Earthquake Weather – Snippet 10

Armentrout leaned back in his chair. “When’s now,” he repeated. After a moment he waved at the television. “You’re missing your Bogart movie, talking.”

“That was the end,” she said.

He opened his mouth, then apparently changed his mind about what he was going to say. “But you’ve had these zeitgebers all along, Janis. I’ve noticed that you bring the front page of the newspaper to bed with you, so you’ll know in the morning what day it is; and you hardly answer a ‘howdy do’ without looking around for a clock, or sneaking a look at that waitress pad you keep in your purse.”

Her watch beeped again, and the television set went dark.

Plumtree sat stiffly; somehow her watch was . . . making a noise; she could feel the vibration on her wrist. She didn’t touch the watch, or look at it. Maybe it was supposed to be making a noise. She would watch for cues.

Dr. Armentrout was sitting beside her, looking at her speculatively. “So,” he said, “do you feel that you’ve been making progress, now that you’ve been a patient here for two years?”

Her stomach went cold, but a deep breath and a fast blink kept tears from flooding her eyes. It’s okay, she told herself. It’s like Aunt Kate’s funeral again, that’s all. “I reckon I have,” she said stolidly.

“I was lying, Janis,” Armentrout said then. “You’ve been here only nine days. You believed me, though, didn’t you?”

“I thought you said . . . ‘with your fears’,” she whispered. Her watch was still beeping. The doctor wasn’t remarking on it. Maybe all the patients had been given these stupid noisy watches today, as part of some bird-brain new therapy. What a flop!

At last Armentrout was looking away from her, past her, over her shoulder. “Here’s our Mr. Cochran now,” he said, getting laboriously to his feet and smoothing the skirt of his long white coat. “Just in time for the self-esteem group. Maybe he’ll have some funny stories about his visit to France.” Without looking down, he said, “Have you ever been to France, Janis?”

She shrugged. “I wouldn’t be surprised.”

She shifted around in her chair and squinted at the man standing with Dr. Muir by the nursing station. The new patient looked a bit like Bogart, it seemed to her; a hassled Bogart, tall but stooped, and gangly and worried-looking, with his dark hair combed carelessly back so that it stood up in spikes where it was parted.

She smiled, and the television came back on, and she wondered who the stranger by the nursing station was. Were they expecting a new patient? Would he be staying here?

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” she said, dimly aware that she was echoing a statement someone had made here very recently.


“Scant?” said Dr. Armentrout.

Cochran sat up in his chair and blinked at the doctor, who was seated at the desk and leafing through the file of Cochran’s transfer notes from Norwalk Metro.

At first Cochran had followed him to what the doctor had described as the conference room, which had proved to be just a back office cluttered with stacked plastic chairs and a blackboard and a bulky obsolescent microwave oven; but the patient sitting at the table in there, a bald, round-faced old fellow with only one arm, had just grinned and begun quoting dialogue from the tea party scene in Alice in Wonderland when Armentrout had asked him to leave, so the doctor had given up on it and led Cochran down a hall to this locked office instead.

Now Armentrout raised his bushy eyebrows and tapped the stack of transfer notes. “Why does it say ‘scant’ here?”

“Oh–it’s a nickname,” said Cochran. “From when I broke my leg as a kid.”

“So is that leg . . . shorter than the other?”

“No, Doctor.” Armentrout was staring at him, so Cochran went on, helplessly, “Uh, I limp a little in bad weather.”

“You limp a little in bad weather.” Armentrout flipped a page in the file. “You don’t seem to have been limping on Vignes Street Sunday. After you broke the liquor store window, you took off like an Olympic runner, until the police managed to tackle you.” He looked up at Cochran and smiled. “I guess it wasn’t bad weather.”

Cochran managed to return a frail grin. “Mentally it was. I thought I saw a man in that liquor store–”

“You probably did.”

“I mean this man–a man I met in Paris. A couple of days earlier. Mondard, his name was . . . unless I hallucinated that whole thing, meeting him and all. And he changed into a bull–that is, he had a bull’s head, like the minotaur. I imagine it’s all in those notes, I told the doctor at Metro the whole story. And I thought that policewoman was–” he laughed unhappily “–was going to kill me, that is tear me to pieces, and take my head back to him.” He took a deep breath and let it out. “How is she?”

“You knocked out two of her teeth. Hence the Ativan and Haldol . . . which I’ll leave you off of, if you behave yourself.”

“I’ll tell you the truth, Doctor, I don’t know if I’ll behave myself. I didn’t mean to go crazy on Vignes Street, Sunday.”

“Well, you left the airport during your layover. You were supposed to catch a connecting flight back up to San Francisco, right? And you ditched all your ID.”

“It . . . seemed urgent, at the time. I guess I thought he might find me . . . he did find me, at that liquor store.”

Armentrout nodded. “And you had seen this man before.”

“In France, right. In Paris. On Friday.”

“No, I mean . . . where is it.” The doctor flipped back a couple of pages. “Four years ago last April, in 1990. Also on Vignes Street– hmm?–right after you had a ‘breakdown’ on your honeymoon.”

Cochran’s heart was pounding, and he wanted to grip the arms of his chair but his hands had no strength. “That was him too?” he whispered. “He had a wooden mask on then, that time. But–yeah, I guess that was him, that time. Big.” He shook his head. “Wow,” he said shakily. “You guys are good. And I didn’t remember that it was on the same L.A. street. I guess the police report’s in there from that time too, right?”

“What happened on your honeymoon?”

“I . . . went crazy. We got married on the sixth of April in ’90, at a place on the Strip, and–”

“The Strip? You mean on Sunset?”

“No, the Las Vegas Strip, Las Vegas Boulevard. We–”

“Really? Well well well! And here I’d been assuming you were married in Los Angeles!”

“No. Las Vegas. And–”

“At the Flamingo?”

“No.” Cochran blinked at the doctor. “No, a little place called the Troy and Cress Wedding Chapel–”

“Oh, better still!” exclaimed Armentrout happily. The fat doctor looked as though he wanted to clap his hands. “But I should shut up. Do go on.”

“I’m not making that up. It’s probably in your file.”

“I’m sure you’re not making it up. Please.”

Psychiatrists! thought Cochran, trying to put a tone of brave derision into the thought. “And–at dawn the next day, it was a Saturday, I guess a car honked its horn right outside our motel-room door, a loud car horn; the chapel was a motel too, see, with rooms out in the back. They told me later that it was just a car horn. But I was hungover, or still drunk, and in my dream it was the man in the mask, very big, roaring like a lion, and blowing up a building he’d been locked up in, just by the force of his will. A loud noise. And he was loose, and he might do anything.”

Armentrout nodded and raised his eyebrows.

“So . . . we left Vegas. I was in a panic.” He looked at the psychiatrist. “Having a panic attack,” he ventured, hoping that conveyed it more forcefully. “I made Nina drive back, across the Mojave Desert.” He held up his right hand. “I was afraid that if I drove, we’d go . . . God knows where. And then when I did go ahead and drive, after we’d got all the way back to California, we wound up in L.A.–on, I guess, Vignes Street.”

“Where you saw him.”

“Right. On the other side of the street. Right. He was wearing a wooden mask, and . . . beckoning, like Gregory Peck on Moby Dick’s back.” Cochran looked up and saw that the psychiatrist was staring at him. “In the movie,” he added.

“And you punched a store window that time too, and cut your wrist on the broken glass. Intentionally, the police thought, hence your 51-50. Standard with suicide attempts.”