Earthquake Weather – Snippet 19
“Not you,” the nurse said. “Him.” She nodded toward the one-armed old man.
Long John Beach was nodding. “For the Plumtree girl,” he said. “He wants me on the horn. On the blower.”
“The usual thing,” said the nurse in obvious agreement as she flapped her hands to shoo the two men inside.
Armentrout knew it wasn’t Cody that knocked on his office door at three, because when he peeked out through the reinforced glass panel he saw that Plumtree had walked down the hall and was standing comfortably; Cody would have needed the wheelchair he had told the nurses to have ready.
He unlocked the door and pulled it open. “Come in . . . Janis?”
“Sit down,” he told her. “Over on the couch there, you want to relax.”
The tape recorder inside the Faraday cage in the desk was rolling, and the telephone receiver was lying on the desk, with Long John Beach locked into the conference room on the other side of the clinic, listening in on the extension–Armentrout was psychically protected, masked. Beside the receiver on the desk was the box that contained the twenty Lombardy Zeroth tarot cards, along with a pack of Gudang Garam clove-flavored cigarettes and a box of strawberry flavor-straws, so he was ready to snip off and consume at least a couple of Plumtree’s supernumerary personalities–escort some of the girls off the bus, he thought with nervous cheer, kidnap a couple of Snow White’s dwarves. The better to eat you with, my dear. And if Cody chose to step out and get physical, he had the 250,000 volt stun gun in the pocket of his white coat. A different kind of Edison Medicine.
When she had sat down on the couch–sitting upright, with her knees together, for now–he handed her the glass of water in which he had dissolved three milligrams of benzodiazepine powder.
“Drink this,” he said, smiling.
“It’s . . .what?”
“It’s a mild relaxant. I’ll bet you’ve been experiencing some aches and pains in your joints?”
“In my hand, is all.”
“Well . . . Cody will appreciate it, trust me.”
Plumtree took the glass from his hand and stared at the water. “Give me a minute to think,” she said. “You’ve jumbled us all up here.”
Armentrout turned toward the desk, reaching for the telephone. “Never mind, I’ll have them give it to you intravenously.”
The bluff worked. She raised her bruised hand in a wait gesture and tilted up the glass with the other, draining it in four gulps; and if the desk lamp had flickered, it had only been for an instant.
She now even licked the rim of the glass before leaning forward to set it down on the carpet; and when she straightened up she was sitting forward, looking up at him with her chin almost touching the coat buttons over his belt buckle.
“This is a highly lucrative position,” she said. “But I guess nobody can see us right here, can they?”
“Well,” said Armentrout judiciously, glancing from the couch to the door window as if considering the question for the first time ever, “I suppose not.” The drug couldn’t possibly be hitting her yet.
She reached out with her right hand and winced, then with her left caught his left hand and pressed it to her forehead. “Do you think I have a fever, Doctor?”
She was rubbing his palm back and forth over her brow, and her eyes were closed.
His heart was suddenly pounding in his chest. Go with the flow, he told himself with a jerky mental shrug. Without taking his hand away from her face he sat down on the couch beside her on her left.
“There are,” he said breathlessly, “more reliable . . . areas of the anatomy . . . upon which to manually judge body temperature. From.”
“Are there?” she said. She pulled his palm down over her nose and lips; and when she had slid it over her chin and onto her throat she breathed, “Tell me when I’m getting warmer, Doctor.”
He had got his fingers on the top button of her blouse when the desk lamp browned out and she abruptly shoved his hand away.
“Shouldn’t there be a nurse present for any physical examination?” she said rapidly.
He exhaled in segments. “Janis.”
“Who. . . was that?”
“I believe that was Tiffany.”
“Tiffany.” He nodded several times. “Well, she and I were in the middle of a . . . a useful dialogue.”
“Valerie has locked Tiffany in her room.”
“In the . . . dwarves’ cottage, that would be?”
Plumtree smiled at him and tapped the side of her head. “Exactly.”
She had begun shifting uncomfortably on the couch, and smacking her lips, and now she said, “Could I go take a shower?”
Of course, there was no tone of innuendo at all in the remark. “Your hair’s damp right now,” Armentrout told her shortly. “I bet you took a shower since lunch. You can take one after we’re done here.” He slapped his hands onto his knees and stood up, and crossed to the desk.
With shaky fingers he fumbled a clove cigarette out of the pack and lit it with one of the ward Bics. He puffed on it, wincing at the syrupy sweet smoke, and then flipped open the purple velvet box.
“Well!” he said, spilling the oversized tarot cards face up onto the desktop, though not looking directly at them. “I did want to ask you about New Year’s Day. You said you killed a man, remember? A king called, somehow, the Flying Nun? A week later Mr. Cochran saw a man who had a bull’s head, in Los Angeles. On Vignes Street, that means ‘grapevines’ in French; there used to be a winery there, where Union Station is now.” Pawing through the cards and squinting at them through his eyelashes and the scented cigarette smoke, he had managed to find the Sun card, a miniature painting of a cherub floating over a jigsaw-edged cliff and holding up a severed, grimacing red head from which golden rays stuck out like solid poles in every direction.
Now he spun away from the desk and thrust the card face-out toward her. “Did your king have a bull’s head?” He sucked hard on the cigarette.
Plumtree had rocked back on the couch and looked away. And Armentrout coughed as much from disgust as from the acrid smoke in his lungs, for there was no animation, no identity, riding the smoke into his head–he had missed catching the Janis personality, the Plumtree gestalt had parried him.
“Hi, Doctor,” Plumtree said. “Is this a come-as-you-are party?” She stared at him for a moment, and appeared to replay in her head what had last been said. “Are you talking about the king we killed? Look, I’m being cooperative here. I’ll answer all your questions. But–trust me!–if you hit us with the . . . Edison Medicine again, none of us will tell you anything, ever.” Her shoulders had slumped as she’d been talking. “No, he didn’t have a bull’s head. He was barefooted, and had long hair down to his shoulders, and a beard, like you’d expect to see on King Solomon or Charlemagne.” She rubbed her hand over her face in an eerie and apparently unwitting re-enactment of what she had done with Armentrout’s hand. “But I recognized him.”
Armentrout knew his shielded tape recorder would be getting all this, but he tried to concentrate on what the woman was saying. You let that Tiffany girl get you all rattled, he told himself; you don’t want to eat the Janis personality, you idiot, she’s the one you want to leave in the body, to show how successful the integration therapy was. You’re lucky you didn’t get her, in the clove smoke. “You . . . say you recognized him,” he said, nodding like a plaster dog in the back window of a car. “You’d seen him before?”