Read The Big Boom Online

Authors: Domenic Stansberry

Tags: #Mystery

The Big Boom (18 page)

Nick knows, Barbara thought.

Angie was murdered, and Nick knows. If he didn’t know at first, he knows now, even if he pretends to himself that he doesn’t. But he knows. She had seen it in his eyes. He had more to do with it then he was willing to admit.

Still, she hadn’t given the journal over to Dante.

You would think, she thought, after all Nick has done, I would have no loyalty left in me. But maybe my loyalty is not to him but to something else. To a world that I imagine for myself, and don’t want to abandon. But such loyalty, it doesn’t mean you have to forgive.

She dialed Nick now. She left an ugly message on his machine.

Meanwhile, she could see the buzzards in the tree. She stood in her green skirt and her olive blouse under the gold sun. The buzzards were masticating. I am dreaming, she thought, and, in this dream, the next time I see Nick, I will drive a knife into his heart. She looked at the buzzards and suddenly she understood. She understood everything. She was not the dreamer. No. It was the buzzards who were dreaming her.

TWENTY-FOUR

N
ick Antonelli was with his mistress, Anne Marie, in the apartment towers atop Russian Hill. Her balcony looked down into The Beach. It was a yellow concrete bunker of a building, very contemporary on the inside, that loomed out over the hillside. Now, standing on the narrow balcony, Nick was filled with vertigo. A few minutes ago, his wife had left a message on his cell, but he had not listened. Meanwhile, Dante Mancuso was looking for him, he knew, and a police detective who’d just been transferred to the case. Nick could see the cop station from here, too, and the square. Perhaps Dante was down there at the moment, wandering about. The cop, too. Sooner or later there would be an intersection. Sooner or later their trajectories would cross, and the crossing would seem like coincidence, or fate, depending upon how you looked at such things.

From his mistress’s balcony, Nick could see his daughter’s apartment building down below him, at the base of the hill. And he could see Mortuary Row farther on, nestled in the little valley, and the small dark figures on the sidewalk gathered around limousines.

“Why don’t you step inside?” Anne Marie said.

Anne Marie was a vital young woman, a brunette, who had come to work at his office about a year before. She had full lips and a slant nose and gray eyes and a smile that wouldn’t quit. She was a year or so younger than his daughter, if truth be known, though a different type altogether.

“Come inside, Nick,” she said.

Though there was nothing about her voice that any man could object to—throaty, deep, resonating with womanly empathy—she could not comfort him now.

“I’ll make you a plate,” she said.

Goddamn Solano, he thought. Goddamn La Rocca. Goddamn the whole fucking business.

A long time ago his father had told him. Don’t stake everything on one deal. Don’t put all your meatballs in one fucking basket. If you do, you’ll get desperate. You’ll end up with blood on your hands. And his father had known. Because he’d had all his money tied up in the shipping business, and when the workers went on strike, he’d had to bring in the knuckles, as they used to say.

Like father, like son.

His cell rang again. He squinted at the screen. It took someone with tiny hands and perfect eyes to work these things. Small blond girls with slender fingers. Drug dealers with their hats turned backward on their heads. Midgets from Tokyo. No, these cells weren’t designed for people like him, middle-aged wops with fingers like fat cigars. Fingers that mushed the keys. Fingers soft and pudgy, like an old man’s dick. He felt like hurling the damned thing over the edge. Then the name flashed up. He swore, but it wasn’t his wife, at least, or that goddamn Dante Mancuso. It was Gucci, calling from the Diamond Mortuary. Up out of the basement from humping some
corpse. They used to joke about him when they were kids, imagining it. Gucci creaming all over Rosa Perrinello down there in the basement. All over Karen Bolinni and the Zlonkowski girl, too, with her little tits and her pigtails. Now the wind gusted up the hill and he pressed the phone to his ear. Gucci’s voice was calm and earnest, soothing. He could see down to Mortuary Row, to the black figures moving around on the sidewalk, the cars pulling into the lot. An evening viewing, no doubt.

“Your daughter’s vessel. We found one in Las Vegas.”

“Vegas?”

“A business associate of mine, a friend really—he is a supplier to the trade. And it happened that they had a model in stock. The Princesss Corombona. Very beautiful. But the price—I wanted to be sure.”

“That’s not the model.”

“It is the previous model. With the ivory princess. It is, if anything, a little nicer—the quality of the wood, cut from an older grove. But the cost—”

“Screw the cost.”

“Yes, I know, but—”

“Just get it. I don’t want to listen to numbers. I don’t want to ever hear a number again.”

“Yes. It’s very beautiful. Absolutely elegant.”

The small black figures in front of the mortuary had clumped together, and their numbers were diminishing. Filing inside the building, disappearing, like ants vanishing into a crack.

“Shall we go ahead with the arrangements,” asked Gucci.

“Yes.”

“I will need your signature.”

Antonelli knew what the man was getting at. He thought again
of his daughter’s remains up there on the police slab. Of the beautiful wooden coffin. The princess carved in ivory.

Gucci was still talking.

“Hello … Mr. Antonelli… Our connection …”

Nick felt divided. He didn’t want to bury his daughter. But he didn’t want her on that slab either.

“Shut up,” he said.

Gucci fell silent, there in the static. I am trapped, Nick thought, there must be something I can do. He hung up on Gucci and found Anne Marie standing in the balcony door, with her thick, dark hair and her beautiful face. There is always Rome, he thought, I can always cash it in.

“I’m going out for a little while,” he said.

“Let me make you something to eat.”

“No.”

“I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to go out. You’re pretty upset.”

“I have some things to take care of.”

She tried to embrace him, but he pushed her away. It wasn’t much of a push. He’d been rougher with her plenty of times, pulling up her skirt, making out against the wall. Even so, he saw the hurt look on her face, and felt the ugliness on his own. She had set out a plate with prosciutto and cheese, and also a bottle of wine waiting to be poured. He swung his hand and knocked the whole business to the floor.

“I can’t do this any longer,” he said.

The look she gave him reminded him of his wife, his daughter. A look that had fear in it, love. When he saw such look in a woman’s face, he knew he controlled her and could not stand to be around her much longer.

“Go to your wife then.”

She didn’t mean it. She would take him back at the drop of hat.

“Fine,” he said. “I am already gone.”

Before Anne Marie, another woman had worked in his office. And before that, another. He had given them good salaries, but Anne Marie more than the rest had nothing to complain about. She had this apartment.

You’re a louse,
he told himself.

He headed down the hill, toward The Beach. He was headed to Gucci’s, to sign the papers, then to the church to give the priest his fatass check, so his daughter could get the burial she deserved. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it, not yet. Instead, he walked around the neighborhood, all the old places. What he was looking for, he didn’t know. Eventually he found himself at the far end of Columbus, standing in front of Rossini’s Bar. His father used to come here, and his father’s father before that. From what he understood, one of Rossini’s sons, Tony, still ran the place. Tony was close to his own age—one of those who clung to the old ways, who acted like it was 1952 and he was a guy from the neighborhood, with a macaroni up his ass and an accent like he justa step offa da boat. But Tony wasn’t behind the bar. It was some kid with a green streak in his hair and an earring dangling down. Antonelli looked around the place. Some kind of Tuesday crowd. Not a person he knew, young or old. He turned to leave, but just then the bartender asked what he would have.

“Dewar’s,” Nick said. “Dewar’s with a beer back.”

There were a lot of family pictures on the wall. Rossini this and Rossini that, but it was easy to see that it was all a crock. If you were honest about it all, the neighborhood had been dismantled long ago. Maybe those people on the wall had sweated blood once upon a
time, riding their donkeys up and down the street, but it was all bullshit now. Just tourists and Chinese. And these new jackasses in their silk shirts and their cowlick hairdos who expected to make a million bucks jacking off in front of the computer.

“Another round?”

Antonelli pursed his lips and pointed them at the glass. His father had used to do that. The old ones, whenever they wanted anything, they pointed with their lips. Give me this, give me that. I look, I grunt, I want.

The kid seemed to understand.

The television was tuned to the business channel. All stock market, all the time. A ticker tape ran across the bottom of the screen. They were in the midst of a financial catastrophe and the anchorman was excited to beat hell. All the arrows were pointed down. Some kids at the end of the bar were yapping away.

“Time to buy,” said one. “It’s a buying opportunity.”

“Venture’s pulling the plug.”

“Not on Intel.”

“On everyone.”

“I don’t believe that. Just wait—you don’t want to miss the bounce.”

The first time Antonelli had ever been to this place he had been maybe five years old. He had sat on his father’s knee, and old man Rossini had been behind the bar. The place had been full of those wide-chested Italian men with their white shirts and their oversized slacks, slipping back and forth between Italian and English. Men who spent their days speaking the language of pipe wrenches. Of fishing boats and hammers.

Grab too much and your hands come up bloody.

The kid at the bar looked familiar.

“Who the fuck are you?” asked Nick.

“Jim Rossini.”

“Tony’s son?”

“Yes.”

The kid’s chest went out a little. Full of himself. Full of the goddamn world. Tony Rossini had six kids, a half-million grand-kids. A wife with a fat ass who got on her knees and gave him a blow job whenever he walked into the room. This kid with the green hair was no doubt one of her progeny.

“Who are you?” the kid asked.

Antonelli hesitated. The people in the old days had respected his father, to his face, but behind his back, they said things. Once upon a time, Nick had wanted nothing more than to be like those men who came to Rossini’s Bar, but even those slobs, those carpenters, those fishmongers, they had a chip on their shoulder. But he had shown them. He’d married Barbara Como. He’d made a million bucks.

“My name’s Antonelli,” he said. “Nick Antonelli.”

“Oh. Pleased to meet you.” The kid put out his hand, but it was apparent the boy had never heard of him.

“One more?”

Nick went back to take a piss. He scrolled through the cell and dialed up the message his wife had left.

I know what you have done. I know everything.

Her voice was like a cold finger on his heart.
You killed her. You murdered your daughter.
She went on. Something about a computer, a journal that Angie left behind.

He stepped outside.

He wished he could say the streets were full of ghosts. That as he walked down the streets the eyes of his ancestors were on him. That
he could feel their presence, and as he walked down to sign over his daughter’s corpse, to commit her to burial, he felt himself joining with those who had gone before. But it wasn’t true. There were plenty of people on the street, yes. People with sad eyes and drooping lips and shoulders that sagged. They were all around him, yes, but they were not ghosts. There was nothing spectral about them. No, these assholes were all flesh and blood.

D
ante had the bolt cutters with him now and he climbed the ladder on Fresno Street. His tenant, Lisa, stood below him in the kitchen, arms folded, watching. Snapping the bolt proved the easy part; the lock gave way without much trouble. Getting into the attic itself proved more difficult. The crawl space was lower than Dante remembered, and he had to wriggle his way through the hatch, angling in, leaving his feet to dangle free a moment as he scootched forward on his stomach. He crawled on his knees now, leaving Lisa behind. It was not an easy entry, but he remembered his mother up and down this ladder, obsessed with her knickknacks, her boxes, her photos.

Pigeons, he thought, or a nest of rats. Maybe that’s what was making the noise. Whatever it was, though, it was not the real reason he was here.

Dante shook his head.

Bad as his mother now. There were other things he should be doing.

Seeking out Antonelli. Or Jim Rose. Or just turning this over to pest control and getting back to his life.

Instead he was here again, in the house on Fresno Street. After the dementia set in, they had been been unable to keep his mother
out of the attic. Dante had been with SFPD then, as a young detective. He’d stop by, and she would be up here, in the attic, going through boxes. Arranging. Rearranging. Muttering.

The boxes closer to him were neat and well ordered. His mother’s handwriting was on the boxes even now.
Nanna. Pappa Pellicano. Dante.
Farther along, things were not so orderly. Odds and ends lay scattered on the joists: statuary and a Christmas crib and the infant Jesus in his swaddling clothes.

Dante pointed the light ahead and crawled along after it. The smell up here was not so good. He could see, toward the rear, that some of the large boxes had been disturbed. They had been knocked over, and clothes were strewn about, and old papers as well. His mother’s doing, maybe, all those years ago. Dante went along a little bit more and the odor was more pungent. There was a shaft of daylight in the recesses of the attic, coming through the south wall, and he saw one of the vents had last its grill work. He considered going forward and trying to fix it, but it appeared the flashing was missing. There was another area he could not see, behind some plywood sheathing. Something could be nesting back there, he supposed. He shone his light along the eaves, but the old rattraps were empty. Farther along were torn boxes and yellowed clothing that been slashed and strewn over the joists.

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