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).
Saturday, Blue slept late. She woke to a rhythmic sound, like gongs under water, and wasn't sure if she were dreaming. She remembered last night with a pang. Was glad things were settled however painfully; quicker and better that way for everyone. Oh, and today was the big date with Mr. Hunko. She sat up, rubbing her eyes. The gongs were a calypso band playing at the pool many stories below. Tourist stuff.
She took a long hot bath, and while she was immersed in bubbles, John called, that enthusiast. "I spent the morning working in my garden. I'm planting a row of king palms at the edge of my property down in the canyon, and the heat started getting to me, so I took a dip and now I'm flopped on the couch."
"What's a king palm?"
"Opposite of a queen palm."
"Don't tease me.
"I wish I had a garden. I'd love to work up a sweat."
"Gardening is great fun. You should come over and try it."
An hour later, wearing a burgundy terrycloth dress over her bikini, flip-flops, sunglasses, and a white baseball cap, she rang his doorbell in University Heights. He opened, wearing corduroy shorts. His long body looked slightly sunburned. He put on a cotton shirt. She stepped into a blast of symphony music. Chairs were up on tables. The place reeked of cleaning fluids. A vacuum cleaner sat in the middle of the living room with tangled cord. She put her purse down and flopped onto the couch, glad to be out of the heat and in his company. "Don't you have a cat?" She kicked off her flip-flops.
"He took a hike. Doesn't like the smell of floor wax and cleaning stuff. He's down in the canyon somewhere, pissed off, hunting mice or something. He'll be back tonight." He served a frosty iced tea with lemon wedge.
She laughed. "Sounds like you two are married."
He allowed: "I remember those days. Definitely no bed of roses. You get to know one another; what you're going to say next; what you'll do in an argument; what buttons to push."
"I was married once too." She thought of Mike and shrugged. It all seemed so distant and painless now. She was glad he changed the subject: "Please, come here on vacation. I'll take you to my favorite beach, Coronado. You can see Mexico most days. The surf is nice and there usually aren't any crowds."
She toyed with her lemon. "I've thought of taking some vacation time. Maybe then we could go?"
"To Coronado? Sure."
She stirred her tea with one finger. "You live alone."
"Yes. This is a big rambling house, pretty empty at times."
"Barnes blabbed about you. Says you have lots of ladies."
"I don't have them. They're just here." He looked impish. "Sometimes." He shrugged. "Whenever Barnes shows up."
They laughed. She asked: "How does a ladies' man settle down and stay true to one woman? Or does he ever?"
"I'd like to have a family. My problem isn't meeting women. My problem is the same as everybody else's, and that's meeting the right person. I have girlfriends, but they all have some reason why they can't get involved or settle down. I take it you're a free spirit too?"
"We seem to be comparing notes. Do you think I'm weird for not falling all over you?"
He sat closer. Serious. "You are a little different. I don't know why. You're refreshing."
"I do like you."
"I like you too. Is there a but?"
"I'm a little scared." She remembered last night. Poor sweet Martha. Honesty, that was the ticket.
"Blue, I thought you were the big tough detective. The world your oyster. What is this you're saying?"
"At least I have sense enough to be scared." Immediately she regretted her sharpness. He wiped his eye as if she'd spitballed him. "Maybe I'm just cool under fire."
Her cheeks burned. "You're good-looking." Understatement. She confided: "I'm afraid to trust." He gauged his words carefully, which she liked. "I don't want to hurt you."
"Let's be honest. The thing about let's just be friends?" (She started; did he know Martha intimately? wouldn't put it past him; then again, sheno). "That's bullshit," he said. "I don't care if we ever sleep together. I want romance with you. Something real. How can I explain it? Not just sex, not just friends. Romance. Moonlight. A kiss. A dance."
That sent her. They embraced. She pressed her face against his chest. It was wonderful. She felt a deep shuddering sigh emanate from the depths of her soul. She breathed deeply, sighing at his body heat. She rubbed her face against his skin through the cotton shirt, smelling his body. She pulled him toward her. "Nice man," she said.
"I'll pick you up at 6:30," he promised.
Later, in her car, driving away, she wondered how many women had said 'nice man' to John Connor. It made her mad at herself. The long drive, the lazy afternoon, the many red lights, mellowed her thoughts. If he really knew her, would he trust her? She wished she could put a tag on herself once and for all. She wanted to know. Was she fifty-fifty? or eighty-twenty? Maybe even ninety-ten? She knew she could curl right up with him but for the thought of being used again.
After sightseeing, Blue returned to her hotel room.
Her body seemed to want to pour out katas. First she spent fifteen minutes stretching and relaxing. Then she practiced some tumbles. How quickly one got rusty. When she had worked up a dripping sweat, however, she began to feel strong. An hour later, she showered and lay down to take a brief nap.
It was night out when the phone rang. "Mmmf?"
"Blue? This is John Connor. I'm in the lobby."
"Oh my God. I fell asleep. You'd better come up. I'll just be a few minutes." She quickly put on her long, conservative jeans skirt and a yellow silk blouse before he knocked. He brought white flowers in a pot wrapped with red foil. He wore a dark blazer, white shirt open at the collar, gray slacks, and black loafers. His dark hair was neatly combed and he looked preppy. He had a nice smile, a little wrinkled at the eyes, not enough to make him look old, just a little worn and comfortable. She fussed over the flowers. He settled on the bed. She sat at the vanity and blow-dried her hair, teasing the ledge over her forehead. Warm air caressed her neck, made a soothing melody while he sat on the bed.
She inspected herself in the mirror and decided she did not like the yellow silk blouse. She picked up a men's white cotton shirt and warmed up her travel iron. "Sorry I'm running late. I'm actually a quick dresser for a woman. It's really quite simple, if you have certain set outfits. Of course, I dabble from one blouse to another, or one skirt to another, but I just don't see the sense in trying on dresses for hours."
He had a very serious expression.
She laughed. "I'm chattering. I'm sorry."
He seemed startled. "No, chatter. Do. I don't mind." His eyebrows were arched high.
John Connor drove through town in a sense of wonderment. The whole city looked fresh and new because of Blue. He felt like singing, but could not carry a tune. Her perfume. Her hair. Crisp facial lines. Not model material. But the girl next door. Yes, he really liked starchy white shirts on a woman like that. Her eyes had a different quality than, say, Jana's; not sulky or mysterious, but daring and humorous, dark and mischievous, down to earth. Her hands rested on her pocket book which was in her lap, and the fingers were white and fine. He pushed aside the melancholy thought that she lived so far away and was here for such a short time.
She took to Fontainebleau immediately, and the cat permitted her to adore him. "Oh, it smells so good here." John had an apron he wore for such occasions. It said "DangerMen at Work." He wore it, and heavy kitchen mittens. He seated Laurel at the dining room table, which was decked out in white linen.
She wowed, admiring every little touch: The flickering candles, oak book cases, perfect fidelity stereo, chrysanthemum- crested silver tableware, Noritake china. It made him feel good. He served up the savory roast, still crackling in its hot sauce; French-style green beans; small round singed potatoes with just that bite to them; and a thick gravy with sliced carrots in it. He poured Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.
"You have a piano," she said, feeling dreamy. She slid onto the seat, opened the cover. Warmed her fingers, touched the keys. "What would you like to hear?"
"No, I'm serious." She tapped out an arpeggio. "I get tired of police work and would just like to make music." She banged out a pert little piece of Maple Leaf Rag.
"You are full of surprises," he said, clapping.
She bowed and closed the piano cover. "Get me started, and there is no end. Come on, I want this evening to be about you."
"Or you and me," he said. He started a small fire in the fireplace, using oak and hickory logs he'd been curing on a windy spot out on the hill for several years. He let Fontainebleau out. Smoke tinged the air. He poured more wine and sat on the thick shag before the white-brick fireplace, beside her. The fire crackled behind them, and the flue hissed softly. "That sure is a pretty fireplace," she said, resting her face against his arm.
"Thanks. I built it myself." He settled back with an arm around her. "I've totally redone this house, and I'm still working on it. It was really just a little '50's box. After my parents died, and I came back from New York City, this house became a hobby, a passion. I'm planning to put up a brick wall with ivy in front, and coach lights. Lots of plans. Want to see the view?" She nodded. He offered his arm and led her out to the redwood deck. She felt hypnotized by the lights spreading for miles in Mission Valley. Black canyon sprawled along the edges of light, a wilderness pinioned by urban expansion. She nuzzled her shoulder blades against his chest as he held her.
Back in the living room, he added another log of hickory to the fire. Fontainebleau had entered the house while they had the door open, and they fussed over him. "I've had a wonderful time," she said (not quite trusting him, yet). "I'd better get back."
He kissed her, and she enjoyed the feel and the taste of him for a minute before pulling away. "Blue," the poor man said, "there is so little time. You'll be going back home soon."
She touched his cheek. "I like you."
He drove her to the hotel. She felt comfortable, tired, anxious to cling to the magic of the moment. Under the Canary Island date palms by the sea, she let him undo some buttons. The flimsy bra slid loosely aside. His tongue darted in her minor cleavage and nuzzled small jutting breasts. If he'll only wait, she thought. She pecked a kiss on his cheek and was out of the car in a second. Ran into the lobby, pausing briefly to see the Porsche's red rear lights receding.
She went up to her room and lay on the bed. With the lights out, and the harbor glow on her pillow, she imagined what it would be like if he were really, truly hers, they two in love.
Copyright © 1996 by John Argo, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.