Earthquake Weather – Snippet 28
“Strubie the goddamn Clown . . .?” he muttered to himself. “It won’t be the right guy, not this lawyer you want. Tonight?”
He at least managed to finish the beers before she got back and pulled him up onto his feet; but when she had marched him to the door and pulled it open–there was no sea scent on the breeze now–she hurried back inside so that she could speak to the blond woman who had been shouting, and who by this time was very drunk and crying quietly.
When Plumtree rejoined him and pushed him out across the Rosecrans sidewalk, she immediately began looking anxiously up and down the street. “I hope the cab gets here quick,” she muttered.
“Oh hell. Me too,” said Cochran, for he saw that she was now holding a purse.
Strubie the Clown’s house was a little one-story 1920s bungalow off Del Amo and Avalon in the Carson area of south Los Angeles, and after the taxi dropped them off Cochran and Plumtree hurried out of the curbside streetlight’s glare, up the old two-strip concrete driveway to the dark porch.
No lights seemed to be on inside the house, but Plumtree knocked on the door. Several seconds went by without any sound from inside, and Cochran blinked around at the porch.
A wooden swing hung on chains from a beam in the porch roof, and Cochran wobbled across the Astroturf carpeting and slumped into it–and instantly one of the hooks tore free of the overhead beam, and the swing’s street-side corner hit the porch deck with an echoing bang.
“Christ!” hissed Plumtree; she reeled back and bumped a ceramic pot on the porch rail, and it tipped off and broke with a hollow thump and rattle on the grass below. Cochran had rolled off the pivoting and now-diagonal swing, but his arm was tangled in the slack chain, and it took him several seconds to thrash free of it. The fall had jolted him. His face was suddenly cold and damp, and his mouth was full of salty saliva; beside the front door sat a wide plastic tray heaped with sand and cat turds, and he crawled over and began vomiting into it, desperately trying to do so quietly.
“You shithead!” Plumtree gasped. “We’re wrecking his place!”
Cochran was aware of the sound of a car’s engine idling fast out at the curb as it was shifted out of gear, and then the noise stopped and he heard a car door creak open and a moment later clunk shut.
“He’s home,” whispered Plumtree urgently. “Stop it! And get up!”
Cochran was just spitting now, and he got his feet under himself and straightened up, bracing himself on the wall planks. ” ‘Scuse me,” he said resentfully with his face against the painted wood. ” ‘Scuse the fuck out o’ me.” He pulled his shirt free of his pants and wiped his mouth on it, then turned around to lean his back against the wall.
“Who’s there?” came a man’s frightened voice from the front yard.
“Oh,” muttered Plumtree, “I got no time for this flop.” A moment later she turned toward the front steps. “Mr. Strube?” she said cheerily. “My friend and I need your help.”
“Who are you?”
Cochran pushed the damp hair back from his face and peered out into the yard. The figure silhouetted against the streetlight glare wore baggy pants and a tiny, tight jacket, and great tufts of hair stood out from the sides of the head. The shoes at the ends of the short legs were as big as basketballs.
“We’re people in trouble, Mr. Strube,” Plumtree said. “We need to find a boy whose name sounds like . . . well, like Boogie-Woogie Bananas. He’ll be able to help us.”
“I . . . don’t know anybody whose name sounds . . . even remotely like that.” The clown walked hesitantly up to the porch steps, and his gaze went from Plumtree to Cochran to the broken swing. “Is he a clown? I know all the local clowns, I think–”
“No,” said Plumtree. “He’s . . . a king, or a contender for some kind of throne . . . it’s supernatural, a supernatural thing, actually . . .”
Strubie’s bulbous rubber nose wobbled as he sniffed. “Did you two get sick here? Are you drunk? What have you done here? I’m going to have to ask you to leave. I’m in the entertainment business, and my schedule . . .”
Cochran jumped then, for suddenly a man’s voice came grinding out of Plumtree’s mouth, gravelly and hoarsely baritone: “Frank, you got a show-biz friend in the bar here!” the voice drawled amiably. “Nicky Bradshaw, his name is. Shall I tell him where you live?”
Cochran gaped at Plumtree, totally disoriented. There had been a TV star called Nicky Bradshaw–he had starred in some situation comedy in the fifties. Was this voice Flibbertigibbet talking? Cochran was pretty sure that Nicky Bradshaw had died years ago. What bar was Flibbertigibbet talking about?
“Bradshaw doesn’t . . . blame me,” said the clown quietly, “for his death.”
Again, the man’s voice boomed out of Plumtree’s throat: “Then you don’t mind if I tell him where you live, right?”
The clown sighed shakily. “Don’t do anything.” He clumped up the steps to the porch, digging a set of keys out of the pocket of his baggy trousers, and he unlocked the front door. “Come inside, if you’ve got to talk about these things.”
Plumtree followed the clown into the dark house, and after a light came on inside, Cochran stepped in too, pulling the door closed behind him.
The green-carpeted living room was bare except for some white plastic chairs and a long mahogany credenza against the far wall; impressionistic sailboat prints and unskilled oil paintings of clowns hung in a cluster over it, as if Strubie had once, briefly and with limited resources, tried to brighten the empty expanses of mottled plaster walls.
Plumtree sat down in one of the plastic chairs and crossed her legs. Her jeans were tight, and it made Cochran dizzy to look at her legs and at the same time remember the voice she had just now been speaking with.
In the glare from the lamp on the credenza, the clown was hideous; the white face-paint was cracked with his anxious frown, and the orange tufts of hair glued onto the bald wig above his ears emphasized the exhausted redness of his eyes.
He didn’t sit down. “Who are you?” he asked, shakily pulling off his white gloves.
“That’s not important,” said the man’s voice from Plumtree’s throat. A sardonic grin made her cheekbones and the line of her jaw seem broader, and Cochran had to remind himself that it was a woman’s face.
Strubie cleared his throat. “Who’s your friend, then?” he asked, nodding toward Cochran, who, daunted by this attention, let himself fold into one of the chairs.
“I’ll tell you the truth, I don’t know.” Plumtree’s face turned toward Cochran, and the wide-pupiled eyes squinted at him. “I gotta say I don’t much like the look of him. However, he may kiss my hand, if he likes.”
Cochran shook his head and licked beads of sweat off his upper lip.
Strubie took a deep breath, and then hugely startled Cochran by reaching both hands behind his ears and peeling the white scalp, with the tufts of orange hair still attached to it, forward and right off his head. “Who is this bananas person,” the clown asked wearily, “and how can he help you out of whatever trouble it is that you’re in?” He tossed the white bald wig onto the wooden floor. His thinning hair was gray and tangled, and the inch of unpainted forehead below his hairline was the color of oatmeal.
The light dimmed out, then brightened.
And when Plumtree spoke, it was in a woman’s voice: “Don’t tell him,” she said. “You didn’t tell him yet, did you?” Cochran glanced at her quickly, but was unable to guess which personality was up at the moment.
“Tell who,” said the clown. “What?”
“The . . . the man who was speaking through me,” she said. “Valorie has blocked him, for now. Did you tell him how to find the boy?”
“No,” said Strubie.
“Good. I’ll go away, and you’ll never hear from . . . that man, again. Or me.” Cochran thought it was Cody speaking. “Tell me how to find the boy, and no harm will come to him, I promise.”
Strubie laughed softly, exposing yellow teeth in the white-painted face. “I used to be a divorce lawyer,” he said. “I’ve hurt enough children. Today I try to . . . give them some moments of joy, if only in a frail, half-assed way. It’s what I can do. How do I know you’re not going to go hurt this boy, or kill him? Other people have wanted to, in the past.”
Plumtree spread her hands. “I need to find him because he can restore a dead king to life. I killed . . . or at least, the man you were just listening to, I helped him kill . . . a king, and I need to make it right.”
“A king,” echoed Strubie. “And if I tell you nothing . . . ?”
“Then I’ll hang around. I’ll be back tomorrow. The bad man will get it out of you one way or another, and incidentally you’ll have a terrible time. Everybody will.”