Earthquake Weather – Snippet 14
“Jesus!” came a hoarse shout from the nurses’ station. “Staff! Code fucking Green, need a takedown!”
Plumtree had time only to meet Cochran’s frightened gaze and smile before the hallway doors banged open and an upright mattress was rushed into the room, carried by two of the security guards; then the guards had used it to knock Plumtree over backward on the floor, and had jumped onto it to hold her down.
“She,” choked Cochran, “she didn’t hit him, I did!”
Armentrout was hurrying in, and he glanced angrily at Cochran. “Look at her,” he snapped.
Plumtree’s bloody fist was thrashing free of the mattress for a moment, then one of the guards had grabbed her wrist and pressed her hand to the floor.
“And what hand did you hit him with?” Armentrout asked sarcastically.
Cochran held out the back of his right hand and saw, with a sudden chill in his belly but no conscious awareness of surprise, that the skin of his knuckles was smooth and unbroken, the old ivy-leaf discoloration not distended by any swelling at all.
“No chemicals for her,” called Armentrout sharply to the charge nurse, who had sprinted into the room with a hypodermic needle. “Not tonight, she’s, uh, due for a dose of atropine in a couple of hours. Don’t argue with me! Put her in four points in the QR for tonight, with five-minute checks.”
One of the security guards looked up at him desperately. “You’re not gonna sedate her?” he asked, rocking on the mattress as he held down Plumtree’s spasming body.
“I’m the one who hit the old man!” shouted Cochran. “She didn’t do it, I did!”
“You’ve bought yourself a meds program,” Armentrout told him, speaking in a conversational tone but very fast, “with this . . . display of childish gallantry. No” he called to the guard, “PCP tactics. You’re going to have to just wrestle her in there.”
“Terrific,” the man muttered. “Get hold of her other arm, Stan, and I’ll get this busted hand in a hard come-along.”
“Watch she don’t bite,” cautioned his partner, who was groping under the mattress. “I got her hair too, but she’s in a mood to tear it right out of her scalp.”
The guards dragged Plumtree to her feet. Her teeth were bared and her eyes were squinting slits, but the come-along hold on her wounded hand was effective–when the guard who held it rotated her wrist even slightly, her knees sagged and her mouth went slack. The three of them shuffled carefully out of the room. The charge nurse had got Long John Beach into a chair, where he sat with his face hanging between his knees and dripping blood rapidly onto the floor, while she talked into a telephone on the counter.
“Do you remember the way to your room?” Armentrout asked Cochran. “Good,” he said when Cochran nodded, “go there and go to sleep. Your roommate is apparently going to be a bit late coming in.”
Cochran hesitated, not looking the doctor in the eye–his first impulse had been to tell Armentrout that he had just had a recurrence of the hallucination that had landed him in the state’s custody, but now he was glad that Armentrout hadn’t let him speak. Any shakiness he exhibited now would be considered just a response to this noisy crisis.
For his self-respect, though, he did permit himself to say, just before turning obediently away toward the hall, “I swear, on the ashes of my wife and unborn child, I’m the one that hit him.”
“I will heal you, Sid,” he heard the doctor say tightly behind him. “That’s a promise.”
The door to the Quiet Room was open, and Cochran waited until the yawning psych tech had glanced in and then walked away down the hall before he stepped out of his own room and tiptoed to the open door. It would be five minutes before the man would be back to look in on Plumtree again.
She was lying face-up on a mattress in the otherwise empty room; and she rolled her head over to look at him when he appeared in the doorway.
“Mr. Cochran,” she said wearily, “of the dead wife. Rah rah fucking rah. You did hit him, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Cochran. “I had to sneak in here and thank you for taking the blame, but I–I can’t let you do it. I tried to tell Armentrout tonight what really happened; I’ll make him . . . get it, tomorrow. Even though it’ll probably mean I get a–” What did she call it, he thought nervously, the highway through Laguna and Newport, “–a PCH. My God, Janis, your poor hand! You shouldn’t have done that, not that I don’t–not that I’m not grateful–I do.” I’m not making sense, he thought. But how can they leave her tied down on the floor like this? “But I meant what I said, earlier–even if they keep me for two weeks, I’ll get you out of here one way or another. I promise.”
“I punched the floor, didn’t I? For you. Shit. You’d better get me out, I hope you can pull strings and you’re not just a, like a burger-flipper somewhere. And see you do tell ’em what really happened–first thing tomorrow, hear? I’ve got troubles enough, in the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost. They’re gonna give me some kind of shot here in a couple of hours, Christ knows what for.” Her mouth was working, and he wondered if she was about to start crying. “This is just like twit Janis, to fall for some dorky tuna in the nut hatch.” She opened her mouth and licked her lower lip, and flexed her arms uselessly against the restraints. “You want to have been of some use on Earth? Scratch my chin for me, it’s itching like to drive me . . . sane.”
Cochran stepped into the room and knelt by her head, and the lights dimmed for a moment. He reached out, with his trembling left hand, and gently drew his fingernails over the side of her chin she had apparently been trying to reach with her tongue.
She surprised him by lifting up her head and kissing his palm. “I was sorry to hear about your wife’s death,” she whispered. “How long were you married?”
“. . . Nearly five years,” Cochran said. He had stopped scratching her chin, though his fingertips were still on her cheek.
“How did you meet her?”
“She . . . fell down some steps, and I caught her.” He pulled his hand back self-consciously. “I’m a cellarman at a vineyard up in San Mateo County, by Daly City, Pace Vineyards, and she was visiting from France, touring all the Bay Area vineyards. Her family’s in the wine business in the Bas Medoc–the Leon family, they’ve been there since the Middle Ages. And she was looking at the casks of Zinfandel, in fact she was just in the act of tasting the young vintage with a tâte-vin, thing like a ladle, and at that moment the big earthquake of ’89 hit–5:04 in the afternoon–and she fell down the steps.”
“And you caught her,” Plumtree said softly. “I remember that earthquake. Poor Sid.”
“He,” exhaled Cochran, finally nerving himself up to broach the point of this midnight visit, “the old one-armed man, he–I thought he talked with her voice, there, when we were quoting the Shakespeare. My dead wife’s voice. And then he looked like a, a man who chased me in Paris. That’s why I hit him, it was just a shocked reflex. But it was her voice, it was her–unless I’m a whole lot crazier than I even thought.”
“I’m sure it was her. He can channel dead people like a vacuum cleaner, and you were sitting right by him.” She glanced at the open doorway, and then back at Cochran. “You’d better go. I’m not supposed to have visitors here.”
He managed to nod and stand up, though he was even more disoriented now than he’d been when he’d walked in. As he turned toward the door, she said quietly behind him, “I love you, Sid.”
He hesitated, shocked to realize that he wanted to say that he loved her too. It wasn’t possible, after all: he had met this woman only a few hours ago, and she did seem to be some genuine variety of crazy– though that only seemed to be something the two of them shared in common, actually–and in any case Nina had been dead for only ten days. And her… ghost might be…
He forced that thought away, for now.
“My friends call me Scant,” he said, without turning around; then, though he was aching to say something more, he made do with muttering, “I’m as crazy as you are,” and hurried out of the room.