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 36. Palm Springs & San Diego
Daddy! Telephone for you!" Astrid's piercing voice rang through the halls.
"All right, thank you," Hugh Stone fairly bellowed in return. He had just put Marga to bed. Drunk, wasted by her self-abuse, with cold hands and feet, and a swollen edemous belly, she weighed next to nothing as he carried her from the sitting room to the bedroom. Repelled by the smells of alcohol and stale cigarette smoke, Hugh hated to touch her anymore. He pulled the coverlet up to her gaunt jaw with a dismal feeling. He sat on the edge of the bed for a few moments, stroking her cold claw. If there was an ounce of sentiment in him, it was through her, for the past. With Marga and Stone Electronics gone, he had no allegiance to this country. His goal had been to return to Switzerland and retire as a wealthy man. For him, the U. S. was no more than a jungle to fight for meat in. And now, his meat threatened by other hunters.
"Daddy! The fucking phone!"
"I'm coming!" He felt a moment of hatred for Astrid. Spoiled, selfish, self-adoring third-rate pianist. Then again, maybe he should have spent more time with her.
Garth's deep, full voice: "Mr. Stone, bad news. That guy we spoke of, the holy ghost?"
He meant Brady. "Yes?" Hugh fumbled for a cigar.
"No bull. They found him burned to death in his car in Vermont. Seems he went skiing. Got drunk and burned to death."
Hugh slumped down in a chair. He felt the blood drain from his brain as the implications of this latest disaster struck him. "Where the hell is Roger Filmore?"
"I don't know, Mr. Stone."
"You haven't heard from him?"
"No, Mr. Stone."
"Doesn't that strike you as odd?" Hugh fairly shouted.
"No need to get huffy. I'm doing the best I can."
"Of course you are," Hugh said soothingly. He dialed the special number in Mexico City. After interminable delays on staticky lines, LeSable answered, sounding pissed to begin with. "LeSable, I have problems."
"This better be good, Hugh. My man Alvaro gave me a month to come up with the money, and this is Day 15. Hugh, for God's sake man, don't let me down! I was counting on you!"
"One of our main customers just died. Plop. I'm short three million bucks."
"Hugh," LeSable groaned, "you said you were flush."
"Can you stall them a few days? I don't have cash on hand."
"These people don't want to hear that shit."
"LeSable, be reasonable. We've done business before. You know I'm good for it. Another week. That's what I need."
LeSable seemed near tears: "No, Hugh. The Alvaros have told me they want a meeting. In the next few days. They have their shipment ready to go, and they expect their money. Or else I am in big trouble. And you with me."
Hanging up, Hugh began to consider the necessity for a sudden trip to New England. He called Garth.
"Yes, Mr. Stone?"
"I need some phony DEA ID for myself. Can you help me?"
"Yes, Mr. Stone." Hugh wondered if Garth had sprung from a Frankenstein movie.
After flying into Hartford's Bradley International Airport, Hugh Stone took a Pilgrim Airlines flight to Tweed-New Haven Airport. As the DeHavilland Twin Otter puttered in toward a landing, Hugh smiled into the mirror of the black velveteen case open on his lap. In the case lay the innocuous objects: a bar of soap, a comb, a rubber band, an old straight razor. Gray daylight from a cold, cloudy sky made the mirror shine, illumining his face.
Hugh met Garth in a restaurant in New Haven, a drafty, old- fashioned barn with many rooms paneled in dark wood and with somber stained glass windows depicting the Yale and Harvard football logos. It was located on narrow, snow-choked Wall Street among neo-Gothic buildings. The old tables, heavily carved over generations, filled with lunch time professors and students. Bill Garth looked solid and athletic in a heavy sweater, corduroy trousers, and boots. He slid the phony ID across the table.
Hugh grilled: "Have you seen Roger Filmore?"
Garth's massive forearms folded on the rocking table. Pizza remnants lay under origami napkin debris. "No. He hasn't shown up in days. I checked his hotel room and all."
Hugh glanced at the ID, saw it seemed okay, and pocketed it. "Vincent killed Filmore and left the body. Faked his own death, the slime ball," Hugh said. "It's the only explanation. I never gave him enough credit, the weasel." He finished his beer and wiped his mouth with a paper napkin. "I don't have any time to lose. Garth, get out of town. Let met handle this."
"That's risky, Mr. Stone. You want to expose yourself?"
Hugh pointed a finger in Garth's face. "You are the muscle. I am the brain. You do what you're told."
Garth's face assumed a dark hue.
"I'll get it out of them if I have to hang the police chief by his nuts." He rose and headed for the door. He looked back.
Garth fiddled with his beer glass. His huge hands, with their big blunt fingers, throttled the narrow-necked glass. "Mr. Stone, are you cracking up?"
As he stepped through the snow outside, Hugh kept seeing the look in Garth's eyes, the tone of his voice (expose yourself
) and suddenly he realized that Garth was now working for the Alvaros. Had to be. (very risky
) Garth was too Neanderthal for such thinking. He turned and went back, thinking of slashing Garth, maybe in the men's room. As he swung the door open, Hugh saw that Garth was no longer sitting there. Just as well. It might have been a tough kill. A nuisance.
Hugh drove to Hamilton, smoking a cigar and more comfortable now that Garth was out of the loop, as far as Hugh was concerned. He walked into the town hall and found the police department receptionist's desk. He asked for Special Agent Humboldt.
"I'm sorry," the 50th woman said with a flutter, "Miss Humboldt is unavailable."
"I must speak with her." He flaunted his papers.
The woman warmed a bit. "Oh. In that case, you should speak with Detective Stosik. Eddie Stosik. They were in San Diego together, but he's just flown back. Just a minute, I'll ring him for you." Hugh sat coolly on a wood bench in the hallway. Minutes later, she turned. "You can go in."
"Thank you so much." He entered a dark wood door with POLICE Department bannered on a frosted window. He took the inner offices in with a glance: two fat men in blue uniforms typing one-fingered; a lady with more lipstick than mouth, more glasses than eyes, hunched over some form in a typewriter; not a thing stirring in this pathetic little village. A big red haired man with dirty fingers and glinty eyes stepped out. "Mr."
"Silverstone. Special Agent, DEA." They shook hands.
"Eddie Stosik. Detective. Come in." He led Hugh into a cluttered office. Hugh noticed golf clubs, pictures of a fat woman and three grimacing children, a gun in its holster hanging from a hat rack whose crown was a liquor advertisement. All very gauche. "What can I do ya," Stosik asked.
They sat. "I'm on a special investigation, and it looks as though my path has crossed that of a DEA agent named Humboldt. I'm told you have worked with her."
Stosik paused a split second. "Yes."
"In San Diego."
Again that pause. "Yes. Here and in San Diego."
Hugh laid a photo on the desk. "I am after this man."
Stosik looked. "That's Monsignor Gordon. We're looking for him too, and so is Father Binder, only Gordon's dead."
Hugh smiled. "He isn't dead." As Stosik's eyes widened, he laid Filmore's photo before him. "He killed this DEA agent and switched ID's. Your Monsignor Gordon is really a con man named Vincent Brady, and I think he's got several million dollars of local church money."
"Holy Bejayzuz." Stosik rose and held his head. "Wait a minute. Wait. You're DEA, but you didn't know Blue, that's Humboldt, was working with me. I'm a little confused." He took another look at Hugh's ID.
"We all work very independently," Hugh said.
Two minutes later, Stosik slammed through the door carrying two cups of coffee. "Okay, Special Agent Silverstone, I'll buy it. Sorry about the third degree."
Hugh accepted the offering of coffee. "You're just a good cop, doing your duty. Now, can you help me find Brady?"
Stosik shrugged. "There's a suspicion that he's got a little love den in San Diego. That's what Blue calls it."
"Laurel Humboldt. Your agent." He frowned.
"Oh yes. Her nickname. She's in San Diego?"
Stosik nodded. "San Diego PD. You can call her there if you want." He moved the phone closer.
Hugh said: "Thanks, I'll call her later. In fact, I might fly out there. She'll have the address of this love nest."
"I imagine so. SDPD has a watch on the place. They found some woman stabbed and half beaten to death there. It's been in the papers." He buckled on his gun. "I'm afraid I've got to run, Silverstone. Got an appointment. Anything else you need?"
Hugh rose. "Not right now. Thanks."
Stosik walked him outside. It was cold. Night was setting in. It was getting inky dark. Their breath came in steamy lungfuls. Their feet crunched on snow glittering with unnatural lamplight. "You sure don't sound like a cop," Stosik said.
"What does a cop sound like?" Hugh asked. He felt the razor in his coat pocket.
"I dunno." Brazenly, he took out a pad and wrote Hugh's license plate number down. "You rented this car in New Haven. That's odd. Aren't you assigned in Manhattan?"
Hugh said fuck you very much in a tiny inaudible voice and leaned forward. Stosik, holding his pencil in one hand and note pad in the other, leaned forward so their foreheads nearly touched. "What did you say?"
Hugh flicked open the razor and, in one motion, thumb on the razor's back for pressure, drew the razor toward himself along Stosik's throat while using his left hand to shove Stosik away, thus adding to the depth of the cut and pushing the explosion of blood away.
Stosik lowered his hands. He stared at Hugh. Blood bubbled out of his mouth and nostrils. Blood spurted in violent pulses from the severed neck artery. Stosik looked shocked. Then his eyes closed and he died as he sagged onto the bright red carpet of snow.
There he lay silently as Hugh lit a cigar and drove off to catch a flight to San Diego. Miss Humboldt, he thought, maybe you know where my dear friend Vincent has run off to.
Copyright © 1996 by John Argo, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.