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).
Chapter 14. Hamilton, Conn
Blue visited the pastor of Sacred Heart Church, a complex of massive century-old brownstone buildings in a field of snow. There were two Catholic parishes, Sacred Heart and Good Shepherd, at opposite ends of town.
Father Pollack led her into his book-lined office and closed the door. He was in his late fifties, white-haired, with a soft strong hands, a wide-shouldered, flat-stomached physique, and a narrow, severe face. His dark eyes were sensitive and grave. He sat behind a glass-topped desk, Blue in a high-backed wood chair.
He folded his hands near a well-thumbed breviary. No mistaking this guy, Blue thought, he was a priest from the old school, the kind she remembered from her own parochial school days. "What can I do to help you, Miss Humboldt?"
"Just a quiet check," she said, displaying her wallet ID to a wary closing of his eyes. "I'm with DEA, in Hamilton as part of a drug investigation that ended in a murder." Vivid pictures flashed before her eyes. Olvera. Guzman.
"You were asking about one of my assistant pastors, Father Travignan."
"Yes. We ran a national agency check on him. He has a history of drug involvement. He was on probation 'til recently."
"Has he done something?"
"I'm sure he hasn't. I'm sorry, I'm grasping at straws." For a moment she thought he was going to tell her to leave it alone, get out of his study. He was silent for some long moments, during which time the clock in his bookcase ticked loudly. Blue swallowed hard. At last, he looked down at his folded hands. "Well," he said clearing his throat, "I must tell you that I am not surprised."
"You're not?" She was.
He looked sad. "What you say is true. I try to work closely with my priests. We are a very large parish, and it's hard to keep tabs. Joe is a charming man, and he's made friends here. He worked hard, he was clean, he was happy."
"I misspoke. I really can't tell you anything."
"Seal of the Confessional?" Grammar school memories.
"You are Catholic. You understand. I can't give you any information because I'd be damned to hell for all eternity."
She rose. "Thanks, Father. You kind of wanted me to come here so you could question me. That's okay."
He reddened. "I didn't quite see it that way. Yes, I'd appreciate any information you can give me." He extended a hand.
She shook his hand. "I'd like to speak with him. Where is he?"
Pollack phoned someone. "Have Father Joe call me immediately please." His face darkened. "What? Again?" He hung up. "That was the duty secretary. Joe's in Akron again, seeing his parents. Lots of trips lately." He picked up again. "Mario, please get me Father Joe's home in Akron." They waited. The phone rang through, and Pollack picked up. "Hello, Mrs. Travignan, Father Pollack. How are you. That's good. Fine, fine
Minutes later, Father Pollack hung up. "They haven't seen him in six months."
Shadows fell long on snowy hills, and winds blew cold between bare black trees. Blue spoke with drivers of the Martin Limousine Service at the town rail terminal.
Cappy was a small Greek-American nuzzling a steaming coffee cup. Blue joined him for coffee as he waited outside the Desiree Diner for his scheduled 5 p.m. drive to JFK on Long Island. Cappy had fiery dark eyes and a heavy beard shadow. "Yeah, as time goes on you see the repeat customers. Same business people, week in week out. Yes, I know Father Joe. Sure. He travels quite a bit lately. Nice guy if you ask me. Takes the limo mostly Friday afternoons for the weekend flight out."
"Goes to Akron?" Blue asked.
"Well I don't know about that," Cappy said. "Sometimes it's Akron, sometimes it's San Diego. I see the tags on his luggage. He went to JFK a couple of days ago. I don't ask no questions, hell, why should I? Why do these religion guys take all that stuff so seriously. Me, I'm an atheist. That's right, I don't believe in no God." Cappy sipped his coffee and regarded her with some intensity. "Honey, we're here and we're gone. But we're here and we gotta play the game. I gotta make a living. I don't say nothing. I watch people come and go. He ain't the only one I wonder about, I'll tell you that."
"What do you mean?"
Cappy took on a try-to-figure-me-out look. "Them priests is traveling all the time."
"So?" His attempted cleverness annoyed her.
"Well now, there's trips and then there's trips, right?" He waggled a finger. "I had a guy change clothes right in the back of my cab."
"This guy had a lot to drink. I picked him up at JFK one night, oh quite a while ago. He was dressed like some bar stud, you know, shirt open down the front, gold medallion. Next thing I know, he's decked out in black, with a roman collar."
"Got a name?" She waved a fifty dollar bill.
"Monsignor Gordon." The bill blurred into Cappy's pocket.
"Where does Gordon go?" Another fifty, last cash on hand.
"He flies to San Diego a lot. Usually he tears the tags off his suitcases, but once in a while he's too bombed and forgets."
"Do you think he and Father Joe know each other?"
"I've never seen them together."
Then she remembered Frog's on the BPR. But I have.
Copyright © 1996 by John Argo, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.