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This Shoal of Space:

Zoë Calla & the Dark Starship

(World's First E-Book—Published On the Web in 1996 For Digital Download)

a Dark SF novel originally titled Heartbreaker

by John Argo

Preface   Chapter 1   Intralog  Part I-Chapter 2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   19   20   21   22   23   24   25   26   27   28   29   30   31   32   33   34   35   36   37   38   39   40   41   42   43   44   45   46   47   48   49   50   51   52   53   54   55   56   57   58   59   60   61   62   63   64   65   Part II-Chapter 66   67   68   69   70   71   72   73   74   75   Outlog


Chapter 3.

Perry Stein's car was at least a block long and smelled strongly of disinfectant. In the back seat were several mops and buckets. Perry and his wife took night cleaning jobs around town.

"I thought you gave that up," ZoŽ said as they drove along Canoga Avenue, where flowers bloomed by the shopping mall.

Perry was a tall, curly-haired Samoan with thick-lensed glasses and one wandering eye. "Naw. Matilda and I talked about it some. On a small-town paper like this you don't make enough money. Not if you have five kids like we do."

ZoŽ watched expensive San Tomas stores glide by in unwavering sunshine that drew the wealthy to this peninsula. "This is exciting, Perry. I love the newspaper. Do I get to do some writing? I'm looking for a real kick-start out of this ditch I've been in all these years."

"For now, you tag along. You'll get your chance."

"Sure, Mart Willow will fall all over himself to promote me."

"You always did have that little bite, like maybe a jalapeno too many. What you need to do, ZoŽ, is look for a story. Maybe a big story. Something you can put your personal stamp on. Then you'll be on your way."

She sat back dismayed. "It's Mart Willow again, isn't it? What does he think—if they print something I write, the paper will explode in people's hands? What an asshole."

"It's not my idea of a way to break you in," Perry sympathized.

The corridors of the city morgue were shadowy and cool in contrast to the growing heat outside. "I'm trying to act nonchalant, Perry, but this is my first trip to a real morgue, so grab me if I pass out."

The body of Jonathan Smith was not, as ZoŽ had imagined, in a cruel-looking room whose walls were covered with aluminum doors and whose concrete floors had bloody drains. Instead, it lay under a sheet in a plain, almost cozy, paneled room at one corner of the building. The blinds were drawn, but comforting sunlight peeked through. One of the live men in the room was San Tomas PD Lt. Vic Lara, the primary police investigator on the case. ZoŽ thought he had beautiful shifting eyes. She felt attracted to him, and yet something about him gave her goose bumps. Had she known him in a dark past life or something?

Perry's wandering eye wandered. She had once, over coffee and Danish at Vogelmann's, heard someone of less sensitivity ask Perry how his eye got to be that way. He had held up one index finger and curled it into a hook. "Childhood fishing accident." That answer always left a silence. ("Actually it's Lazy Eye," Perry had later confessed).

The Medical Examiner pulled back the sheet and there lay Mr. Smith on his gurney. It reminded ZoŽ of old Frankenstein movies, the way his body had been ripped to pieces and approximately sewn back together. "It would have been a big, quick, powerful, and very violent animal to do this," he said. "There have been no reports of animals missing from the zoo—."

"Except a bear named Andy," ZoŽ said while Perry nudged her side.

"Well yes, so I hear, but he dropped dead in his cage. Hardly a predator." The M.E. smiled as if speaking to a not so bright child; ZoŽ was used to that, although it irritated her; consider the source, she always told herself. He continued: "Actually, the only animal I know that fits that description is homo sapiens." He waved a finger over his work. "Miss, er, ZoŽ," the M.E. said, "the cuts and stitch marks around the neck are from the autopsy, in case you don't know. So are the big cross cuts on the chest. As to the rest of the damage—someone or something kind of tore him apart. They simply reached in and tore his heart out. It was found some distance from the body, partially eaten by a small animal."

ZoŽ found the sight was neither viscerally horrible nor clinically neutral, but somewhere in-between. She felt sorry for Jonathan Smith. His reattached arms were crossed at the wrists, fingers lightly curved in rubbery repose, awaiting some funeral ceremony.

"...Like Ripper work," Lara said. Lara had a kind of hardboiled way, ZoŽ thought, talked with his chin cocked sometimes down, sometimes up, hands in pockets. Lara looked lean and mean in his starchy suit.

The doctor sighed. "There's a sick one out there."

ZoŽ looked more closely at the face. In death, Smith did not look particularly peaceful, given the odd twist of the lips and the faint shine of eyeballs between stiff eyelids.

"Miss Calla," Lara said, "sometimes people try to figure out the dead person's expression. There isn't any expression, just the odd way muscles and ligaments shrink and harden."

"Call me ZoŽ. Thanks for that information, Lieutenant."

"You working with Perry, ZoŽ?"

"On and off," she said. The way he regarded her gave her the chills. Had they been acquaintances somewhere long ago? Her mind, with a subconscious life of its own, groped: In an earlier life? Beneath the ocean floor? She reached for metaphors and found no perfect one, only a memory of terrible violence, like a private Big Bang. She shrank from the past, glad to return to the warm and sunny present.

Lara's look was penetrating but opaque. "See you around, huh?" His gaze caressed her the way one stroked a cat.


Copyright © 1990-1996-2014 by John Argo, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.