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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 21.

Perry Stein and his wife Matilda unloaded mops, buckets, buffer, cans of wax and boxes of detergent, near the back entrance of the zoo's administration building.

Desperate times called for desperate measures, and Perry felt he had to somehow get the story himself; nobody in this town told the truth and he could not wait to graduate to a bigger city and maybe a better paper.

He had printed up a batch of cards under "Matilda's Night Cleaning" and used them to obtain some night janitorial work in the zoo. That was another thing he figured he'd never need to do again once he got out of San Tomas, but for now with five kids, well, you did what you had to.

"Hurry, Hon," Matilda said as needles of water fell in a cold wind.

Perry did not need urging. His small round lenses were blurry wet. He wrestled the heavy buffer into the rotunda and there, while the roof pattered, knelt to examine the machine minutely.

"Whatcha doin'?" Matilda asked patiently. She was a big woman with heavy legs. Her gait was slow, a rocking from side to side, but she always got there anyway.

"Checking to see if any water got into the coil," Perry said lightly. He loved Matilda, and always spoke sweetly to her. Her hair was cut in a plain page boy. She had a wide solid German face with hard angles. Each time those strong lines cracked into a smile (shy or wise-ass or no shit or why don't you come and take me) Perry fell in love with her anew. She was the fertile soil, the lovely earth that had given forth five children and each of them in fine health.

"I'll bring in the little stuff," Matilda said.

"Okay Hon," he said frowning as he peered into an opening in the buffer's cowling. Holding it just so, a certain way and no other, he could see the coiled copper brushes and the colored wires for carrying the juice into that iron carousel. "I think it's okay."

"Don't go getting a shock now," she said someplace outside.

"Don't go getting a cold," he told her and hurried outside to help bring in the cleaning goods.

"Keep that soap out of the rain," she said, grinning.

He grinned too. The thought flashed between them of how many suds a 25-pound box of soap could generate; they both knew, for during high school they had tried it in the park fountain. They laughed out loud together, beginning to sweat as they lugged in the rest of the gear. A lot of suds had come out of the fountain; had covered half the small park knee-deep; for hours, tumbleweeds of foam had torn loose bit by bit in the wind and rolled along city streets.

"This is a spooky place," Matilda said. Her voice echoed in the ceiling of the rotunda. "I wonder if it's haunted." She giggled, making echoes chuckle in the dome.

Perry opened the first door. "This is Dr. Chatfield's office. Now you just vacuum and dust, okay? I'll nose around and come back in a few minutes."

"This could be a great contract," she said, her pragmatic awe overcoming her fear.

"If it goes well, it might be," he agreed. He planted a kiss on her lips, which parted in a brief clinging motion, and he tasted the tip of her tongue. "You'll be okay," he assured her. "There are guards all over the zoo and there will always be someone within hailing distance."

She plugged in her small radio. " story is more of the same, folks, a lot of drizzle..."

Perry stood in the doorway and looked into the rain. If nothing else, they'd make a few bucks. Who knew, maybe he'd catch a serial killer. He patted the camera slung under his poncho; better just see glimpse the killer and snap a few pictures and then run like hell. Perry grinned to himself. This job had been easy to set up. While he and Zoƫ had interviewed Chatfield, Perry's practiced eye had roved about. He'd noted bubblegum trodden into the fluted tiles in the rotunda; coffee stains in Chatfield's carpet; cigarette butts lying against the corridor walls. Turned out the regular cleaning service had gone sloppy and been terminated several weeks earlier. Since then, coverage had been spotty. Well, Perry had assured the maintenance manager after showing him the gum and the stains and the butts, we can take care of that. He'd handed him the new card, Matilda's, not his own which Chatfield might recognize. The Burtongales would not take kindly to his attempt to get behind their facade.

Distant varicosities flickered in the sky. Dull rumblings blew in off the sea. It began to rain harder, and Perry folded his arms, squinting behind tiny lenses. Whatever was out there, he hoped, was getting good and wet.


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