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).
"So I want to move back into the mansion," Astrid told Sonya Braxton, her father's realtor.
Braxton laughed nervously, off-guard. "Why, Miss Stone?"
"I have reasons. It's just temporary, you understand. I'll stay in my personal apartment, and I won't bother you and your associates. I could even show the house for you."
Mrs. Braxton dubiously said, "that might work." She regained a bit of composure. "There is nothing in your father's stipulations that prevents you from being in the house before it is sold."
"The will," Astrid said.
"What do you mean?"
"Have you seen his will?"
"Really, I had no idea this was going to be so complicated."
"It's simple, really. My father promised mother and I will inherit everything, but I don't believe a word. He never loved us, you know. He plans to sell the estate and not provide for my mother and myself. Rest assured the sale will be highly contested. I have some money, Mrs. Braxton, and damn good lawyers. I just want you to be clear on that."
"What do you want me to do?" Mrs. Braxton said, slumping.
"I want you to keep me informed about the details if any offers are made. We can then negotiate."
Mrs. Braxton said, "I'll keep you informed. I hope lawyers will be unnecessary."
"That's the idea." Astrid slammed the door as she left.
"Hello, Mother," Astrid said on the rolling green lawn of the Hollycrest Institute.
"Baby," the trembling old woman said and raised bony purple arms. She sat in a wheelchair on the concrete walk. The nursing assistant, a Mexican girl, curtseyed and left them alone. Astrid hugged Marga reluctantly, relieved that they had cleaned her up so she didn't smell. "Mother, how are they treating you?"
Marga managed a grin. "They're trying to reform me, and I'm afraid they're having a helluva time. You look splendid, darling. Are you eating right? You look a little thin."
"Father has put the house up for sale."
Marga registered shock. "So." She folded her hands and stared off into space, into the past. "Where is he now?"
"I don't know. He threw me out of the house."
"Oh darling." Marga reached for Astrid. Astrid chose that moment to allow herself to be hugged again. She would take good care of her mother. "I always knew that one day he would walk away. I know I haven't been a good mother"
"No, it's true. I wasn't a good wife. I drank and I smoked and look where I am now."
"It doesn't have to end this way," Astrid said. "You don't have to stay in this place."
Marga raised her chin. "My darling, I can't cope, you know that. Here at least they keep me out of trouble."
Astrid knelt down and gripped Marga's hands. "Mother, I can get you out of here. We can get a house together. You'll have nursing care. You'll be near me."
Marga shook her head. "He has everything in his name. I don't blame him. I wasoutmost of the time." She held her hands up to her face and looked away. "Forty years we were married
we loved each other very much
and this terrible drinking
do you know, right now I can't even picture his face
we haven't had a sober conversation in twenty years
but just think, I don't remember his face!"
Astrid shook her gently. "Mother, he put you here and threw me out so that he can take off with all the money."
Marga touched her daughter's face with trembling bony fingertips. "He can't do that to you, darling."
"He is doing it!"
Marga shook her head gently.
Astrid had her purse handy. "Mother, I have some papers here. My lawyer drew them up. I can get you out of here."
"Dr. Johnston will go along with it. Legally, he has to."
Marga looked at the crisp new documents typed on heavy bond.
"If you sign there, Mother, you'll become my ward. I know it sounds terrible, but I'll take good care of you."
Marga laughed. "Is this a step up or down for me?"
"It's a step out," Astrid said. "You don't have to sign. If it's about your dignity, I understand."
Marga shook her head. "I'm nothing but trouble, darling. I'll start drinking again. You'll see how much trouble I can be."
Astrid shook her head. "I'll have nurses to take care of you. Take you shopping. Do your hair. You don't have to be in a prison like this."
Marga chuckled. "Well, I've always been one to try anything." With that, she signed the papers.
Astrid hugged her. "I'll have you out of here in a week or so."
Marga folded her hands. "Send the nurse to me on your way out, darling. Listen, I know you better than you know yourself."
"Don't oh mother me, Astrid. I can see gears and wheels turning in that pretty head. Just don't outsmart yourself."
Astrid dropped the papers at her lawyer's (laughing to herself picturing the expression on Dr. Johnston's face when he learned he was losing his lucrative patient).
Wearing sunglasses, she drove her convertible Jaguar across town. Stray wisps of blonde hair blew around her high forehead, and her pampered skin looked tanned and lovely. The Carleton Lodge, a three hundred room hotel, loomed on the desert horizon like a sugar cube. She parked in the shade of some big palms overgrown with ivy near the hotel's golf course.
She walked in a side entrance, avoiding the front desk, bypassing the elevators, and climbed up an outside stairwell to the third floor. She sauntered down a dusky, air-conditioned corridor smelling of carpet cleaning fluid. Twirling her sun glasses amiably, she let her eyes adjust to the dim light. She inspected the room numbers one by one until she found the one she wanted, and knocked.
William Garth opened the door. He looked tanned, refreshed, and ready. He looked her up and down.
"Hi there," she said.
He glanced up and down the corridor. Old habit, she supposed, repressing a giggle at his ridiculousness. "Come in," he said. He had a deep burring voice. As she stepped in, she noted he was very muscular. Hair billowed in clouds around his limbs. He wore a bright Hawaiian shirt, short white corduroy shorts, and one white cotton sock. He held the other sock in his hand. "I was just about to go for a swim."
She closed the door, walked to the patio door, and looked down on the edge of the desert. The pool was a kidney-shape of greenish light. Tanned bodies in bikinis and shorts lounged under Cinzano umbrellas. She let him stare through her thin dress. "Well, Mr. Garthor do I call you Bill?"
"Bill will be fine." He had a long, youthful face, marred only by a slight scar on one cheek. He had a masculine beard shadow. He sat on the bed and took off his other sock. "Miss Stone, I understand you contacted my employers."
"I'm sure you were surprised, Bill. You're such a good-looking man. I had expected"
He laughed. "What? A little greasy guy in a gray suit and a big hat?"
"I understand why you are here."
"Yes. You are to kill my father, and I want to help you."
He threw the sock down. "Miss Stone, not much amazes me anymore."
"Would it help if I told you that my father ignored and abused me all my life? That he drove my poor mother to drink and that she's now dying in a sanitarium where he stuck her? That he has disowned me and is selling everything and planning to skip town like a thief in the night?"
"You have your problems," Garth said.
"I thought it would make your job easier to know that."
"I don't really care. I met him once or twice and he seemed like a jerk, but that's just a personal opinion."
"I'm glad your mind is made up."
"I can do what I have to without any help."
"Sure," she told him, "but I can make it so much easier."
"What can you do for me, Miss Stone. Or should I say, what do you think you can do for me?"
"I can set it up for you."
He lay back. "Okay, you have my attention. Talk."
"He's skipped town already. On your own, you're too late. But I've thrown a monkey wrench into the works. I'm moving back into the house, and I've let the real estate people know it. If they get an offer, and they will at the low price he's asking, they'll have to negotiate with my lawyers. That's going to bring him back here, I promise you, because my father never forgets a grudge. He never leaves anything undone. It would be so much more convenient for mother and me if you would eliminate him."
"I'd like you to be in the house when he comes."
"The house must be under surveillance."
"I'll smuggle you in the trunk of my car."
"I'd be a sitting duck."
She let the light X-ray her skirt, displaying her slender tanned limbs and black briefest of briefs. "You'd have me right there, as a hostage. Piece of cake." She stepped closer, keeping between him and the sun. "You will not be bored."
He hardly let her step out of her skirt. This was a hungry man. Ravenous. He threw her on the bed, half in half out of her skirt, tearing at his belt. She would not be bored either, for a change.
Copyright © 1996 by John Argo, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.