Earthquake Weather – Snippet 33

“No,” said Kootie to him softly, once more just a teenage boy in blue jeans and a flannel shirt, “something different than that.”

Cochran closed his own right hand, still warm from the boy’s grip; and he relaxed a little, for he no longer believed that these people meant to harm him or Plumtree.

Kootie looked past him. “Ah, my dinner,” he said. “I hope you all don’t mind if I eat while we talk.” He patted the flannel shirt over his left ribs. “I’m bleeding, and I’ve got to keep up my strength.” He hiked himself up onto the desk and crossed his legs like a yogi. “If any of you are hungry, just holler–we’ve got lots.”

The bald woman was carrying in a steaming, golden bowl cast in the form of a deeply concave sunfish, and the rich smell of garlic and fish broth was intensified; Angelica followed her back into the kitchen, and reappeared with a bottle of Mondavi Chardonnay and a bowl of some sauce for Kootie, while Diana brought steaming ceramic bowls for the two teenage boys who were sitting on the far end of the couch. Kootie was pouring the wine into a gold goblet that was shaped like a wide-mouthed fish standing on its tail.

Had a gold haddock, thought Cochran. “What is it?” he asked.

“Bouillabaisse,” Kootie answered, stirring some orange-colored sauce into his bowl. “According to old stories, a bunch of saints named Mary–Magdalen, Mary Jacob, Mary Salome, maybe the Virgin Mary too–fled the Holy Land after the crucifixion and were shipwrecked on the French Camargue shore, at a place that’s now called Les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, and the local fishermen served them pots of this. Ordinarily, I just have grilled sole or tuna sandwiches or H. Salt or something, but–” He waved his spoon toward Diana and the two boys on the couch “–it’s the traditional restorative dinner for fugitive holy families.”

“I heard you can’t make real bouillabaisse in this country,” said Plumtree. “There’s some fishes that it needs that you can only get in the Mediterranean.”

“Rascasse,” Kootie agreed, “and conger eel, and other things, yeah. But there don’t seem to be any kinds of loaves and fishes that can’t show up in the back of Arky’s old red truck after he’s driven it around town.”

“This lady,” Mavranos broke in, waving his revolver in the direction of Plumtree without quite pointing it at her, “says she’s the one who killed Scott Crane.”

In the silence that followed this statement, Cochran stared down at the carpet, wishing he had a glass of Kootie’s wine. He could feel the shocked stares of the bald lady and the teenagers on the couch and the Mexican lady in the back doorway, and he knew they were directed at Plumtree and not at him; and he found himself thinking about the twenty dollars Plumtree had swindled from young “Karen” at the ice cream place, and the purse she had stolen from the lady at the bar, and wishing he weren’t sitting next to Plumtree here.

“Benjamin, our four-year-old,” said bald Diana softly, “did say it was a woman, at first. He says it was a man that did it, but that it was a woman who walked up, and then changed into a man.”

“Benjamin’s my godson,” said Mavranos, “but he’s a . . . chip off the old block. Half of what he sees is more like stuff that’s going on in some astral plane than stuff going on in any actual zip code. Still, he did say that. And,” he went on, “Miss Plumtree claims that she’s come here now to . . . restore the king to life.”

“Is that possible?” asked Diana quickly. Cochran suddenly guessed that Diana was this Scott Crane person’s widow, and in vicarious shame he kept his eyes on the carpet.

“Well, I want to listen to what she has to say,” said Mavranos, “but I’m pretty sure it’s not, no. Sorry. Scott’s gone on to India, we established that right away–obviously there’s no pulse or respiration, and there are no reflexes, and the pupils are way abnormally dilated and don’t respond at all to light. And he’s cold. And the spear is in his spine. We haven’t been able to do an EEG for brainwave activity, but the electron brush-discharge in Pete’s carborundum bulb doesn’t flicker when the body is wheeled past it with nobody else in the room, and the Leucadia place isn’t sustained anymore, not even the rose garden–his ashe is completely gone. And he hasn’t risen on the third day or anything.”

Johanna spoke from the back doorway: “Did you try to call up his ghost?”

“Any ghost of him wouldn’t be him,” Mavranos said wearily, stepping back and rubbing his eyes with his free hand, “any more than a–goddammit, an old video or tape recording, or a pile of holograph manuscript, or an old pair of his pants, would be him.”

“I was possessed by the ghost of Thomas Alva Edison for a week in ’92,” said Kootie, looking up from his golden bowl, “and that ghost was as lively as they come; and I have some understanding now of what the king is . . . what he does, what he monitors. And I’ve got to say that even Edison’s ghost wouldn’t have had the scope for the job.”

“Jesus, lady,” Mavranos burst out, “if you are the one that killed him, how did you get to him? He was castled!”

“A knight’s move,” said Plumtree flatly. “I’m not the same person, necessarily, from moment to moment, so I can’t be psychically tracked if I don’t want to be. And I approached from around below the grounds, from the beach, with the whole half-globe of the Pacific’s untamed water at my back. And I used a spear that was already inside his defenses–I was told that he had injured himself with it, once before–and my own blood was on the spear points, so I was in the position of overlapping his aura.” She frowned. “And I–there was something about a phone call–he was in a weakened state. And it was midwinter, the shift of one year to the next–the engine of the seasons had the clutch out, coasting.” She looked up at Mavranos and shrugged. “I–this person talking to you now–I didn’t set it up, or do it. I just . . . cooperated, went along with somebody else’s plan. And I don’t know who that ‘somebody else’ was.”

“He accidentally shot himself in the ankle with a spear-gun, in ’75,” said Diana. She visibly shifted her weight from one foot to the other, as if in sympathy. “I remember it.”

“So,” said Mavranos, “did you have any . . . ideas, about how you’d go about bringing the king back to life?”

“Yes,” Plumtree said. “And then I was told that Koot Hoomie Parganas could probably do it too. I came looking for him–figuring he could at least help me, somehow. See, I don’t know exactly how I’ll go about it.”

“How did you plan to do it?” Mavranos asked with heavy patience. “Approximately.”

“Where is the body?” Plumtree countered.

“Do you need the body, to do your trick?”

She shivered. “I hope so. But I suppose not.”

“If you even reach out toward his foot,” Mavranos told her, “I’ll shoot you away from him, please trust me on that.” He gestured toward the kitchen doorway with the revolver, which Cochran estimated was at least .38 caliber, and which appeared to be fully loaded–he could see the holed noses of four hollow-point bullets in the projecting sides of the cylinder.

“Let’s adjourn to the next room,” Mavranos said.

Cochran stood up when Plumtree did and followed her into the fluorescent-lit kitchen.

The white-robed body of a powerfully built, dark-bearded man was lying on a long dining-room table in there. A three-inch metal rod stood up out of his beard above his throat.

“Shit!” exclaimed Cochran. “Is this him, is this guy dead?” His mouth was dry and his heart was suddenly pounding. Forgetting Mavranos’ threat to Plumtree, he stepped forward and touched the figure’s bared forearm–the flesh was impossibly cold, as cold as an ice pack, and he stepped back quickly. “You can’t keep a dead guy in here. Have you called the police? Jesus! Are you all–”