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
Jules Loomis called her into his office about mid-afternoon the next day. "ZoŽ, Wiz's body has been found." He looked bereaved.
"No." She felt her face drain.
"Some hikers found her bones in a shallow wash deep down in the woods outside the zoo."
ZoŽ sat and wept. Jules offered her a tissue, but she shook her head. Tears sailed off to both sides. She found a hankie in her purse.
Perry took her along in his car. Tears of rain dribbled along the windshield as Perry pulled into the by now familiar morgue building. An assistant M.E. opened a shiny drawer. This was, as she had imagined and not found when coming to view Jonathan Smith's remains, the chilly room with the stainless steel drawers and cruel drains set in the concrete floor. A large plastic bag slid out on its drawer. Behind it were several smaller bags. "Jesus Christ," Perry whispered over and over.
ZoŽ wished Perry would shut up. The assistant M.E. undid the metal snaps on the bags and they fell open. "God!" ZoŽ cried out as the skull's empty eye sockets stared at her. She recognized the slight yellowish unevenness of the front teeth. There had breathed life and laughter so close to her. In her mind, like Hamlet over Yorick's skull, she could clothe again those poor bones with lips and nose and twinkling eyes. She could reach out and touch the dear eyes. Help the glasses back up that always slid down. Caress the mouth that spoke with such hurt and fury, yet also with comfort and advice while she sat opposite ZoŽ sharing a joke or a yogurt. The assistant M.E. was saying: "...evidence she was torn apart by something or someone with large claws and a short, powerful stroke, like that of a big cat. Not long afterwards she was carried some distance in a sack (we have fibers) and cut up with a hatchet..."
ZoŽ's eyes throbbed. The evidence of her senses told her this was very much real. Devils didn't have handsaws. But they might have claws. Where did one check such information?
The assistant M.E. buttoned up his grisly sacks. His pale hands worked carefully as though he were sealing lunch bags.
That afternoon ZoŽ called Vic from the office.
"Hi, sugar," he said.
"Hi." She wasn't ready to call him sugar or honey or anything. "Vic, I went and saw the body."
"Yeah. That's Tsha-ki'-vitch. She was my friend, Vic. Fuck off. Who did it?"
"I'm sorry. I don't know."
"Why did they do this to her?"
"Who's they, ZoŽ? Do you know? I don't."
"Vic, we know she was dabbling in the occult."
He sighed deeply. "I keep telling you to butt out."
"This is now personal, Vic. She was my friend."
"You see how she ended up. Want to JOIN HER?"
"Thanks for the car," she said quietly and let the receiver rattle to rest in the switch hook.
"How is the new guy doing?" Jules asked.
"Spike? He's a human teletype machine."
They regarded Spike who sat upright at his terminal, typing away while humming a complex symphony. At the moment his lips were making 'bup-bup-bupbup' trumpets.
"I'll learn all about classical music this way," ZoŽ said.
"At least you manage to keep your sense of humor." He left unsmilingly, but gave her a fond glance over his shoulder.
Perry stopped by. "ZoŽ," he whispered, "There's some kind of a feud going on in that family. I don't know between whom exactly or over what, but Jules and a bunch of others are on one side and Wallace and probably Polly are on the other side. This time, Jules's bunch seems to be winning, at least for now."
"Maybe that's why Jules was able to move me over with you," ZoŽ ventured. "Am I being used? Are we?"
A Mr. Belmont called her.
"Who?" she asked irritably.
"Peter Belmont," the older man's voice continued patiently. "Terri's boyfriend. She used to speak of you very fondly."
"I'm so sorry," ZoŽ said.
"Thank you. It's hard on all of us. Are you a Believer, Miss Calla?" There was such sticky, hidden insinuation in his tone that she became flustered. "Yes?"
"A Practicing Believer?" he said, paring closer to the bone of whatever he was driving at.
"I'm a sort of semi-practicing Catholic," she said.
"Oh." A pause. "I see." His voice became once again merely pleasant, opaque. "There is going to be a small get together this evening at our apartment. Not exactly a funeral such as you're used to, but a send-off if you will. A memorial. How shall I put it?"
"No need," ZoŽ said. "I'll come. Where is it?" She'd never been to Wiz's apartment. She'd never shared in Wiz's private life. All she knew was that somewhere there was a garden and in it were old yogurt cups, with sprigs of this and that growing out of them.
Perry could not go with her; neither could Jules; but she resolved to go. So once again Mother had to pick up Max.
ZoŽ found the yogurt cups all right. They stood in tilty rows in a small window plot outside Wiz and Peter's apartment. Attached to each cup by a weathered clothes pin was the paper packet in which the seeds in that cup had come. All herbs, ZoŽ noted, some with weird names. Some of the packages seemed to come from Mexico, from Europe, even from Africa and Asia. The paper plates and seeds reminded her of the horrific voodoo faces down in the Jungle.
The people were, as she had expected, odd. What else? She remembered Wiz in her dowdy clothes... But nice people, once you got past the extra-bright smiles and the soft, insistent hand shakes. It wasn't creepy, exactly; but she felt as though there were a tremendous secret, and she was the only one at the memorial who didn't get it. In the end, she could not wait to leave. She stayed an hour, and in that time she felt as though cats were rubbing against her psyche.
Copyright © 1990-1996-2014 by John Argo, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.