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).
The matter of Jana and the diamond ring troubled John Connor for some reason at a deep level. He called Marcia Jersey at Scripps Institute. Another incomplete relationship, a luscious fruit, an orange with a bite out of it. "Joh-n." She dwelt upon that syllable.
He heard her stop whatever she was doing and settle back in her chair. The starchy sleeve of her lab coat rasped against her phone. "I was just thin-king about you-u."
"Nothing bad, I hope."
"I don't know. You're trouble." She laughed. "What's up?"
"What are you doing for lunch?"
"I was going to feed some hungry porpoises. For me there's half a chicken salad sandwich in the refrigerator. Don't tell me you were going to break the silence and offer to take me to lunch. My heart, you know."
"Your heart is as strong as hearts can be, and I can do better than that half sandwich, if the porpoises let you go."
"Pick me up in an hour."
It was one of the things he liked about her. If she could, she would. If she couldn't, she said so and that was all. They saw each other every two or three weeks. By the time he got there, she was waiting on the sidewalk near the display tidal pool. She had set aside the lab coat and put on make-up. A brunette, thirtyish, straight hair, hazel eyes, and a light tan. Healthy. Your California beach girl. And your Eastern preppy. She wore sandals, jeans, and a crisp white shirt. She had what looked like a gym bag.
"Are we going to the gym?" he asked, easing into traffic. The scents of eucalyptus and sea water tinged the air.
Dr. Marcia Jersey, Ph.D., had a dare-me look. "I'm simply prepared, is all. We have a choice. The quick lunch at Grady's, or the leisurely afternoon at La Jolla Shores. Take your pick."
He laughed. "Marcia, you amaze me. I thought I could squeeze a miserable half hour out of you, away from your fish."
"To me they're all fish if they're from the ocean."
"Then surfers would be fish."
"Marcia, it never fails. That's why I called you in my hour of need. I don't know anybody more rational than you."
"I brought my swim suit and the badminton gear."
They bought broiled skinless chicken breasts, cole slaw, and beer at a deli. Within a half hour they were sweating on the hot beach sand, chasing the birdie. John felt the welcome pulling in his muscles, the happy strain on his inwardness, the productive outpouring, as he worked to keep up. She was competitive and a head shorter than he, but a dervish in her skimpy white bikini. Hard solid leg muscles pumping, tight butt, she flashed back and forth on her side of the net. Her wiry arms and flat abs rippled. She kept batting the damn thing back down his throat. She had her hair tied back in a pony tail.
"This is what you need," she mocked.
"You," he, "are," said, "going," puffing, "to kill me."
"You're right," she exulted, smashing the birdie over the net with a steel-spring leap that attracted onlookers. Falling down, John told them: "She plays with the Western USA Champions." Marcia sat on his stomach facing him. "Are you going to develop a paunch as you head for middle age? Huh?"
Horrified, he touched his stomach under the V of her bikini between brown thighs. All his life, he had been favored with a metabolism that burned calories like a furnace. Never had there been jelly to be kneaded there. She swatted him. "Silly. You have a washboard stomach. Come on, let's eat."
There was a wind. Small bits of sand flew up, stinging their cheeks, as they ate. He felt good with her, and whole. But it was not the big wrap-around, love forever. Marcia had her career. She was wonderful at moments like this. Had she been large-breasted, he might (subconsciously, in male mammo-mythology) have understood it as some sort of maternal nurturing. But she had the small swellings of the fat-free athlete, and plain nipples, just afterthoughts really.
It was her personality. She was sure. She was secure. You could lie on the sand and absorb her sureness. That was the real wrap-around about Marcia Jersey. She had a fundamental kindness and decency, an answer for every woe. A word from her, matter of fact, and you forgot your problem, your question. Had Marcia been God, it would have been a kinder universe. What a mother she would make, but she had her career. They had talked about these things. With Marcia you could talk. Nothing was too obscure or unreasonable. You could bare your soul. Whatever unmentionable ground you had trodden in your darkest thoughts, Marcia had been there and could shed light on your every sodden footstep. He told her about Jana and the police.
"Honey," she said as they lay side by side on their backs, "it's not the woman. She's two- dimensional. Why, you have no idea who she even is. It's the past she has stirred up, the things you left behind."
He folded his hands on his belly and looked into the clear sky past her flat stomach and freckled neck. "Why do I keep thinking it's all settled, when it keeps stirring up?"
She brushed her hand lightly and repeatedly over his forehead. "It never goes away. Just unclench, let it go. Let the mountains go back to being mole hills."
"I forgot. I should be telling myself that."
"You started a new life when you left New York. You have a right to your new life. You can make the old stuff go away. Just remember the mountains are really mole hills."
That afternoon, they went to his house and made love. Making love with Marcia was a flat, unimaginative matter. Her orgasm was mechanical and predictable. She was very satisfied and showered him with kisses. He lay in bed, watching the palm fronds brush against the door while she made iced tea. Remembering the touch of her skin and her soul, he felt very satisfied also.
They dove into the pool and batted a beach ball around. Even at that, Marcia was competitive. One time, he slammed the ball home. Thought he'd hurt her. It smashed against her lean body. She squealed.
"Did I hurt you?"
She slammed it into his face. "Don't be a sap, Johnno!" Marcia wore a bathing cap. Naked and wet, with her hair back, her face looked almost masculine. Naturally, she dove off the board more times and farther than he. With her, there were only answers. He wondered if she had questions. In the end, he relaxed and let her answers fill him and drive off his questions.
Detective Sergeant Lloyd Barnes and Detective Martha Yee called toward evening. John and Marcia were taking a bubble bath in his large circular tub. They sprawled backwards in the steamy water, legs tangled, hands twined while a Mozart symphony made its little darting advances and coy retreats around them.
"Oh, hello again," he said at the door.
Barnes and Yee gaped. Marcia, in John's terrycloth robe, hair turbaned in a towel, set the table and John checked the roast in the oven, adding a little water and a dash of Maggi.
Barnes had a sympathetic face, appropriately grave, and clear hazel eyes. "Sorry to disturb you." He looked puzzled seeing Marcia, probably remembering Lollie.
Miss Yee's dimpled citron smile (eyes like the slits in walnut shells, lips like red ink squiggles) grew baffled at the sight of Marcia Jersey.
"I'll make coffee and you talk," Marcia offered. Miss Yee's eyes, opaque like dark forest honey, followed Marcia's narrow, rotating gluteal muscles.
"Well, Mr. Connor," Barnes said as they all sat in the living room, "we haven't located Jana Andrews yet. Detective Yee is principal investigator socarry the ball."
Detective Yee was precise and professional. "Mr. Connor, about those old ads. We brought a stack and we'd like you to look through them. How about after dinner? I'll call you tomorrow." She opened a folder. Old oyster ads spilled out, cut from yellowing magazines. Cars, blondes, beaches, rings, watches, all the temptations luring with youth and skin. "These are from seven or eight years ago," Detective Yee said.
She held one up for John to examine. For a moment all five women draped around him looked alike. Then he pointed. "This one." Same wiggly lips, mysterious eyes, steely sultry look, years younger.
Detective Yee said: "We checked with the watch company. Got the run-around. They say they use models from a dozen agencies or more. They gave us some agency names. We checked with NYPD and they came up with zilch."
"I think she mentioned the Dolly Agency."
"We checked them out. No record of ever having contracted a Jana Andrews."
After the detectives had left, John and Marcia listened to the evening news. Then they had a beer apiece and watched rock videos. Marcia wrapped a wiry arm around his head. "Come on, Johnno, wild man, oppressor, mad gorilla. Ball me."
The full moon shed delicate light on the fantastic garden, like water from a sprinkling can.
Marcia giggled, and he hunted her down with his nose and hands, pinning her steely wrists (she let him) and forcing her lips against his. "Now what?" he asked, seeing her expression.
She wrapped her arms around him. "That Yee girl." She flicked the tip of her tongue in his ear.
"You were mad about something. You didn't say a word. I saw your face." He touched a hard nipple, a small breast.
"No, silly. I wasn't mad, just avoiding. She got the hots for me." John sat back stunned. Marcia laughed and wrapped herself around his head. "You won't get anywhere with her."
Trust Marcia to know something like that.
Copyright © 1996 by John Argo, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.