Neon Blue (suspense) and This Shoal of Space (SF) by John Argo were the first two e-books ever published online for download, in the history of the world, 1996-7 in innovative weekly serial chapters. More info at the museum pages. If you enjoy this free read, which is offered in the spirit of the Golden Age of the World Wide Web, please consider buying a print or e-book edition as a way of thanking the author. A fine E-book is typically priced at the cost of a latte, yet offers many more hours of enjoyment than a cup of coffee. Thank you (John Argo).
Chapter 9. Hamilton, Connecticut
Eddie, this can't be for real!" Blue stood in Eddie's cramped, cluttered office in the police station holding a single file folder. Eddie shrugged, picking tobacco from his lip. "I'm afraid so, Blue." The waning light cast a silvery light on his pale face and red hair.
She sat down heavily. The file folder and her long scarf slid down between her knees. "Oh Eddie, there's nothing here."
"There's my police report, lab results, that kind of thing."
"Isn't there something more? What about the FBI? DEA?"
"I already did that." He bristled. "We do get work done, despite the low-key laid-back beach atmosphere."
"I'm sorry," she said quickly. "I guess I should have known. If there were any solid leads, they'd have hot dogs working the case and I wouldn't have been sent here."
"Well, maybe this is your chance to become a hot dog," Eddie said, a twinkle in his eye. "Maybe a chili dog or a corn pup."
"Hah," she exclaimed, but had to laugh. Eddie put one booted foot on his chair and looked out the window. "It's already getting late, Blue. Suppose we grab a bite and then I take you to your place?"
Eddie showed her the rest of the town. The main street, passing through the Green with its church, town hall, and police station, was U. S. Route 1, the Old Boston Post Road, two lanes each way. South of U.S. 1 lay snowy-scraggly beaches opening on Long Island Sound. In summer, the area was a tourist hive for New Yorkers. In winter, it was a gray desolation of the soul.
Blue enjoyed Eddie's company. Despite his outgoing nature, she sensed something closed and mysterious. She couldn't put her finger on what or why, but it was refreshing to have his warm personality in this strange new place.
As the afternoon waned, and passing cars turned headlights on, Eddie stopped nervously at a service station and made a phone call while Blue waited in the unmarked car, listening to jazz music and watching Eddie twist himself in harried conversation in the telephone booth. When he returned to the car, he noted her puzzlement. "My wife," he said. "I told her I'd be late." She said nothing, but thought he made a grand case of it to her.
It was good to get in from the cold, and Eddie told dumb jokes. The windows in Frog's Restaurant were steamed. The darkly paneled walls were covered with knick-knacks like old Pepsi posters, black and white photos of '50's Yale football players, a wagon wheel, old bubblegum dispensers. The place rumbled with conversation, shuffling feet, scraping chairs, clattering dinnerware, laughter. Beer flowed freely, and waitresses hustled with hoisted trays. When they were seated in a nook, Eddie regarded her over his menu. "This is the first time I've really seen you laugh, Blue." His eyes glowed.
She patted her scarf, coat, mittens, and wool cap into a pile. "Must be the thought of eating, Eddie. I'm famished."
"I thought you were strictly the serious type."
"I must have given the wrong impression."
"So what do you do in New York City besides work?"
She patted her napkin in place. Beers arrived. "Well, I have some friends. I play keyboard sometimes when I get calls."
"Keyboard? You mean typing?"
"You're teasing. No, I mean like jazz groups. Rock groups sometimes."
"You're kidding. A musician?" They toasted and then sipped draft beers. He was probing, and she let him. If probing was like biting, he had milk teeth. She was accustomed to dodging personal questions. "Sure. I was the girl next door. Grew up playing little Beethoven pieces. Then I got to college and went nuts. Made up for all that lost time."
"I'll bet you've always had a lot of boyfriends." He leaned forward with boyish sincerity. "You're very pretty."
She rolled her eyes up. "Eddie, you're embarrassing me."
He leered. "I have this awful urge to tease you."
"Eddie, STOP it!" Inwardly, she felt a bubbling crazy kind of happiness. Maybe it was just that she had been feeling sad about the shootings and about being alone in a strange town, and now she was beginning to warm up to
Stop it, she told herself.
The waitress took their orders.
"So you play keyboard. Maybe that's why you have that sort of hard rock edge about you. Leather jacket maybe."
She glanced at her ski parka, puzzled. "I have one, but it's in my closet in Manhattan. How did you guess?"
He shrugged, smugly. "Just the air about you." He tapped his fingers on the table. "And what else?"
"Well, I have a black belt in karate."
"I know a little judo, but jeez, Blue, a black belt? Wow." He looked serious. Daunted.
"So who are you, Eddie?"
His boyish glow lost some of its spin. "I'm trying to raise a family. Three little kids." He made a wry, almost sad face. "Love them, I really do. It's a full time job. Not so glamorous." What about this Wife, Blue wondered. The food came. Hamburgers, juicy, with onions. Fries, lots of ketchup. A pitcher of beer. They ate in silence. Afterward, they settled back and stared at the people around them. Young married couples at splattered tables, managing little kids who crawled among the chair legs. Young single men with intense smiles, working the single women with wrap-around eyes. What hard work, Blue thought, being single. Why weren't young men like that working their balls off trying to talk to her? She'd listen to their nonsense. She'd be glad to, if only they would. She sort of envied the tight jean blondes who flirted with those tall thin bearded home-grown types. Yet, she did not see any man who particularly appealed to her. They had the bodies, sure, but their intense, phony flirting left her cold. Eddie now, he was a little older, had some maturity, too bad he was married. There was definite interest in his eyes, and what surprised her was that it did not turn her off.
"Oh hey," Eddie said. A good looking dark haired man, about 30, walked up. "Meet my friend Father Joe."
"How do you do?" she said. Father?
"Joe Travignan," Eddie said, "meet Blue Humboldt."
"A bolt out of the blue?" said Travignan, who wore a preppy sweat jacket, red flannel shirt, jeans, and work boots. He offered a hand, and Blue shook it. She noticed, on the expensive looking cream sweat jacket breast, an emblem that looked like an Epsilon with a wide W through it, inside a ring of laurels. He had sad eyes, she noticed also.
"He's assistant pastor at Sacred Heart Parish. Coaches basketball, teaches Sunday school, plays guitarhey, you two should get together. She plays keyboard, Joe."
Father Joe beamed. "That's great."
Eddie stammered: "She's here on business." Blue wondered.
"Really." Joe looked around. Blue followed his gaze and saw a portly, smiling man coming out of the john. Joe waved to him. "Well, the Monsignor and I are here for burgers. Nice to meet you, Miss Humboldt. Keyboard, huh?"
"Your church organist died," she guessed, "and you need a replacement."
"Maybe a backup. Our organist is 82. See you soon, Eddie. Nice meeting you, Miss Humboldt. See you in church?" He threaded through the crowd.
"It's a small town," Eddie said as if apologizing.
"I like it. You need to get home, don't you?" Jealous wife, she guessed. Poor Eddie.
"Yeah, I'm afraid so."
Her apartment was in an old house with high ceilings and creaky walls. Hot air from a basement boiler sighed in the walls and blew into the rooms through ornate grates. Blue had a bedroom, kitchen and bath. Two Yale families lived in the main apartments, entered by the stately front porch where greenish light glimmered through the leaded glass in a massive front door. Nesting, Blue puttered about putting things here and there. She had put posters on the wall: a nude girl draped over a mossy, green-glowing MGA (me, Blue liked to think, if I were longer and had darker nipples); a dark handsome man with thin unshaven cheeks, mussy hair, and riveting eyes, standing by yellow diesel locomotive in a brick railway station (him, Blue liked to think, whoever, wherever he might be); a sunny Alpine scene, snow and flowers mixed at just that spring moment three or four thousand feet high and not quite in heaven; and a seductive girl in red miniskirt, strapless black high heels, and white lace gloves, glancing over her shoulder (the photo was slightly blurred, one white glove brushing heavy gorgeous black hair out of her eyes) as she stepped into a black limousine (her, Blue thought sometimes when that mood struck).
She warmed up for her kata exercises by stretching well. She turned on rock music and donned athletic bra and shorts. As in her Manhattan apartment, the old heating system made it like ninety in the shade. She stretched fully, breathing deeply, and felt her body relax. She rose and did bends. At first sweat, she began her katas. Her movements were a mixture of the hard angular Japanese blocks, punches, and kicks, and the more circular Chinese parries. At first she moved slowly at a tai ch'i pace, each movement slowly and deliberately executed and flowing into the next. As she warmed, she sped the pace. Soon she was performing at a steady aerobic tempo, dispatching dozens of imaginary opponents who were running and jumping at her from all sides. Twelve katas and a half hour later, she jogged in place and started to wind down. Sweat sprayed from her head and body, soaking the rug. The bedroom mirror was steamed up, and the thermometer on the wall had risen several degrees from her body heat. For another ten minutes, she wound down. She rolled up the rug and stripped naked. She put rug and shorts and bra in the laundry hamper, then showered.
The shower had warmed her, and she fell asleep in the first pages of a historical novel. If Stosik did not help her, how could she hope to make a dent in this town?
Something woke her. Someone stood before her door. A glance at the LED clock in the dark room told her it was midnight. Shivers crept up and down her back. She heard creaking sounds. Someone heavy, a man probably, was tiptoeing in the carpeted wood-floored hallway. One of the Yale people? Not likely. Why the stealth? The wan hall light under her door dimmed as he, whoever he was, stopped. The door crackled faintly as a weight pressed against it. Her breath came in short gasps, while her hand fumbled over the edge of the bed. She stretched, trying not to make the bed creak, while her fingers grasped empty air, seeking the 9 mm in its holster on the carpet by the bed.
The door knob murmured lightly, turning. The knob rattled ever so softly.
She sat up, holding the automatic in both hands by her cheek. Waiting. A car door slammed outside. Whoever was at her door abruptly turned and hurried off. The house door was unlocked noisily by someone who sounded like he or she belonged there, a young couple with a sleepy, mewling baby, who let themselves into their apartment and then were quiet.
Blue made sure the door was double-bolted before she slipped back to sleep.
Copyright © 1996 by John Argo, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.