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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 18.

At Crank's, Vic Lara leaned grinning against the bar. Music thumped and young bodies writhed. He dropped his toothpick. She ducked her shoulders and snapped her fingers. "You want to put your arms around the situation?"

"All ri-i-ight." He signaled the bartender for two more of something and then led her by the hand out to the dance floor. There they oozed to a slow tune. She liked all the songs and they danced hard to the fast songs. After about two hours or two margaritas, whichever came first, they left Crank's. Zoë felt giddy.

Outside in the cool drizzle, under the glass ceiling of a bus stop, they sat on a bench. "You've got me puffing," he said.

"You ain't seen nothin' yet, honey."

"Who-o-o-o," he said with sly conviction.

She snapped her fingers and rocked. "Blowing off steam!"

"Are you about fed up with this police beat?"

"Yes and no." She folded her hands between her knees, looked down. "Derailed for now. Back on obits since Wiz quit."

"She quit?" The light inside him brightened, or was it just the shift of reflected streetlights as his expression changed to one of astonished interest. "Where did she go?"

He's working, Zoë thought to herself, he's always working. "I have no idea. She was mad because Jules let me go out on the police beat with Perry. I've wanted to be a writer for a long time, Vic. I deserve a break. I have published some articles here and there in different little magazines. I am a published poet and author. I had a poem entitled Touch My Flower (Ignite!) in a U.C. Santa Barbara lit mag. Coupla recipes in a Chicago Polish-Italian newsletter."

He looked away. "We could still work together."

She gave him a sidelong look, hiding her suspicions. "Yeah, but not on this zoo murders story, right?" She knew the answer already, before he spoke it. He was always working, and though he worked for the city, he might just as well have been Aunt Polly's private detective.


Still, she was interested in him, for reasons she could not entirely fathom. She thought about this for a few moments. Something told her it was wrong to be interested in him, but she was drawn to him by some of the darkness inside her. "I figured knowing you wouldn't hurt."

"How's the tooth?" he asked.

"I gave it to my shrink."

"I'm glad to hear that," he said sincerely. He added: "Do you remember anything?"

"What do you mean?

"Years ago."

She felt blood rushing in her ears. Pain. Blocked.

"Sorry. Never mind." Rain drops pattered on the glass walls, making ads soggy. His eyes danced about as though following a complicated outline in the air. His eyes grew large, glistening, and his jaws worked as though he were hungry. "You look beautiful tonight."

"Whoa," she said with new energy. "Down boy." She turned her face up to catch the cool wind on her throat. The smell of rain was delicious. She shook out her curls with both hands.

He lit a Dromedary, clicking the Zippo with macho smoothness. Orange light flickered on his facial bones and crevices like London during the Blitz. "There's a lot of undertow, Zoë."

"Undertone?" She laughed, not understanding.

"Undertow. The water runs deep in this town. It's my business to know what goes on. This town is like dark water. It's cold underneath. There are things that go on that nobody would believe if you wrote them in a book. People who ordinarily wouldn't give you the time of day call you because they need you but they only tell you half the truth. Putting all the half truths together, you make quite a picture of San Tomas. Of the Human Animal."

"Vic, you sound like a newsreel."

"Sorry. I'm trying to tell you something."


"I'm not so good with the words, but here goes. I think you're okay and maybe a little something could work out between me and you. You know, dancing, dinner... I make pretty good dough and I could show you a good time. Watch out for you."

"I really do appreciate that." She wondered if he were more of a Bulldog. She'd been skimming through all the breeds and types in a Dog-o-Pedia. Only one way to find out. Go for it. "I think you're okay too, Vic."

"Want to go for a walk?" he asked.

"In the rain?"

"That's no rain. That's mist. Drizzle." He ran to his car and came back with an umbrella. "For the faint of heart."

"That's what I like, a gentleman."

They walked together arm in arm. Along deserted streets curving down to the sea. There, at Catamaran Beach, breakers curled and crashed making the sidewalk shudder. "Storm out there," he said pinching his lapels together.

She huddled against him, glad for the excuse. His surfaces felt like knotty wood and twisted cable, lean and hard. He wrapped his arms around her and sought her mouth with his. She smelled old beer and sour cigarette smoke on his breath but it didn't matter just then. She'd find a way to diplo—

His hands stroked her back and buttocks, grasping handfuls of her, roughly. She pushed away, but he pulled her back. He opened his mouth like a wolf pup, in a snarl of hunger. She stood on tiptoe and thrust her tongue in, seeking his. He groaned with satisfaction and their tongues wrestled deliciously.

It rained briefly, seething in the crowns of California fan palms lining the shore. The pleated fans rattled like hard paper. Loose leaves and tissues darted this way and that, sometimes in half-circles. Fog horns moaned like distant dinosaurs. Over and over again, the sidewalk shuddered under the sledge hammers of the sea. Wind blew paper, leaves, loose objects. A cardboard sign did somersaults through street puddles, coming to rest flat against a dark restaurant window.

His hand began to explore between her thighs when she decided enough for the first night.

In the car, behind a windshield full of scattershot water, he said: "It'll be nice. You'll get stories Perry couldn't dream of."

"I'll have to get on the City Room staff first."

"Yeah, well there's time."

She thought about this with interest. She had not really thought the implications through. "You're gonna tell me stuff you don't tell Perry?"

"Yeah," he said flicking a glance at her, "Well, you don't think I take Perry to Catamaran Beach to make out, do you?"

She laughed. "I hope not." She added: "I am waiting for that one big story, though, Vic. That one story will get me going because I want to make my career as a reporter."

The rain had let up by the time she was in her own car, driving home. She felt tingly, listening to the radio: "...Storm front from the Rockies is passing, leaving some showers through the night. Expect gusty winds, gray skies, occasional showers for the next three to four days..."

It occurred to her that she'd forgotten to mention the incident with Gilbert to Vic. Oh well, next time...

Max had finished his homework. He'd left it on the kitchen table for her to see. She checked and found that he'd done each math problem correctly. He'd left her a funny little note with a heart at the bottom: "Decided I better buckle down. My headache is gone. Please check my homework. (heart) Max."

She tiptoed in his room, covered his bare shoulder with a quilt. Touching his hair lightly, she bent over and kissed him.


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