Earthquake Weather – Snippet 02

When the first ray of sunlight from over the distant Vallecito Mountains touched a pastel painting on the far wall of the restaurant, the blond woman lifted her right hand and made a fist in the new daylight; then she packed up her order pad and mouthwash bottle, got up out of the booth, and tossed a twenty-dollar bill onto the table next to the soggy, blackened old paperback copy of Ian Fleming’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

The waiter was Catholic, so he caught what she was muttering as she hurried past him: “In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost.” Then she had pushed open the glass front door and stepped out into the chilly morning sunlight.

Through the glass, he watched her hobble out to a little white Toyota in the dawn-streaked parking lot; then he sighed and told a busboy to bring along a towel and a spray bottle of bleach to that booth, because there was probably blood on the seat. “The booth where Miss Chock Full O’ Nuts was sitting,” he told the busboy.

She drove west on Leucadia Boulevard, past old bungalows set back under pines and fig trees away from the new, high pavement, and then crossed a set of railroad tracks; the street descended sharply, and she made a right turn onto a wide street with big old eucalyptus trees separating the north- and south-bound lanes; after driving past a few blocks of dark surfboard shops and vintage clothing stores she turned left, up into one of the narrow lanes that climbed the bluff beyond which lay the sea. Fences and closed garage doors batted back the rattle of her car’s engine.

A long fieldstone wall with pepper trees overhanging it hid a property on the seaward side of Neptune Avenue. At the entrance of the private driveway, by a burly pine tree that was strung with flowering orange black-eyed Susans, the woman pulled over onto the gravel shoulder and switched off the engine. The dawn street was empty except for a couple of dew-frosted cars parked tilted alongside the road, and silent–no birds sang, and the surf beyond the bluff was just a slow subsonic pulse.

Her face was set in a hard grin as she got out of the car, and when she had straightened up on the gravel she began unbuckling the belt on her jeans; and she kept whispering, “Just in the leg, that’s all, settle down, girl! Just in the leg as a warning, and anyway he stabbed himself in the leg already one time, just to have something to talk to some lady about–and he shot himself in the foot before that, with this here very spear. No big deal to him, I swear.”

She unzipped her jeans and pulled and tugged them down to her ankles, exposing white panties with “Sunday” embroidered in red on the front, and exposing also a two-foot-long green-painted trident that was duct taped to her knee and thigh. It was a short aluminum speargun spear, with three barbless tips at the trident end and three diagonal grooves notched into the pencil-diameter shaft. The tan skin of her thigh was smeared red around several shallow cuts where the points were pressed against her, and it was with a harsh exhalation of relief that she peeled off the tape and lifted the spear away. Gripping it with her elbow against her ribs, she wrapped one length of the tape back around her thigh, covering the cuts, and then she pulled her pants back up and rebuckled her belt.

She stuck the spear upright through the gravel into the loam underneath, and then leaned into the car and hoisted out of the backseat a Makita power screwdriver and a yard-square piece of white-painted plywood with black plastic letters glued onto it. She fished two screws out of her pocket and, with an abrupt shrill blasting of the Makita’s motor, screwed the sign to the trunk of the pine tree.

The sign read:






For a moment, she just stood there on the dew-damp gravel, with the Makita in her hand still harshly stitching the dawn air with its shrill buzz, and she stared at the sign with a look of blank incomprehension. Then her fingers relaxed and the machine crunched to the gravel, quiet at last.

She plodded over to the upright spear, plucked it free, and strode around the pine tree and down the unpaved private driveway, away from the street.


Fifteen minutes later and two hundred and fifty miles to the northeast, an earthquake shook the deep-rooted expanse of Hoover Dam, forty-five million pounds of reinforcing steel and four million cubic yards of concrete that stood braced across Black Canyon against the south end of Lake Mead as it had stood for sixty years; morning-shift engineers in the powerhouse wings below the dam thought that some vast vehicle was traversing the highway at the top, or that one of the gigantic turbines had broken under the weight of water surging down through the penstocks buried inside the Arizona-side mountain. Vacationers aboard houseboats on the lake were shaken awake in their bunks, and in the nearby city of Boulder more than two hundred people called the police in a panic.

Dawn-patrol prostitutes and crack dealers on Hollywood Boulevard reeled and grabbed for walls or parking meters as the sidewalk pavement, already sagging lower than normal because of shoddy tunneling being done for the Metro Rail line, abruptly dropped another inch and a half.

Just across the highway from Colma, the gray little cemetery town on the San Mateo Peninsula to which all the evicted burial plots of neighboring San Francisco had been relocated, a pregnant woman wrapped in a bedsheet and screaming nonsense verses in French ran out into the lanes of the 280 Highway.

Along Ocean Beach on the west coast of San Francisco a sudden offshore gale was chopping up the surf, blowing the swells at chaotic angles and wrecking the long clean lines of the waves. The couple of surfers out past the surf line who had been riding the terrifying winter waves gave up and began struggling to paddle back in to shore, and the ill-at-ease men who had been clustering around the vans and pickup trucks in the Sloat Boulevard parking lot cheered up and assured each other that they had stayed out of the water just because it had been obvious that the weather was going to change this way.

Similar abrupt gales split and uprooted trees as far north as Eureka and as far south as San Diego, all on that same morning.

And in a bedroom in a run-down old apartment building in Long Beach, south of Los Angeles, a fourteen-year-old boy was jolted awake–out of a dream of a woman running madly through rows of grapevines and clutching in her hand an ivy-wrapped staff that somehow had a bloody pinecone stuck on the end of it.

Koot Hoomie Sullivan had sat up in bed at the shock of the vision, and now he swung his bare feet out from under the blankets onto the wooden floor. His heart was still pounding, and his left hand had gone numb though his watchband was comfortably loose.

He glanced out the window, past the lantana branches that pressed against the glass; the carob trees and the parachute-draped van outside were casting long shadows across the broken concrete, and he could hear wild parrots shouting in the tree branches. It could hardly be seven o’clock yet–he was certainly the first person awake in the apartment–but the warm interior air was heavy with the smell of burning coffee.