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Authors: Domenic Stansberry

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Naked Moon

BOOK: Naked Moon
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NAKED
MOON

 

 

 

ALSO BY DOMENIC STANSBERRY

The Ancient Rain
The Big Boom
Chasing the Dragon
Manifesto for the Dead
The Last Days of Il Duce
The Confession
The Spoiler

NAKED
MOON

Domenic Stansberry

 

 

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.

NAKED MOON
. Copyright © 2010 by Domenic Stansberry. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

www.minotaurbooks.com

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Stansberry, Domenic.

Naked moon / Domenic Stansberry.—1st ed.

    p. cm.

ISBN 978-0-312-36454-0

1. Private investigators—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3569.T3335N35 2010

813'.54—dc22

                                                            2009041527

First Edition: March 2010

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Sunshine isn't enough.

—Nathanael West

PART ONE
ONE

D
ante Mancuso lay on the dead woman's bed, listening to the alley. The previous tenant, an old woman, had collapsed on the stairs of the hotel some days before, but the room had not been cleaned out. Her spotted dishes were in the drainboard, and an unfinished meal in the refrigerator. This part of town, management was not concerned with such details. Ultimately, neither was Dante. He had other reasons for being here. No matter the dead woman's reading glasses rested on the bed stand, next to his revolver, and her clothes still hung in the closet.

He picked up the gun and eased toward the window.

Pigeons scuttered and cooed along the sill, and so he moved cautiously. He didn't want to rile the birds or call attention to his form behind the tattered sheers.

The hotel stood just off Portsmouth Square, in Chinatown, and noise from the square echoed down the narrow alley. It traveled oddly, so that individual sounds—coughing,
footsteps, snatches of talk—were unnaturally distinct yet somehow disembodied, their origins hard to trace. At the same time, he could hear one of Ching Lee's rally trucks. The mayoral candidate had a number of such vehicles working the neighborhood: old Fords, loudspeakers planted on the hood, rollicking in Chinese.

For a moment it sounded as if this truck were right out front, then no … maybe Stockton Street….

It was hard to tell how close … how far….

But through all that noise, he had heard, he was all but certain, the clanging of an iron gate.

D
ante Mancuso had checked in the night before, but he hadn't given his real name. The hotel was nameless, or rather had too many names for any of them to be useful. An engraving in the cornerstone called it the Fortunato Building—named after some Italian immigrant, long since forgotten—but the fading lettering on the side entrance called it the Three Prosperities.

Meanwhile, a sign hung from the side corner, Chinese writing, neon, glass broken, shattered in such a way that the underlying ideogram—whatever it might have been—was no longer decipherable.

There was no front desk, in the traditional sense, just a clerk in the gimcrack shop below, in what used to be the building's lobby. The clerk had given him a stamped receipt with no information other than the date, and even that was not legible.

In his other life—his real life, as it might be called—Dante lived not so far away, just the other side of Columbus, in what remained of the Italian neighborhood. He had made his way over to the hotel by means of an elaborate dodge, but in the end he had no idea if the ruse had worked. It might have been wiser to take up residence at someplace more distant, but he first had an errand to run and needed to be here, in Chinatown, within striking distance of the Wu Benevolent Association.

Rumor had it that Teng Wu, the founder of the association, still lived in the upper story. Or Love Wu, as the man was known.

Other rumors had it Wu died long ago.

N
ow a large pigeon flew onto the sill, scattering the smaller birds. Dante stood behind the sheers, peering down, gun in hand. The sky was still blue and brilliant overhead—too blue, it seemed, too brilliant. Closer down, dusk had gathered in the alley and the shadows darkened. Emerging from these shadows was the figure of an old Cantonese, who by some special arrangement had a key to the iron gate and lived at the end of the alley.

The alley led back behind the tenement, growing narrower with each turn, eventually ending in a patch of pavement, a dead end, cloistered in on three sides by brick buildings. The Chinaman kept his bedroll there, and a small cookstove, and a container of food with a plastic top to keep out the rats.

Earlier, exploring the alley, Dante had come across the old man at the end of the alley in the lotus position, meditating, humming one of those low Buddhist chants that was like a noise from the center of the earth.

Aside from the alley—which offered no real exit—there were two other ways out of the hotel. One down a narrow set of stairs that opened onto Grant. The other by means of a wide staircase that descended into the gimcrack shop below.

D
ante had come here dressed like a workingman who had suffered some bad luck, self-inflicted or otherwise. Pants too big, loose at the hips, fabric worn and shiny at the knees. A gray work shirt buttoned to the collar. He looked like himself but not himself. He also wore sunglasses and a painter's cap. At a glance, he fit in well enough—his expression was drawn, and he had the hunched look of a convict. But his face gave a lie to the whole thing. He was still recognizable up close, if for no other reason than his nose.

The large Italian nose—from his mother's side—dignified or absurd, depending upon how you viewed things.

A nose like Caesar, his grandmother used to say. Like some long-dead Italian pope. Like Pinocchio, trapped inside the belly of a fish.

The joke in the middle of this face.

H
e stripped off his clothes and lay back down in the dead woman's bed, listening. He had not slept much
the last few days and did not know if he would ever sleep again. He carried a vial of amphetamines in his pocket but yearned for sleep.

He had a longing in him he could not describe. He was thinking of the dead. He was thinking of the old-timers who had walked these streets before. The Irish dead and the Italian dead and the German Jews, all with their demon smiles and fat suspenders, fresh from the two-dollar whore-house that used to be around the corner from the Hall of Justice, on the other side of the square, before they'd torn down the station and the morgue and moved it all South of Market. A cement-colored hotel stood there now, towering over the men playing mah-jongg.

Dante was thinking of the life he had not meant to live, but lived anyway. Of the people he had helped along into the land of the dead.

Of people he himself had killed and those whom he had caused to be killed. He was thinking of his cousin, the fool, lying on the floor with the big gash around his neck. Of his boss at the agency, Jake Cicero. And of a woman in a white dress. He imagined her in a place far away. A place that was like this place, but not like here. Foreign tongues and the smell of tropical flowers, and dark alleys that opened into a sunlit plaza underneath a church with high spires. Behind his closed eyes the woman emerged from one of those alleys into the plaza, standing in her white dress at the stairs at the foot of the church.

Meanwhile, overhead, that same sky … too blue … too beautiful….

There was no escape.

If he did not run their errand, if he refused, his old friends would kill him. But he knew, too, on the other hand, if he cooperated, once the errand was done, they had no intention of letting him walk away.

He had a third alternative.

He could flee.

He had lived underground, and he could get another identity. He could hide indefinitely. But even if he were able to hide, the same was not true of the woman in the white dress.

They would find her. And he would die another kind of death.

TWO

T
wo weeks earlier, Dante had stood with his back to the window—in the family house on Fresno Street. He had not known what was coming then, though perhaps he should have known. He had started out with SFPD after all, and worked as an investigator now. Then there were those long years in between—years he did not talk about—when he'd worked out of New Orleans. Regardless, his attention that night had been in front of him. He peered across the darkness of his father's old bedroom at the woman sitting there at the edge of the mattress, knees crossed.

Her name was Marilyn Visconti. They had known each other since they were young.

“So what have you decided?” she asked.

Since his father's death, Dante had rented the place out off and on, and the latest tenants had left a box spring on the floor. Three years now since the old man's death—tenants
had come and gone—but Dante had not yet cleared out his parents' belongings. The attic and the basement were still littered with his parents' stuff.

“Nothing. I'm just going through their things.”

Marilyn and Dante had conversations like this, more or less, every time the house went vacant. The radio crackled with a nostalgic tune, from a warbler whose name had been well known in his parents' prime but that now was pretty much forgotten. There was a noise on the street, and a creaking on the inside stairs, but these were familiar sounds. There were always noises out in the street. The house always creaked.

Meanwhile, Marilyn sat on the edge of the bed in a loose-fitting shift, her face in the shadows, away from the hard light falling through the window. She was an old-fashioned-looking girl some ways, with a body that had some handle to it, full lips, dark hair. Her face was scarred, though, and there were suture marks, the result of an accident—a fire, some time back now, almost a year, that had broken out unexpectedly at a legal fund-raiser out in Oakland. She'd gotten good care and learned, too, the art of applying Lycogel, the burn makeup. He could not see her scars from where he stood, across the darkened room, but they were still there, he knew, and there was more scarring along her abdomen, her arms, on the thighs underneath the black tights.

BOOK: Naked Moon
3.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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