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
She called the hospital before leaving the office. Jules was going to be released that evening, they said; did she want to be connected through to him? She hung up.
She picked up Max ("Mom, are you okay?" "Yes, darling, I'm just very angry at a few people right now." "At me?" "No, darling, I'm very happy with you." "That's a relief. I thought Sister Sincere called you." "About what?" "I broke a window. It was an accident. I was just" "Max, zip your lip and tell me tomorrow. I don't want to hear any more today, okay?")
The rainstorm let up, leaving a pearly sky. The streets were drying as she tore into Roger's driveway. Roger stepped out, wiping his hands with a dishcloth. "Barbecued beef," he started to say.
"Roger, you level with me right now or You-And-I is history."
He paled, his joy shaken.
She told him the day's events, down to Vic's insinuations. "I have been used, and I am tired of it. Roger, if all this"(she waved her arms at the house, at the sky, at the earth)"has been another pathetic effort to use me somehow, to lure aliens out of the earth or spaceships or whatever, I'm going to lock you in a room with Vic Lara for two weeks and not feed either one of you"(she said the next with her fists balled, chin forward, standing on the balls of her feet)"and see how long you last!!!"(she paused for breath)"Furthermore, I will pack my son in the car and leave here, never to speak to you again!"
He looped the dishtowel over his neck, and hung his fists from its ends. "ZoŽ, I figured if I told you half of what's been going on you'd think I was nuts and you'd leave me. I love you, and I don't want to lose you. The kids"(she saw three pale cookie-like blobs with scared raisin eyes hovering in a window)"all love you. For the first time in a long time, Rudy and Elisa have somebody who tucks them in, I mean other than me, a mommy person, and Max has someone, a daddy person, he can sit next to and watch TV and ask those endless questions boys ask." He added in a faint voice: "Please."
She deliberated silently for a minute.
She flew into his arms. "I believe you."
"I guess," Roger said, "I'd better call Miss Polly and tell her about Wallace, if Vic hasn't already."
Jules wobbled out of his office. There was a big bandage around his head. "ZoŽ, talk to me. I'm sorry."
"Jules," she said, "pissed off is not the word for how I feel."
"Okay," he owned up.
"I made up my mind last night. Life is too short. I'm tired of the way everything works or doesn't work. I'm going to be a reporter for real. I'm just warning you."
He looked into his mental files. "You're right. You have been kept unfairly dangling."
"How about, I've been used."
"Yes," he said meekly.
"You go in your office and stay there," she said. "I will bring you a story."
He looked at her shrewdly. "Looks like you're going to go for broke." He shrugged and turned to leave.
She ignored him as she word-processed: "A series of unexplained deaths in recent weeks at the Burtongale Memorial Zoo has police officials puzzled. Among the prime suspects currently being sought for questioning is 40-year-old Gilbert Burtongale, a drifter of no certain address..."
She backed up and deleted that paragraph, replacing it with: "No suspects have thus far been officially named."
She paused and thought about her life, her career, Max's medical coverage. Then she typed on:
"Police and U.S. Government officials have been investigating mysterious undersea waves from San Tomas. An unnamed city official theorizes there is a connection between the murders and the puzzling appearance of a dry snowy-looking substance all over the city. The latest victim may be"(ZoŽ Calla, she was tempted to type, then decided she might be a victim but not the latest)"Dr. Wallace Burtongale VI, curator of the San Tomas Zoo."
She paused for breath, as though she had been shouting. She looked through the white pages of the phone book. Then she dialed the Burtongale residence at Number One Canoga Avenue on a hill overlooking the ocean.
"Hello?" the woman with a British accent answered.
"Hi. This is ZoŽ Calla. I'm the police reporter for the Herald. I'd like to speak with Miss Polly."
The woman said: "I'm sorry, that's just not possible."
"I'm afraid that will not be possible." ZoŽ heard someone on the other end whisper authoritatively.
"Who are you?" ZoŽ asked, vaguely remembering the woman's Badminton accent.
"I'm Miss Strather, the House Manager. What they used to call the Butler. As in The Butler Did It."
Miss Strather laughed. "No."
"Maybe Gilbert will be in later."
"I sincerely doubt it, Miss Calla. He doesn't come around much, I'm afraid."
"I'm doing a megastory here, Miss Strather, and I don't know quite where to begin or stop. But I assure you I will get something with a beginning, middle, and end down on paper giving the who, what, where, when, why, and possibly the how."
"Oh dear..." The next moment, Miss Strather evidently had the phone taken out of her hand. A firm, old-old lady's voice came on: "Who is this?"
"ZoŽ Calla, San Tomas Herald. Police Reporter."
"What are you calling about?"
"And W-H-O-M am I speaking with?"
"Polly Burtongale, young lady, and I'll have you know there's a standing rule, no calls unless they go through Martin Willow."
ZoŽ swallowed. "He's not here."
"Why don't you wait until he gets back?"
"Miss Polly, people are dying in town. Your grandson is after me and may want to kill me. Your son is dead. There is a whole lot going on, and I'd like to bring it all out into the open."
There was a silence. "How do you spell your name?"
ZoŽ was tempted to either hang up or else spell m-a-r-z-i-p-a-n, but she diligently spelled out her real name.
"Thank you. I have no comment at this time, but somebody will get back to you."
"I'm so grateful."
The click and dial tone hurt ZoŽ's ear.
ZoŽ hung the receiver up and put her head in her arms.
"Pardon," Spike said.
"What?" she said into her elbow, voice muffled.
He slipped a clipping before her. It was an item from the classifieds. Was he thinking of a career change?
"Thanks," she said. "I'll hang on to this." She resumed typing. An hour later, she marched into Jules's office. "Jules, I forgive you because you tried to protect me. You were not using me like the monster Vic Lara. Here is the story. Print it or I resign. Fire me, I don't give a rat's ass."
His face turned white and his eyebrows rose to his hairline. "Okay," he said, "this is your story." He looked as though he were holding a grenade.
"I wrote the truth. You can toss it, edit it, publish it, whatever. By the way, I called Miss Polly."
He winced back as though hit by a steel ball. "Ow, ZoŽ, you really know how to go all the way. What did she say?"
"No comment. But someone will get back to me."
Jules had his pipe apart on the desk. He put the story among the pieces and regarded it as though it might give him cholera. "I will not place this on the desk of Mr. Willow," he stated, "because Mr. Willow is not here. Thus it goes to the compositor on my say-so. You might as well go find a cardboard box, because I suspect you will be packing. Are you sure you want to go through with this? It's too late anyway."
Her legs felt like rubber. "No." She heard a quaver, and was surprised it was in her own voice. "Something has to give, Jules." She knew she could not take much more. Her wagon was coming apart at the axles. "Publish it."
"Okay," he said.
She noted some empty cardboard boxes in the hall next to his office. "Thinking of retiring?"
"I think it's time," he croaked.
Copyright © 1990-1996-2014 by John Argo, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.