Earthquake Weather – Snippet 06

“Janis Cordelia Plumtree,” said Hamilton. “She has a valid driver’s license, and I Xeroxed it. Ready? DOB 9/20/67 . . .”

Armentrout began neatly filling in the boxes on the escape-report form. This morning a manic teenager on benzodiazepine, and, soon, a dissociative who was strong enough to interfere with both AC and DC . . . and who might also provide a clue to why Armentrout had been, at least for this morning, freed from the attention of all the resentful ghosts and ghost fragments!

This was already shaping up to be a fine year, though it was only eleven hours old.

When he finally hung up the telephone, he looked at his watch again. He had five minutes before he should send the fax or expect the bipolar girl to be brought in.

He got his feet firmly under the chair and stood up with a grunt, then crossed to the long couch that couldn’t be seen through the door window, and lifted off of the cushions a stack of files and a box of plastic Lego bricks. Clearing the field, he thought with some anticipation, for the cultivation of the bipolar girl’s cure. The plowing and seeding of her recovery. And it would be a real cure, as decisive as surgery–not the dreary, needlessly guilt-raising patchwork of psychotherapy. Armentrout saw no value in anyone dredging up old guilts and resentments, ever.

Finally, he unlocked the top drawer of the filing cabinet and rolled it partway out. Inside were only two things, two purple velvet boxes.

One box contained a battered but polished .45-caliber derringer for which he had paid a hundred thousand dollars a year and a half ago, its two stubby barrels chambered to take .410 shot shells as well as Colt .45 rounds; some spiritualist medium had found the blocky little gun on Ninth Street in downtown Las Vegas in 1948, and there was documentation to suggest that the gun had been used to castrate a powerful French occultist there; and Armentrout knew that a woman had killed herself with it in Delaware in October of 1992, shortly before he had acquired it. Probably it had inflicted injuries on other people at other times. The tiny gun was alleged, with some authority, to be able to shoot straight through magical protections that would deflect a bullet shot from a mundane gun: the French occultist had been heavily warded, but the person who had shot him had been his wife and the mother of his children, and so she had been inside his guard and able to wound him–and the gun had thus definitively shared in her privileged position, and was now reputedly capable of shooting the equivalent of supernatural-Teflon rounds.

Armentrout had never fired it, and certainly he wouldn’t be needing it for the bipolar teenager.

The other velvet box he lifted out of the file drawer.

He carried it to the low coffee table carefully. Inside the box were twenty cards from a tarot deck that had been painted in Marseilles in 1933. Armentrout had paid a San Francisco bookseller four hundred thousand dollars for the cards in 1990. Twenty cards was less than a third of the complete tarot deck, and the powerful Death and The Tower cards were not among this partial set–but these twenty cards were from one of the fabulously rare Lombardy Zeroth decks, painted by a now-disbanded secret guild of damagingly initiated artists, and the images on the cards were almost intolerably evocative of the raw Jungian archetypes.

Armentrout had used the contents of this box on many occasions–he had awakened catatonics simply by holding the Judgment card in front of their glassy eyes, realigned the minds of undifferentiated schizophrenics with a searing exposure of The Moon, settled the most conflicted borderlines with the briefest palmed flash of The Hanged Man; and on a couple of occasions he had induced real, disorganized schizophrenia by showing a merely neurotic patient the Fool card.

For the bipolar girl today, he would try first the Temperance card, the winged maiden pouring water from one jug to another.

And he would avoid looking squarely at any of the cards himself. When he had first got the deck he had forced himself to scrutinize the picture on each card–enduring the sea-bottom explosions they seemed to set off in his mind, clenching his fists as alien images arrowed up to his conscious levels like deep-water monsters bursting up into the air.

The experience had, if anything, only diminished his personal identity, and so he had not been in danger of attracting the notice of his . . . of any Midwest ghost. . . but locally he had been a maelstrom in the psychic water table, and for the next three days his phone had rung at all hours with southern California ghosts clamoring on the line, and after a few weeks he had noticed that his hair was growing out completely white.

And like a lock of unruly hair, he thought now as he picked up the escape-report form and turned his chair toward the fax machine, this teenage girl’s mania will be drawn out tight by the urgent attraction of the image on the card, and I will snip that bit off of her–

–and swallow it into myself.

She was at the door; he took the telephone receiver off the cradle, pushed the instant-dial button, and then stood up ponderously to let her in.


In the Long Beach apartment building known as Solville, Angelica Sullivan had been having a busy morning; she wanted to hover protectively over Kootie, but she had found that there were other demands on her time.

Over the rental-office door that faced the alley, she had last year hung up–reluctantly, for the business name had not been of her choosing–a sign that read TESTÍCULOS DEL LEÓN–BOTÁNICA Y CONSULTORIO. And it seemed that every client who had ever consulted her here had come blundering up to that rental-office door today, or at least called on the telephone; they were mostly Hispanic and black, dishwashers and motel maids and gardeners, on their lunch breaks or off work or out of work, and nearly all of them were jabbering with gratitude at having been abruptly relieved, at about dawn, of the various afflictions that had led them to seek out Angelica’s help in the first place. Most mentioned having been awakened by an earthquake, though the radio news station that Angelica had turned on hadn’t yet mentioned one.

Many of her people had felt that this deliverance needed to be formalized with ritual thanks, and so, with help from Kootie and Pete and Johanna, Angelica had hurriedly tried to comply. In her role as a curandera she had got pots of mint tea brewing, and served it in every vessel in the place that would do for a cup, and Johanna had even dug out some of her late husband’s old coffee cups, still red-stained from the cinnamon tea that Sol Shadroe had favored; as a maja, Angelica had lit all the veladores, the candles in the glass tumblers with decals of saints stuck to the outsides; as a huesera she had got sweaty massaging newly painless backs and shoulder joints; and out in the parking lot, to perform a ritual limpia cleansing, six men in their undershorts were now crowded into a child’s inflatable pool that Kootie had filled with honey and bananas and water from the hose.

Cures of impotence, constipation, drug craving, and every other malady appeared to have been bestowed wholesale as the sun had come up, and in spite of Angelica’s repeated protests that she had done nothing to accomplish any of it, the desk in Pete’s office was now heaped with coins; whatever amount the pile of money added up to, it would be divisible by forty-nine, for forty-nine cents was the only price Angelica was permitted by the spirit world to charge for her magical services.