Earthquake Weather – Snippet 32

Earthquake Weather – Snippet 32

A slim blond woman had sidled up behind the man and was peering wide-eyed over his shoulder. Now she nodded.

“Kootie’s living in Pittsburgh these days–” began Mavranos, but Kootie interrupted.

“I’m Koot Hoomie Parganas,” he said.

Abruptly, Kootie could feel the old man whom Mavranos had called Joe staring at him, and Kootie glanced sideways at him in surprise–and the old man was obviously blind, his eyelids horribly sunken in his dark, furrowed face–but nevertheless the old man was suddenly paying powerful attention to him.

Kootie looked back at the man and woman shivering on the driveway.

Kootie heard footsteps rapping down the steps from the kitchen door, and he sensed that it was Angelica. “¿Tiena la máquina?” he asked, without looking around: Do you have the machine?

“Como siempre,” came Angelica’s voice coldly in reply. As always.

“No need for your máquinas,” said the blond woman, stepping out from behind her companion. Her tight jeans emphasized her long slim legs, and her flimsy white blouse was bunched up around her breasts as she hugged herself against the cold. “Sorry, I can’t have been listening. Did you all say Koot Hoomie Parganas is here, or not?” She laughed, rocking on the soles of her white sneakers. “Have we even asked yet?”

“I’m him,” Kootie said, irritated with himself for being distracted by her figure. “What did you want me for?”

“I–well, short form, kiddo, I need you to tell me how to find a dead king and restore him to life. Does this make any sense to you? Could we talk about it inside?”

“No,” said Angelica and Mavranos in unison, but a moment later Mavranos muttered, “Restore him to life?”

Kootie gave the woman a quizzical smile. “Why is it your job,” he asked quietly, “to restore this dead king to life?”

She tossed her head to throw her thatch of blond hair back from her face, and she stared at Kootie. “Amends,” she said in a flat voice. She raised her hands, palms out, as if surrendering. “These are the hands that killed him.”

Kootie’s heightened senses caught not only the rustle of Angelica’s hand sliding up under her blouse, but also the tiny snick of the .45’s safety being thumbed off.

Kootie glanced sideways and caught Mavranos’ eye and nodded.

“You two don’t appear to be armed,” Mavranos said cheerfully, “but we are. I reckon you can all come in, but keep your hands in sight and move slow.”

***

Plumtree didn’t pull her injured hand away when Cochran gently took it, and the two of them followed the boy with the funny name across the dark lawn to the apartment building’s open front door. Cochran was walking slowly and keeping his free hand open and away from his body–he had glimpsed the black grip of the automatic under the blouse of the tall, dark-haired woman who had come out of the kitchen, and he was suddenly sober, and taking deep breaths of the cold night air to keep his head clear.

We’ve blundered into some kind of crazy cult, he thought, and Janis–or Cody, probably–has got them mad at us. Watch for a chance to grab her and sneak out, or find a phone and call 911.

His heart was pounding, and he wondered if he might actually have to try to prevent these people from injuring Janis, or even killing her.

“How did you find this place?” called the man with the graying mustache from behind them as they stepped up to the front door and began walking up a carpeted hall. The place smelled like some third-world soup kitchen.

Cochran decided to protect poor Strubie, who had paid them the hundred dollars to keep out of this. “A psychiatrist at Rosecrans Medical Center gave us the address–” he began.

The hall opened into a long room with a couch against the near wall and a desk with a TV set on it against the opposite wall. The TV set’s screen was glowing a brighter white than Cochran would have thought possible, and as the others crowded in behind him one of the two teenage boys on the couch leaped up and snatched the plug out of the wall socket.

“Thanks, Ollie,” said the man who had followed them in. “The ghost that was torqueing the TV is apparently the deceased wife of my old pal Spider Joe here, this old gent with the curb feelers on his belt.” He now stepped to the bookshelves behind the couch and reached down a stainless-steel revolver, which he held pointed at Cochran’s feet. “Everybody sit down, hm? Plenty of room on the floor, though the carpet’s wet in spots. And don’t move those pots, they’re catching leaks.”

The old man who was apparently called Spider Joe shambled across the threadbare carpet and slid down into a crouch beside the kitchen doorway, and the antennae standing out from his belt scraped the wall and knocked a calendar off a nail; and as Cochran sat down beside Plumtree in front of the desk he wondered if the ghost of the old man’s wife might be snagged on one of the metal filaments. The woman with the automatic and the boy with the funny name stood beside the couch.

“Let’s get acquainted,” said the man holding the revolver. “My name’s Archimedes Mavranos, and the lady in the kitchen is Diana; the guy beside her is Pete, and this lady with the máquina is Pete’s wife Angelica. The boys on the couch are Scat and Ollie. Kootie you know.” He raised his eyebrows politely.

Cochran had resolved to give false names, but before he could speak, Plumtree said, “I’m Janis Cordelia Plumtree, and this is Sid Cochran.” She pronounced his name so precisely that Cochran knew she had restrained herself from saying Cockface or something. For God’s sake behave yourself, Cody, he thought. The long room was hot and smelled of garlic and fish and Kahlua, and he could feel sweat beading on his forehead.

Water was thumping and splashing into a saucepan by his feet, and he looked up at the mottled, dented, dripping ceiling, wondering how heavy with water the old plaster was, and whether it might fall on them. “It’s, uh, not raining,” he said inanely. “Outside.”

“It’s raining in San Jose,” spoke up a heavy-set woman who had stepped up to an open door at the far side of the room. She spoke shyly, with a Spanish accent.

“Oh,” said Cochran blankly. San Jose was three hundred and fifty miles to the north, up by Daly City and San Francisco. “Okay.”

“And that’s Johanna,” said Mavranos, “our landlady. I wasn’t asking how you got this address,” he went on, “just now, but how you physically got here.”

“In a taxi,” said Plumtree. When Mavranos just stared at her, she added, “We were in Carson. We told the driver the address, and he . . . drove us here.”

“Dropped us at the corner,” put in Cochran. “He didn’t want to drive up to the building.”

“So much for our protections here,” said the pregnant woman in the kitchen doorway. Cochran focused past the bobbing antennae of Spider Joe to get a look at her, and was startled to see that she was completely bald.

“No,” said Kootie, “the space is still bent, around this building. The driver must have been somebody.” He stepped forward now and leaned down to extend his right hand to Cochran. “Welcome to my house, Sid Cochran,” he said.

Cochran shook his hand, and the boy turned to Plumtree. “Welcome to my house, Janis Cordelia Plumtree.”

Plumtree gingerly reached up with her swollen right hand, and the boy clasped it firmly; but Plumtree’s cry was one of surprise rather than pain.

“It doesn’t hurt!” she said. She held up her right hand after the boy released it, and Cochran could see that the swelling was gone. She flexed the fingers and said, “It doesn’t hurt anymore!”

Cochran made himself remember the hard crack of her fist hitting the linoleum floor last night, and how this evening her knuckles had just been dimples in the hot, unnaturally padded flesh of her hand. He looked from Plumtree’s metacarpal bones, now visible again under the thin skin on the back of her hand as she bunched and straightened her fingers, to the face of the boy standing in front of him, and for a moment in the garlic-and-Kahlua reek, the boy was taller, and the brown eyes under his curly hair seemed narrowed as if with Asian epicanthic folds, and the unregarded blur of his clothing had the loose drapery of robes. Cochran’s abdomen felt hollow, and he thought, This is a Magician. A real one.

 

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