Earthquake Weather – Snippet 21

Again, Armentrout had got nothing but a lungful of astringent clove smoke. And he wasn’t facing Cody anymore. Plumtree had twitched away the card-concussed, vulnerable personality before he could draw it into the barrel of his flavored cigarette, had swept the stunned Cody back to one of the metaphorical bus seats or dwarf-cottage bunks, and rotated a fresh one onstage.

“Hello?” said Plumtree into the telephone again. “I’m calling on behalf of Richard Paul Armentrout–he says he owes somebody there a tre-men-dous apology.” The coal on her cigarette glowed in the dimness like the bad red light that draws loose souls in the underworld in the Tibetan Bardo Thodol.

Armentrout dropped the card and fumbled in his coat pocket for the stun gun. I think I’ve got to put an end to this, he thought; punch her right out of this fight with 250,000 volts and try again tomorrow, after another ECT session in which I’ll give her a full 500 joules of intracranial juice. If she really can summon, from across the hundreds of miles of mountain and desert wilderness, my m–or any of my potent old guilt ghosts, and lead them all the way in past Long John Beach’s masks to me, they could attach, and collapse my distended life line, kill me. They’re all still out there, God knows–I’ve never had any desire for the Pagadebiti Zinfandel, confiteor Dionyso.

Nah, he thought savagely, that one-armed old man is a better sort of Kevlar armor than to give way under just two shots–and I will have this woman. The damp skin of his palm could still feel her chin, and the hot slope of her throat. Tell me when I’m getting warmer, Doctor.

He snatched up one of the tarot cards at random with one hand and the lighter with the other, and he spun the flint wheel with the card blocking his view of the upspringing flame; the card’s illuminated face was toward her, while he saw only the backlit rectangle of the frayed edge. Gaggingly, and fruitlessly, he again sucked at the limp cigarette–sparks were falling off of it onto the desk like tiny shooting stars.

“Let me talk to your m-mom,” he wheezed, knowing that multiples generally included, among their menagerie, internalized duplicates of their own abusive parents. Surely Plumtree’s distorted version of her mother wouldn’t be able to maintain this fight!

Plumtree’s body jackknifed off the desk and tumbled to the carpet. “Behold now,” she gasped in a reedy voice, “I have daughters which have not known man.” Armentrout recognized the sentence–it was from Genesis, when Lot offered the mob his own daughters rather than surrender the angels who had come to his house. “Name the one you want, Omar,” Plumtree’s strained voice went on, clearly not quoting now, “and I’ll throw her to you! Just don’t take me again!”

Armentrout was confident that he could consume this one, this cowardly, Bible-quoting creature–but this was only Plumtree’s approximation of her mother, not a real personality; so he said, “Give me . . . Tiffany.”

“Tiffany,” said the woman on the floor.

And when Plumtree got back up on her feet and leaned on the desk with one hand while she pushed her tangled blond hair back from her sweaty forehead with the other, she was smiling at him. “Doctor!” she said. “What bloody hands you have!”

Armentrout glanced down–he had cut his hand on a piece of the broken light bulb in grabbing for the lighter, and blood had run down his wrist and blotted into his white cuff.

“With you, Miss Plumtree,” he panted, managing to smile, “strip poker is something more like flag football.” I can have sex with her now, he thought excitedly. Janis snatched Tiffany away from me before, but Janis is off crying in her dwarf bunk now; and I routed Cody too, and whoever that third one was; and the mother personality has outright given Tiffany to me!

“Strip poker?” she exclaimed. “Ooh–” She began unbuttoning her blouse. “I’ll raise you!”

The clove cigarette was coming to pieces in Armentrout’s mouth, and he pulled it off his lip and tossed it into the ashtray and spat out shreds of bitterly perfumy tobacco. He wouldn’t be able to consume any of her personalities this session, it looked like, but he could at least relieve the aching terror-pressure in his groin.

“Sweeten the pot,” he agreed, fumbling under his chin to unknot his necktie.

The close air of the office smelled of clove smoke and overheated flesh, and the skin of his hands and face tingled like the surface of a fully charged capacitor. This psychic battle had left him swollen with excitement, and he knew that the consummation of their contest wouldn’t last long.

She reached out and tugged his cut hand away from his collar, and again she pulled his palm down across her wet forehead and nose and lips–her eyes were closed, so he couldn’t see whether her pupils were matched in size or not–

And then she sucked his cut finger into her mouth and bit it, and in the same instant with her injured hand she grabbed the bulging crotch of his pants and squeezed.

Armentrout exhaled sharply, and the heel of one of his shoes knocked three times fast against the side of the desk as his free hand clenched into a fist.

“Gotcha, Doctor,” said a man’s voice flatly from Plumtree’s mouth. “I got the taste of your blood now, and the smell of your jizz. In voodoo terms, that constitutes having your ID package.”

Plumtree had stepped lithely away from the desk, and now stared down at Armentrout with evident amused disgust as she wiped her hands on the flanks of her jeans.

When Armentrout could speak without gasping, he said, “I suppose you’re . . . the foul fiend Flibbertigibbet, is that right?”

Plumtree frowned. “That’s what I’ve told the girls to call me. You were just talking to their mom, weren’t you? Playing ‘Follow the Queen’.”

“Your name’s Omar,” Armentrout said. “What’s your last name?” He was still sitting on the desk, but he straightened his white coat and frowned professionally. “I can compel you to tell me,” he added. “With ECT and scopolamine, just for example.”

“I reckon you could. But I ain’t scared of a little white-haired fag like you anyway. My name’s Omar Salvoy.” Plumtree’s pupils were both wide now. She picked up the telephone receiver, then smiled and held it out toward the doctor.

From the earpiece a faint voice could be heard saying, “Let me up, Richie darling! Pull the plug!”

With a hoarse whimper, Armentrout grabbed the receiver and slammed it into its cradle, and then he opened the second velvet box– but Plumtree had stepped around the desk and crouched by the chair.

“You got a gun in the box there, haven’t you?” said the Salvoy personality jovially while Plumtree’s hand fumbled under the desk. “Think it through, old son. You kill us and you’ve got some fierce ghosts on your ass–we got your number now, no mask is gonna protect you from us. Call your momma back and ask her if I ain’t telling you the truth.”

Armentrout’s heart was hammering in his chest and he wondered if this was capture, death. No, he thought as he remembered to breathe. No, she can’t have–got a fix on me–in that brief moment, with Long John Beach diffracting my hot signal.

After a moment, Armentrout let go of the derringer and closed the box. Had he been planning to shoot Plumtree, or himself?

“And I’ll bet this button right he-ere,” Plumtree went on, her arm under the desktop, “is the alarm, right?”

An instant later the close air was shaken by a harsh metallic braaang that didn’t stop.

Still too shaken to speak, Armentrout stood up from the desk and fished, his keys out of his pocket to unlock the door and swing it open. Security guards were already sprinting down the hall toward the office, and he waved his bleeding hand at them and stood aside.