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).
On the night flight to San Diego from Hartford, Blue was too excited to sleep. Eddie, fortified with several scotch and sodas, snored in the middle seat on the jet. Blue watched the passage of brightly lit cities below in the black vastness of the United States.
It was nearly dawn when they arrived. They were hustled by skycaps through the airport, and by taxi to their hotels. Blue slept until noon, then opened the heavy curtains in her hotel room. Sunlight filled the room. Her view overlooked San Diego Harbor, sailboats, excursion ships. A row of gray Navy vessels, including an aircraft carrier, lined the opposite harbor shore.
She and Eddie had gone to separate hotels to keep Innie happy, if that was possible. She dialed Eddie's number and drew a glass of water. She opened the sliding glass door and sat on the 15th-floor balcony. "Morning," he chimed.
"Eddie, this is divine." A large gull rested on a wind current not far away, then flapped away over the harbor. "It's just like spring. Did you call your wife?"
"Yes," he said ruefully. "Chief Murphy promised we'd be in different hotels, but she doesn't believe it."
"Maybe you should get some family counseling."
"I might look into it," he said with reluctance born of pride.
"Palm trees," she breathed. "I've never seen one before."
San Diego Homicide Detective Barnes was a tea-skinned black man with stunning caramel-colored eyes. He seemed in his early forties, a big, quiet man with a firm, dry handshake. They met in the lobby of the Hilton.
Police headquarters was not far away. Blue studied the black-and-white patrol cars and motorcycles with a professional eye. In the building, Barnes picked up at the mail bins and hurried along to his office. Like all city police departments, this one had its bedlam of clattering printers, yelling detainees and their families, and chattering desk employees.
Shortly, Barnes took them across town to the morgue. There, in a chilly room, lay the remains of Father Joe. Eddie Stosik sadly confirmed the ID. An official in white lab coat displayed the track marks along both of the priest's arms. The steel drawer rolled shut and they reemerged into sunlight.
"Where is the body going?" Blue asked.
"To Ohio. Home. To his parents."
"Did he have any brothers or sisters?" Blue asked.
"No," Barnes said. "We checked."
Barnes showed her to a cheerless cinderblock room, with a single high slit-window, in the heart of the station. "Your office," he said. "I'm sure you'll warm things up."
She sighed, wrapped her arms around herself. "Well, it's bright anyway." The cinderblock walls had been painted in light, cool institutional pastels. She eyed the single chair, the single desk, the single phone, all covered with dust. An old phone book lay violently thrown against a wall.
Blue and Eddie ate at a seafood restaurant. Afterward, Eddie was tired and decided on a nap at his hotel. Alone at her hotel, stomach slightly upset, Blue went for a walk along the wharf. A tangy sea breeze, faintly damp, mingled with balmy subtropical air. The tall, rustling palm trees fascinated her. Some were shaped like huge pineapples, their fronds scraping roughly in the late afternoon air. Others were tall and slender and graceful. Some had huge gray beards composed of dead fronds.
By five o'clock it was dusk. The sun, descending over the western horizon, left a black-and-yellow-and-orange blaze that lingered like a gentle aftertaste. At the same time, there was something everyday about the swell of traffic on the crowded roads. Homeless men and women limped with sideshow gracelessness along the edges of the parks and roads. Many of them carried their possessions wrapped in blankets. A few pushed rusty shopping carts and stopped at trash barrels to rummage for empty cans and other salvage, while long limousines pulled in and out of the hotel entrances and liveried valets signaled.
Barnes and an attractive young Asian woman picked Blue up at seven in his enormous Buick, neat as a pin inside and smelling of upholstery cleaner. Barnes said: "Would you care for some ice cream and coffee? You'll meet Mr. Connor, for some flavor of our situation." Swinging into traffic to get Eddie at the other hotel, he introduced Blue to his companion.
The young woman with Barnes was a city detective. Blue felt a faint stray tug in her heart as Barnes introduced her with that slightly formal touch of supervisors everywhere. "Detective Martha Yee, meet Special Agent Laurel Humboldt. Detective Yee works for me. She's going to work with you."
Martha Yee was Chinese-American. She was slender, about Blue's height, and had glossy black hair cut into a page boy style. Her eyes squeezed into fine squiggles when she smiled. She had a small nose and a lush mouth in an oval face. Blue shook Martha Yee's hand and knew. Something electric passed between them. "Hello, Laurel," Martha said. City lights made her lower lip glisten, put an interested glow in her dark eyes.
"Call me Blue. It's my nickname."
"Okay, Blue." Martha wore mahogany loafers, jeans, and, under a white nylon windbreaker, a dark plaid shirt. "Chilly tonight," Martha said.
"I don't know," Blue said. "To me it feels warm. It was twenty degrees back in Connecticut and raining ice."
"How we forget. I grew up in Virginia because my Dad worked in D. C.," Martha said with that melon-sweet dimpled smile.
Barnes stopped and Eddie piled in. Eddie sat in the back with Blue as they cruised through rivers of headlights. The freeways out here were astonishing, Blue thought. Some hung in the sky like ribbons. Overpasses soared among the stars.
"This is the shopping mall where Mr. Connor works." Barnes pulled into a well-lit parking garage full of bustle. "He is all we have to tie this case together so far." Barnes showed them Ajanian's, and the two women sucked breath. One of the store windows had Persian carpets. Another window held a jewelry display where light cascaded among diamond necklaces paced with emeralds, or sapphires, or rubies, all tasteful and understated. A third window displayed well-crafted miscellany including gold-plated shaving kits, leather-bound photo albums, clever office golf practice kits, and more. Blue could not get enough.
Then she saw John Connor, and sucked breath.
Inside, standing at a display case looking at once amused, bored, and intelligent, was one of the most beautiful men Blue had ever seen. He was tall, wearing a blazer, gray trousers, a white shirt, and a regimental-style striped tie. He had dark hair and big quick dark eyes. His nose and jaw were as cut from honey-tanned marble. He had a small, lush mouth with fine ivory teeth.
Barnes herded them into a bustling restaurant with dark booths. They ordered coffee and ice cream. Blue liked fresh decaf and vanilla. Barnes smelled bracingly of drugstore aftershave. He seemed a neat family man out of place in the homicide business. "What have we got? A junkie priest from Connecticut winds up murdered in San Diego County. A beautiful woman named Jana Andrews, probably an alias, shows up a few days before the priest's murder, in Ajanian's, and buys an expensive ring later found on the dead priest. The woman disappears. Mr. Connor sold the ring to her. By coincidence, he was briefly acquainted with Jana Andrews years ago, when they were both fashion models working in New York City. A mysterious woman is leaving news clippings on Connor's doorstep indicating that Jana Andrews became a high-priced call girl and a cocaine addict. Finally, the woman who modeled with Mr. Connor in New York used an alias, Jane Willoughby. Or maybe Jana Andrews was the alias; we just don't know right now."
"Is Mr. Connor a suspect?" Blue asked.
"No trace of a motive. I've checked Connor out from top to bottom. He's divorced, childless. Got into the modeling business in his years in New York City and Los Angeles, made a pile of dough, didn't waste it on drugs or anything. Married another fashion model, Amy Crannard, divorced her two years later, quit the modeling business, retired to San Diego on the death of his parents to live in their old house which he has considerably expanded. He's a partner in Ajanian's, where he works part-time. He's also swimming in women. Every time we've seen him, he's been with a different woman. Somebody has been using him to bring this Jana Andrews to our attention."
John Connor joined them shortly after nine. Blue hovered shyly in the background. Barnes made the introductions. "Mr. Connor, it was good of you to come. About those clippings that were left at your door
do you have any idea yet who might have left those materials?"
John Connor shook his head. "I didn't get a good look at the woman. She was wearing sunglasses."
"And at night," Martha commented, having been through the details with Connor before.
"Yes. More of the Blue Neon Eyes," Connor said.
"The Lady with the Blue Neon Eyes?" Blue blurted.
"Pretty good," Eddie said. "How'd you come up with that?"
Blue's cheeks burned. "I have, er, had a friend, a painter, she'd paint something with a name like that."
"A Lady With Blue Neon Eyes," Connor said looking at Blue.
Martha laid a color glossy on the table.
"Pretty," everyone said except Eddie. He said "Weird." Blue noted the woman's artificial stance in the open car door, on a beach maybe on another planet, with the car and her eyes filled with crisp blue neon light.
Within fifteen minutes, Martha managed to explain the San Diego end of the story to Blue and Eddie, including Jana Andrews's visit to John Connor and the purchase of the ring later found on Father Joe Travignan.
Connor shook his head. "I wonder if it isn't my ex-wife, playing some trick on me." Smoke came from another table, and he made waving and choking motions.
"We checked that out," Barnes said. "Your ex-wife has two children, and married to a dentist far away in Mendocino, and has no apparent reason to bother you."
"This priest's death," Connor said. "I hope you catch the killer. I'm sorry. Someone has to care."
Blue liked him a little after that. And she made sure not to light one of her potent Chesterfields. Time to quit? she wondered. She noticed that Martha seemed more interested in the waitress than in Mr. Connor.
Barnes dropped Blue off at her hotel and continued on with Eddie. Martha and Blue decided to go out for drinks. "I'll show you the town," Martha promised. First, they stopped at a seaside restaurant for a nightcap. There were a few people draped around the bar, but it was slow. Martha bought Drambuies. The sweet, potent liquor made Blue's head reel. Martha's glittering eyes and smiley white teeth were wolfish.
For a while, in a different bar overlooking the harbor, they entertained a wrinkled mariner. He was a rouged, cheerful chap, deep into his cups, who regaled them with stories about how he could outfit his seventy foot sloop with female sailors at a moment's notice at any hour of day or night. He fell asleep face down, and the bar closed. Martha led Blue out before the ancient mariner could be wakened.
Next, they were in a little woody place full of women. "We're in our friend Connor's neighborhood," Martha told a liquescent Blue Humboldt. After one glass of white wine, Blue walked to the ladies' room by feeling her way from pillar to post. Back out amid the cigarette smoke, she leaned against Martha's shoulder. "Blue," Martha said, "are you in the bag already? How disappointing."
"Uhrr," Blue managed to say. Two Drambuies and a glass of white wine had bought her the farm. She stayed glued to a pillar while Martha played pool with a guy-looking woman. Cigarette smoke palled the table, making it boring because Blue couldn't see the balls going around. She was glad when Martha led her outside. It was two a.m. The stars were out. Martha held Blue tightly, massaging her back and butt, while Blue puked over Martha's shoulder. After a while, Blue's head cleared somewhat. She was on all fours, puking, while Martha patted her back. Martha had some tissue in her purse. Blue wiped her mouth. Martha gave her some chewing gum. Blue belched. It was three a.m. She took the gum and allowed the peppermint to saturate her numbed taste organs.
"I'd better get you home," Martha said. "Want to come to my place?"
"Gotta to be hotel," Blue said, "case call."
Next thing, they were outside her hotel and the night wind was rustling in the palm trees overhead. Blue felt half-way sober, and was shivering madly.
"You passed out," Martha said.
"You better help me upstairs," Blue asked.
Ten minutes later, the shower was running, and Blue inhaled the wet hot steam. She saw Martha hovering outside the warm fog. She reached out, feeling very steady, and pulled at Martha's sweater. Martha's face was very serious. "Blue," she said, "you've puked on me, you've passed out in my car, and I've had to carry you up here. What more do you want?" But she peeled off her clothes and stepped into the shower. She was Blue's height, with a ruddy athletic body and little breasts with walnut nipples. Blue pulled her close. Touched her sweet body. Held her tightly. Kissed those shaky nipples. Inwardly she cried don't leave me.
It was a dark, quiet night. The stars shone. A quarter moon lay like a cut orange slice over the horizon. Sailing ships with illumined masts glided in and out of the harbor.
In bed, Blue and Martha made love. Martha was hungry, her teeth nipping here and there, at Blue's nipples, her tongue immediately behind to savor fruit that had been bitten. Blue arched back, moaning, two flat, athletic stomachs pressing against each other, gathering heat between them. Blue held Martha's jet black hair while Martha's mouth moved down to the sweet place that was like a summer berry garden. Martha began to moan, and Blue felt the rhythmic motion in Martha's shoulder. The motion matched the timing of her tongue in Blue's most intimate spot, while Martha rubbed herself in time. One by one, Blue felt the rippling contractions in her gut, the stiffening in her legs, that signaled several small orgasms in slow succession. When she couldn't stand it any longer, she pushed Martha onto her back and, holding Martha's wrists down, showered her with passion. She rubbed Martha's little point quicker and quicker, until Martha convulsed in a great orgasm that made her small, taut body quiver.
After a long stillness, during which they listened to the sound of one another's heartbeats through smooth skin, occasionally giving the other's small breast a kiss, they curled up together and slipped into satisfied sleep.
Copyright © 1996 by John Argo, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.