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 16. Hamilton, Conn
Vincent Brady, a.k.a. Vincent Gordon, canceled several appointments. He did stop by to see Mrs. Dearborn and then Mrs. O'Flannery, two elderly ladies who had recently lost their husbands and were bed-ridden. He administered Confession and Communion, collected their wills leaving a total of $700,303 to the church in Vincent's name, and drove to the bank. When he left the bank, he had nearly four million in there.
He stopped at a phone booth by the town green. Using Hugh Stone's credit card, he called the number Jana Andrews had given. In Chicago, an answering service took his number. Shortly, the phone in the park rang. Vincent lifted the receiver. "Hello?"
"Mr. Brady, Jana Andrews. How are you?"
"Miss Andrews. you are a very charming person. I'm going to be on a sales trip, and I thought we could touch base."
"You are a charmer, aren't you? I'm pretty tied up but I'd love to make some time for us. What did you have in mind?"
"I was going to leave that up to you. I'm all over the country in my computer business. Where can we meet?"
"How about my neck of the woods?"
Next day, as he trudged through the miserable slush in Chicago, he briefly thought about turning Hugh Stone in to the police before disappearing forever from the Catholic Church. He dismissed the thought; such a radical move scared him. But could he continue to suffer silently while Hugh tightened the screws? A moment of reckoning had to be near at hand.
Jana Andrews ran toward him with a mischievous smile of recognition. She seemed, somehow, more distant, less lurid than in Palm Springs. She deflected his passionate kiss with a brief, hard hug around the shoulders and a peck on the lips.
"Were you waiting long?" she asked breathlessly, pulling off her gloves and pushing back the wool cap holding her thick hair. Her cheeks were flushed from the cold, her lips chapped.
"I just got here. Hungry?"
"I could eat a horse."
He took her to Faw Ming in the Loop. She let him take her coat and scarf. The maitre d'hotel escorted them to a table. He recalled her rough manner in Palm Springs. She was brusque, bright like a sunny but freezing Chicago winter's day.
"Let's look at this menu," she said. "Aren't you hungry?"
"I'm starving," he said, staring at her. For you. She was exquisite. He picked up the burgundy leather- bound menu with its gold tassel. The menu was predictable. He put his hand over hersit was coldand after a minute she pulled her hand away. A young Chinese woman took their order for aperitifs. Vincent ordered a martini. Jana surprised him by ordering the same.
"So what have you been up to?" she asked. Her eyes were rarely on him. They looked down as she fussed with her table setting. They looked away at people at other tables. When they met his, they seemed cold and impatient. He remembered she had insinuated she would play hard to get. "I've sold a contract recently, but I'm thinking of backing out."
"What kind of contract?"
"Three million dollars of software. To a foreign company."
"Sounds very impressive, Vincent."
"The deal might compromise our national interest." He had been reading a lot of business magazines lately. A couple million dollars in the bank made one. The waiter arrived. Vincent ordered Mu Shu Pork. "Is that good?" she asked Vincent, who nodded (why, he thought, would I order it if it weren't?). "I'll have the same," she said. The waiter filled their little tea cups, bowed, and left.
The martinis arrived. Vincent and Jana clinked glasses in a toast. She downed hers. He finished his in slow gulps. She waved for another. She opened a few buttons on her vest. Her face was flushed, and she wriggled on her seat. She smiled and gave him a look. He was dazzled to his toes. He took her hand and kissed her fingers one by one. She let him hold her hand on the table until the food and more martinis arrived.
"I'm starved," she said. "I've been dieting."
"You broke your diet for me? I'm touched."
She laughed out loud. "You bad man." When the Chinese girl passed, Jana ordered a third pair of martinis.
"Very good food," Vincent commented. Her knee brushed against his. They ate in silence. Drank the second martinis. "I should eat more Chinese food," she pronounced. "I think I'll come here more often. Do you think you'll come by more often, Vincent?"
"Of course." Her knee was resting against his now, and her voice was slurry. "Do you mean Chicago, or this restaurant, or to see you?"
She gleamed. "All three, of course."
"I would be pleased." The small talk puzzled him. He wondered if this woman were okay in the head. Was she an air head? So many people were; it was the reason he'd been able to accomplish what he had. He revisited certain thoughts he had had and calculated whether or not she would make a good wife. After all, he was a millionaire, unless Stone could get the money away from him. In any case, he was lonely and she would do at least for a while, if she did not drive him crazy first. "Would you like to visit me sometime? Say for a weekend? I have a lovely home in San Diego."
She pushed her empty plate away and leaned forward, laying her hands over one another. "That sounds very nice. How many places do you live, Vincent? You never did tell me."
"Well, I have houses in New York and San Diego. Or, I did. I'm just thinking of retiring and moving to someplace really warm. Like one of the Mexican resorts. Or Brazil."
She rested her hand on his forearm. "I've had thoughts of settling in Palm Springs, but my business keeps me here."
you mentioned that when we met. You didn't want to tell me. You said something about politics."
She placed a finger on his lips. "I'll tell you all about it in due time. Look, why don't we pay and take in a little bit of that art gallery before I have to run."
"I was hoping we could spend the afternoon. Have dinner."
He left fifty dollars and walked her out.
"I'd like to," she said bundling up against the cold, "but I have several commitments. I'm a busy person, like yourself."
He pulled her close in front of the restaurant and their lips met. He smelled her gin and felt the wax on her lips. Her tongue darted out and briefly touched his. He found it hard to believe that she'd had him fly all this distance just to have lunch. Her capriciousness was monumental, but he was ready to excuse it because he longed, no, he was dying, to bed her.
They wandered arm in arm through the art gallery, wondering at huge polychrome canvases that seemed to float under high ceilings. She bent close to read several of the plaques. He had eyes only for her. They came to a gray room in a far wing of the upper floor. Lacquer and pottery items glowed darkly on glass shelves. Through the closed double windows, street noises and wan cheerless light seeped in. They were alone. Vincent stepped close and embraced her. His mouth sought hers passionately while his hands roughly grasped her belly, her breasts. They heard approaching footsteps and she shoved him away so roughly it hurt his collarbones. He felt hurt, in body and soul.
"Not here, darling. Not now." Two well-dressed women entered the room and studied each pottery item minutely. Jana took Vincent's hand and led him briskly downstairs and out onto the sidewalk. "We can't be seen petting in public," she said firmly. For an instant, her hand stole around his head, and she kissed his cheek lovingly. Then her brusqueness returned. "You just turn me on, Vincent. You ought to have more self-control. Be a gentleman."
Restored, healed, penitent, he took her hands. "Jana, come spend a weekend with me? Alone? Just you and me?"
"Soon, darling." She got a faraway look. "Call me, Vincent, I mean it. And thanks for lunch." She blew him a kiss and walked away. He watched her tall figure recede in long strides among the jostling crowds. He felt cheated. But he knew he would fly here a thousand times for this.
Copyright © 1996 by John Argo, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.