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).
Hugh flew to Palm Springs to wrap things up.
Astrid was in a froth, pacing the halls in high-heeled boots and tight black pants. She wore too much make-up, as usual, and in one hand she was waving a tattered piece of sheet music. "Dammit, Father! Dr. Johnston came by in his own car, followed by an ambulance. They took mother down to Bayside. Where were you? Gone, as usual. I ache when I see how you treat mother."
"Sit down," he told her, pointing to the sofa near the piano. She did as she was told. He went about closing doorsnot necessary, because the servants had all left. "Astrid, you need to get out. You need your own apartment in, let's say New York City. How would you like that? Chicago? No, Frisco."
Sensing a weakness, an opening, something she was an expert at, Astrid rolled her eyes up and exclaimed: "Oh, so now you want to buy me off."
Hugh said: "I have loved your mother and I still do. This is what is right for her. She is going to die if she doesn't get the help she needs."
"Bullshit," Astrid said, forcing the perceived opening.
Hugh held his finger up, and when she saw the look on his face, she knew to shut up. "Astrid, you are the one who does not love anyone. The reason is because all your life you have been given things. Maybe your mother and I were not always the best parents. Between her drinking and my preoccupation with business, we neglected your upbringing. We both have to pay the price for that now, because I don't think you are able to stand on your own feet. You have learned to survive by using people. If there is one mistake I made with you the last few years, it's been in always pulling you out of the holes you dug for yourself. I'm not going to do that anymore. I'll give you an allowance, and that's it."
Astrid looked shocked. "You bastard."
"There is no love for me in you, is there?"
"You are not throwing me out."
"Oh?" He was surprised. He'd half expected her to burst into tears. If precedent held true, he would comfort her, beg her not to cry, and offer some new enticement to live sensibly. Instead, Astrid sat back coolly. "Listen, Father. I know you have been involved in drug dealing. Pierre LeSable. Does that name register?"
"You are too clever for your own good."
Astrid lit a cigarette. "Mother rants and raves when she's drunk. I found it out from her." The lighter clicked shut, and she was enveloped in fragrant smoke.
"So she knows."
"Of course she knows. She may be sick, but she keeps tabs on you. Without her, you'd have gone to jail years ago."
"Without me, you'd have been in the street years ago."
"I loathe you," she said.
He loved her, and this hurt. "After this, I must be firm. You have to go, Astrid. You have no love for me, and under those circumstances I see no reason for wasting my time on you."
"Oh but I do," she said.
"Reason with me."
"I have records hidden away in a bank vault. I could have you sent to jail."
He grinned. "Do you realize that if I were convicted, this whole estate would be turned over to the courts and you'd get nothing? Are you so dumb, despite all of your cunning?"
She bit her lip.
He laughed out loud. He had her now. "No, my dear, we have a stand-off. You have to sacrifice your loathing for me in the interest of the money you will inherit. In turn, I have to be careful not to turn you out. Does that suit you?"
"What are your terms?"
"That you get out of here and stay out. I'll pay whatever you want. You keep your mouth shut and stay out of my house."
"You have to certify your will, leaving me everything."
"That's no problem."
"All right. I'll be out of here by this evening. I have a lawyer. Our lawyers can write up something."
He nodded. "You may yet make it on your own as a pianist. In the meantime, don't shit in your nest."
She turned and stormed out of the room.
He felt a vile taste in his throat. It had turned out badly. He poured himself a large glass of scotch. He had never wanted it to be like this. He dialed the hospital to ask after Margaret. Maybe, in time, Astrid would acquire some humanity. Hugh toyed with the razor in his pocket idly while waiting for the hospital to answer.
Next morning, Hugh called the bank. He was told the papers were being drawn up, but it would be a week because contractors were examining the buildings minutely for structural soundness.
Hugh called LeSable. "I will have the money in one week."
"Sorry, mon ami. The management is firm. No deals. They don't like the way you handled the Connecticut mess."
"Get me another week," Hugh begged. "I'm selling my home, for chrissake."
"I'll see what I can do." LeSable's voice sounded unsure. "I'd be careful if I were you. They don't trust you."
"Thank you. I'll be careful." In reality, he planned to disappear before LeSable's handlers could get to him.
At nine a.m., the real estate people came. Hugh stood on his front portico with his hands behind his back and regarded the eerily deserted estate. Astrid had moved out the night before without a word of goodbye, the ungrateful bitch. With Marga gone, dying in the hospital, the place was unbearably empty. I am finished here, Hugh thought. He had arranged for the money to be wired to him in Toronto. If the authorities did not track him down and freeze his assets, or the Colombians did not kill him.
Within hours, Hugh was on the 757 shuttle from Los Angeles to San Diego. A stewardesspretty young thing, he was beginning to notice these things more now that he was finished with Margaleaned over to ask if he wanted a drink. He shook his head and she walked on down the aisle. He pulled out the Rasurex shaving kit and held it on his lap. He expected it would be Garth who would come for him. He and LeSable would be shipped in boxes. It would be a statement. The mob would figure out that it was the same gun that had killed Guzman. It would be the Colombians' admission of defeat, a gesture of appeasement to the Mafia. But you gotta catch me first. He snapped the Rasurex box shut. The other thing: How could he let Vincent get away with 3.5 million dollars? No way. He would die first.
Copyright © 1996 by John Argo, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.