Read The Big Boom Online

Authors: Domenic Stansberry

Tags: #Mystery

The Big Boom (25 page)

“So you’re undergoing a transformation here?”

“You could say that,” said Solano.

Solano had pretty much the same demeanor as always, but there was something off. He looked as if something had been dislodged inside him.

“I had an interchange with a couple of your people yesterday,” said Dante.

“My people?”

“The same ones who put Angela Antonelli in the bay. Private contractors—is that what you call them?”

“You’ve got an active imagination.”

“So do you, apparently. Whatever you’re trying to sell here—it doesn’t exist. Angie knew that, didn’t she?”

“Existence is a nebulous concept,” he said.

It was an odd thing to say, and Dante could see the light gone astray in the man’s eyes. Solano’s vulnerability, and the fissures beneath the surface, seemed accentuated now, here in the empty building. When he spoke again, though, there was some of the old confidence. “You think about something long enough, you imagine it, after a while it does exist. You bring it into being.”

“Angie was keeping a journal,” said Dante.

“Our company did nothing unusual. The goal in all of these things is to go public. The goal is to hang in until you have your ideas out of development—and to position yourself. That’s the way things work.”

“You were afraid she was going to write her story.”

“No.”

“You arranged it?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Her murder, was that one of your ideas? Did you bring that into being, too?”

Solano seemed not to have heard him. It wasn’t uncommon. When Dante had been with SFPD, working the interrogation room, he’d seen it more than once. Suspects ignored you, deflected your questions. Some of them had been coached by their lawyers, but for others it came naturally.

“Angie mentioned you to me once, you know,” said Solano. “She talked about you.”

“This isn’t about me.”

“You were her true love. She told me how, ever since she was a kid, she thought the two of you would get married. Only her mother, her father, they weren’t good enough for you. You wanted to be Jesus, or a cop, or some damn thing … But I told her not to worry. I told her she was destined for greater things.”

Dante thought about the last time he’d seen Angie. He thought of her body on the slab. He’d thought of the saltwater in her lungs, and the sea larvae in her pudendum.

“You want to blame me,” said Solano. “But the truth is, if you were the guy you pretend to be … if you had really loved her … then her life would have gone differently. Maybe she wouldn’t be dead.”

Dante had had enough. He came around the desk. He expected Solano to back away, but instead the man just stood there, with his good looks and his slanted smile. Dante hit him in the chest.

“You self-righteous fuck,” said Solano.

Dante hit him again. The man staggered back, his eyes wide, keeling. Dante knocked him to the ground and picked him up again and pushed him against the wall. The window was nearby and
Dante could see the people below. Solano was breathing hard but smiling, oddly, and there was something in his expression that seemed to be inviting Dante to hit him again. Dante felt the same rage he’d felt out on the cliff. It took everything he had to let the man loose.

“You’re quite the man,” said Solano.

“Sure,” said Dante.

“Quite the brute, yes.” Solano said it with a certain cockiness, but he rubbed his chest at the same time, in the spot where Dante had hit him. “But this is a new world, and I’m not sure how many peasants we’re going to need.”

“We’re all peasants.”

Solano laughed. His shirt was rumpled and the top button was torn, and there was a sense he was on automatic now.

“No. Not all of us. Just you,” Solano went on. “And people like you. Because you don’t understand. It’s all coming to pass. It won’t matter where you are anymore, or who you are. If you have access—if you have the key—the world will be at your fingertips. You can see everything, you can know everything. But the secret is, you have to let the old world go. Because it never existed anyway. Not in the way you pretend.”

The man was right, maybe, but Dante didn’t care. No doubt we lived in a world where some day soon, if you sneezed in Bangkok, the cost of the Kleenex would be deducted from your bank account in Des Moines. Where there would be a security camera on every corner, and a cell phone in every tree. Where a credit card chip would be tattooed to your asshole, and if you didn’t have any money, well, you didn’t get to shit.

No doubt. No fucking doubt. It would be true soon, but it wasn’t true yet. Not this week anyway.

“I know your role in all this,” Dante said. “I know it precisely. I have Angie’s computer.”

That last statement was a lie, but Solano did not know that. The man looked over at his desk, as if he wanted something out of the refrigerator underneath. Some crackers and cheese maybe. Imported water.

“When you broke up, she threatened to write her story. You told Smith, didn’t you?” Dante said.

Dante didn’t have the proof, but it was the only way it could be. Solano had gone to Smith, and Smith had told Antonelli.

So Antonelli had called La Rocca, and La Rocca had hired Arturo Lindowski.

Around the circle, around the horn.

“Antonelli didn’t know they were going to go after his daughter,” Dante said. “But you knew, didn’t you? You knew and you went on your trip out of town—to give yourself an alibi.”

Across the way Dante could see the empty offices in the adjoining wing and the randomizers on the computer screens. Bright whirlpools of sand. Of dust. Supernovas. Black screens that filled with light and then went black again. A week before, the offices had been filled with people riding the crest, the buzz that said this new wave was endless; only fools thought otherwise. Meanwhile, somewhere at the center of the universe, stars were collapsing, matter was being sucked back toward the moment of creation, and the whole thing was getting ready to start all over. Dante saw the weary, dead look in Solano’s eyes.

“You are kind of in a bind here. You turn on your friend Smith, and they’ll abandon you. But you protect him—and you’ll be convicted.”

It was a strategy he’d often used in interrogations. Show the suspect
he was cornered on both sides—then give him an avenue of escape. Except he hadn’t really given Solano a way out. Not yet. He wanted to push him deeper into the corner.

“I’m going to the cops,” Dante said.

The truth was Dante had nothing. He had no proof. There was no computer disk, and the hired hands were all dead. But he didn’t care. He could see Solano dissembling, and that was all that mattered. He didn’t care about justice anymore. All he wanted was to see that look in Solano’s eye when it all came unhinged. Dante turned to leave. The big bluff. Behind him, he heard Solano rummaging in his desk.

“Wait a minute,” said Solano.

Dante turned. Solano was holding a revolver. Dante glanced from the gun to Solano, and saw on his expression the fecklessness, the inner despair, the confusion Dante had always suspected was there beneath the surface, but at the same time he saw the boyish good looks and that vaporous smile that had so endeared the man to Angie.

“Come here,” said Solano.

Dante didn’t move.

“Come on,” said Solano. “I have something I want to show you.”

Dante knew about moments like this. He had studied them in criminology class once upon a time and experienced a few up close. The moment when a desperate man was cornered, he could do anything. You had to offer him hope. Otherwise … But Dante didn’t want to offer Solano hope.

Solano smiled then, an ugly, funny smile, an echo of itself, stripped of its charm. Dante gave him the same smile back. Then Solano raised the gun and put the barrel into his mouth.

There was a spray of red and Solano fell to the ground. He fell in a heap. No one came running. They were too busy looting the building. Dante considered calling the cops, but decided not to. Let him lie there. Let the cops find him on their own.

EPILOGUE

D
ante left the old cannery and headed down Jackson to Columbus Avenue. This was the old business district, down in the hollows, where the Italian
prominenti
had had their offices. There were cottages back in the alleys, steel overhead. At the corner, a shaft of light. Then shadow. Up ahead, the Pyramid was lost in vapor. Dante could smell the vanished meadow beneath the concrete; he could smell its mud stench and hear the larks singing in the dunes that were no longer there. He headed up the hill, up the stone path, along Columbus. Out in front of Tosca’s, a fishmonger pushed his cart into traffic. The doors of the Hungry-I were open, and the big notes of a tenor sax rippled the street. On Telegraph Hill, above the ramshackle little houses, goats were running loose, and a telegraph operator sat hunched in the wind. Everything was mixed together, all the layers. Gold seekers and railroad workers and wartime riveters stumbled off the docks to peer up a local girl who sat with her legs spread inside the Naked Moon. Dante looked, too.

The dead mingled with the living. The fog dissipated. Returned. The sky was nothing but blue.

Dante kept along Columbus. It was a plank road, built after the neighborhood itself, angling across the old streets to connect the wharf to the warehouses on the North Shore. The tourists walked the planks, headed toward the Pyramid. The sirens wailed down Vallejo, out of Columbus Station. In a little while the cops would be standing over the corpse, but they would never put it together. There were no paths back to La Rocca, Dante told himself. Just as there were none back to Smith. It always worked that way, and it made him wonder, if men like them, those two, if they were one and the same.

Protected by the devil himself, as Grandmother Pellicano might say. By the vindictiveness of men.

He kept walking.

Up here was Washington Square, the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. Over there, the bench where he and Angie had sat once upon a time; and over there, the steps where the communion picture had been taken. There was another family there now, and Antonelli and his grandfather and the others mingled with them on the sidewalk. On the corner was a sawhorse with a sign on it and an arrow pointing uphill.

Open House

1547 Weber

Prospero Realty

Dante followed the arrow. On the way he passed a couple holding hands. A disconsolate man in a beret. A Chinese boy and his ancient grandmother, whose history in the city, Dante figured, went further back than his own. There was a cop all in blue, who gave him the nod, and then Dante turned the corner.

Marinetti’s place.

Dante walked up the stairs. The same stairs Marinetti had come up the day he’d gotten married, and the same stairs the twins had descended on the night they died on Ocean Highway.

Don’t forget us.

The place did not have quite the look it had the week before. It was decorated pretty much the same, in the same clean-edged style, with the pictures of Marinetti’s family tucked away, and bright new pillows piled high on the bed, and artificial flowers in mauve vases. Only now Dante could sense the old man’s presence. Cigar smoke. A wine bottle on top of the refrigerator, half empty. A crossword puzzle underneath the coffee table.

Also the crowd was gone. It was just Marilyn now, on the phone, alone on the couch. It took him a minute, but then he realized she was talking to the Widow Bolinni, who was a million years old and owned a fourplex down at the end of Fresno, not far from his father’s place. She rented it out, and Prospero did the management. Marilyn hung up.

“What’s the matter?” asked Dante.

“Raccoons,” said Marilyn.

“Raccoons?”

“That’s what the old woman says. Her son was out there with a flashlight, and saw one shimmy up the drainpipe. They’re nesting up in the attics, crawling building to building. Mrs. Bolinni caught one, apparently, shredding her mother’s wedding gown.”

Dante thought of the animal smell in his mother’s attic. He thought of the boxes that had been knocked over and the things that had been strewn around.

“Where’s the crowd?”

“They backed out.”

“Who?”

“The buyer. They backed out of the deal.”

“Luckily—you’ve got the other offers.”

“Nothing in writing. And the way things sit now, well, we’re chasing the market down.”

“What do you mean?”

“Things have shifted.”

He looked at her then—her just graying hair, her rayon blouse, her jewelry, her makeup that seemed a little too heavy for the afternoon light—and when she moved away from him, all the hesitation he’d felt suddenly turned into resolve, into desire.

“I have to call someone,” she said.

She stepped into the other room, where Marinetti’s bed was stacked high with those pillows, and Dante thought about the man in gray. She did not close the door, and he could hear her talking.

“I just wanted you to know,” she said. “We’re accepting offers.”

Her voice had a certain enthusiasm, and vulnerability as well, and Dante realized the balloon had popped. The boom was over. Likely, the truth was Marinetti had a second mortgage on the place already. Then there was the cost of the retirement home to think about, and the real estate commission, and back taxes. Not to mention the money his daughter and her husband were going to need. The sale price would be high, maybe, but not as high as they needed, and the margins were narrow.

A young couple entered the flat, whether potential buyers or lookie-lous, it was hard to know. They glanced Dante up and down, mistaking him for an agent, it seemed, one of lower reputation. A few days ago, the people who came to look, they had been all anticipation. But this couple’s demeanor suggested they could take it or leave it; they were neither particularly impressed nor easily pleased.

“Is there a view?” the woman asked.

Dante nodded toward the kitchen.

“The ad said quaint,” she said. “The ad said Old World.”

The husband smirked. He wandered over to the table that Marilyn had laid out for the visitors and ate a cookie.

“Is this the first open?”

“It was last week.”

“Not so many people today.”

“Not at the moment.”

“Any offers?”

“There’s been a lot of interest.”

The wife regarded the refreshment table. “I would have thought there’d be wine.”

“I’ll remember that for next time.”

“The view?”

“Out there,” he said, nodding toward the kitchen. “On the porch. You can see a long ways.”

The couple stepped out onto the landing, but he could tell they didn’t understand. All they could see was the laundry line and the stairs descending to a dark patio where the garbage was stacked up below.

But it was true.

You could see everything from here. You could see all of North Beach. You could see the Sicilians in their boats way out to sea. You could see the old shoals where the Calabrian hags beat their wash against the rocks.

You could see all the way to Singapore. To the Abruzzi Mountains. To goddamn fucking Cleveland.

The couple shook their heads, but they lingered a while anyway, eating cookies and drinking soda. They walked around the living room. They inspected the bath and peered into the bedrooms. Finally
they went the way they had come, and Dante heard them clumping down the stairs. Outside, the light was changing. It was a light like you saw along the California coast in the early evening, with the tide rushing out, the waves receding. The boom was over, but the people were still here, and they weren’t going to leave. No. It was the double trap, the two-way fix. Prices would go up, but there would be no jobs. There would be money, but not for you, not for me. Another wave crashed along the shore and the light grew yellow.

Marilyn stood beside him. Dante put his arms around her. The truth was, you couldn’t save anyone, and no one could save you.

He kissed her. She kissed him back. They disentangled. Outside the dead were beckoning.

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