This Shoal of Space:
Zoë Calla & the Dark Starship
(World's First E-BookPublished On the Web in 1996 For Digital Download)
a Dark SF novel originally titled Heartbreaker
by John Argo
Part I-Chapter 2
Part II-Chapter 66
"Chalk marks," Roger Chatfield repeated in the morning as he strode into his office at the zoo.
"Yes, I thought I should catch you as you came in." Wallace Burtongale III poured coffee from the silver service. He was a short, pot-bellied man of sixty, with watery blue eyes and a ring of white hair around a burned red spot. His mouth curved down sourly. An aggressive Burtongale chin added vinegar. "Don't know the details yet. Someone broke into the zoo last night and drew weird symbols on the street near the pagoda." He yawned.
Chatfield threw his worn leather briefcase under his desk and sat down. He steepled his fingers and looked through them as if they were a gun sight. "Any dead theologians this time?"
Wallace shook his head as he took the lid off of a porcelain sugar bowl and click-clicked little silver tongs over the bowl. "Thank God, no. No bodies." Two lumps. Plop, plop. Wallace stirred. "This time however, it's inside the zoo. You know what that means. We cannot allow any snooping around. We can't get caught up in any scandal."
"Isn't that kind of paranoid?" Chatfield asked.
"No," Burtongale said. Relations between Chatfield and his boss had been deteriorating for reasons Chatfield could not put his finger on. Chatfield surreptitiously slid his upper middle desk drawer open an inch and just with the tips of his fingers touched the thick Kraft parcel he kept there for just such moments. It felt bulky and reassuring to the touch.
"Those are my and Miss Polly's explicit feelings, especially if that police reporter and nosy young woman come around again."
Roger sat back and laughed. "Wallace, they're from your paper. You own it. You own them. So squash the story. Isn't that what we always do?"
Wallace sat down wheezily before the desk. "I'm afraid there is one more piece of bad news, Roger. It's your favorite cat Lilly. The Peruvian jaguar."
Chatfield laid his hands on his desk, palms down, and sat upright. "No."
"I'm afraid so. The cat keepers found her dead this morning. No sign of struggle, poisoning, anything." Chatfield felt sick. Five years of work down the drain, the breeding project... "I'm sorry, Roger. I knew you'd take it hard."
Twenty minutes later, when Chatfield saw the cat, he closed his eyes. "Ouch." He felt as though he'd been hit. The cat had been a special breeder on loan from Lima, Peru. There was a whole wall of baby pictures of her, with her keepers, in the cat house.
"Call the vet," he said thickly.
"Already did," said a handler. "She's on her way to pick Lilly up for necropsy. Do you want us to, um, let you know?"
"I'll be in my office." A tear stung each eye, and he brushed them away. He knelt down. The cat lay stretched out as if running, on her side, stiff with rigor mortis. The muzzle was slightly open and the tongue hung out, turned toward the ground. Her eyes were open. Faint wind stirred the tips of black hair. Back in his office, Chatfield put his face in his hands and thought about the future. "Dr. Chatfield," the secretary said over the intercom, "Are you back? I have someone on the line and I was just about to tell her to call back another time."
"I'll take it." He rose, slammed the door shut, and landed back in his chair. Disgustedly, he pressed the intercom button.
There was a pause. Then: "Hello?"
A familiar voice. Sweet somehow. Like a sour candy. "Yes," he prodded.
He slowly began to smile. "Yes, how are you."
"Oh fine. How did you know it was me?"
He sat back feeling a flood of warmth. "Somehow I just did."
"That's nice," the Calla woman said with a surprised tone, pleased at being remembered. "I had a note from Jules Loomis that you wanted someone to do some color on the zoo."
"Yes, that was my suggestion. Suppose we meet over lunch."
Flustered. "I, well, yes, that would, I'm buried in, er, articles here, but..."
"What about tomorrow? My day here is rather full."
"Let's plan on it, unless something comes up." She hung up quickly, but heard his parting words fading as the phone streaked between her ear and the switch-hook:
"Thanks, Miss Calla. I'll look forward to it."
Copyright © 1990-1996-2014 by John Argo, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.