Read The Big Boom Online

Authors: Domenic Stansberry

Tags: #Mystery

The Big Boom (4 page)

The place felt like her. Arranged but not arranged. A certain carelessness, not altogether unstudied.

Barbara Antonelli came in behind him now. It was apparent she was both ill at ease and glad to be here, taking comfort in her daughter’s things and getting tearful at the same time.

Inside, the kitchen was scattered with litter.

“The litter was in its tray last time I was here. That cat…”

Barbara went out the back door onto the fire balcony and began calling for the cat. She had a low, sweet voice, and for a second Dante thought he heard something stir in the bedroom. When he looked, there was nothing.

Dante went to Angie’s desk. It was an old-fashioned wooden desk with a single drawer underneath. Inside the drawer were paper clips and rubber bands and the usual office stuff. There were also some pictures that looked to have been taken on a boat, down south somewhere, off the California coast.

On the refrigerator, more pictures.

Angie with her dad, somewhere here in The Beach.

Her mom, alone.

The family house down the street, twenty years ago.

An award for journalistic excellence.

A picture of a young man, midthirties, with thick black hair. He had soft looks, a big smile, a certain confidence. There had been a picture of the same man, he and Angie together, in the photos in the desk drawer.

“Who’s this?”

“That’s him. Michael Solano.”

“You haven’t met him, though?”

“No—just pictures. Like I said, they were going great guns for a while, he and Angie. Then I don’t know. Something happened.”

“Was she depressed about it?”

“Not enough to throw herself in the water—if that’s what you mean.”

Dante regarded the picture of Solano, and though it didn’t make any sense—though there hadn’t been anything between himself and Angie for a long time—he couldn’t help regarding Solano as if the man had stolen something from him. Dante felt a curl of resentment,
of jealousy even, and for a moment he understood the looks Nick Antonelli used to give him.

“I called Solano’s office. After Angie went missing.”

“What did he say?”

“He was surprised to hear from me at first. I think he thought I called to scold him. About the breakup.”

“Did you?”

“I only wanted to know if he’d seen Angie.”

“Had he?”

“Not for a while. After they broke up, she quit her job—and he hadn’t seen her since. So I came down here. I looked around, and I saw Angie’s suitcases were still here. And the mailbox was full, like I said. So I brought the mail inside. And I cleaned up a little.”

“How much cleaning did you do?”

“Just a wine bottle—and some plates. And”—she looked confused for a second—“some foil wrappings. That cat, I guess he got into the trash … And I made the bed.”

Her face was red now, embarrassed. It was her proper side, he saw. The nervous part that couldn’t stand things out of order. That kept things in place.

“This nightgown … It needs to be laundered.”

“Leave it,” he said. It was the cop in him, the years of homicide. “We don’t want to move things too much.”

But she’d already taken the gown down by then. She stood there stiffly. “I’ll just fold it up. I’ll just put it away.”

In many ways, he would have done better to inspect the apartment alone. He would have had an easier time of it. But Barbara had wanted to come. Had insisted. If nothing else, the cat needed food in his bowl.

“What kind of computer did she use?”

“I don’t know. One of those laptops.”

“Do you know where it might be?”

Barbara was at the window now. He feared she might be about to fall apart on him. When she turned, though, she was composed. Forcibly, perhaps—but still composed.

“On her desk?”

“No,” said Dante. “It isn’t there.”

Dante went to the phone machine. The display said there were a half dozen new messages on the phone. He pushed the button and ran through them. An after-hours telemarketer. Her hairdresser, reminding her about an upcoming appointment. The dry cleaner’s.

Then …

Hey, Angie, this is Jim Rose. I’m back in town, and I was wondering if you still wanted to get together later today. We could meet—

Just then, Angie had cut in.

she said.

The recording had cut off the instant she spoke, and now the room was quiet. Dante remembered how such moments—on an investigation, when you heard the voice of the missing—used to give him a chill.

“That was her,” said Barbara. Her face was flush. “She talked to that man on the phone. She picked up.”


“So, maybe—”

“It was last week,” he said.

Dante ran through the rest of the messages, listening to the times, the days. The hairdresser again. More missed appointments. The man Jim Rose, it seemed, was the last phone call Angie had taken before she vanished.

“Who is this Jim Rose?”

“I don’t have any idea.”

If this were a police examination, and the cops suspected foul play—if they got serious—the police would tear the place apart. Look through the bookbindings, behind the cupboards, under the loose floorboards. Sift through the dirty clothes, her trinkets, and her juvenilia. But in a case like this—Missing Persons—it could take a while for the cops to get moving, and they might not even come at all. The advantage, from Dante’s point of view: The place wasn’t a crime scene, not yet, and for the time being it was within his purview to take it apart if he wanted.

Barbara stood by the bureau. She had opened the jewelry box and was fishing through for something.

“Angie’s pearls,” she said. “A string her father gave her years ago.”

“Are they there?”

She shook her head. Dante said nothing, but he knew what she was getting at. He knew the implication. There had been pearls on the death manifest, among the articles of the deceased.

She shut the box, opened a drawer. Shut that, too.

“Angie had a way of scattering things.”

“I know,” he said.

“I appreciate your doing this. I realize, it must be hard on you, too.”

“I’m glad to help.”

There was the silence between them—and then he heard something stir again. Over there, he thought, behind the wall.

“What happened between you and Angie?” Barbara asked. “Back then?” It was a funny time to ask, some ways, but such moments
were when things like this came out, he knew; when people said the things they otherwise didn’t say. “I have often wondered. I mean, you two, you seemed very close, and I thought …”

“We were fond of each other.”

“So what happened?” she said, and there was note of accusation there, and hurt—as if, she thought, somehow, their breakup was a reflection on her.

“We were young.”

“You loved her?”

Dante met her gaze.

“Who couldn’t love Angie?”

He could tell she wanted something more. He didn’t know what to say. He went over to the refrigerator and looked at the calendar. The Sunday before last had been circled, dinner at her mother’s, and this coming Tuesday:

The Utah Hotel. 7 p.m.

“That list of effects,” she said. “Those pearls… and Angie had a new skirt, you know—from Dazio’s. I’m going to see if it’s in the armoire.”

Dante wanted to stop her, to prevent her from disturbing the lay of things, but she was moving too quickly. In that same instant, he heard the stirring again, then a sudden wail that ascended in volume as Barbara swung open the cabinet door.

The cat came flying out—a white blur that bounced wildly against the cabinet door and shot into the room.

Barbara shrieked.

The animal bolted across the bed, hit the wall next to Dante, then scurried hard across the hardwood, scampering and howling, bounding madly toward the tiny flap in the kitchen door.

t took the better part of an hour, plus the help of the man in the flat upstairs, to lure Eccentric out of his hiding place and into the carrier. Barbara Antonelli had decided she could not leave the animal at the apartment untended, but the cat shied from her and would not come when she called. Eccentric did not much care for the carrier. He howled and sputtered and moaned, then kept up the noise even as Dante drove through the darkened streets of The Beach. The racket continued until they were within a couple of miles of Antonelli’s place in San Mateo, then abruptly stopped—as if the animal had suddenly died, or suffered a seizure.

Dante was grateful.

Up ahead, the house was dark. Nick’s car was not in the driveway.

“Do you want me to wait with you until he gets back?”

Barbara Antonelli shook her head.

Dante looked out at the front yard. Fruit trees. Stone miniatures. A piece of driftwood in the shape of a snake. The wind was coming down the canyon and he could smell the eucalyptus and hear the oleander rustling in the breeze.

“Nick,” she said. “He hasn’t changed.”

Dante nodded.

She reached out and touched his hand. There was something unspoken. The family pearls. The designer skirt. Nick’s philandering. But there was something else, too. Something she was not saying. She took the carrier and disappeared into the darkened house.

On his way up the peninsula, Dante kept his eye on the rearview.

Part of him wondered if he should have left Barbara Antonelli
alone. He guessed she would be all right. She was a strong woman. And the neighborhood was safe.

ante lived in a walk-up over Columbus Avenue. Once upon a time, it had been Longinus Drugs below, and the upper stories had been inhabited mostly by Calabrians, every one from the same village back in Italy. For a while, according to local rumor, the poet Corso had lived here, and was visited by his famous East Coast friends, writers who stopped off during their cross-country drives to hang their heads from the window and vomit into the dago streets.

Poems about madmen. About angels who whispered in your dreams. About the the end of time and the light that contains within it the memories of the dead.

Dante didn’t give a shit about poetry.

In some ways the building had not changed much. The plumbing had gotten older, and the window casements had swollen, but the inhabitants were still mostly immigrants, Chinese families for the most part, trying to get a foothold. But there were transients and cripples as well, same as the old days. Single men. Alcoholics. Also, a couple of hardcore punksters, pale skin and Day-Glo hair, eyes zippered shut, playing like they were Syd and Nancy down the hall.

Dante checked his phone messages.

Nothing from Marilyn. There was, however, a call from Tom and Lisa, his tenants on Fresno Street, complaining about a noise in the attic.

Their rent was due. And it was the second time they’d called. He’d go out there tomorrow, he told himself. He’d climb up the
ladder into the attic and see what was going on. His guess, there was something nesting in the rafters.

In the meantime, he should call Marilyn.

They were on the skids. His fault. He and Marilyn had been making plans, not too different from those in the rumors—but in the end Dante was not really so sure he had been ready to let his father’s place go. But he hadn’t wanted to live there either.

So when Lisa and Tom had appeared, going door to door, trying to find a place to live, any place, he had rented them his father’s house, down there on Fresno.

Marilyn was furious.

The city was packed, rents were tight, and he had let it go for half of what he should. Even so, that was not the real reason for her anger.

He should go to Marilyn, he knew. He should not wait too much longer. He changed his clothes and went outside. The dinner hour was over and the couples were on the street, a little drunk, a little giddy. Dante lingered out front, hands deep in his pockets, just lingering. With his long nose and his white shirt and his black pants. Looking like some guy on a street corner, some guy from the old days, just hanging out, hands in his pocket, waiting for his buddies to show. He glanced up the hill toward Marilyn’s. He imagined her bright apartment. He imagined the smell of her as she opened the door and her big laugh and her dark hair. When he reached the square, he went the other way, down through Mortuary Row, up Green Street.

He climbed Angie’s stairs. He checked her armoire. He checked the little jewelry box. But that which he feared was true. There was no Dazio skirt. There were no pearls. They were on the manifest, but they were not in her room.


ake Cicero had the vague feeling his life was coming apart on him. He had no reason to expect so, but Cicero had experience in such matters, both as observer and participant, and had learned over the years to trust his intuitions.

“Oh, Jake,” he said to himself. “You’ve got to relax.”

Cicero told everyone he was sixty-two years old, but he was in reality seven years older than he claimed, and for this reason many of his acquaintances thought he looked like hell for his age. He had heart palpitations sometimes, but the problem was not his age, Jake told himself. The problem was he did not get enough sleep. Precious sleep. Sweet sleep. He’d been running Cicero Investigations since 1959. Over forty years now—and never enough sleep. He had started out with divorce cases, but for the last twenty years his bread and butter had been contract work for the city: investigating for the public defender’s office. But it wasn’t all city business. There were other cases. Affairs to investigate, sure. Business partners to pursue. Or missing persons, like Angie Antonelli, who vanished without explanation.

These days he had three investigators out in the field, plus a clerk for the office, but it seemed harder than ever to find the time he needed to just close his eyes.

Fuck it, Jake,
he told himself, and he swung his feet up onto the desk.

He leaned back and felt himself drifting. All he needed was a little taste of dreamland, a sweet moment. Some day I’ll just die here, he thought, and he almost smiled at the thought. A wry smile. Someday I’ll just snooze right out with the phone ringing and never come back. Same as my father did—in his law office, right about my age, dreaming of some place he’d never been, maybe, a face he could not quite remember …

Other books

Alexander the Great by Norman F. Cantor
A Matter of Choice by Nora Roberts
His Dark Desires by Jennifer St Giles
Driving With the Top Down by Beth Harbison
The Final Murder by Anne Holt
Final Words by Teri Thackston Copyright 2016 - 2024