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).
In the morning, Blue sat in her office and noticed that both Jana Andrews and Jane Willoughby had given Ohio homes of record while employed at the Dolly Agency. Bless Denton Horowitz!
The phone rang. "Miss Humboldt? This is Andreas Gump in Akron. I hope I didn't catch you at a bad moment."
"There have been worse."
"I located Bill Willoughby. Remember, he was a football hero at Kennedy High. Turns out Bill Willoughby is now employed by an insurance firm and he's out of town. But I talked to his wife, a gal with a French accent, and she seemed to remember that he was going steady with a beautiful tall dark-haired girl in his senior year in high school. She said the girl's name was Joanna. No last name, but Bill might remember."
"What's the connection, Mr. Gump? Lots of beautiful dark-haired tall girls latch onto football heroes."
"Well I thought you understood," Andreas Gump said. "This girl Joanna had startling blue eyes, like a top fashion model's. Which is what Mrs. Willoughby seems to remember Bill saying that Joanna went on to be, in New York City."
Blue grabbed the oyster ad. "Yes! I think that's her! Please, Mr. Gump, call me the minute you find out her last name."
"I will, Miss Humboldt. I'm really doing fine, am I?"
"You are an ace up the sleeve, Mr. Gump."
"You have a sexy"
Blue hastily said thanks and hung up.
It was bedlam outside. Phones rang constantly, and clerks kept getting tips about the mystery woman in the paper. Blue saw Barnes briefly; his tie was loosened, and he looked harried. He waved to her from a meeting inside a fishbowl office.
Late in the morning, Martha Yee stopped by with a secretive look. "Blue, remember the lead I was checking? The lady in the sexy hat and glasses, Virgie DeSanto? I nosed around the Sapphic grapevine, you know what I mean, and I found her."
"Yes. She knew about the ruckus in La Jolla. That's why we haven't seen her at her house. She's been laying low with her girlfriend, the Amazon we saw in the bar that night. Virgie is sorry about Jana Andrews. She wants to help. She admits she planted the package of news clippings at Connor's house."
They met Rae Donovan in a bar on Adams Avenue. The air was tranquil, sunny, innocent. A hawk hovered in the wind over the canyons. Wind rustled in eucalyptus trees. Rae Donovan was, as Blue remembered her from the dance bar, a knockout. Tall, with curly blond hair, and a freckled complexion. Wide shoulders, slim waist, wiry arms. She had an Irish look that reminded Blue with a pang of Tessie O'Brien, the girl who had stolen Donnie away from her. Lush lips, gray self- assured eyes, a small nose in a square face, a tall forehead. She had a nasal, husky voice. Her demeanor was direct and without apology. "Virgie told me you were asking. I talked it over with my sister and she thought you ought to see her."
"Rae," Blue asked, "why do you think you know the woman in the police sketch?"
Rae Donovan regarded her with a directness that made Blue flinch. "Baby, you don't know the half of it. But Louise is the one to fill you in. You're a cop, huh?"
Blue sensed an uneasy dynamic at the wind-blown picnic table outside the bar. Martha was telegraphing her awe of Rae, and at the same time seemed to be staking a claim on Blue. Rae in turn was like thunder awakened. Her lips glistened greasily as she devoured a chicken sandwich, and she took a direct interest in Blue. It appeared that Rae Donovan was top of the pecking order. She could have most any woman (or man?). Rae ripped at her sandwich while her eyes tore into Blue with hunger.
"Yes, I'm a cop. Drug Enforcement Administration." While answering, Blue watched the hard female muscles in Rae's arms. This woman could be on the cover of any magazine. Surf, sun, and sand. The American ideal.
Rae nodded. "I thought about applying for the police department. But I've been too involved with body building. I won Miss Southern California last year, not that I'm bragging, and I'd rather spend my time building up to the state championship. When Virgie showed me the pictures, I had to take a stand. I've seen that woman before, and I thought your friend here ought to be the one I contacted."
"We appreciate that," Blue said.
Rae laughed. It was a hard, uncouth laugh. She belched. "My sister Louise
" She swallowed a mouthful of chicken and washed it down with beer. "My sister Louise knew that woman. I called Louise this morning, and she agreed to talk to the police."
"Why didn't Louise call us directly?"
"Because," Rae said, "Louise is shy. Well, that's half of it. We're from an athletic family. Dad was head coach at San Diego Union High School. I earned letters in every sport women could compete in. Louise is two years older than me, she also earned a lot of letters. She broke her spine in a skiing accident at Vail a couple of years ago, and she's paraplegic." Rae wiped her mouth with a paper napkin. "She won't see many people, especially after what this Brady asshole did to her."
"Oh no," Blue said.
"Yeah," Rae said, "if I catch him, I'll kill the fat blob."
"It's good you turned to us," Blue said.
Rae nodded. "I have to get back to the gym. I teach an aerobics class. Call me if you need anything more." The remark was aimed directly at Blue. "I mean it," Rae commanded. She rose, her wide shoulders flaring in her tank top shirt. Her gray eyes raked Blue's like a poker going over coals. "I'd like to hear from you. Bods Gym, OK?"
"Holy Smoke," Martha said on the way to La Jolla. "I think she was asking you for a date."
"In a roundabout sort of way," Blue said.
"What a goddess," Martha said.
"A messy eater," Blue said. Fog moved in gray and dismal sky. Scudding wind sent bits of morose clouds belting against twisted junipers and pepper trees, whose long dangling branches rustled uneasily. Wealthy people had high properties overlooking the ocean. The courtyard was haunted by stray leaves. Blue wished she were elsewhere. Martha rang a doorbell. A wind chime made Zen noise. The two women waited.
A light drizzle, fine as feathers, blew gritty against their faces. The Donovan estate loomed with marine pylon decor. Windows looking black reflected light. After a few moments, a door opened automatically. "Come in," a voice called.
They stepped into a sterile floor wax atmosphere. The woman in the wheelchair looked handsome, like her sister, but there was something missing. Maybe the arrogance. Maybe the spark of liveliness. Same rich lips and freckled complexion, but she appeared matter of fact and humble. Pale. Her hair was styled severely, in a mousy page boy. Her eyes were gray, but it was a duller, resigned color like the sky outside. "My name is Louise Donovan," the young woman said as though she were in court. "I know who your mystery woman is."
"I'd like to hear about it," Blue said carefully.
"Last year a pleasant man approached me. His name was Vincent Brady. We met through Sunday services at St. John's by the Sea. That's an Episcopalian church I go to. He was so nice. He didn't seem to mind my invalid state. I was grateful. He breathed life into me, where I'd been depressed. One thing led to another, and he seemed to be courting me. I was so happy. I was used to having men at my beck and call, and after the accident that stopped. Vincent was the first man who brought me back. He'd take me for long walks. How innocent, how naive I was. Well, to make a long story short, he told me he was starting a burn institute. I felt sorry for him and his burn victims. I gave him twenty thousand dollars. And then he stopped coming around. But this woman came to see me; Jana Andrews. She told me what a bastard he was. At first I didn't believe her. But I have common sense, and I began to see the truth. I was so sad. She told me all about this guy. Vincent Brady. I'll never let anyone like Vincent Brady take advantage of me again."
"Amen," Blue and Martha said in unison.
"She is a sweetheart, this Jana Andrews. I'm just sorry she ended up in the hospital. Probably because of Vincent Brady. Seeing her name in the paper I asked Rae to call someone."
"Do you know her real name?" Blue asked.
Louise's face clouded. "She swore me to secrecy."
"This is life and death," Blue gently urged.
Louise nodded, swallowed. "All right." The silence was total except for a clock ticking and a distant roar of surf. "Her name is Joanna MacIvory. Her husband is running for governor in Ohio."
Copyright © 1996 by John Argo, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.