Earthquake Weather – Snippet 07

A few of her clients, like the one who had called Pete first thing in the morning, were unhappy to find that the spirits of their dead relatives were gone from the iron containers–truck brake drums, hibachis, Dutch ovens–in which they had dwelt since Angelica had corralled and confined them, one by laborious one over the last two and a half years; the candies left out for these spirits last night had apparently not been touched, and the rooster-blood-painted wind chimes that hung from the containers had rung no morning greeting today. Angelica could only tell these people that their relatives had finally become comfortable with the notion of moving on to Heaven. That explanation went down well enough.

Others with the same kind of problem were not so easily mollified. Frantic santeros from as far away as Albuquerque had telephoned to ask if Angelica, too, had found that her orisha stones had lost all their ashe, all their vitality–she could only confirm it bewilderedly, and tell them in addition about the total disappearance of the cement Eleggua figure that she had kept by her front door; and as the sunlight shadows in the kitchen had touched their farthest reach across the worn yellow linoleum and begun to ebb back, Angelica began to get the first news of gang warfare in the alleys of Los Angeles and Santa Ana, skirmishes ignited by the absence today of the palo gangas that served as supernatural bodyguards to the heroin and crack cocaine dealers.

“Were those ghosts too?” asked Pete as he carried a stockpot full of small change into the kitchen and heard Angelica acknowledging the latest such bulletin.

“The gangas?” said Angelica as she hung up the phone for the hundredth time and brushed back stray strands of her sweaty black hair. “Sure. The paleros get some human remains into a cauldron, and it’s their slave as long as it stays under their control. That thing that was hassling us in ’92 was one, that thing that laughed all the time and talked in rhyming Spanish.”

“The canvas bag full of hair,” said Pete, nodding, “with the Raiders cap stapled on the top.” He grunted as he hoisted the pot up and dumped the coins in a glittering waterfall into the oil drum he’d dragged in an hour ago, which was now already a third full of coins. “I call it a good day, when things like that are banished.”

The kitchen, and the office and even the parking lot now, smelled of mint and beer and sweat and burning candle-wicks, but under it all was still the aroma of burning coffee. Angelica sniffed and shook her head doubtfully; she opened her mouth to say something, but a white-haired old grandmother bustled into the kitchen just then, reverently holding out a quarter and two dimes and four pennies in the palm of her hand.

“Gracias, Señora Soollivan,” the old woman said, pushing the coins toward Angelica.

Angelica couldn’t remember now what service this old woman was grateful for–some haunting ended, some bowel disorder relieved, some recurrent nightmare blessedly forgotten.

“No,” said Angelica, “I haven’t–”

But now a man in a mechanic’s uniform blundered into the kitchen behind the old woman. “Mrs. Sullivan,” he said breathlessly, “your amuletos finally worked–my daughter sees no devils in the house now. I got the cundida at work this week, so I can give you two hundred dollars–”

Angelica was nodding and waving her hands defensively in front of herself. She knew about cundidas–a group of people at a workplace would contribute some amount of each paycheck to the “good quantity” fund, and each week a different one of them got the whole pool; among the new immigrant Hispanic community, to whom bank accounts were an alien concept, the cundidas were the easiest way to save money.

“I didn’t do anything,” she said loudly. “Don’t pay me for your blessings–somebody else has paid the price of it.”

And who on earth can that have been? she wondered.

“But I need to pay,” the man said quietly.

Angelica let her shoulders droop. “Okay,” she said, exhaling. “If I run into your benefactor, I’ll pass it on. But you can only give me forty-nine cents.”

During Christmas week in 1993, Angelica had–finally, at the age of thirty-five–flown alone to Mexico City and then driven a rented car more than a hundred miles southeast to a little town called Ciudad Mendoza. Members of her grandfather’s family were still living in the poor end of the town, known as Colonia Liberación, and after identifying herself to the oldest citizens and staying with some of her distant relatives until after Christmas, she had got directions to the house of an old man called Esteban Sandoval, whom she was assured was the most powerful mago south of Matamoros. In exchange for the rental car and the cut-out hologram bird from one of her credit cards, Sandoval had agreed to complete and formalize and sanction her qualifications for the career she had fallen into a year earlier.

For three months, Sandoval had instructed her in the practices of the ancient folk magics that are preserved as santería and brujería and curanderismo; and on the night before he put her on the bus that would take her on the first leg of her long journey back to her new American family, he had summoned several orishas, invisible entities somewhat more than ghosts and less than gods, and had relayed to her from them her ita, the rules that would henceforth circumscribe her personal conduct of magic. Among those dictates had been the distasteful name that she was to give to her business, and the requirement that she charge only forty-nine cents for each service.

Pete Sullivan accepted the exact change from the two people and walked over to toss it too into the barrel of coins.

Kootie was at the open kitchen door now, silhouetted against the spectacle of Angelica’s colorfully dressed clients dancing under the sun-dappled palm trunks outside, and his eyes were wide and the hand he was pressing to his side was spotted with fresh blood.

“Mom–Dad–” he said. “They’re here, nearly–block or two away.”

Pete pushed the old woman and the mechanic out of the kitchen, into the crowded office room, and when he turned back to Kootie and Angelica he lifted the front of his untucked shirt to show the black Pachmayr grip of the .45 automatic tucked into his belt.

It was, Angelica knew, loaded with 230 grain hollow-point Eldorado Starfire rounds that she had dipped in an omiero of mint and oleander tea; and Pete had carefully etched L.A. CIGAR–TOO TRAGICAL in tiny letters onto the muzzle ring of the stainless-steel slide.

“Take it, Angelica,” he said tensely. “I could hardly even pick it up this morning. My Houdini hands are on extra solid today.”

Angelica stepped forward and pulled the gun out of Pete’s pants, making sure the safety catch was up and engaged. She tucked it into her own jeans and pulled her blouse out to cover it.

Kootie nodded. “We’ll receive them courteously but carefully,” he said.

Through the open kitchen door, from the street, Angelica could now hear an approaching discordant rumble, like bad counterpoint tempo beaten out on a set of bata drums that the orishas would surely reject for being perilously tuned; and when she stepped outside, striding resolutely across the sunlit walk and onto the driveway, she saw a big, boxy red truck turn in from the street and then slowly, boomingly, labor up the gentle slope toward where she stood.

Peripherally, she noticed that Kootie was now standing at her left and Pete at her right, and she reached out and clasped their hands.

The red truck rocked and clattered to a halt a couple of yards in front of them. It was streaked and powdered with dust, but its red color shone through lividly; and she noticed that an aura like heat waves shimmered around it for a distance of about a foot, and that the leaves of the carob trees on the far side of the driveway looked gray where she viewed them through the aura.