Earthquake Weather – Snippet 23

“Cody? No. She’s a–a bitch is the only word for it, sorry. She thinks I’m crazy to be–well, she doesn’t like you. And I think her story about being a security guard somewhere at nights is a lie–I think she does burglaries.”

“Well . . . I hope not. But if you don’t like her, why not let Armentrout . . . do that?” He could feel his face reddening. “I mean, he is a doctor, and you certainly don’t need–”

“She’s a real person, Scant, as real as me. I don’t like her, but I can’t just stand by and let her get killed too.” Her lips were pressed together and she was frowning. “‘Cause it would be the death penalty for her, and that without an indictment or jury or anything. Do you see what I mean?”

Cochran doubted that Cody was any more real than a child’s imaginary playmate, much less as real as Janis. But, “I follow your logic,” he said cautiously. Then, recklessly, he added, “I’m ashamed of myself for saying just now to let Armentrout do it again. I can’t bear thinking that it happened to you even once.”

“I’m sure he’s got something planned for you, too,” she told him. “You and me and Long John Beach–we’re not specimens he’s going to let go of.”

Cochran still hoped to get some rational planning done here. “This lawyer of mine–”

“This what? This lawyer? You think old Dr. Trousertrout hasn’t got lawyers? He’ll sneak some meds into your food that’ll make you such a five-star skitz you’ll be running around naked thinking you’re Jesus or somebody, or even easier just show you a few tarot cards to do it.” She glanced around, then looked back at him and noticed, and stared at, his T-shirt. “A Connecticut Pansy? Unbelievable. Unbelievable! Hell, you he could probably just show the instruction card to.” She flexed her jaw and winced. “My teeth hurt. I hope I’m not gonna have a nosebleed.”

One of the nurses had brought a portable stereo out and set it on the table and was now trying to get all the patients to sing along to “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Plumtree was humming something different in counterpoint, and after a moment Cochran recognized it as “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”

“Listen,” she said suddenly, “–what we’ve got to do?–is escape– tonight.”

Cochran was still sure that his lawyer would be able to secure his release, and very possibly Janis’ too, with some routine legal maneuver; and the man might even be able to get some kind of stay-of-shock-therapy for her tonight, if Cochran could get him on the phone. He slapped the pockets of his corduroy bell-bottoms and was reassured to feel the angularity of coins.

“I’m going to call this lawyer–” he said, bracing himself to stand up.

Plumtree grabbed his upper arm with her good hand. “It won’t work, we’ve got to escape–”

“Janis,” he said irritably, “we can’t. Have you seen the doors, the locks? How quick the security guards show up when there’s trouble? Unless your Mr. Flibbertigibbet can come up with another earthquake–”

Her hand sprang away from his arm, and she was gaping at him. “Has he . . . called you?”

The group sing-along was already getting out of hand–Long John Beach was improvising lyrics at the top of his lungs, and the other patients were joining in with gibberish of their own, and the nurse had switched the music off and was now trying to quiet everyone–but Cochran was staring at Plumtree in bewilderment.

“Who?” he said, having to speak more loudly because of the singing and his own alarmed incomprehension. “Flibbertigibbet? No, you told me about it, how you were in that Oakland bar on October seventeenth–”

“I never did, not that date, none of us would!” She was shaking. “Why would we?”

“Wh–Jesus, Janis, because I told you I met my wife that day, she fell down some steps when the earthquake hit, and I caught her. What’s the matter–”

“My God, not this way!” She blinked, and Cochran saw tears actually squirt from the inner corners of her eyes. Her pupils were tiny, hardly discernible. “Why did you mention him, you fucking idiot? I can handle locks–in the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost! Rah rah rah, you Connecticut pansy, I hope you get in his way!”

Cochran wasn’t listening to her–he had scrambled to his feet, and now he reached down and pulled Plumtree up too. “Get ready to run,” he told her. “I think we’re going to have a riot in here.”

Long John Beach and a couple of other patients had grabbed the window side of the table, lifted it, and, still singing raucously, now pushed it right over; the bowls and spoons and ice cream cartons tumbled as the colorful tablecloth flapped and billowed, and then the tabletop hit the floor with an echoing knock.

“Pirate ships would bloom with vines,” the one-armed man was singing, “when He roared out his name!”

“Code Green!” yelled a nurse. “Hit the alarm!”

Cochran could hear a roaring now, a grinding bass note that seemed to rumble up from the floor, from the very soil under the building’s cement slab foundation. He had to take a quick sideways step to keep his balance.

“Aftershock,” he said breathlessly, “from the one this afternoon.” He glanced at Plumtree, and took hold of her forearm, for her face was white and pinched with evident terror, and he was afraid she would just bolt. “Stay with me,” he said to her loudly. The fluorescent lights on the ceiling flickered.

“Code Green, code fucking Green!” shouted the nurse, retreating toward the hallway door.

The building was shaking now, and from the nursing station and the conference room echoed the crashes of cabinets and machinery hitting the floors.

“–the magic flagon,” sang Long John Beach, whirling the tablecloth like a bullfighter’s cape, “lived by the sea, and frolicked in the Attic mists in a land called Icaree!”

And all the lights abruptly went out. Glass was breaking inside the building somewhere, beyond the waving and thrashing shapes dimly visible in the reflected moonlight in the room, but Cochran spun toward the reinforced window, yanking the unseeing Plumtree with him.

The window was glittering like the face of the sea, for silvery cracks were spreading across it like rapid frost and shining with the captured radiance of the moon–and a cloud of plaster dust curled and spun at the far corner.

“Get me Cochran and Plumtree!” came Armentrout’s panicky call through the shouting, lurching bodies jamming the room. “Stun guns and Ativan!”

Cochran looked back toward the hall doorway. The fat, white-haired doctor was standing just inside the room, waving a flashlight in random circles that momentarily silhouetted clawed hands and tossing heads and vertical siftings of plaster dust; two men Cochran had never seen before were standing closely on either side of the doctor, with their arms around his shoulders–and of the whole chaotic, crashing scene, the one element that chilled Cochran’s belly was the sight of those two blank-faced men swiveling their heads back and forth in perfect unison, and flapping their free arms in swings that were awkward and disjointed but as perfectly synchronized as the gestures of a dance team.

Cochran bent down to shout in Plumtree’s ear, “Don’t move, stay right where you are–we’re getting out of here.” And he let go of her arm and lifted one of the upholstered chairs in both hands.

The floor was still flexing and unstable but he took two running steps toward the far corner of the window, muscling the chair around him in a wide loop, and then he torqued his body hard, at the expense of keeping any balance at all, and slammed the chair with all his strength into the reinforced glass at that end.

The window bent, like splintering plywood, popping out of its frame at that corner.

“One dark night it happened,” the voice of Long John Beach roared on somewhere behind him, “Paki Japer came no more–”

Cochran’s full-tilt follow-through had thrown him head first against the buckling sheet of glass, tearing it further out of its frame, and tumbled him to the gritty floor; but he scrambled to his feet and wobbled back to where Plumtree stood dimly visible in the roiling, flashlight-streaked dimness, and he pulled her toward the window.

“Both of us hit the glass with our shoulders,” he gasped, “and we’re out of here. Keep your face turned away from it.”

But a hand gripped Cochran’s right hand strongly, and he was jerked around against the solid restraint of the big hard fingers clenched on his knuckles and wrist. He looked back–and whimpered aloud when he saw that there was no one anywhere near him. Then in a flicker of the flashlight beam he saw Long John Beach a dozen feet away, staring at him and hunched forward to extend his amputated stump.

Cochran tugged hard, and the sensation of clutching fingers was gone; Long John Beach recoiled backward into the crowd.

A number of the patients had lifted the table over their heads like a float in a parade, all of them singing now, and Cochran and Plumtree were able to step away from the wall and get a running start toward the bent sheet of glass.