Edgar Award winner and master of contemporary noir Domenic Stansberry returns to San Francisco's North Beach and Dante Mancuso, the dark PI who grew up on its tough streets.
After a career with a shadowy security firm with interests on both sides of the law, Dante has come home to put all that behind him and has gone to work for a private investigator. A call alerts him early one morning that Bill Owens, a fellow PI, has been charged with a notorious thirty-year-old killing. Bill was involved in a political group in the late sixties, which among other pranks and small-time crimes, held up a bank. Except that time, an innocent bystander was shot and killed. To clear Owens of these charges, Dante will have to retrace the original investigation through San Francisco's radical underground and bring in the man who was pulling the strings.
The Ancient Rain is a chilling novel from one of crime fiction's finest. Stansberry spools out a narrative filled with deceit and betrayal, and in his hands the line between justice and revenge is razor sharp.
About the Author
DOMENIC STANSBERRY's previous novels include The Confession, an Edgar Award winner; The Last Days of Il Duce, an Edgar Award and Hammett Prize finalist; Chasing the Dragon; and most recently, The Big Boom. He lives with his family in the San Francisco Bay area.
Domenic Stansberry’s previous novels include The Confession, an Edgar Award winner; Chasing the Dragon; the Edgar Award and Hammett Prize finalist The Last Days of Il Duce; and Manifesto for the Dead. He lives with his family in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Read an Excerpt
The Ancient Rain
By Domenic Stansberry
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2008 Domenic Stansberry
All rights reserved.
The call was one he shouldn't have taken. It was the kind of call, if you'd missed it, you'd never have known, and things would go on as before. If it caught you, though, you would find yourself doing some small thing you hadn't intended, then another, and before long your life had been altered.
It was that kind of call, though Dante didn't know it yet.
He'd been out all night in the Excelsior District on a stakeout, cramped in the back of a Ford Econoline.
So he'd just crawled into bed beside Marilyn. She stirred but did not awaken. She lay in her nightgown, her dark hair spilling over the pillow and her arms strewn recklessly. Dante closed his eyes. As the sky lightened, he skirted the edge of sleep, his consciousness flitting in the shadows. He was pursuing something, or being pursued, it was hard to tell, and he lay on the sheets, his legs twitching. He had a sensation that he was out on the old mudflats, at low tide, with the shore behind him.
Overhead, the sky was dark with birds. He had the impulse to follow them somehow, but he could not lift his feet. His thighs were heavy.
Then his cell went off.
It occurred to him later that if he had turned down the ringer before climbing into bed, like he usually did, then things would have gone on the same as before. There would have been a message on his voice mail when he woke up, maybe, but the urgency of the moment would have passed. Someone else would have been drawn in.
Instead, he took the call.
He smothered the ringer so it wouldn't wake Marilyn, then stepped out of the room. He caught a glimpse of himself. Or something like himself, his angular form emerging from the shadows, from the half light, in the dressing-table mirror at the end of the hall.
"What is it?" Dante asked.
On the other end was a fellow investigator by the name of Bill Owens. Dante had worked with him a couple of months back.
"I need your help," said Owens.
There was something unusual in the other man's voice. A high note that could be mistaken for hilarity, the way the voice quavered in the digital signal. At the same time Dante heard traffic in the background, the sound of someone crying close by — though he wondered later if the sobbing was in his imagination, a detail his memory added when it reconstructed the incident.
As it turned out, Owens was on the Berkeley ramp to the Bay Bridge. Owens had been heading into San Francisco, driving his kids to the private school they attended in the city, same as he did most every weekday morning. Only this morning the cops had blocked off the ramp, then converged from behind.
Dante glanced back into the bedroom, at Marilyn, languorous on the bed. She was a good-looking woman, but she made little pig noises while she slept. Truth was, she snored like an animal.
"I'm being charged with murder," said Owens.
"I don't understand."
It took Dante a moment. The Younger murder. It had been a notorious case, some thirty years ago. Owens had never really escaped its shadow. Eleanor Younger had been shot to death, an innocent bystander, during a bank robbery out on Judah. The police contended that Owens had been there on the scene — that it was a part of a spree of robberies connected to the old Symbionese Liberation Army. The case against him had fizzled — but it was one of those cases that circled back into the public consciousness from time to time. Either way, the cops wanted Owens now, his wife was out of town, and he needed someone to drive the kids to school.
"Where are they taking you?"
The reception was breaking up, and Dante receded into the hall. He walked toward the mirror but did not glance up. Dante knew what he would see in the reflection: a forty-year-old man, olive skinned, in white boxers and a sleeveless muscle shirt, standing in his lover's apartment. A man who had a face like some prehistoric bird. With a nose that drooped and eyes that were watery and dark.
"Jill's in Chicago. I was hoping you might get word to her," said Owens. "And the kids, I don't want them sitting around the station. If you could get in touch with Jensen's office, maybe. He's in Chicago, too, with Jill, but ..."
Jill was Owens's second wife, an attorney who worked in a practice with Moe Jensen, with whom Owens himself had a longtime association. Dante was about to ask Owens again where the cops were taking him. It was surprising that they would let him make the call in the middle of an arrest. Usually that happened at the station.
Then the connection was gone.
Dante glanced at Marilyn again. Her lips were delicately parted. She was still asleep, still snoring. He touched her and she quieted, and then she rolled toward him. She did not awaken.
They had been lovers for a long time, off and on, but it was only recently that things had gotten like this between them, where he had the key and came and went like her place was his own. She wore a thin, white nightgown that rode up around her thighs. She made a noise like she was laughing, but then she rolled over and he realized perhaps it was not laughter at all.
She snuffled into the pillow and made another indecipherable noise.
Dante pulled on his pants. He went to the window and eased back the sheers and looked out onto the street.
All night he had been on surveillance. To kill time, he had listened to talk radio.
The government had raised the terror alert. People were worked up and they had things to say, one way or the other. About the government. About the war overseas. About the threats here at home.
It's a conspiracy, the CIA, you can't tell me ... all staged by the Jews ... the oil companies ... we've been infiltrated, our water supply, the ports ... we have to strike back ...
Meanwhile the city looked the same as ever. It was North Beach as usual out there, the old neighborhood, just stucco-and-clapboard buildings lined up helter-skelter on the old streets, on top of the rocky cliffs, with the Pacific below and the gulls cawing and the scent of morning fog.
Dante went outside. On the car radio, the night talkers had been nudged out by the morning-news people. There were antiwar protestors headed down Market Street, the announcer said, hoping to tie up traffic, but the police were outflanking them. Meanwhile Dante thought of the stakeout from the night before — and the witness they'd been pursuing — and as he pulled away from the curb, glancing into the rearview, he had the impression that someone was following him. That was the way it was these days, everyone being followed by everyone else.
Or at least thinking they were being followed.CHAPTER 2
Grant Street was empty this hour, the meters untaken, so Dante slid into a space in front of Moose's, on Washington Square. It hadn't been his intention, but the square had lulled him in. The fog had not yet cleared, there was a mist in the air, and he could hear the pigeons in the cathedral tower. He got himself some coffee in a paper cup, then sat on one of the green benches that rimmed the square.
Dante's father used to come here with a notebook and plan out his day. Sometimes the old man's friends would wander by, talking politics — the old feuds, the ancient stuff — and hang around the benches. Toward the end, the old man rarely left the park all day.
Dante wondered about Owens's kids.
Probably the cops would take Owens down to the Hall of Justice. So that would be the place to start. Dante knew how the Hall was, though — how slowly the wheels turned.
Likely he would get stuck there for hours.
Dante knew, too, that police protocol for handling children of an arrestee was by no means a fixed thing. The arresting officer's obligation was to the immediate situation, to securing and transporting the criminal. As unlikely as it seemed, there was no requirement to call Child Services to the scene, and little time to do so, and at any rate it could be hours, even days, before the agency responded. So it often happened that the kids at the scene were left to fend for themselves. The last thing the arresting officer wanted to do was to drag a pair of kids down to the station. It was a distraction, and there was enough else to do.
Even if Dante did find them, what was he to do then?
He took out his cell and left a message for Irma at Cicero Investigations. His boss, Jake Cicero, had gone on vacation, and Irma wouldn't be in for another hour. He left a similar message with Moe Jensen's office, even though he knew that Jensen and Jill Owens were doing pro hac vice work in Chicago.
It had been the elder Mancuso's mantra in his later years, his way of dealing with his wife's slide into madness and the problems down at the Mancuso warehouse. If you do not turn your head, you do not see. If you do not listen, there is no reason to speak.
A cop pulled up. It was part of the new routine. Over the last year, ever since 9/11, the cops had been running the homeless out. For security reasons, supposedly, to protect the cathedral and the post office, they did a sweep after the bars closed, and another, usually about an hour before dawn. Even so, by morning there were a number of bedrolls spread out on the grass. An old woman lay sleeping nearby, under cardboard, oblivious to the dog sniffing her feet. A Chinese family sat bleary eyed near the swing set. At the center of the square — under the statue of Benjamin Franklin — a black man warmed himself in front of a can of Sterno. The man dressed as if it were 1977, in a dashiki that had seen better days. He sat with his legs crossed, chanting, words that were almost decipherable but not quite.
The cop's job was to survey the park, poke at packages, look inside paper bags. Survey the area, improbable as it might seem, for biological weapons and explosives.
Dante considered going back up the hill, back to Marilyn. To her body, splayed out over the sheets. To her hips. To her warm breath and the small moaning noises she made in her sleep.
Ancient advice, words of wisdom. Because how well did he know Owens, really? Dante had worked a case with the man, true. They'd gone a couple times down to Benny's Café, along the Third Street wharfs, and Dante and Marilyn had been out once to his house — but Owens did not talk much about the past. Still, Dante knew the general history. He knew that Owens and his first wife had done a couple of years' time on a conspiracy charge back in the seventies. He knew that the first wife was dead now, and that Owens had remarried and had a daughter and a son. Owens's second wife, Jill, practiced criminal law in partnership with Moe Jensen — high-profile defense work, some of it — but most of Owens's investigative work was for their pro bono clients, people from the projects and the barrios, drug users and stick-up artists, people on the fringes.
In the middle of the square, the man in the dashiki was still chanting. The wind had shifted, so Dante could hear fragments of the man's rant.
I can taste the smoke in the air ... the rushing wind ... the black ashes ... I can taste the flames of the invaders in my mouth ...
The cop walked around the square, looking under benches, pausing to survey the passersby. The threat level had been raised to Orange, but it was morning now, and the curfew had passed. A businessman with a briefcase wandered through, and a Chinese hipster and his girlfriend started practicing tai chi in the morning light. Across the way, Father Campanella appeared on the cathedral stairs, bent over his cane, and all of a sudden a gaggle of schoolchildren, Chinese mostly, burst around the corner, racing past the Italian Athletic Club toward the old Salesian School.
His mother had started hearing voices at one point. So what? His father had had a different temperament. You hear voices, don't listen. He had patted her head, caressed her. But there were things happening out in the ether, his wife had insisted. Voices whispering. Plans being formed, unformed.
She couldn't stop listening, trying to decipher their meaning.
Dante should take the old man's advice, probably, but he couldn't help himself. He headed down to the jail. He took the roundabout way, avoiding the traffic down on the north end of Market Street, taking the streets over Russian Hill, then dropping through the Tenderloin, past the single-occupancy hotels, old men out for the morning, ex-cons, a tired-looking prostitute with her blouse undone. The traffic thickened around the Civic Center, then he got tied up on Market, where a handful of protestors blocked the road, playing dodge with the police. He tapped on the steering wheel, waiting. It was going to be a long morning.
Mind your own business.
His father was right, he suspected, but Dante had never listened to the old man.CHAPTER 3
Earlier that same morning, Bill Owens had readied his kids for school. Since his wife was out of town, Owens himself had shaken the kids out of their beds and made their breakfast. Now he stuffed his son's backpack for school. It was a private school, and all the kids had packs like this, loaded down with books and projects and binders, so in the morning they looked as if they were on an expedition to the other side of the world.
His daughter, Kate, entered the room ready to go: fourteen years old, a thin, long-legged girl with her mother's smile — and some of her haughtiness as well.
"Dad," she said, "Zeke won't cooperate. He's only half-dressed — and we're going to be late."
"It's okay," Owens said. "Don't worry about it."
Owens heard her following behind him as he stepped outside, scanning the street. He was aware that the government was considering reopening the case against him, and a few weeks ago he had noticed a gray sedan tracking him sporadically. The car sat parked across the way.
"Dad ..." she said again.
He saw the vulnerability in her eyes. She was a bright girl, and a year or so back he'd tried to explain to her what had happened long ago.
"I'll go get Zeke," he said.
Then his son appeared at the top of the stairs, ten years old, bent over a handheld video game. The three of them headed for the car.
* * *
Owens was in his early fifties, a soft-spoken man with sand-colored hair that didn't show the gray. He wore oval glasses and khakis. He had round shoulders, ordinary shoes. He had been notorious once upon a time — and still was, in some circles, for better or worse — but in truth he was not the kind of man whose looks drew your attention.
To the contrary, he was anonymous by nature. He had a certain blandness, a way of blending in without being seen. He knew this about himself, and when he was younger he had wanted it to be otherwise. At the moment, however, he felt about as conspicuous as could be. He was being watched, he knew, by the cops in the gray sedan.
Moe Jensen, his wife's partner, had told him not to worry.
"It's a cold case," Jensen had said just a few days before. "They don't have any evidence they didn't have thirty years ago."
Owens had known the attorney for a long time — longer than he'd known his wife. Though he trusted Jensen's assessment, Owens knew there were other forces in motion this time. The government's new antiterror laws gave the prosecutors leeway. Most of the agents from the old days were gone, true, but not Leonard Blackwell, who worked as a federal prosecutor now. He carried a special disdain for Owens.
Then there was Elise Younger, the dead woman's daughter. She'd been pushing to reopen the case for years. Pushing to the point of obsession. Once, maybe the year before last, he'd seen her lingering near his house.
The government sedan pulled out, following him. Owens watched the car in the rearview mirror.
"I swear," said Owen.
"No swearing, Dad," said Kate.
She smiled. It was a joke between them.
No swearing allowed.
In the backseat, Zeke sat engaged with his video game. The boy had anxiety issues and could be quick on the trigger. He was a smart kid, with deep brown eyes and a little bit of a stutter, and on account of his differences they had him in private school. The private-school kids, though, were mean as hell.
Money, privilege — all a ruse.
Owens drove up University heading toward the bridge. The gray sedan still lingered. Then a police cruiser pulled up from out of nowhere, it seemed, and rode Owens's bumper. Perhaps it was just coincidence, a cop working the morning traffic, pushy the way cops can be, but Owens didn't think so.
Excerpted from The Ancient Rain by Domenic Stansberry. Copyright © 2008 Domenic Stansberry. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part One: The Arrest,
Part Two: The Explosion,
Part Three: Code Pink,
Part Four: The Parade,
Part Five: The Ancient Rain,
Part Six: The Trial,
Part Seven: Epilogue,
Also by Domenic Stansberry,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The storytelling is superb.
San Francisco Private Investigator Bill Owens asks his colleague Dante Mancuso of Cicero Investigations for a favor keep his two frightened children, fourteen years old Kate and ten years old Zeke safe while he is charged with murder his wife attorney Jill is in Chicago. Twenty-seven years ago, Bill was part of a radical group, the Symbonise Liberation Army that killed Eleanor Younger while robbing a bank. Eleanor had left her eleven years old daughter Elise in the car and so she witnessed the murder of her mom. She accuses Bill Owens who came out without a mask of her mom¿s murder. --- The Feds go all out to nail Bill while his backers hire Dante to investigate. As he makes inquires to a homicide that occurred thirty years ago and is colder than the tundra except for the eye witness Dante begins to close in on the puppeteer who manipulated what happened then and what is happening now. --- The third Mancuso private investigative tale (see BIG BOOM and CHASING THE DRAGON) is a superb urban noir that uses history to include the Symbonise Liberation Army of Patty Heart fame and much more like the title coming from a poem by Bob Kaufman. Bill pegs Dante as the perfect person to protect his kids as he knows that the mane never let¿s anything go and he proves totally right especially with a late twist. From the moment that Bill is stopped on the bay Bridge with the cops ignoring his two kids sitting in the back seat in stark terror as they are inconsequential to the arrest until the climatic end, fans will read this strong suspenseful tale in one shocking sitting. --- Harriet Klausner