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).
Blue appeared at her office at 7:05 a.m., pushing the door open with her butt while juggling a cup of coffee in one hand, and a bag of donuts, a newspaper, and her purse in the other. Morning light slanted through the last shadows of night. It was quiet, except for distant squad room noise burble. How did one connect the dots, complete the circle, from the disastrous spiral of the clippings, to Jana Andrews's battered and swollen near-death on a doorstep? Munching on a donut, dunking it in her coffee (cream no sugar), she thought about this.
She called LAPD. From the clippings, Jana Andrews had been arrested in LA for passing a phony check just two years ago. Officer Reynolds of the LAPD Records Division was just having his morning coffee and he told her so. He was very playful and friendly, but he understood her urgency and logged into the computer system to help her out. As he did so, he engaged in a monologue: "Andrews
come on, system
slow this morning
do we have a Social Security Number?
we do? amazing
there it is
Andrews, Jana, DOB
" His voice caught.
"What is it?" Blue asked.
"This is not a personal friend or anything, is it?"
"Good. 'Cause this lady's been dead and buried over a year." He paused to let that sink in. "According to our data base, Jana Andrews, same SSAN, same DOB, died in a car accident with a boyfriend last year."
"Died?" Blue froze in mid-munch. Holy Toledo.
"Yup. No next of kin. The county did a Neptune job, ashes at sea. This lady did have a long nuisance sheet."
"Can you FAX it?"
"God!" Her hunch about Jane Willoughby and Jana Andrews being two different people was true.
Denton Horowitz at the Dolly Agency in New York City called. Same dry, little-man voice: "Oh, hello, Miss Humboldt. I have some new information for you."
"Well, it's not much, but I found out that Jana Andrews and Jane Willoughby had different Social Security Account Numbers."
"Oh, Mr. Horowitz, you are a jewel." Blue sat poised to scribble. "I have an SSAN for Jana Andrews, and I wonder if you can verify it." He read it to her. "Wonderful. A perfect match. And now the number for Jane Willoughby?"
He told her Jane Willoughby's SSAN. "The funny thing is that I really can't find much about Jane Willoughby."
She thought about this. "Mr. Horowitz, Jana Andrews died in a car accident last year. I just thought you ought to know."
"That's too bad," he said with a genuine tinge of sadness.
"You've seen a lot of these young women, haven't you?" Blue asked, hearing herself sounding old.
Horowitz sighed. "Yes. Some go on and live useful lives. Some get rich. A few strike out on drugs, booze, you name it. It's always sad when you get a Jana Andrews. Makes you wonder how abused they were as kids, that sort of thing. Well, I'll get on this right away."
Martha Yee came in about nine. "You seem bubbly," Martha said. Blue hugged her. "Martha, I've got news." She told her about the morning's revelations. "Jana Andrews died a year ago. That means who we have in the hospital is Jane Willoughby."
After Martha left, Blue pored over Jana Andrews clippings. And the ancient picture of John Connor, looking scrumptious while the Whositses hung on his arm. Ah! She got a magnifying glass and peered into the past. There, made up for the camera, was the beautiful young woman. John Connor had tentatively identified her as the woman who'd come to Ajanian's two weeks ago. But he had not remembered her. She'd remembered him, and told him she was Jana Andrews. Was she really Jane Willoughby?
On impulse, Blue called the LA Times. She asked for the morgue, the newspaper's library. She asked the librarian, a young woman, to look up the obit on Jana Andrews. The librarian obliged, but there was no material on Jana Andrews. Dead end. Next, she called the newspaper morgue in Akron, Ohio, Jana Andrews' home town. A middle-aged man with a slow, heavy voice answered. She asked for anything on file about Jana Andrews. The librarian checked and found nothing. His name, he said, was Andreas Gump. Of the Akron Gumps, Blue supposed. Gump said: "Miss Humboldt, the subject and name headings in the morgue only pertain to major people and topics. We don't have a cross- reference for every person who ever lived in Akron."
"That's okay, Mr. Gump, I understand. Please bear with me. This is a homicide investigation."
"My God," the good citizen Gump said.
"Anything you can do would be deeply appreciated."
"What can I do to help?" Mr. Gump demanded.
"Please. We know Jana Andrews's age at death, so we can form a good guess what year she graduated high school. Could you check your microfiche files of Sunday papers during June of that year for articles mentioning her name? In case she made valedictorian or anything. I'd like to know about any mention of her. Also, please check the high school yearbook. Use your tremendous intellect, sir."
"I'm proud to help."
"You are a patriot, Mr. Gump."
Late in the afternoon, John Connor called.
"Well, hello there."
"I hope I'm not disturbing you."
You disturb me. "No, not at all."
"How about dinner Saturday night after I get out of work."
She bit her lip. What to say? What to do? She already had a dinner date with Martha Yee, but seeing him appealed to her. Major decision, this. "Yes." She thought about this really hard. Would she choose John Connor or Martha Yee? Did it mean anything? She resolved to listen to the little voice deep in her heart.
She told Martha of the change. Martha seemed nonplused. "How about Friday then?" They both want me. Arg.
Copyright © 1996 by John Argo, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.