Earthquake Weather – Snippet 08

The truck’s driver’s-side door clanked and squeaked open, and a rangy man of about Pete’s age stepped down to the pavement; his worn boots and jeans seemed only deceptively mundane to Angelica, and his lean, tanned face, behind a ragged mustache the color of tobacco and ashes, was tense with care.

“What seeems to be the problem?” he drawled, and there was at least some exhausted humor in his voice and his squinting brown eyes.

The passenger-side door was levered open now, and a pregnant woman in a wrinkled white linen sundress stepped down onto the driveway-side grass. She too looked exhausted, and her blond hair was pulled back, like Angelica’s black hair, into a hasty, utilitarian ponytail–but Angelica thought she was nevertheless the most radiantly beautiful woman she had ever seen.

“Any problem here,” said Pete levelly, “is one you’ve brought with you. Who are you?”

“Good point,” said the man with the mustache, nodding judiciously. “About us bringing it with us. Sorry–my name’s Archimedes Mavranos, and this lady is Diana Crane.” He looked past Angelica’s shoulder and raised an eyebrow. “And we sure do apologize to be interrupting your party.”

Angelica glanced behind her and realized how odd the crowd in the parking lot must look–the kneeling old women giving thanks, the men and women appearing to pantomime swimming and goose-stepping and traffic-directing as they flexed various freshly pain-free limbs, and the six apparently naked men crowded into the Little Mermaid inflatable pool.

“We’re humbly looking,” Mavranos went on seriously, “for a man with a wound in his side that won’t quit bleeding.”

After a moment, Kootie let go of Angelica’s hand; he held up his blood-reddened palm, and then, as slowly as a surrendering man showing a gun to a policeman, lifted his shirttail to show the bloody bandage.

“A kid!” said Mavranos with an accusing glance toward Pete. He peered more closely at Kootie, then stepped forward. Angelica let her right hand brush the hem of her blouse over the .45, but the man had only knelt before Kootie and taken the boy’s left wrist in his gnarled brown hand. “You’ve Möbiused your watchband?” he said gently.

“That won’t work anymore, son. Now when you do that you’re just insulating yourself from your own self.” He had been unbuckling the watch strap as he spoke, and he tucked the watch into Kootie’s shirt pocket. “If you follow me. Oh, and the same with your belt, hey? That I’ll let you fix. Lord, boy,” he said, shaking his head as he lithely straightened up again, “both legs and your left hand! You must have been weak as a kitten all day.”

Kootie seemed embarrassed, as though he’d blundered into a girls’ restroom by mistake. The boy quickly unbuckled his belt, straightened out the twist, and rebuckled it; then he pointed at the truck and asked gruffly, “Why is your truck the color of blood?”

The pregnant woman by the truck closed her eyes, and Mavranos crossed his arms and nodded several times. “The hard way, of course. You take the low road and I’ll crawl in the goddamned dirt, right? That’s the spirit. Oh, that was the wrong question, boy!”

He turned and walked back to the still-open driver’s-side door, and for a moment Angelica hoped these two people, and whatever they might have brought with them in the truck, would now just go away; but Mavranos only leaned in to hook out a can of Coors beer, which, from the way it swung in his hand as he trudged back to where he had been standing, was already half-emptied.

He took a sip from it before speaking. “But since you ask, this lady and a friend painted it red on Ash Wednesday of 1990, in Las Vegas, to elude detection by the police–like the blood of the lamb over the doorposts in Egypt, right?–and ever since then, the truck spontaneously turns red every year during Holy Week. Ordinarily it’s blue.”

“This isn’t Holy Week,” ventured Pete. “This is New Year’s Day.”

“Oh, the error of it hadn’t eluded me, honest,” Mavranos said. He looked again at Kootie and frowned. “You were a street beggar in L.A. a couple of years ago, weren’t you? With an old black guy and a dog?  Didn’t I give you five bucks?”

Kootie’s eyes widened, and then narrowed in a slow, shy smile. “Yeah, you did. And it was a blue truck.”

“Sure,” Mavranos said. “I remember now I saw room for the crown on your head even then. I should have figured it would be you we’d find today.” After crouching to put his beer can down on the pavement, he straightened and spat in the palm of one hand and then struck it with his other fist; the spit flew toward the kitchen, and he looked up at the crazy old building for the first time.

He was staring at the sign over the door. “I met Leon,” he said softly, “though he had lost his testículos years before.”

On top of her anxious tension, Angelica was now embarrassed too. “It means ‘Testicles of the Lion’,” she said. “All consultorios have animal valor names–Courage of the Bull, Heart of the Leopard, things like that. It’s . . . a custom.”

Mavranos looked down at her, and his eyes were bright until he blinked and resumed his protective squint. “We’re in the choppy rapids of custom every which way you look, ma’am. Now, the random . . . trajectory of my spit has indicated your building. Will you give permission for my party to come inside?”

Party? Angelica was suddenly certain that there was a third person in the old red truck–a person, the person, central to all this–sick or injured or even dead; and suddenly she very strongly didn’t want any of these strangers inside the buildings of Solville. Apparently, permission would have to be given for that to happen–and she opened her mouth to deny it–

But Kootie spoke first. “I am the master of this house,” the boy said. “And you have my permission to bring your party inside.”

Angelica wheeled on Kootie, and she could feel her face reddening. “Kootie, what are you–” Then she stopped, and just exhaled the rest of her breath in helpless frustration.

Under the tangled curls of his black hair, Kootie’s face looked leaner, older now; but the apologetic smile he gave her was warm with filial affection, and sad with a boy’s sadness.

Mavranos’ grin was flinty. “Just what you were about to say yourself, ma’am, I know,” he growled. “Oh well–now that the boy’s got the strength in his limbs back, maybe he could help me and this other gentleman with the carrying.” He picked up his beer can and drained it, then tossed it onto the grass. Perhaps to himself, he said, softly, “But why couldn’t the boy have asked me whose truck it was?”

Again, Angelica opened her mouth to say something, but Mavranos waved her to silence. “Moot point and rhetorical question,” he said. “It always happens this way, I guess.”

“At least give me forty-nine cents!” Angelica said. If these people pay me and thus become clients of mine, she thought, if I’m following my ita in my dealings with them, we can be protected by the orishas; if there are any orishas left out there, if my ita still counts for anything, after whatever it is that has happened today.

Mavranos grinned sleepily and dug a handful of change out of his jeans pocket. “Look at that,” he said. “Exact.” He dropped the quarter and two dimes and four pennies into her shaky, outstretched palm. He looked past her at Kootie and Pete, and called, “You fellas want to give me a hand? Let me get the back of the truck open.”

He plodded back toward the truck, his hand rattling keys in the pocket of his old denim jacket, and Kootie and Pete exchanged a nervous glance and then stepped forward to follow him.