Read The Big Boom Online

Authors: Domenic Stansberry

Tags: #Mystery

The Big Boom (3 page)

Whispered in her ear.

Nick Antonelli was unfaithful. It was common knowledge, and Dante had known it, too, back then, same as everyone else.

Whatever it was Nick had whispered, leaning into her that day, Barbara Antonelli’s face had gone crimson.

N
ow Barbara returned. She brought ice from the outdoor refrigerator, and her husband came with her. Nick Antonelli was a thickset guy with hair that was too black and uniform to be natural. He was close to sixty. He wore a white shirt with ribbing.

His arms were muscular. He was a cocksure guy, even now, but that didn’t mean you couldn’t see his vulnerability.

“Ah, Dante,” he said. He spoke a bit too loudly and shook Dante’s hand a bit too vigorously. He was appetitive, full of himself, and this was part of his charm. “Every time I see you I am reminded of your grandfather.”

“So they say.”

“Yes, but it’s so true. Dom Pellicano—you are his spitting image.”

“The Pelican,” Dante said.

He’d heard the name a lot lately. It was his grandfather’s nickname, and Dante’s nickname, too, among the old-timers anyway, partly on account of the surname, of course. But more on account of his nose.

The snout. The dangling fish. The big banana.

“I remember your grandfather from when I was little boy. He was the same age you are now, close enough—same way of standing, his feet set apart.” Dante knew the story, his grandfather climbing out of his boat down at the wharf—pulling the purse seine and hurling it onto the dock. Tenacious son of a bitch. Hardheaded bird who one day pulled a gun because the Luccans were trying to chase him off his fishing grounds.

“He looked so much like you. Same eyes. Same face. Same goddamn nose.”

“The family monstrosity.”

“It’s a beautiful nose,” protested Barbara.

“I don’t know about that,” said Nick. “I don’t know if I’d call it beautiful.”

“Nick …,” Barbara intervened.

“Oh, Dante understands. I’m just jealous. A nose like that.”

Nose like Gibraltar. Nose like the Italian peninsula. Nose like the snout of Claretta Petacci’s dog, sticking itself up Il Duce’s ass.

Dante had mixed feelings toward Nick Antonelli. They’d been close once, for a little while. There was something infectious about the man, but he always had to get the best of you. He had to know more about everything. His family was old North Beach relatively speaking, but they weren’t the gentry. They had come from Chicago, and there were stories about how his family had rough-handed their way into the local warehouse trade. Whatever the truth of the situation, Nick had built on what his father left him and made a little empire for himself in commercial property.

“So what have you found out about my daughter?”

Dante hesitated. He was not anxious to tell them about his trip to the morgue. “Cicero only just talked to me this morning,” Dante said. “He just passed me his notes. I’ve done a few things … but before I do anything else, I wanted to see what you could tell me.”

They went through the details then, and he heard firsthand what he’d already learned from Cicero: that Angie had been supposed to come to dinner last Sunday, but she hadn’t showed up. She hadn’t returned her calls. Then, Tuesday afternoon, Barbara had gone to her daughter’s apartment on Green Street, at the foot of Russian Hill.

“The mail was starting to pile up. And the cat was loose—and it looked like she’d left right in the middle of things. But you know how she was.”

Dante knew well enough. Angie could be impetuous. On the outside she had her mother’s reserve, and some of her delicacy, the studied movement, the careful fingers that brushed back her hair with a certain decorum. But Angie’s expressions were more changeable, her looks fresher, raw and wide-boned. In some ways she more resembled her father, her features animated by an inner light that burned a bit too feverishly.

“Did you contact The Chronicle?”

“No, no. She left there quite some time ago. She’d been working on her own, freelance, for a number of years—doing pretty well. Then she got this new position.”

“With who?”

“It’s a complicated thing. She was involved with Michael Solano, you know him?”

“No.”

“Well, I didn’t either—but it seems everybody else does.” She glanced at her husband with a look that Dante did not quite get, then went on. “Michael Solano’s one of those new entrepreneurs, those people who are going to change the world, and he’s on those lists of most eligibles, in the society columns, you know. In the gossip pages.” Barbara puffed up a little and you could see her pride despite herself. “Angie was doing some kind of interview with him, I guess, for one of those papers she worked for, and she and him, they hit it off. He gave her a job, in his publicity department—but then, a few weeks ago, the whole relationship fell apart.

“It was the kind of thing that was always up with her. She’d get all excited and—”

“How long ago did they break it off?”

“Maybe a month. If that.”

“And the last time you spoke with her?”

“Thursday before last. She was supposed to come over Sunday, like I said.”

“She could be off on freelance assignment,” said Nick Antonelli, but he was more tentative than certain. “That happens sometimes—all of a sudden.”

“She always tells me,” said Barbara.

“Maybe she Just wanted to get away.”

“She would call.”

Dante thought again of his visit to the morgue, and wondered what to tell the Antonellis. Something must have passed over his face, because the pair of them regarded him with concern. Nick sat on the couch with his hands between his knees, dangling awkwardly. Barbara closed her eyes.

“This Michael Solano—Did you ever meet him?”

“No,” said Barbara. “But Nick has.”

Nick Antonelli shook his head.

“I don’t really know him. It was business,” he said. “You know, there’s a shortage of commercial space right now. And his company—We were trying to see if we could work something out.”

“What was your impression of him?”

Antonelli looked ill at ease. “Anything I would say,” he said at last, “would not necessarily be based in anything. I mean he and Angie had some kind of relationship. She had gone to work for him, and I guess that’s what prompted his people to call me. To look and see if we could provide his company with some space, make some kind of arrangement. But most of my dealings, they weren’t with him. Not directly.”

Dante talked to them for a little while longer, trying to get names of her associates, friends from work, but it became clear they did not know much about Angie’s social life.

“So what’s the next step?” asked Nick. “I mean, part of me, I understand, she’s a grown woman, and she could have just gone off for a few days. You know something ends, and you go off, and you don’t necessarily tell your parents.”

Antonelli stopped then. He was trying to convince himself.

“It’s not like her,” said Barbara.

“So what’s the next step?” repeated Nick.

Dante had been through this often as a cop. Though the guidelines had been firmer then, at least in theory, there were always judgment calls. When to tell the loved ones. When to hold off. He had seen the body, true, he’d seen the list of effects—but, in the end, to be definitive, you needed fingerprints, or dentition, or some scrap of DNA.

“A case like this, you usually work backward. Try to figure out the last time anybody saw the missing person. You talk to acquaintances, look at credit card receipts, phone records. I think …” He hesitated. “Her apartment—I would like to take a look around.”

“I have a key,” said Barbara. “I put out some food for her cat a few days ago…. He’s very skittish.”

“The cat is a head case,” said Nick.

“He won’t let anybody touch him but Angie. Angie was always like that, taking in strays.”

“I’ve got something you should know,” said Dante.

“What is it?”

“Your daughter …” His voice was flat, but he had to stop a second to keep it that way, without emotion: to keep his face empty like the face of a cop. In that instant he knew he had communicated more than he wanted, but he had no choice but to go on.

“Day before yesterday, Wednesday morning, the police pulled a woman from the bay, down on the Embarcadero.”

Barbara and Nick Antonelli were fixed on him now and he recognized their expression from his time in Homicide. He was no longer the person they had come to for help. He was the messenger—an ambassador from the realm below, a shade in the guise of a familiar, appearing with news they didn’t want to hear.

“What are you saying?”

“The body hasn’t been identified. But I went to the morgue.”

“Is it her?”

“The body had been in the water for a while … but the characteristics … the age …”

He handed her the list of effects.

“There’s lots of women this size,” Barbara said. “And the effects—a lot of women have clothes like this.”

“That’s true,” he said. “They’re searching the database for fingerprints … and we, if they can’t get a match, we may want to get Angie’s dental records.”

“Do the police suspect foul play?”

“They don’t have much to go on yet. The body was in the water maybe five days. Where the drowning happened exactly, whether it was at the pier, or somewhere else—it’s hard to say. And … they’re double-checking the blood analysis, to see if the alcohol content—”

Nick Antonelli responded angrily. “She’s not the kind of person who would wander drunk down to the wharf and fall in the goddamn water. She is a goddamn beautiful young woman. Responsible. Mature.”

Dante lowered his head.

“She’s not dead,” said Antonelli. At that moment, it was hard not to feel for this man. To remember him standing out there in the square, proud as hell, holding his young daughter by the fist. “I want you to find my daughter.”

“I want to find her, too,” said Dante. “It might be a good idea if I looked at her apartment. There might be something there to get me started.”

Nick Antonelli leaned back in his chair. He wore a shirt that was tight across the chest and accentuated his biceps. He leaned over and
took a taste of his drink and it made his face go ugly and strained, like he had just taken a sip of poison. Barbara did the same. All the glamour in her features had disappeared. “I’ll get the key,” she said.

FIVE

E
ccentric the Cat lay in an unhappy somnolence on his mistress’s rayon bathrobe, in the dark corner of the armoire. It was a place that was redolent of Angie’s smell, of her underarms and her fluids. Over the last ten days or so, Eccentric had been much traumatized. The night Angie had disappeared, some strangers had shown up and stayed into the small hours, nesting on the bed, moaning and rolling about. Eccentric had kept himself hidden that whole while, resentful of their smell, their intrusion. The people had left, but Angie had not returned, and eventually Eccentric had been forced to forage. He was walleyed, always misjudging his leaps, and the big tom that lived in the alley tormented him. Eccentric might have starved if Barbara Antonelli had not come by a couple of times to fill his bowl. Even so, the woman made him skittish, and the big tom was getting more bold. Last night the animal had even entered the apartment, coming through the cat door and sleeping in the armchair. So Eccentric had lain in the armoire, attuned to the intruder’s every movement, to his wheezing breath and his ammoniac smell. In the morning, the tom had gotten into
Eccentric’s litter box and scuffled sand all about the kitchen before leaving. Eccentric had scuttled deeper into the armoire. Now he heard the chatter of human voices in the hall, and the footfalls approaching, but they were not the right footfalls, the weight and preponderance of them were not correct—and he was at any rate still in his somnolent state, surrounded as he was by the closet smells, feverish with hunger, aching from his many falls and his battles with the tom. The key turned in the lock. Though Eccentric barely moved, he was instantly in a preternatural state of alertness and alarm. His hair raised in a high ruff. His claws tightened. His eyes widened. He was torn between hunger and his desire to burrow himself deeper in his mistress’s clothes.

SIX

B
arbara Antonelli fitted the key into the lock, but then Dante stopped her, touching her on the shoulder. She looked up at him. She resembled her daughter, but then she didn’t. In the dark light of the hall she appeared younger. She had a distracted air. It was a look he’d seen on Angie, as if there were a nervous, trapped thing inside her, and the resemblance gave him a peculiar sensation. It was like one of those wooden dolls that came apart at the middle. Twist it open and there was another doll inside, identical but only smaller. Then another doll inside that.

“Let me go in first,” he said.

“Why?”

“It’s just a good idea.”

“I’ve been in once already.”

“It’s just a good idea,” he repeated. “I’ve done this a number of times—and …”

On the drive up, they had talked. Not about the case, but about Angie. About what she had been doing these last years. Some big articles, here and there. But the freelance work was uneven. Her father
had helped out when she let him, but she didn’t like taking his money. She had a love-hate thing with her dad. Always trying to impress him. He would’ve helped her buy a place, but she didn’t want the help. So she had gone on living on Green Street, in her flat on the second floor.

“She likes it,” Barbara had said. “The urban thing. And North Beach—it has an attraction for her. She’s a sentimental girl.”

Now Dante walked in ahead of Barbara Antonelli. It was just a precaution. He had walked in a lot of doors over the years, and sometimes there were surprises.

“Wait here,” he said.

He gave the place a quick scan, taking in the details. The phone machine with its flashing lights, the mail stacked on the counter, the armoire with the silk nightgown draped over the top of the cabinet door.

It was a modest apartment, built shotgun style, with a bay window in the front and a kitchen at the back. The room in front could be divided by a pair of pocket doors. At the far end was a desk that looked out over the street—a wooden desk with a flower vase to one side and a bookshelf overhead. Her bed was draped with a gold duvet and there were a lot of pillows. The place was naturally dark, as were a lot of places in San Francisco, but she fought that with floor lamps and bright colors.

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