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).
If Tomasi knew, he'd kill me. Blue rented a car at the airport. Desert heat hit like a fist, and she was glad to be inside the car with the air conditioner on. The California landscape of sandy hills, chaparral vegetation, and palm trees drifted past as she followed the map. She longed for John Connor. Blue, she told herself, he's a ladies' man. With your luck you are preparing to take another mud bath. Well, she replied, if it's another dunking, it feels good now.
At the Hugh Stone estate she whistled. Five acres of greenery, a veritable park, and a big white building with a pillared entrance. This man did live in style. A gardener on a tractor lawn mower was riding around on the front lawn. The roses were in profusion. As were the For Sale signs.
A slim, tanned blonde woman in a white terrycloth pool jacket and a pink bikini bottom answered the door. She held a tiny bottle of nail polish in one hand, the brush in the other.
"My name is Laurel Humboldt," Blue said.
"What do you want?"
"I want to look around the house."
"Are you with the real estate people?"
"Yes, of course. What a lovely property it is."
The thirtyish blonde had pampered skin, pinked lips, and arrogant brown eyes. "Why haven't I met you before?"
"Well, there are lots of us."
The woman waved her nails to dry. "I won't let you in."
"Honey, I thought you were eager to sell. So what's up?"
The blonde waved her polish. "That your dent-a-fender?"
Blue turned. "That? Oh no, I walked. Good for you."
"You're full of crap."
Blue stuck her foot in as the door closed. "Miss Stone?"
"Ouch," Astrid Stone said, stepping back and examining her violated fingernails. In her haste to close the door, she had left a zigzag of glossy pink polish on the dark wood.
"Not so hasty, Miss Stone. Please. I'm with a really big consortium. We can offer lots of moneyif we decide to buy."
"I don't see your Jaguar out there."
Blue scratched her head. "I can have a Jaguar flown in, Federal Express, if that will make you happy. What if we all went around flashing Jaguars? Don't you get it? We're subtle."
Astrid stepped back. "All right, come on in. I'll give you a quick tour, but then you've got to leave."
Blue stepped into the spacious foyer and looked up. "Wow. Nice place." Twin staircases serpentine along the walls, leading to a mezzanine. Beneath, wide doors were half open, leading to what looked like a fucking ball room. A pool glittered somewhere beyondof course.
Astrid shook her head. The blonde wisps flew. My, Blue thought, but this lady probably has wealthy young eligible men falling all over themselves. Only she wasn't so young. Divorced? Probably, Blue assessed. Burned out probably.
"You want the dollar tour?" Astrid offered.
Astrid set her polish down and strode into the ballroom. "We used to throw parties here." She marched outside. "This is the pool. Come on, I'll show you my father's personal, private study." They looked into an abandoned room with empty book shelves. A desk was littered with papers. Blue had hoped for more than this. A frightened Hugh Stone hiding behind curtains, perhaps. It would take an army to go through this place inch by inch. She wanted to leave and forget the whole thing.
There was something spooky, cold, frightening, heartless about Miss Stone. "Very luxurious," Blue said as they walked through room after room. "Thank you. Well, that's about it."
They were on the second floor. Blue looked: Corridors, rooms, doors, worn carpets. Plants in corners and under windows. Windows, needing a washing. "Miss Stone, sorry I bothered you. You were polishing your nails. Up here?"
"I was by the pool," Astrid said.
"I hear music."
"That's my stereo."
"You were by the pool, and your stereo was playing on the second floor. You can't hear it from here to the pool."
"You are sure a nosy bitch, aren't you? I could play stereos in every room of the house day and night. Who cares?"
"Just saying. Seems like a waste of energy. Is this the corridor to your apartment?" A long, dark corridor stood yawning ahead, waiting to suck her in, to kill her. The music had ceased. At the end of the corridor was a white door. Blue started walking that way.
"I said the tour is over. I thought you were leaving."
"Does your stereo have an automatic shutoff, Miss Stone?"
Astrid wrung her hands, and caught herself. "I think you should leave now. My apartment is my personal private business."
Blue shrugged. "We have to look at everything. Do you understand? With this kind of money involved and all."
"I'll show you out."
"Let me see the goddam apartment."
"I won't let you in there. It's private." Her pitch rose.
Blue stared down the long corridor. There was a spy-hole in the door. She heard a loud creak of wood. That would be a man's weight. "That's not your daddy in there, is it?"
"No, of course not." Astrid's hands rose to her chin. She stared with deathly fascination at that closed door.
"You seem nervous," Blue said and started toward the door.
"Garth!" Astrid yelled.
Blue felt a prickle on her scalp. Who? She half expected the door to open and a man with a straight razor to rush at her. At this distance, she'd have time to drop, pull her gun, and shoot. Nobody with a razor could cross this much distance quickly enough to stop her.
"Garth!" Astrid screamed. "Garth!"
The door opened, and it was not a man with a razor, but the jogger who had killed Olvera and Guzman. Blue recognized that long, scarred face. He held a gun, this time no silencer.
"Kill her!" Astrid screamed.
Blue dropped, rolling, and pulled out her automatic.
"This was a setup!" he bellowed at Astrid. "You bitch!"
He fired deafeningly. Out of the corner of her eye, in a fleeting second, Blue saw Astrid lying in a crumpled heap.
Blue rolled into the shelter of a doorway. The door was unlocked and she rolled into a room. It all went in slow motion. No way she would tangle with this turkey. She'd made a mistake, and now the only way out was OUT.
She heard his feet pounding on the wooden hallway floor as she dove through an open window. Lowered herself down an ivy trellis that collapsed cracking and popping under her weight. Caught a glimpse of him, of his gun, of his mean hard face framed in blond hair. The scar on his cheek.
Heard him crashing about, breathing hard, above.
She heard his feet thundering down the stairs.
Through the house, the only way.
He thundered down the stairs, and she ran as fast as she could, tossing folding chairs out of her way in the ball room.
Through the expansive foyer.
His feet on the stairs.
Caught a glimpse of him on the stairs.
He stopped to aim.
She crashed through the front door and kept running.
Across the lawn.
Grass, sweet and wet, under her feet.
Azure sky swaying around her as she ran and her lungs threatened to burst.
She slipped, fell, rolled.
Looked back. Nothing.
Sirens, lights, squealing tires. Police cars rolled in.
"Jesus, lady, who the hell is IN there?" a Palm Springs cop asked. She lay back gasping and half-grinned up at him. "It's a man I can identify as a murderer. Go in and get him but be careful. There's a woman in there he shot. I witnessed that too. Better call for an ambulance real quick!"
First hints of darkness falling, and Blue left the Palm Springs PD. Her only concern now was to be with Johnno. Be with her man. She took the first flight out to San Diego.
Copyright © 1996 by John Argo, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.