"With your vast experience, you of all people should know better than that."
She rolled her eyes. "Right. Thanks for setting me Then we'll try to locate Ms. Winslow. If we don't find her lickety-split, we'll have to issue an APB. She could be the perpetrator. Or, " Lorna paused, met Policzki's eyes and shrugged.
The message that passed between them was unspoken, but clear. If Winslow wasn't the perpetrator, chances were good that she was either dead or in serious trouble. "Want me to talk to Armentrout?" he said.
"Have at it. After that, you can check Winslow's ID for next of kin."
While Lorna headed outside to rally the troops, Policzki considered how best to address Philip Armentrout. The gentleman in question sat hunched over, his elbows braced on his knees, his head hung low between his shoulders. Ob-viously not a happy camper. Straightforward and sincere seemed the most appropriate route. "Mr. Armentrout?" Po-liczki said.
Armentrout looked up, focused on his face, recognized that this was yet another stranger, and scowled. "When can I leave?" he said.
"I'm Detective Policzki. Mind if I ask you a few ques-tions?"
"I already answered questions. Twice. Don't you people ever talk to each other? This is ridiculous. I already told you everything. I'm a busy man. I have work to get back to."
Policzki hunched down in front of him, balancing on the balls of his feet. "I understand how busy you are," he said. "And I realize this has inconvenienced you. But it won't take long, and when we're done, you can get back to your busy life. Unfortunately, " he paused, and in the silence he heard the rasp of a zipper as one of the EMTs maneu-won't be able to do that."
Armentrout winced and closed his eyes. Sighing, he said, "Fine. What do you want to know?"
"Why don't you tell me everything that happened, start-ing with the time you arrived?" "We had a two-thirty appointment. I was twenty min-utes late because my one o'clock meeting ran over. I got swered. It was unlocked, so I let myself in. I figured the Winslow woman was somewhere in the house and hadn't heard me knock. I called her name a couple of times, came down the hallway and around the corner and saw this guy's feet sticking out from behind the kitchen island. Hell of a shock."
"I imagine it was. What did you do then?"
Armentrout rubbed the back of his neck with a beefy hand. His eyes were a little bloodshot. "I walked around and maybe needed medical attention. I didn't realized the guy was dead until I saw the blood."
"How'd you know he was dead?"
Armentrout gave Policzki a long, level look. "I wasn't born yesterday. It was pretty obvious."
Fair enough. "What did you do when you realized he was dead?"
"I got the hell out. If there was a killer on the premises, I wasn't about to hang around and wait to become his next victim. I hightailed it out of there and called 911 from the park across the street. I waited there until the cops arrived."
"All right. Did you, at any time, touch anything?"
"Just the doorknob."
you'd met before?"
Armentrout shook his head. "I figured he was one of Kaye Winslow's associates. I don't know who the hell he is. Maybe she can tell you."
She probably could, Policzki thought, if they could just locate her. "All right, Mr. Armentrout," he said, "I think we're done. I'll need verification of your whereabouts ear-lier this afternoon, and a number where I can reach you in case I have more questions."
"Verification of mywhat the hell, am I a suspect?"
In the absence of a smoking gun or a signed confession, we have to consider you a suspect until we can rule you out. Hopefully that'll happen sooner rather than later."
"I don't believe this." Armentrout fished in his pocket for his wallet. He pulled out a business card and shoved it into Policzki's hand. "I go out to look at a house and end up in the middle of a mess like this. My whole goddamn afternoon's been screwed up. You'd better believe I'll be crossing this mausoleum off my list of possibilities." Glow-ering, he slid the wallet back into his pocket. "Matter of me to take it off their hands. Not after this insanity. Maybe I'll find something in Newton or Andover. I hear Lexington's nice."
He left in a huff, this short, self-important businessman whose schedule had been hopelessly derailed by his dis-thought as he watched him go. A real shame that murder had disrupted the guy's busy day.
The door slammed shut behind Armentrout. Across the room, O'Connell, the forensics tech, closed up his finger-print kit. "That went well," he said.
"Right," Policzki said. "He didn't pull a weapon on...