= Neon Blue =
A Suspense Novel by John Argo
Chapter 1. Manhattan
Laurel ‘Blue’ Humboldt finished cleaning her 9 mm automatic, pulling one last cleaning pad through the barrel. She laid the heavy black gun aside, and sighed as she thought about the mess in her so-called love life. A mug of decaf lemon tea steamed by her bed, and she rubbed it absently sorting through jagged impressions of recent dates. Did one ever meet another nice person?
She was 28. A ledge of dark hair floated over her forehead, and her pale skin had a creamy luster in the drowsy half-light of late afternoon. She had a square, fresh face. Alert, dark eyes and skeptical eyebrows under rich dark hair. A pale nose whose narrow verticality had a straight, porcelain look. Thin lips in a wide gentle mouth; a firm jaw and even white teeth. She lay on her single bed lined with stuffed animals and wriggled her toes, clad in pink wool knee-socks. Her jeans skirt fit the tooled curves of her well-exercised body. Her short fingernails had chipped red nail polish.
Wind shoved oppressive gusts of icy rain against her window. It was late afternoon in Manhattan. It had been her day off, but now she had to go in. DEA had a major informant about to drop dimes right and left, and she was to escort him to prison, take a deposition, and waste half the night sitting around.
She stepped into the shower, leaving her tea mug on the tile window sill. Hot water caressed her, pummeled her, warmed her bones. Her nipples hardened with pleasure. She soaped herself. With closed eyes, she turned and let the water gurgle against her face while she cupped her breasts. After the shower, she toweled briskly, put on bikini underwear from a scented drawer, waterproof boots, faded dungarees, a T-shirt with a black kung fu dragon on the front, a bulky white sweater, and her knee-length ski parka. Scarf. Hat. No gloves. 9 mm in shoulder holster. A dab of Opium behind each ear. Mascara, faint eye shadow. Ready to do battle.
A viscous mass of Arctic cold hogged the air currents from Canada. Manhattan temperatures dove as darkness set in early. Smoky clouds bumped among high buildings whose computer-card lights winked out one by one. Blue ascended from the subway tunnel. There was a sweet crackle of mystery about the wet brick walls, the smells of steaks and beer and smoke from restaurants, the bluish light of street lamps, the exhaust fumes of taxis, pedestrians with hurried secrets.
Blue pushed through the lobby door of Mercy Midtown Hospital and looked for her colleague Vito in the Emergency Room. She found Antonio Guzman before she found Vito. According to the armed guard keeping a watchful eye, Guzman was in no shape to run away, and Vito had gone outside for a smoke. Guzman, key government witness, had been beaten up at the court house and taken to Mercy. Blue found him puffy-eyed in one of the treatment rooms, with bloodstains on his prison overalls and a shiner to beat the band. His ankles were chained. His hands had been freed and he gingerly, grimacing, leaned on his gurney to sip water through a straw.
A green prison van pulled with noisy brakes and gasoline fumes to the loading dock. The driver was a tall Latino, 25, with sunglasses he made a show of removing. He carried a .357 Magnum Police Special on a wide belt with cuffs and extra rounds. He wore a BOP windbreaker, green trousers, and heavy black boots that offset the slimness of his legs. She introduced herself and asked, "Are you here to pick up Guzman?"
He fiddled with his sunglasses and showed his orders. "George Olvera. I sure am." A ladies' man, she thought, pleased at his visible interest, but noting the wedding band. Why was it always married men or jerks, or both, making passes at her? He said, "It's just a fifteen minute drive."
Ambulances came and went with wailing sirens. The hospital loomed around them, a concrete world. She spotted Vito on the loading ramp and waved. Vito saw George Olvera and looked jealous. Vito used Blue's coat belt to pull her against the icicled wall sheltered from the stabbing wind. He produced a pack of Camels. They lit one and took turns puffing, flapping their arms and stomping up and down to keep warm. Vito, as always, was dressed impeccably and expensively. Under a dark belted loden overcoat he wore a gray suit and pointy black shoes. He wore a gold watch with diamond chip numerals and a gold bracelet on the other wrist. Vito had sharp black eyes, a large nose, and small rosy lips. "What's the matter? You look sad."
She looked at him sharply. Could he know about Maggie?
Vito poked the icy air with his scarred little chin. "Got a bum in your life?" Vito's eyes looked greedy.
"Yes and no." There was nobody in her life, but anything to keep Vito at bay. Blue had a habit of keeping her sanity by dividing her mind into boxes and keeping things separate. Her love life had been a sealed box for quite a while, and now Vito was fumbling with the lock.
"Blue," he said.
"Vito," she mimicked. "What's with this guy's shoes?"
He chewed and inhaled and talked, eyes darting around. "Guzman and some dude got into it back at the court house this morning, something about his shoes then it was the other guy's mother and so on. He got the shit beat out of him, the fool." They hopped, smoking. "This guy's worth a lot. Watch him."
"You get to go home. Lucky Vito."
He jangled a set of keys. "You got yourself this Number One shitbox federal vehicle to drive." He handed her the keys. "Compliments, Chief Tomasi. Take a good deposition." She accepted two grimy keys on a large paper clip. Vito started to turn away, then changed his mind. He flicked the butt away and stomped desperately. "Blue."
"Does he beat you?"
"The animal. The guy. The love of your life."
She grinned. "Thanks. Actually, I beat him."
"I can help you," Vito said.
"Buy you dinner for a start, you know? Treat you right."
"Dinner. Oh. And then what."
"Vito, you've got a wife and three kids, or is it four?"
"Four," he said glumly. "That's marriage. This is love."
"Vito, go blow it out your ear."
"You're the girl next door."
"Vito, I love you too. Fuck off, will you?"
Vito turned and made long annoyed pointy strides away.
Antonio Guzman, face pitted by childhood acne, smoked a cigarette as the E.R. attendant rolled him out in a wheel chair. Guzman insisted on entering the prison van under his own power, despite the leg chains.
George Olvera parked his sunglasses on his forehead, though the gray scudding clouds were turning black and it was getting darker. The government car was like a stale refrigerator. She got it stoked and they drove through the city. She nearly lost George and had to speed through an amber light. Several other cars made the same leap, just as the light turned red, including a dented brown Trans-Am with a loose license plate.
George drove along Central Park. By now two cars were between them and Blue cursed loudly. No opportunity to pass. Out of habit, she scanned for city patrol units. None in sight. The van slowly pulled into a tree-lined parking strip.
"Gawd," Blue said and maneuvered her derby box after him. Ice and snow crunched under the tires. The suspension creaked. A small, dirty white car crawled before her, driven by a girl looking for a parking space. A hundred yards ahead, the prison van pulled to a stop. George stepped over crumbling ice. The girl hadn't found a parking space, so she simply stopped.
Way back the Trans-Am pulled over. Blue heard a noise. Had its door opened and closed?
"Come on, girl!" Why did people stop a long time before parking?
George lifted the hood of the prison van and waved.
A jogger ran past, big blond man with a scar on one cheek.
With glacial slowness, the girl in the white car probed forward. Blue pulled up alongside the van. No George in sight. The windows were dark. "Hey Olvera!" Blue walked around to the front of the van expecting to find him bent over the engine.
George lay on the snow, eyes wide open. There was a bullet hole in his face and blood issued from his lips. His shattered sunglasses lay several yards away. "No," Blue whispered. Scrabbling around the van, fumbling for her gun, she found the side window shattered, Guzman slumped on the seat, still in chains. He had been shot several times; had to be a silencer. Blood and brains were splattered on the window. Like George, his face had a vapid, surprised expression.
Hearing a car door, she whirled. The brown Trans-Am. She was just in time to see the jogger jump in. He glanced at Blue, and she got chills up and down her spine. His cold gray eyes bored into her, memorized her face. The car spewed burnt rubber smoke and skidded away.
"Stop!" Blue yelled, running after them. Her boots felt soggy and fell behind stuck in the snow. Her wet socks stayed in the boots. She ran barefoot, slipping, ignoring the pain in her feet. "Stop!" She was within fifty feet of them. She knelt and aimed. Carefully, she squeezed off a round at the right rear tire. Her balance on the ice slipped. The shot missed and punctured the license plate. The Trans-Am rammed the white car out of its way and tore away catching the lights just right so that they escaped up Fifth Avenue.
Blue rose. The 9 mm pistol dangled from her joined hands between her knees as she stood bent over, gasping for breath. Her feet hurt like hell. Poor George Olvera. "She has a gun," someone said. People were still scattering in all directions.
Wiping her nose with her sleeve, giving a massive sniff, she waved her badge. "Police!" she yelled hoarsely. As she retrieved her shoes, easing her cold feet into them, she kept seeing the jogger's deadly heavy eyes gazing at her from the rear window, memorizing her face.
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