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).

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Chapter 25. Connecticut & Vermont

about Neon Blue or Girl, unlockedAs usual, Father Tiernan was buried in the sports section.

Vincent/Gordon was just buttering a scone.

"Monsignor, what do you think?" Father Tiernan growled. His raw hands thrust the newspaper to one side.

Vincent was startled. "I'm sorry, Father. What did you say?"

"I was saying I think that Maiorano is going to pull Notre Dame out of the hole next season. Lord knows, they need it."

Vincent leaned his head to one side as though considering this valuable information. "I think you've got a point, Father."

Tiernan shook the paper and pulled it back over his face while his coffee got colder and the elderly woman fussed about them in the empty kitchen. "Oh yes, there was a Jesuit in to see me yesterday. He wanted to talk to you too, but you were out."

"A Jesuit?"

"Old fellow from Fairfield. Binder. Professor of Accounting. Sent by the Chancery. Wants to go over our books. I told him I let you handle that stuff."

"Did he say why?"

Tiernan shrugged. "Didn't bother asking. I'm sure you'll talk to him and get it straightened out."

Vincent went to his room. There, he inspected the small suitcase he had packed and hidden under the bed. In it were his keepsakes as well as clothing. There were twenty bank books, for accounts in various cities, under the name Vincent Ulric. There were also a business application with the City of Chicago for a company called CompuGraphiX USA, and his business license. Also, he had a quart of whiskey in the suitcase.

After a day of fruitless planning and worry, toward evening Vincent poured himself a shot and downed it. Then he lit a cigar and sat down in his easy chair. It was dark in the room, even with the reading lamp on. What a miserable little room. He hated this room and the rectory. His thoughts went to Jana Andrews, and he felt a fiery desire. It was more than physical. He felt a lifetime of denial and privation welling up in him. Then he reminded himself—just a little bit longer. He must be patient and careful perhaps another day or two until he had worked out his plan. He thought about reading, and was too agitated. He thought about the Breviary lying on the desk, and laughed nervously to himself. Instead, he turned on CNN and watched without listening. The thought of reading the Breviary stirred him to sickness. He was staying away from that book with a feeling of dread. Actually, not just dread but a feeling of ridiculous irony. He could not contemplate praying at a time like this, and that filled him with an emptiness, a sour, lonely feeling, an anger.

There was a knock on the door, a muffled voice.

Annoyed, he rose to answer. "Yes?"

"Monsignor, forgive me." It was a trim, fiftyish man wearing a ski parka and a wool cap. "My name is Roger Filmore. I'm a new parishioner here in town, and I wanted to introduce myself. They sent me to your apartment. I hope you don't mind."

Vincent put on his fake face. "Come in, Sir, come in. I was just praying, when my stomach growled. It will be dinner time soon." They shook hands. "What line of work are you in, Mr. Filmore?"

Mr. Filmore raised his eyebrows and rolled his eyes in a droll fashion. "Monkey business, Monsignor."

Vincent felt a thrill of unease.

"Mr. Hugh Stone says hi." Filmore's voice was nasty now.

Vincent felt the floor drop away.

"Surprised? Don't worry, Monsignor. Just a friendly visit to remind you that our organization is very efficient. You will receive an excellent return on your dollar, and we look forward to doing return business with you."

Vincent stammered. "Right here…in the rectory… My God…what if…?"

"Naw," Roger Filmore said. He looked like such a preppy, Vincent thought, how could this be? "I'm very low key about everything, just like you are, Here, what are the Detroit Pistons doing?" He stepped close to the TV and leaned over to watch a play-by-play summary of the basketball game.

"Let me help you tune that in," Vincent said picking up a marble book end.

"No, I can see it quite clearly," Roger Filmore said.

"No really," Vincent said, and brought the book end down on top of Filmore's head. Roger Filmore went down with a crash. Vincent turned the TV off and listened. He stood astraddle Filmore's body, with the book end raised in both hands, ready to strike again, and at the same time listening for any sounds of running feet. Nothing. Silence. He saw his image in the blank screen. Bared teeth. He knelt beside Filmore. Vincent had seen lots of dead people. This guy was not breathing. He got a mirror and knelt again. No breath. He wrestled with Filmore's wrist… no pulse. He sat down beside the body and put his chin in his hands. Strange, to have no remorse. Here was a man who would have turned my life inside out for a few bucks. No, it was self-defense.

He lifted the body and dragged it onto the bed. There, he wrapped it in his worn coverlet. Time had run out. The only question now was, should he wait for supper before moving? On the one hand, he needed every moment of time to get away. On the other hand, he could not be seen dragging a body to his car, so he would have to wait until dark. Yes, that was it, quite clearly.

Dressed in old clothes, Vincent locked and double-bolted his room and sauntered to the kitchen. Father Tiernan was cheerful, and the young priests were tired from their hard day's work, but they still had the energy to banter like altar boys. With Monsignor present, they maintained decorum. Dinner was pastrami on rye, sauerkraut, boiled potatoes, and applesauce. For desert they had red wine and apple cobbler. Vincent ate heartily.

"Did you talk to that Jesuit?" Tiernan asked.

"I called but I couldn't get a hold of him," Vincent replied vaguely. "I'll go over there tomorrow."

Tiernan, dense as ever, shrugged.

Shortly, with a look of farewell at the rectory and its foolish occupants, and a good meal under his belt, Vincent burped and drove off. Filmore's body was in the Mercedes' trunk. Improvise as you go. Vincent had two thousand dollars in cash in his pocket, the money dopey Joe had stolen from his parish and then forgotten in Vincent's apartment. That would certainly help any further improvising. At a little town near the Massachusetts border, he filled the tank. Then he continued north on I-95.

The night was cold and clear. The highway had a little drifting snow, but was otherwise quite clear. At a rest stop near the Vermont border, he drank hot chocolate and a snort of whiskey, then continued north. He saw many cars with ski racks, folks headed for the resorts up north. Around ten o'clock, he neared Burlington. At a gas station, he filled up the tank again, purposefully topping it off. In the restroom, he changed into his black priestly suit and Roman collar. He swigged two shots of whiskey and sprinkled some on his lapels.

He went into a convenience store, stood in line humming to himself (noticed by all the customers), and purchased a quart of milk. As he paid for the milk, he asked for a pack of cigarettes. The clerk rang up the new purchase. Then he added a bag of potato chips. The clerk rang up the new purchase. Then he insisted on trading the cigarettes for another brand. Customers behind him were beginning to grumble. Enough. He'd made himself noticed. He paid and left.

In the warm car, he changed into civvies. He stowed his priest's black clothing and Roman collar in the carryall. Now he looked like any other skier.

He found a deserted road at the edge of town and parked the Mercedes among some barren trees. He took his suitcase out and walked it about fifty feet away. He took the sleeping bag with Filmore's body out of the trunk and laid it on the back seat. There was Mr. Filmore, well preserved by the cold. Nicely positioned to look like someone who had fallen asleep.

Vincent left the engine running, lights off, and opened the suitcase. He extracted the whiskey bottle and walked back to the car. He opened the potato chips and poured them over Filmore's head. He opened the quart of milk, took a deep sip, and left the carton on the front seat. He opened the pack of cigarettes and laid it on the floor in the rear. He took one of the cigarettes, lit it, and waited. After a few puffs, he propped the cigarette between Filmore's dangling fingers. Then he opened the whiskey bottle and poured its contents over Filmore. He watched the liquor soak into the seat. He had to add a few lit matches, but then the seat was neatly ablaze. He closed the car door and marched off. He was on the horizon with his suitcase when the fire hit the fuel line under the floor. The gas tank went up with a dull report. The fire was visible for miles.

Vincent, carrying his suitcase, ambled along the snowy sidewalks. Despite the late hour, there were people all around, skiers who were having a few nightcaps before going back out on the slopes tomorrow morning. A fire engine wailed past as Vincent checked into a Best Rest motel. The clerk handed him his room key. "Have you got an airline schedule?" Vincent asked. The clerk pointed to a rack filled with such materials. Vincent took a long, hot bath. Smoking a cigar and drinking a glass of whiskey, he relaxed in the crackling bubble bath and avidly consulted the flight schedule. There it was: A noon flight to Boston. No rush. He decided he would sleep in.

Blue kept her feelings deeply stored apart in separate boxes, and she made sure the padlocks were tightly locked


Copyright © 1996 by John Argo, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.

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