Authors: Domenic Stansberry
Also by Domenic Stansberry
Chasing the Dragon
Manifesto for the Dead
The Last Days of Il Duce
ST. MARTIN’S MINOTAUR
THE BIG BOOM
. Copyright © 2006 by Domenic Stansberry. All Rights Reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The big boom / Domenic Stansberry.—1st ed.
1. North Beach (San Francisco, Calif.)—Fiction. 2. Police, Private— Fiction. I. Title.
First Edition: May 2006
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
t was the time of the big boom and everyone figured the prosperity would last forever. There had been other booms before, but those had always been followed by calamity—a bust that took away everything the good times had given, then kept on taking. This boom would be different, people said. The Transamerica Pyramid at the end of Kearney seemed almost to glow, and the bankers who worked inside issued a stream of proofs and prognostications. Meanwhile the streets swelled with new arrivals. The old-timers found the new enthusiasm insufferable, but the old-timers found everything insufferable. The truth was, you could see a certain gleam in their eyes, too, and at night the streets along North Beach echoed with the sounds of pleasure: from Tosca’s to the Café Sport to the old U.S. Restaurant. The lines were long and there was a restive, animal smell. Those with pressing reservations left their cars along Kearney, double-parked, to be fetched from impound in the morning by couriers who specialized in the service. Such behavior did not seem extravagant under the circumstances. The
bounty of the moment was infinite, after all—if only you could reach out and extend your grasp.
Meanwhile it was still possible—strolling down Columbus, perhaps, or turning a corner on Grant—to meet the plaintive stare of someone not sharing in the general prosperity. Sometimes at night, alone on your mattress, you might hear a soft cry. If you went to the window, though—nothing.
Just the fog and the darkened row houses and the arc lamp casting its blue light on the corner.
It was possible to experience doubt at such moments, of course, even if you realized such doubts would inevitably give way in the morning to the knowledge that the old order was evaporating. That soon everything would be transformed. If you continued to doubt, all you had to do was glance at the Pyramid for reassurance. Or at the newspapers. Or at the people absorbed in their handheld devices. So, after a while, if you heard those soft cries at night, you did not go to the window. And walking the streets, you did not meet those plaintive glances. You did not notice. Just as no one noticed, this particular evening, the corpse floating in the water.
The corpse surfaced at the end of the pier, floating in the manner that corpses float, face down, arms dangling. The corpse wore a silk blouse, the pearls still about the neck, the skirt ballooning from the flesh.
There were a number of people out strolling, stopping at the railing, gazing at the bay, at the numinous reflections skittering across its black surface. But no one noticed the dark form in the water, or if they did, they did not attach to it any significance. Perhaps their eyes were focused on the distance, on the lights glittering on the horizon. Or perhaps on something within—some notion they could not quite possess.
Meanwhile, a steamer passed, and the corpse rocked with the swells, the head gently thudding against the pilings. Sometime in the morning, just as the sky was graying, the body submerged again, not wholly, but just enough to slip beneath the pier. The morning crowds came. They disembarked from the ferry, walked along the wooden planks, ate on the benches. The corpse floated beneath them, lodged on the piling, just out of view. A stench rose—masked in part by the water, it was true, by the smells of the bay—but no one went to look. Perhaps no one would have discovered it at all if not for a fisherman—a boy, really, a kid from the Chinatown projects—who two days later got his line, his favorite lure, tangled in the darkness beneath the pier.
t was late afternoon, and Dante Mancuso sat in the Serafina Café, lingering at the counter with the air of someone who had lingered here before. He had a newspaper spread in front of him, but he was no longer reading. His eyes were hooded, and there was in his expression something hidden.
Dante was in his late thirties—a man with aquiline features, wide lips, an immodest nose. The nose was a family trait. The crooked beak, the humped camel, the wriggly worm. The old Sicilians had had a hundred names for the promontory at the center of their faces. Dante had their dark eyes as well, and a quick smile. A smile that because of the sharpness of his features seemed somehow more tender, more vulnerable. A smile both tender and menacing.
But Dante was not smiling now. He was all nose.
He sat in the Serafina, empty plate to the side, with that nose pointed downward at the newspaper spread on the counter. On the inside page, there was a two-inch story with a simple headline.
CORPSE PULLED FROM BAY
Dante pushed the paper aside. The Serafina was a dark place, thick with the stench of the past—a little mom-and-pop joint tucked between Ling’s Wei’s Grocery and the Colombo Hotel. It was the kind of place people passed by in their search for the authentic North Beach. Serafina’s was authentic enough, of course, but it didn’t have the kind of authenticity people wanted. Rather its windows were sooty and the old Italian woman who owned the place was no Mona Lisa.
“I hate those people,” Stella said, pointing to the stream of passersby. The glass was dark and the people strolling by, out there in the sunshine, seemed little more than shadows.
“Me, too,” said old man Pesci.
Pesci was ancient, in his nineties, near blind, and wore a black shirt with a red rose stitched into the collar. His teeth were cigarette yellow, his eyes clouded. “I hate everyone.”
“Of course you do,” said George Marinetti.
Marinetti was trying to be agreeable. He was in his late seventies, some dozen-odd years younger than Pesci, and had not meant to stir things up. Even so, the older man shot him a look of disdain.
“Don’t humor me,” snapped Pesci. “I know what you’re up to.”
Marinetti looked to Dante then, as if he were the arbiter. In some way, Dante had played this role since he was young. He was the watcher, the audience: the one who listened to their stories. This particular argument was not new to him. Truth was, Marinetti had set things off, intentionally or not, by mentioning he might sell his place on Vallejo Street. His wife had died the year before, and Marinetti was having trouble with his knees, getting up the stairs. Still…
“No one has a spine anymore,” said Stella. She had her hands on her hips and her breasts were out. “Everyone runs. They sell out, first chance they get.”
“I’ve lived in the same flat sixty years,” said Marinetti.
“That’s nothing,” said Pesci. “I remember … I goddamn remember …”
Old man Pesci, his head weak on its stem, made a vague gesture at the window, at the passing shadows. He blew smoke from his lungs and started to cough. It was a horrible, vicious cough. When it died down, you could hear the crowd passing outside. Anxious laughter. A burst of Chinese. Someone calling for a cab.
Marinetti turned to Dante, still looking for a way out.
“What are you reading, your nose in the paper?”
“The comics, the funny papers…,” Pesci said, interrupting. “What do you think he’s reading, our man here, Mr. Investigator. Mr. Nose-in-Everyone’s-Business.”
Dante was an ex-cop, with a tangled history. He’d left the neighborhood for a while, but now he was back. He’d returned home some six months ago, after his father’s death. Things had settled now and he was working with Jake Cicero, special cases, private investigation. They all knew this, of course. These Italians, they knew everything, talked to everybody. Probably they knew that Barbara and Nick Antonelli had been down to Jake Cicero’s office yesterday.
Their daughter, Angela Antonelli, was missing.
Dante had known Angie as a little girl. There was a picture of the two of them together along here somewhere, yellowing under the counter glass—along with pictures of half the people in the neighborhood. Or the neighborhood as it had been.
Angie was seven years old in the picture, a brunette in her communion dress. Dante was twelve, standing alongside her outside the church. Dante had known her more intimately later on, in his twenties, in a way a man knows a woman. The old ones would know that as well, of course.