Read The Big Boom Online

Authors: Domenic Stansberry

Tags: #Mystery

The Big Boom (8 page)

Then he stopped in his tracks. In the back, bringing up the rear, was glass-eyed Elvis Marino. A man from the neighborhood. Old as hell. Half ghost himself. And with his good eye, he gave Dante a sudden wink.

D
ante checked Angie’s mailbox first, but there was nothing to speak of—some circulars, a lingerie catalogue with her name
misspelled—and then he went up to her apartment. He trudged the stairs. He had resisted returning here, though in the end he knew he would come. The police were usually pretty slow to reclassify a missing person case, but if they did come—if they suspected homicide, or if Antonelli pushed hard for an investigation—then his access might soon disappear.

He went at it methodically this time, room by room.

The kitchen with its hanging utensils and its butcher block and the overstuffed drawer full of bank statements and bills. The living room with the desk in the bay window, the phone machine with its pulsing red light. The bedroom with its chest of drawers, its armoire, and its jewelry box.

He walked over and hit the phone machine, but the first new message was blank, and the second was a computer-dialed solicitation for a time-share in Hawaii.

He listened to the old messages again. He turned her bill drawer inside out. He went through her bureau, removed her panties and her sweaters. Searched under the bed and went into her pants pockets and her old purses and into her laundry.

He shook out the nightgown that Barbara Antonelli had folded, then he spread it on the bed, and searched the breast pocket, and examined the fabric for fluids.

There was a semen stain on the nightgown. A fresh stain, it seemed. He folded the nightgown and put it back on the chair.

Dante learned things from her receipts. She went on shopping splurges down in the Marina District. She bought shampoo and facial creams at a little shop down on Grant. She garaged her car down at Little City Garage. Her routine was mostly that of someone who stuck close to the neighborhood. Dry cleaner’s. Hair stylist. Housecleaner every other Tuesday. Take home from the
Columbus Deli, down at the end of Mortuary Row.

The professional side of him knew most likely none of this would lead anywhere. Angie had fallen into the water and likely that was all anyone would ever know. If something else had happened—if she had been mugged, then pushed into the bay—then the answer to the crime wasn’t likely to be in this room. Still, he took some comfort in being here. He took comfort in going through her things. But the truth was, you could go endlessly into the details of her life if you were not careful. You could follow every lead, walk every path, and still not know.

He glanced again at the nightgown.

But if her death were not an accident … If the killer was someone she knew …

He had leads to follow. The missing laptop. Jim Rose. The date circled on the calendar.

The Utah Hotel. 7 p.m.

From a circular in her desk he saw it was an industry event: a panel at which she was supposed to be in attendance. Also, Solano was supposed to be there, and Bill Whitaker, the lead engineer.

Dante went back to the armoire. It was here her presence seemed strongest to him. Her smell in the clothes, he guessed. Or maybe it was just the woman smell, the scent of perfume and dry-cleaning fluid and fabric tinted with exotic dyes, all these mingling with the musky scent of her sweat, of her stockings turned inside out on the floor, of her shoes, of her laundry still in the wicker basket.

He ran his fingers through her things. The straight skirts and working-girl jackets, the print blouses and bright scarves. Here were the everyday clothes, but also the things women bought and rarely wore. A ruffled shirt. An antique dress that might have been her grandmother’s. A knee-length vicuña wrap.

What happened between you two anyway?

They had been young, like he’d told Barbara Antonelli. He had known Angie forever: her sand-colored hair and her freckles and her dark eyes haunted by that small window of light. Maybe they were just too close, maybe that was the reason. Maybe it was because he had not wanted Nick Antonelli for a father-in-law, or because once, a long time ago, when he’d been a little boy, Barbara Antonelli had put her fingers in his hair, and he had gone over and stood next to her daughter just to please the woman. Or because he could still hear his own mother’s muttering in the attic and feel that darkness closing around him, and see Angie in that white dress on the church steps. Or because he had known Angie too long and too well, and in the end, when she wrapped her legs up around him and he put his tongue in her mouth and buried his head in the crook of her neck, he had been astonished at the feel of her, but at the same could not escape the feeling that he was somehow out on those steps again, with all those unseen people hovering and his mother still muttering
Save us, don’t leave,
and Barbara Antonelli with that look in her eye like, at last, maybe, everything was going to be set right.

He glanced once more at the nightgown.

What did it prove? She’d been with somebody not long before she disappeared. A lab analysis might tell whom—but that kind of thing was best done by the police. The semen in itself, though, suggested nothing. She’d had sex. That’s what people did.

But with whom? And when, exactly?

He had already gone through her armoire once, but now he went through it again, more slowly. He ran his fingers down one of her dresses. There was a looking glass on the door, and no doubt she had studied herself in its reflection, craning her neck over the shoulder the way women sometimes did, turning this way and that, trying
to get a look at herself from every angle. He went on searching. He undid a blouse, examined a seam. He remembered her smell, the touch of her skin. Or almost remembered. He examined a skirt, navy blue. It had a long slit and high waist and he ran his fingers inside the waistband, where the material fit close to the stomach.

Nothing, he told himself. There was nothing here to go on.

Just cloth and fabric and scraps of paper. Some books on the shelves. A bed with an old comforter and the pillows thrown crookedly against the headboard. An odd collection of drinking glasses. A vase without a flower. A postcard from Spain, unsigned, from someone who had gotten infatuated with her in a bar some five years ago. A dining room table that had belonged to her mother. Silverware and a Giants cap and a silk scarf thrown over the top of the armoire door.

One of her dresses slipped from its hanger and fell to the floor. He tried to hang it back, but it slipped again and he laid the dress carefully on the bed.

She used to keep journals. When she was young, her journals had been a mix of words and pictures, sketches of birds and buildings. Of people from the neighborhood. Of her college campus.

Later, he knew, her journals had gotten detailed in a different way. She kept ideas for articles and also notes on things happening around her. He wondered if she had kept up the habit. If she did, he guessed, she had done so on her computer.

He lay down on the bed. Next to the dress.

I should not have left her, he thought. He closed his eyes and gritted his teeth and pushed the pillow under his middle and felt for the dress between his fingers. He listened to his heartbeat. He put his cheek against the dress. He opened his fist, and he closed it, and then he lay still.

In a little while he got up and hung the dress back where he’d found it. Barbara Antonelli had been embarrassed about the nightgown, he remembered. Embarrassed on account of the stain, he guessed—and because when she’d come to seek out her daughter, she’d found the bed unmade and the nightgown crumpled on the chair and a mess all around. She’d tidied things up, she’d told him. A wine bottle, she’d said. Foil scattered on the floor.

An idea came to Dante. An ugly idea. He pushed it away.

D
ante wandered door-to-door, interviewing the other tenants in her building, but he learned nothing of any use. He sluiced his way down the dark hall and into the street. Mortuary Alley lay empty in front of him. He stopped then, out of intuition, maybe, or habit, scanning the alleyways, the door wells, the windows.

Nothing.

His job was to reconstruct her last hours. He stood on the corner, trying to put the sequence together, to imagine himself in her skin. She’d listened to the message on the machine upstairs; she’d changed her clothes and gone out. Maybe she’d paused here, where he was standing, then plunged down the hill, into the city.

Off to meet the mysterious Jim Rose.

Where that meeting had taken place, though, Dante had no idea.

He’d checked the phone records and the credit card stream, and the last charges on the card had been at the Columbus Deli, not long after Rose’s call.

A pack of smokes.

After that there was no activity on the cards. No activity on her cell. Not a clue.

Dante imagined her walking down the street—in the Dazio skirt, the loose blouse, the pearls around her neck. He imagined her just ahead of him. Inside the deli, he showed her picture again. The grocer nodded, smiling, a bit lascivious, telling him yes, he had seen her, more than one occasion, but he could not say for sure when the last time had been. The men in the other pictures—Solano, Whitaker, Rose—no, they were not familiar. The grocer did not recognize them at all.

Dante stepped back onto Columbus Avenue.

Which way?

The streets cantered together from five directions. There were buses, taxis, streetcars. She could have gone any direction at all. Capps’ Trattoria. Lin’s Pedicure. Little City Parking. End of the World Café. Cavelli’s Books. Some of these places had been around forever, but even if the names didn’t change, the owners did. Still, the old ones were here. In the mortar. In the brickwork. In pictures packed in boxes. If he walked into Figone’s Hardware with the photograph of Angela, and if the young clerk did not remember who she was—or if in fact the clerk did not know who Figone himself was, or the fact that Figone’s son had sold this place to the hardware chain some twenty years ago, and both son and father were side by side now in Colma Cemetery—Dante would nonetheless smell Figone behind the counter, his wine breath and his cigars. Toward Broadway, the street grew crowded. Newcomers in their fresh suits, their khakis, and bright polos. Chinese teenagers. Tourists, underdressed for the evening chill. Up ahead, an old woman who looked like something out of another era, walking splay-footed down the street, veil over her head.

He had lost the trail.

Then he saw Marilyn Visconti. Marilyn, all burnished and sultry.
Old man Marinetti was with her, and Marinetti’s daughter. They were ten feet ahead of him on the sidewalk. It seemed odd, surprising. But then he realized it shouldn’t be. Prospero’s office was right there. Marinetti was in his suit and tie, all dressed up, hair slicked down, and it occurred to Dante they were on the way to sign the papers that would put Marinetti’s flat up for sale.

He paused, not wanting to overtake them on the street. Then they were gone, into the office. The crowd grew thicker, the street cluttered with traffic and noise. On he went. Into the business establishments, to show Angie’s picture. Dante knew what was coming. The empty stares, the distressed expressions, the contradictory stories, gestures pointing this way, that, sending him out into the street, around the corner, down an alley, where her visage would appear momentarily, a shadow, a stranger who resembled her, the way the skirt moved, the turn of calf, the cut of her blouse, but then he would look again and she was gone.

THIRTEEN

M
eanwhile, Daniel Gucci the funeral director sat with Barbara and Nick Antonelli in the comfort room of the Diamond Mortuary. Gucci was trying to make arrangements with the couple but not having an easy time. The Antonellis had talked to the police down at Columbus Station, he knew, and the police were ready to release the body, but in the course of that conversation Nick had grown belligerent. Or so he gathered. What exactly that problem had been, Gucci wasn’t sure. Antonelli was a hothead, Gucci knew that. The undertaker had grown up in the neighborhood himself and seen his behavior plenty of times.

“I can’t believe we’re here,” said Barbara Antonelli, and she looked at Gucci as if he were not quite real.

This was how it was. People in the neighborhood, even people Gucci had known all his life, viewed him as someone who did not quite exist—who lived in the shadows and only emerged at moments such as this.

Gucci asked if they had thought about the burial site.

“The family plot, where else?” said Antonelli. “Isn’t that what
my father paid your father for twenty years ago? Or have you put someone else in there?”

“No, no,” said Gucci. “It’s a beautiful site. Up there on the rise. I was just out there last week, when Cavelli’s son … well… I only meant to say, there are several plots at your family site, and of these, which did you intend …”

He stumbled. The truth was, he’d never been comfortable in the business. He had inherited it from his father, then sold it to the Chinese. Now he was a kind of minor partner, dealing with the old Italian clients, the ones who’d left The Beach but still had ties here—those who attended the cathedral to take the sacraments, to get married, and to bury their dead.

“Earlier, we were discussing a vessel.”

“A coffin, you mean,” said Nick. “Well, this is the one.”

Gucci hesitated.

“The Principessa, yes,” he said at last. “Very beautiful.”

Gucci knew the model. It was made from Italian oak, hand carved—inlaid with ivory and ornamented at the end with a hand-cast statuette of a young girl. It was quite elaborate, very expensive—and not in stock. Gucci could check the West Coast warehouse but chances were it had to be brought over from Italy. He tried to explain.

Barbara interrupted. “Angie said she wanted to be cremated.”

Nick barked back. “Angie’s not going to be goddamn cremated.”

Gucci stared at his desktop. When he spoke again, it was in a stumbling voice that sounded rather like a man bursting into tears. It wasn’t professional, but he could not help himself.

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