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
Joannes Berbere, ZoŽ found in the morning, was like a human teletype machine. The monotonous pace and the demanding exactitude of writing death notices seemed to suit him just fine. "Call me Spike," he said and his gold tooth sparkled.
"Okay," ZoŽ said.
"I like the coffee here too." He stirred rapidly.
She resolved to ask him lots of questions about Ethiopia when there was some time, and she hoped her manner was friendly enough to convey this. Meantime, what she really felt like doing was stuffing fifty pounds of paper down this throat and turning a crank to make death notices come out with speed and regularity.
Spike hummed as he typed. Waltzes, sonatas, cantatas, show tunes, hard rock, Sousa marches and salsa, Jubilatio, he was a veritable radio. He had a wide bony face, large white teeth, and a happy jaw that seemed forever to bounce up and down going da-da, da-dum, da-di.
What a joy, ZoŽ thought. "If you have any questions..."
"...I will be sure to ask." He had gentle eyes and an amused glow. His fingers chickled on the keys at an even pace and ZoŽ just sat, watching with folded arms. Presently he seemed to well up with joy, and out came, ta-da, ta-di, ta-dum, as he ran through a medley of old Beatles tunes.
Rain pattered on the windows. ZoŽ dawdled over an obituary article about a man who had polished machine parts at the same plant for fifty years. She stayed on the phone, safely looking busy, and taking notes. It was amazing not being in panic mode. Jules had instructed her to observe their new employee closely.
Spike hummed show tunes, rock songs, religious hymns, military marches.
Perry was on the road, and Jules was in a meeting. She could tell Spike was going to work out fine. She was anxious to get out and do some reporting.
Vic called wanting a date, and she said no.
Rain dribbled down the windows. She puttered about, arranging some oranges and walnuts in a basket on the window sill. She added some dried flowers in a blue vase. Her dictionary, thesaurus, and current novel (a thumbed library copy of Passions by Florence Riesling Kiefer) stood in the sill, along with three pictures of Max at various ages.
She felt a little cold, so she wore a fuzzy pink sweater. Better cool than hot. The wet weather made her feel perky, almost more alive.
She was able to leave work a little early. Vic was waiting outside. He persuaded her to have coffee with him at Flopsy's diner on coastal route 101. Lara poured black coffee. He smelled of subtle French lotion. "Are you okay, ZoŽ?"
"I'm sorry I made you mad the other day.
"It's okay." It wasn't, but life had to go on.
"Here, I want to share this with you." He placed a green leatherette notebook on the table.
She pulled it close. ADDRESSES was pressed in gold leaf on the cover. The pages were smudged from much use; one or two pages hung out like doors off their hinges. Jonathan Smith was written in No. 2 pencil on the first page, along with a phone number with a strange area code. She handled the book delicately.
"Go on, look through it."
"I feel like a trespasser."
"That's all right. You're doing police work now. No shame, no modesty, no delicacy. Get in there and see what you find."
She frowned. There was a San Tomas number, judging by the area code. "Wallace B....," she read. "That's the big boss at the zoo, right?"
"Roger Chatfield's boss," Vic affirmed.
"Perry said he thought there was a connection. He said it wasn't just coincidence that Smith had his heart torn out and was dumped on the sidewalk near the zoo."
"Well, keep reading."
ZoŽ flipped through, and as she did so she noted any local names and numbers. There were several. H. Hale...she looked quizzically at Vic.
"Harleigh Hale," he filled in for her. "Owns a bookstore on State 594, past East Canoga, almost in the mountains. An occult bookstore, I might add. We used to do drug busts there for dope and paraphernalia years back when it was a head shop. Then it became a biker shop..." (ZoŽ thought she vaguely recalled being in a place near the mountains one night when Max had been a baby; she had a black eye after an argument with Frank, and was cold and frightened riding in the back of Frank's old car; this flashed enigmatically like black and white photo stills from her subconscious but she could not put together a conscious thought about it; it slipped away) "...and finally this biker shop was bought out by Harleigh Hale. I personally keep an eye out, but we haven't had any real dirt on them."
Troubled by the tightness of San Tomasno matter where you dug, either your past or someone else's peeked out with skeletal grinshe turned more pages. "None of the out of towners mean anything to me. I suppose the police are checking on them."
"Right, Chief. Every one, Chief. Thanks."
She felt her cheeks burn crimson. Then she started. "D. Mulcahy?"
"The one and only. I checked the number, and it matches."
"How could the Bishop of San Tomas be involved in this?"
"Doesn't mean he was involved, but it also doesn't mean he wasn't involved."
She flipped through but did not find any more names. Was Mulcahy now also a suspect?
"You missed one."
"Under the k's."
She turned back with wetted thumb and scanned a fairly dense crowd of out of town names and numbers. "Oh no!" After several passes, her eyes found what they had been unwilling to see:
Terry K. (nnn) nnn-nnnn...
The phone number swam before her eyes as she tried to focus on her friend's name.
"Have you seen Miss Chickowitz around? We've checked every lead, ZoŽ, and I'm afraid that I have to tell you the lady is on the missing persons list."
"Her name is Kcikiewicz." ZoŽ pronounced it for him: "Terri Tsha-ki'-vitch. Low on the first syllable, high on the second, swoosh on the third." ZoŽ had a mental photo in which Wiz was sitting at the obit desk looking up and smiling at some joke. Sunlight played in her laughter. But if you looked closer, you saw that the odd play of shadows, like a photographer's closing shutter, never completely left her eyes.
ZoŽ dreamt of Frank that night.
Riding on the back of his Harley. Wind streaming through her hair. Both of them smiling at some joke while sunlight honeyed their faces. Lovingly, she tightened her embrace and pressed her cheek against Frank's back, while the hog rumbled between her thighs. It sometimes gave her an orgasm. Downshifting on a narrow road among grapevines, Frank eased the bike close to a fence. ZoŽ reached over and managed to snag a bunch of grapes. They tasted tart and sweet. Juice ran down her cheek. Frank turned and smiled at her. Only it was Vic Lara's face on Frank's body.
She sat up in bed because someone was crying.
She was out of bed and running. Tangled in her sheet. Stumbling. Bumped her knee.
"Darling are you all right?"
He turned a light on and looked at her. Rubbed his eyes. "I must have been dreaming."
She tried to catch her breath. "Me too. I thought I heard you crying."
He held his head. "I had this weird dream about being in a... a zoo, I think. Or a farm. Or maybe it was a giant submarine under the ocean." He let her sit beside him and hug him. "I was trying to find the way out but I couldn't. It was dark all around except..." (he turned haunted eyes to her) "...except there were these faces looking at me. I think they were like big grasshoppers or something because they had these..." (he made circular motions with his hands around his face and couldn't think of a good description). "And there was this alien." He looked stricken. "He had a nuclear bomb."
She patted his back. "I think you should just go back to sleep. You'll be surprised how easily you'll slip away."
"Good night," she whispered and closed his door.
She stopped in the kitchen to draw a glass of water. Then she padded to her bedroom. She set the water glass down and yawned. Stretched.
Before she got into bed, she went to the window to close the shade a bit more.
And froze. There, parked against the opposite curb not far down the street, was a blue van glistening with rain. Quickly she closed the curtains.
Copyright © 1990-1996-2014 by John Argo, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.