Earthquake Weather – Snippet 01

Earthquake Weather – Snippet 01

Earthquake Weather

Fault Lines Trilogy 03

Tim Powers

Her wanton spirits look out

At every joint and motive of her body.

O, these encounterers, so glib of tongue,

That give a coasting welcome ere it comes,

And wide unclasp the table of their thoughts

To every ticklish reader, set them down

For sluttish spoils of opportunity

And daughters of the game.

–William Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida

My brain I’ll prove the female to my soul,

My soul the father, and these two beget

A generation of still-breeding thoughts;

And these same thoughts people this little world,

In humors like the people of this world . . .

Thus play I in one person many people,

And none contented . . .

–William Shakespeare, Richard II

So long as you do not die and rise again,

You are a stranger to the dark earth.

–Goethe

PROLOGUE

The Dolorous Stoke

LAS VEGAS–A small earthquake rattled Boulder City on New Year’s morning, and workers at the nearby Hoover Dam reported feeling the shock.

–Associated Press,

January 2, 1995

CHAPTER 1

Pandarus: . . . she came and puts me her white

hand to his cloven chin–

Cressida: Juno have mercy; how came it cloven?

–William Shakespeare,

Troilus and Cressida

A PAY TELEPHONE was ringing in the corridor by the restrooms, but the young woman who had started to get up out of the padded orange-vinyl booth just blinked around in evident puzzlement and sat down again, tugging her denim jacket more tightly around her narrow shoulders. From over by the pickup counter, her waiter glanced at her curiously. She was sitting against the eastern windows, but though the sky was already a chilly deep blue outside, the yellow glow of the interior overhead lighting was still relatively bright enough to highlight the planes of her face under the disordered straw-blond hair. The waiter thought she looked nervous, and he wondered why she had reflexively assumed that a payphone call might be for her.

The counter seats were empty where the half-dozen customers who lived in town usually sat chugging coffee at this hour–but the locals could sleep in on this New Year’s Day, and they’d be right back here tomorrow at dawn. This morning the customers were mostly grumpy families who wanted to sit in the booths–holiday-season vacationers, drawn in off the San Diego Freeway lanes by the spotlit billboards beyond the Batiquitos Lagoon to the north or the San Elijo Lagoon to the south.

The woman sitting in the dawn-side booth was almost certainly a waitress somewhere–when he had taken her order she had spoken quickly, specified all the side-order options without being asked, and sat where she wouldn’t be able to see into the kitchen. And she was hungry, too–she had ordered scrambled eggs and poached eggs, along with bacon and cottage fries, and coffee and orange juice and V-8.

. . . And now she had set something on fire at her table.

The waiter clanked her plates back down on the counter and hurried across the carpet toward her booth, but he quickly saw that the smoking paperback book on the table was just smoldering and not actually flaming, and even before he got to the table the woman had flipped open the book and splashed water from her water glass onto the . . . cigarette butt! . . . that had ignited the pages.

The pay telephone was still ringing, but the overhead lights had gone dim for a moment, and a waitress back by the electronic cash register was cussing under her breath and slapping the side of the machine, and nobody else had happened to notice the briefly burning book. The blond woman, who was now folding the soggy thing closed again, had gone red in the face and was smiling up at him in embarrassed apology–she couldn’t be thirty years old yet–and so he just smiled cautiously back at her.

“Yesterday, you’d have been legal,” he said sympathetically; then, seeing that she was confused, he added, “Seven hours ago, there’d have been ashtrays on the table; you wouldn’t have had to hide it.”

She nodded, pushing the book away across the tabletop and frowning as though she’d never seen the object until it had started smoldering in front of her. “That’s right,” she said to him sternly. “No smoking in restaurants at all in California now, as of midnight last night.” She looked past him now, with a forgiving, we’ll-say-no-moreabout-it air. “Where are your public telephones?”

“Uh . . .” He waved in the direction of the ringing telephone. “Where you hear. But your breakfast is coming right up, if you want to wait.”

She was hitching awkwardly forward out of the booth and levering herself up onto her feet. “All I ordered was coffee.” The waiter watched as she walked away toward the telephone. Her left leg swung stiff, not bending, and he was uneasily sure that the dark, wet spot on the thigh of her jeans must be fresh blood.

She picked up the telephone receiver in mid-ring.

“Hello?” Again, the restaurant’s lights dimmed for a moment, and the woman’s face hardened. In a harsher, flatter voice than she’d used before, she said, “Do I know you, Susan? Sure, I’ll tell him. Now, I don’t mean to be abrupt, but I’ve got a call to make here, don’t I?”

She hung up and dug a handful of litter out of a jacket pocket and dumped it onto the shelf below the telephone; from among these matchbooks and dry-wall screws and slips of paper and bits of broken green stucco, she selected a quarter, thumbed it into the slot, and punched in a number.

After ten seconds of standing with the receiver to her ear, “Hi,” she said, still speaking in her rough new voice. “Is this the Flying Nun?”

She laughed. “Gotcha, huh? Listen, Susan says to tell you she still loves you. Oh, and what I called about–I’m going to assume the Flamingo, you know what I mean?” She listened patiently, and with her free hand picked up one of the fragments of green-painted stucco. “Potent pieces of it . . . persist in percolating in the . . . what, pasture? Can you spell alliteration? What I’m trying to say, sonny boy, is that even though they did tear it down, I’ve got a chunk of it, and your ass is grass. Don’t waste time chasing the long stories on the front page this morning– skip right to the funny papers.”

After hanging up, she smacked her lips and frowned as if she’d eaten something rancid, then stepped across to the ladies’ room door and pushed it open.

She dug a little bottle of Listerine out of another jacket pocket as she crossed the tile floor to the sink, and by the time she was standing in front of the mirror she had opened the bottle and taken a swig; she swished it around in her mouth, looking down at the chrome faucets rather than into the mirror, and spat out the mouthwash with a grimace. She recapped the bottle and hurried back to her table.

Already the sky had brightened enough outside the window to cast dim shadows from the steaming plates and glasses that now sat on her table, and as she slid carefully into the booth she frowned at the elaborate breakfast. From her open purse, she lifted a waitress’ order pad and another, larger bottle of the mouthwash, and for the next half-hour, as she ate, she flipped through the pages of the pad, frowning over the inked notes that filled nearly every leaf, and paused frequently to swallow a mouthful of Listerine. She held her fork in her left hand to eat the scrambled eggs, but switched it to her right to eat the poached eggs. The cash register on the other side of the room kept spontaneously going into its cash-out cycle, to the frustration of the cashier.

 

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