Read The Big Boom Online

Authors: Domenic Stansberry

Tags: #Mystery

The Big Boom (6 page)

And now his cell went off in his pocket.

It was a new addition, the cell, something he had gotten on the insistence of Anne Marie, his secretary. He did not much care for it. The device gave him trouble, and he was tempted for a moment to smash it against the wall.

On the other end was Mark Smith, down in Los Angeles.

Smith the Invisible.

Smith was Solano’s financial officer, but Antonelli had never met him. Solano was the CEO, but it was Smith the Invisible who controlled everything. Smith the Unknowable. Solano was the company’s public
face, but the venture firm funding the operation had brought in Smith to watch the books. When the company needed office space, it was Smith who’d made the deal. It was a complicated transaction, but the essence of it was that Antonelli would use his holdings as collateral to buy the old Waterhouse Building, down in China Basin, then lease it back to Solano’s firm. No sooner had the ink dried, though, than Antonelli had gotten word that Solano’s funding was in jeopardy. Some insiders were causing trouble. It had been straightened out relatively quickly, though. Because of me, Antonelli thought. Because of my willingness to draw the line, to get tough. To make the calls that had to be made. But none of that mattered now.

“My daughter’s dead,” Antonelli said.

There was quiet.

“I’m sorry,” said Smith.

“I’m going to find out what happened.” The grief was apparent in Antonelli’s voice. “I’m going to goddamn find out.”

He heard his wife out in the yard. Barbara was calling the cat. Nick could see her through the windows, crouched over, peering into the bushes where the cat had disappeared. Her voice was high and sonorous, but the sight of her, piteous, full of grief, calling that goddamn cat, filled him with rage. “Goddamn cat.”

“Excuse me?”

“Angie’s cat—my wife lets it in, lets it out. That’s all we have left of my daughter now. That goddamn cat.”

The words came out peculiar. Like he cared about the cat. Like it meant something to him.

“My daughter’s cat,” he said.

“I see.”

“I’m going to find out what happened to Angie. I told you a
couple of days ago. I’ve hired a detective, and I’ll hire another. I’m going to find out what happened.”

“These things…,” Smith spoke softly, with a certain coolness, a certain edge, like a man speaking from the ether. “Sometimes, maybe it’s better to let these things go.”

“What did you say?” Antonelli shot back.

There was no reply.

Despite himself, Antonelli felt a little jolt of fear. Outside, the cat skittered out of the bushes, back toward the diving board. Nick felt again the dread that had been palpable in his chest since Angie disappeared.

“What did you say?” Antonelli repeated.

He never had liked these son of a bitches: the dot-com people with their smugness. They had this demeanor, this attitude—all the rules had changed and you couldn’t possibly know, couldn’t possibly understand. You should just be glad they talked to you. Count yourself blessed. He had structured the deal cleverly, dealing from his gut, but there’d been a rush to it, the way these new people rushed everything, and he wondered now, old bull that he was, if he’d charged too soon.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” said Smith.

“Sure,” said Antonelli.

Whatever Smith’s original reason for calling, he didn’t reveal it now. He let Nick go. Nick looked down at the family portrait. He batted it to the floor. Then he batted himself against the blue bedroom wall, wailing—and at length exhausted himself on the carpet. And when he was done, he lay with the picture in his hand. His poor daughter. Happy, smiling, full of vulnerability. That bastard Mancuso should have married her, he thought. Him and his ugly fucking nose.

“Son of a bitch,” he said.

And then he rolled over on the floor. He wailed. A week ago he had had the world in his hands, but now …

He walked over to the bedroom phone and called Cicero again, demanding action. When the conversation ended, he took the receiver and broke it against the wall.

A
couple of hours later the doorbell rang. Barbara was on the kitchen phone, speaking in that low, tender voice of hers, almost sensuous. Someone had called a few minutes before on the house line, but it had been for her apparently, not Nick. Something about his wife’s posture made him pause, but then the doorbell rang once more.

A young woman stood in the entry, clipboard in hand. She was a rangy girl who wore her hair in a fall.

She was looking for donations, for some clinic in the city. You didn’t get much of that up this way, and it made him wonder. When she smiled at him, though, he could not help it; despite everything, he smiled back.

At the same time, though, he could hear Barbara. Something about arrangements. Something about papers that needed to be signed. Then he realized she was talking to Gucci’s kid, lousy-ass mortician down at the Diamond Mortuary.
No, before anything like that, before they put Angie in the ground

Nick walked away from the young woman at the door.

“No,” he said to Barbara. “Tell Gucci no. Before we sign a release, we’re going to Columbus Station. We’re making sure the cops do their goddamn job.”

Barbara put her hand over the receiver.

“We have an appointment at the mortuary,” she said.

“To hell,” he said.

He stomped away. Outside, in the backyard, the cat was back on the diving board, eating some food Barbara had set out. Then the fool beast curled itself out on the edge, over the water, as if it were the most natural place for a cat to be.

NINE

S
olano Enterprises was in the Jackson Cannery, down in the flats below Telegraph Hill. There had once been a beach here beneath the cliff face, and a shallow inlet, but that inlet had been backfilled long ago. The cannery had been built sometime in the twenties, and it stood against the sheerness of the cliff, a red brick building where the Calabrian women had worked the lines once upon a time, in their black dresses and their hairnets, sorting and stewing and packing. A different kind of work went on in the building now, though the nature of the produce was a bit harder to determine.

Solano’s company had two floors, in the far wing, but Solano himself was a somewhat vaporous presence.

Like a number of young men who headed up the small companies that had suddenly taken up residence beneath the Pyramid, he was often referred to as a visionary. But like a lot of these new visionaries, Solano could be hard to locate. He had many responsibilities, many places to be.

He was in Los Angeles for the day, his secretary said.

No, no, plans had changed. He was meeting with the technology team in San Jose. He was teleconferencing with Japan. On his cell to New York. In his car. In the conference room with the designers. He would be back this afternoon. Perhaps. Down the hall. In his dusk-gray rayon shirt. Smiling. His presence rippling the air.

Everywhere at once. Nowhere.

The rainmaker. The magnet. The one who brought it all together.

Solano had a number of gurus on his advisory staff. These included a businessman who wrote self-help books. A television producer. A stock market analyst. A political consultant who worked for Senator Feinstein.

These people were his brain trust. Their pictures were on the company Web site—with sayings, aphorisms, quotations from their columns and their books. For a fee, their collective wisdom would be streamed over the broadband network and delivered via proprietary software to the desktops of employees whose companies were insightful enough to connect to their services.

But, likewise, their presence was elsewhere.

Not here exactly. But not there.

Certainly not in the building.

There were people in the building, though. More and more these last months. Too many, in fact, for the small quarters in the cannery’s old wing. Information designers and video techs, artists and computer programmers, personnel and marketing people. The employees had meetings, and if at times the meetings were vague—if at times it was not clear the exact nature of their enterprise—if the proprietary software system did not launch and the technology staff backpeddled—if their pay was low and they could not afford to participate in the general hilarity of the streets at the night—if at
times they grew skeptical and sardonic and suspicious—they still had their stock options. Not worth anything yet, but they would be, you could count on it. When the company went public, all their work, all their patience, would at last pay off.

M
ichael Solano at the moment was in his office. He had not been there long, and there was someplace else he had to be in another minute. Meanwhile, he had a million messages on his cell, a million more on his e-mail. He had too many places to be, and for a second he felt as if everything were getting away from him. In many ways, it wasn’t his company any more. He was working for the venture people now. For Smith. Smith himself was a cipher, a voice over the wire. This was the way of things, Solano knew. The virtual world. Still, there were times Michael Solano felt as if he himself were not real. As if the world itself, and everything in it, himself included, were being atomized, turned into light. But this was the direction of things, as he himself knew. You had to keep the faith. Still, there were times he wished it was like the old days, before the virtual world. When the bosses were big men, fat and corporeal, who sweated as they pleased and jacked off over their money.

A young woman entered the room.

She was dressed in black and had startling white hair but also a face full of freckles. She was young. Very young. She was new to the job, but Solano saw in her face the little thrill that people in the company seemed to feel when they ran across him. They wanted to possess him, to capture the moment and put it in a bottle.

It was what everyone wanted these days.

“Mr. Solano. There is a man here to see you.”

“I was about to leave,” he said.

But he was already too late. The man had entered behind her, and Solano could tell at a glance the visitor wasn’t going to go away easily. He felt a spike of fear. Flesh and blood pinned to the moment, like a fish on hook. The man standing in front of him was an unusual-looking man, a face like some prehistoric bird, with dark, searching eyes—and the biggest nose Solano had ever seen.

M
r. Solano?”

“Yes.”

“Dante Mancuso. I’m sorry, but I left a couple of messages earlier—”

“If this is a sales call—My secretary—”

“I’m afraid, no. That’s not it at all.”

Dante handed him his card.

“I’m working for Mr. and Mrs. Antonelli,” he said.

Dante studied Solano for a reaction, but he couldn’t read him. Solano was a good-looking man, the kind of man used to having people study his face. He had curly hair, eyes that took you in quickly. He knew how to smile, how to give you his attention. Still, there was a sense he didn’t really see you, and there was also something clumsy about him, something unsure. That small hesitation, though, that flaw in the surface, was what drew people in, Dante guessed, the thing that made him likable. That, and his offhand charm. The fact you wanted to be seen by those eyes.

“A few days ago, Barbara Antonelli called you. To talk about her daughter.”

“Have you found Angie?” Solano asked.

Dante nodded.

“Oh, good.” Solano smiled.

Maybe it was just all those years in homicide, delivering bad news. Or maybe there was something about Solano he didn’t like. Or maybe it was because Dante had just heard the morgue report from Cicero on his way here. Whatever the reason, Dante had the impulse to spit out the words and watch their impact. To deliver them in a way that was as nasty as the news itself.

“No,” he said. “I’m afraid it’s not so good.”

“No?”

“The police pulled her body out of the bay a few days back.”

If Dante had wanted to shake up Solano, maybe he had succeeded. The good looks disappeared, and an ugly quiver creased the man’s face. Pain, Dante thought. Or something like pain. And maybe Dante took some odd pleasure in it. He watched Solano bury his head in his hands. The man held himself like that a little while, then reached below the desk. The gesture triggered something in Dante. He shifted onto the balls of his feet—but then realized Solano had one of those little office refrigerators beneath his desk. Solano fumbled and came out with a mineral water. He tried to open the bottle, failed, and went to the window, composing himself. There was a sense of theatre about it, maybe, but Dante could not be sure.

“Excuse me.” Solano’s voice trembled. “I’m sorry. Can I offer you something, a water …”

Dante shook his head.

Then Solano picked up the phone and told his secretary to have the design group start without him. His voice was more controlled now. Dante sensed the man’s importance here in this world and he was envious, not for the power, he told himself, but because later Solano would walk down the hall and immerse himself in other
business. He wouldn’t have to go back and sift through Angie’s room.

“I’m sorry if I was suspicious when you walked in. We have an open-door policy, and lately I’ve been getting a lot of unsolicited visitors. Sales, mostly. And when you showed me the card, the detective thing … I’m sorry. I’ve got juice in here, too … Crackers…”

“No, thanks.”

Regarding Solano now, up front, in the flesh, Dante realized the thing he’d been looking for without admitting it to himself. It had nothing to do with the case, maybe, but Dante felt again that animal part of him that still regarded Angie as his own, even these years later. Dante wondered over the attraction.

Solano had a certain hardness, a certain glassy surface, but there was that other thing there, too. The sense you could give him a push and he would break apart on you.

Dante wanted to give him that push.

“Originally, her father hired us to see if we could find her,” said Dante. “Now, I’m just trying to piece together the last few days of her life.”

“If there’s anything I can do …”

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