Earthquake Weather

Earthquake Weather

by Tim Powers

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The magical King of the West has been killed in California, and his assassin is one of the multiple personalities in the head of Janis Cordelia Plumtree—but which one? Sid Cochran is a one-time winemaker who blames his wife’s suicide on the wine god Dionysus, and believes that Dionysus is now pursuing him.

Janis and Sid escape together from a mental hospital in Los Angeles and—pursued by ghosts, gangsters, and a crazy psychiatrist—set out for San Francisco and the wine country to try to restore the dead King of the West to life. The god Dionysus himself is a player in this perilous game—and not on their side. But when the spirits flow and even the gods lose all inhibition, you have to save the world just to survive!

About Tim Powers:

"Powers writes in a clean, elegant style that illuminates without slowing down the tale. . . . [He] promises marvels and horrors, and delivers them all."—Orson Scott Card

"Other writers tell tales of magic in the twentieth century, but no one does it like Powers."—The Orlando Sentinel

". . . immensely clever stuff. . . . Powers' prose is often vivid and arresting . . . All in all, Powers' unique voice in science fiction continues to grow stronger.”—Washington Post Book World

“Powers is at heart a storyteller, and ruthlessly shapes his material into narrative form.”—The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

On Stranger Tides . . . immediately hooks you and drags you along in sympathy with one central character's appalling misfortunes on the Spanish Main, [and] escalates from there to closing mega-thrills so determinedly spiced that your palate is left almost jaded."—David Langford

"On Stranger Tides . . . was the inspiration for Monkey Island. If you read this book you can really see where Guybrush and LeChuck were -plagiarized- derived from, plus the heavy influence of voodoo in the game. . . . [The book] had a lot of what made fantasy interesting . . .”—legendary game designer Ron Gilbert

“Powers's strengths [are] his originality, his action-crammed plots, and his ventures into the mysterious, dark, and supernatural.”—Los Angeles Times Book Review

"[Powers’ work delivers] an intense and intimate sense of period or realization of milieu; taut plotting, with human development and destiny . . . and, looming above all, an awareness of history itself as a merciless turning of supernatural wheels. . . . Powers' descriptions . . . are breathtaking, sublimely precise . . . his status as one of fantasy's major stylists can no longer be in doubt.”—SF Site

"Powers creates a mystical, magical otherworld superimposed on our own and takes us on a marvelous, guided tour of his vision."—Science Fiction Chronicle

"The fantasy novels of Tim Powers are nothing if not ambitious. . . . Meticulously researched and intellectually adventurous, his novels rarely fail to be strange and wholly original."—San Francisco Chronicle

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781982124397
Publisher: Baen
Publication date: 01/28/2020
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 832
Sales rank: 574,732
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Tim Powers won the World Fantasy Award twice for his critically acclaimed novels Last Call and Declare. Declare also received the International Horror Guild Award. His novel On Stranger Tides inspired the Monkey Island video game series and was sold to Disney for the movie franchise installment Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. His book The Anubis Gates won the Philip K. Dick award and is considered a modern science fiction classic and a progenitor of the Steampunk genre. Powers won the Dick award again for straight science fiction post-apocalypse novel Dinner at Deviant’s Palace. Many of his novels, such as Last Call, and Alternate Routes, upcoming from Baen Books, are so-called “secret histories,” which use real historical events in which supernatural and metaphysical elements influence the story in weird and compelling manners. Powers grew up in Southern California and studied English at Cal State Fullerton, where he met frequent collaborators James Blaylock and K. W. Jeter, as well as renowned science fiction author Philip K. Dick, who became a close friend and mentor. Powers is a practicing Catholic who claims “stories are more effective, and more truly represent the writer’s actual convictions, when they manifest themselves without the writer’s conscious assistance. I concern myself with my plots, but I let my subconscious worry about my themes.” Powers still resides in Southern California with his wife, Serena.

Read an Excerpt


PANDARUS:…she came and puts me her white hand to his cloven chin

CRESSIDA: Juno have mercy; how came it cloven?

—William Shakespeare,

Troilus and Cressida

A pay telephone was ringing in the corridor by the rest rooms, but the young woman who had started to get up out of the padded orange-vinyl booth just blinked around in evident puzzlement and sat down again, tugging her denim jacket more tightly around her narrow shoulders.

From over by the pickup counter her waiter glanced at her curiously. She was sitting against the eastern windows, but though the sky was already a chilly deep blue outside, the yellow glow of the interior overhead lighting was still relatively bright enough to highlight the planes of her face under the disordered straw-blond hair. The waiter thought she looked nervous, and he wondered why she had reflexively assumed that a pay-phone call might be for her.

The counter seats were empty where the half-dozen customers who lived in town usually sat chugging coffee at this hour—but the locals could sleep in on this New Year's Day, and they'd be right back here tomorrow at dawn. This morning the customers were mostly grumpy families who wanted to sit in the booths—holiday-season vacationers, drawn in off of the San Diego Freeway lanes by the spotlit billboards beyond the Batiquitos Lagoon to the north or the San Elijo Lagoon to the south.

The woman sitting in the dawn-side booth was almost certainly a waitress somewhere—when he had taken her order she had spoken quickly, specified all the side-order options without being asked, and she had sat where she wouldn't be able to see into the kitchen. And she was hungry, too—she had ordered scrambled eggs and poached eggs, along with bacon and cottage fries, and coffee and orange juice and V-8.

…And now she had set something on fire at her table. The waiter clanked her plates back down on the counter and hurried across the carpet toward her booth, but he quickly saw that the smoking paperback book on the table was just smoldering and not actually flaming, and even before he got to the table the woman had flipped open the book and splashed water from her water glass onto the…cigarette butt!…that had ignited the pages.

The pay telephone was still ringing, but the overhead lights had gone dim for a moment, and a waitress back by the electronic cash register was cussing under her breath and slapping the side of the machine, and nobody else had happened to notice the briefly burning book; and the blond woman, who was now folding the soggy thing closed again, had gone red in the face and was smiling up at him in embarrassed apology—she couldn't be thirty years old yet—and so he just smiled cautiously back at her.

"Yesterday you'd have been legal," he said sympathetically; then, seeing that she was confused, he added, "Seven hours ago there'd have been ashtrays on the table, you wouldn't have had to hide it."

She nodded, pushing the book away across the tabletop and frowning as though she'd never seen the object until it had started smoldering in front of her. "That's right," she said to him sternly. "No smoking in restaurants at all in California now, as of midnight last night." She looked past him now, with a forgiving, we'll-say-no-more-about-it air. "Where are your public telephones?"

"Uh…" He waved in the direction of the ringing telephone. "Where you hear. But your breakfast is coming right up, if you want to wait."

She was hitching awkwardly forward out of the booth and levering herself up onto her feet "All I ordered was coffee." The waiter watched as she walked away toward the telephone. Her left leg swung stiff, not bending, and he was uneasily sure that the dark, wet spot on the thigh of her jeans must be fresh blood.

• • •

She picked up the telephone receiver in mid-ring.

"Hello?" Again the restaurant's lights dimmed for a moment, and the woman's face hardened. In a harsher, flatter voice than she'd used before, she said, "Do I know you, Susan? Sure, I'll tell him. Now, I don't mean to be abrupt, but I've got a call to make here, don't I?"

She hung up and dug a handful of litter out of a jacket pocket and dumped it onto the shelf below the telephone; from among these matchbooks and drywall screws and slips of paper and bits of broken green stucco she selected a quarter, thumbed it into the slot, and then punched in a local number.

After ten seconds of standing with the receiver to her ear, "Hi," she said, still speaking in her rough new voice. "Is this the Flying Nun?" She laughed. "Gotcha, huh? Listen, Susan says to tell you she still loves you. Oh, and what I called about—I'm going to assume the Flamingo, you know what I mean?" She listened patiently, and with her free hand picked up one of the fragments of green-painted stucco. "Potent pieces of it…persist in percolating in the…what, pasture? Can you spell alliteration? What I'm trying to say, sonny boy, is that even though they did tear it down, I've got a chunk of it, and your ass is grass. Don't waste time chasing the long stories on the front page this morning—skip right to the funny papers."

After hanging up, she smacked her lips and frowned as if she'd eaten something rancid, then stepped across to the ladies' room door and pushed it open.

She dug a little bottle of Listerine out of another jacket pocket as she crossed the tile floor to the sink, and by the time she was standing in front of the mirror she had opened the bottle and taken a swig; she swished it around in her mouth, looking down at the chrome faucets rather than into the mirror, and she spat out the mouthwash with a grimace.

She re-capped the bottle and hurried back to her table.

Already the sky had brightened enough outside the window to cast dim shadows from the steaming plates and glasses that now sat on her table, and as she slid carefully into the booth she frowned at the elaborate breakfast. From her open purse she lifted a waitress's order pad and another, larger bottle of the mouthwash, and for the next half hour, as she ate, she flipped through the pages of the pad, frowning over the inked notes that filled nearly every leaf, and paused frequently to swallow a mouthful of Listerine. She held her fork in her left hand to eat the scrambled eggs, but switched it to her right to eat the poached eggs. The cash register on the other side of the room kept on spontaneously going into its cash-out cycle, to the frustration of the cashier.

When the first ray of sunlight from over the distant Vallecito Mountains touched a pastel painting on the far wall of the restaurant, the blond woman lifted her right hand and made a fist in the new daylight; then she packed up her order pad and mouthwash bottle, got up out of the booth, and tossed a twenty-dollar bill onto the table next to the soggy, blackened old paperback copy of Ian Fleming's On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

• • •

The waiter was Catholic, so he caught what she was muttering as she hurried past him: "In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost." Then she had pushed open the glass front door and stepped out into the chilly morning sunlight.

Through the glass he watched her hobble out to a little white Toyota in the dawn-streaked parking lot; then he sighed and told a busboy to bring along a towel and a spray bottle of bleach to that booth, because there was probably blood on the seat. "The booth where Miss Chock Full o' Nuts was sitting," he told the busboy.

• • •

She drove west on Leucadia Boulevard, past old bungalows set back under pines and fig trees away from the new, high pavement, and then crossed a set of railroad tracks; the street descended sharply, and she made a right turn onto a wide street with big old eucalyptus trees separating the north and south bound lanes; after driving past a few blocks of dark surfboard shops and vintage clothing stores she turned left, up into one of the narrow lanes that climbed the bluff beyond which lay the sea. Fences and closed garage doors batted back the rattle of her car's engine.

A long fieldstone wall with pepper trees overhanging it hid a property on the seaward side of Neptune Avenue. At the entrance of the private driveway, by a burly pine tree that was strung with flowering orange black-eyed Susans, the woman pulled over onto the gravel shoulder and switched off the engine. The dawn street was empty except for a couple of dew-frosted cars parked tilted alongside the road, and silent—no birds sang, and the surf beyond the bluff was just a slow subsonic pulse.

Her face was set in a hard grin as she got out of the car, and when she had straightened up on the gravel she began unbuckling the belt on her jeans; and she kept whispering, "Just in the leg, that's all, settle down, girl! Just in the leg as a warning, and anyway he stabbed himself in the leg already one time, just to have something to talk to some lady about—and he shot himself in the foot before that, with this here very spear. No big deal to him, I swear." She unzipped her jeans and pulled and tugged them down to her ankles, exposing white panties with sunday embroidered in red on the front, and exposing also a two-foot-long green-painted trident that was duct-taped to her knee and thigh.

It was a short aluminum speargun spear, with three barb-less tips at the trident end and three diagonal grooves notched into the pencil-diameter shaft. The tan skin of her thigh was smeared red around several shallow cuts where the points were pressed against her, and it was with a harsh exhalation of relief that she peeled off the tape and lifted the spear away. Gripping it with her elbow against her ribs, she wrapped one length of the tape back around her thigh, covering the cuts, and then she pulled her pants back up and re-buckled her belt.

She stuck the spear upright through the gravel into the loam underneath, and then leaned into the car and hoisted out of the back seat a Makita power screwdriver and a yard-square piece of white-painted plywood with black plastic letters glued onto it. She fished two screws out of her pocket and, with an abrupt shrill blasting of the Makita's motor, screwed the sign to the trunk of the pine tree.

The sign read:

rest in peace

"the little lame monarch"

late of leucadia;

previously of san diego, sonoma, las vegas and remoter parts.

• • •

For a moment she just stood there on the dew-damp gravel, with the Makita in her hand still harshly stitching the dawn air with its shrill buzz, and she stared at the sign with a look of blank incomprehension. Then her fingers relaxed and the machine crunched to the gravel, quiet at last.

She plodded over to the upright spear, plucked it free, and strode around the pine tree and down the unpaved private driveway, away from the street.

• • •

Fifteen minutes later and two hundred and fifty miles to the northeast, an earthquake shook the deep-rooted expanse of Hoover Dam, forty-five million pounds of reinforcing steel and four million cubic yards of concrete that stood braced across Black Canyon against the south end of Lake Mead as it had stood for sixty years; morning-shift engineers in the powerhouse wings below the dam thought that some vast vehicle was traversing the highway at the top, or that one of the gigantic turbines had broken under the weight of water surging down through the penstocks buried inside the Arizona-side mountain. Vacationers aboard houseboats on the lake were shaken awake in their bunks, and in the nearby city of Boulder more than two hundred people called the police in a panic.

• • •

Dawn-patrol prostitutes and crack dealers on Hollywood Boulevard reeled and grabbed for walls or parking meters as the sidewalk pavement, already sagging lower than normal because of shoddy tunneling being done for the Metro Rail line, abruptly dropped another inch and a half.

• • •

Just across the highway from Colma, the gray little cemetery town on the San Mateo Peninsula to which all the evicted burial plots of neighboring San Francisco had been relocated, a pregnant woman wrapped in a bedsheet and screaming nonsense verses in French ran out into the lanes of the 280 Highway.

• • •

Along Ocean Beach on the west coast of San Francisco a sudden offshore gale was chopping up the surf, blowing the swells at chaotic angles and wrecking the long clean lines of the waves. The couple of surfers out past the surf line who had been riding the terrifying winter waves gave up and began struggling to paddle back in to shore, and the ill-at-ease men who had been clustering around the vans and pickup trucks in the Sloat Boulevard parking lot cheered up and assured each other that they had stayed out of the water just because it had been obvious that the weather was going to change this way.

Similar abrupt gales split and uprooted trees as far north as Eureka and as far south as San Diego, all on that same morning.

• • •

And in a bedroom in a run-down old apartment building in Long Beach, south of Los Angeles, a fourteen-year-old boy was jolted awake—out of a dream of a women running madly through rows of grapevines and clutching in her hand an ivy-wrapped staff that somehow had a bloody pine-cone stuck on the end of it.

Koot Hoomie Sullivan had sat up in bed at the shock of the vision, and now he swung his bare feet out from under the blankets onto the wooden floor. His heart was still pounding, and his left hand had gone numb though his watchband was comfortably loose.

He glanced out the window, past the lantana branches that pressed against the glass; the carob trees and the parachute-draped van outside were casting long shadows across the broken concrete, and he could hear wild parrots shouting in the tree branches. It could hardly be seven o'clock yet—he was certainly the first person awake in the apartment—but the warm interior air was heavy with the smell of burning coffee.

"Call me Fishmeal," he whispered, and shivered. He had not smeared mud on the foot of his bed at all this winter, and he had eaten several slices of rare London broil for dinner last night—he had even been allowed to drink a glass of champagne at the stroke of midnight!—but nevertheless he was again, clearly, experiencing the sense of being nearly able to see the whole American West Coast in some off-the-visible-spectrum frequency, as if with eyes underground as well as in the sky, and almost hear heartbeats and whimpers and furtive trysts and betrayals as if through the minute vibrations of freeway-shoulder palm trees and mountain sage and urban-lot weeds. And below the conscious level of his mind, faintly as if from distances remote beyond any capacity of natural space, he thought he could hear shouts and sobs and laughter from entities that were not any part of himself. When he had felt this sense of expanded awareness before, it had generally been in breathless dreams, or at most in the hypnagogic state between sleep and waking, but he was wide awake right now.

He stood up and got dressed, quickly but thoughtfully- Reeboks, and comfortable jeans, and a loose flannel shirt over the bandage taped onto his ribs; and he made sure the end of his belt was rotated into a Möbius twist before he buckled it.

He blinked as he let his gaze drift over the things in his room—the tasco 300-power reflector telescope in the corner, the framed black-and-white photograph of Thomas Edison on the wall, the coin-collection folders, the desk with clothes and a pair of in-line skates piled carelessly on it.

He jumped in surprise, and an instant later a woman's voice mournfully exclaimed "Oh hell!" somewhere in the parking lot outside the window.

"It's bar-time showtime, folks," Kootie whispered self-consciously, and he opened the bedroom door and stepped out into the hallway that led to the open kitchen and the living room.

He could hear someone moving around in his adopted-parents' bedroom, but he wanted to have something specific to say before he talked to them—so he hurried to the front door and unhooked the feather-fringed chain and unbolted the door.

The woman who was the property owner was just walking around the corner of the building from the parking lot as Kootie shuffled across the threshold and pulled the front door closed behind him; and her brown face was streaked with tears. "Oh, Kootie," she said, "all the beasties are dead."

They were already dead, Kootie thought—but he knew what the woman must mean. The morning air was sharply chilly in his curly, sweat-damp hair, but the breeze was still scented with the night's jasmine, and he felt ready to deal with this particular crisis. "Show me, Johanna," he said gently.

"Over by the trash cans and Mr. Pete's van." She was plodding heavily back the way she had come, her bathrobe flapping around the legs of her burst spandex tights. Over her shoulder she said, "I gave them some new gravel last night—could that have poisoned them?"

Kootie remembered his dreamed vision of the woman in the vineyard with the bloody, ivy-wrapped staff, and as he followed Johanna around the corner into the slantingly sunlit parking lot, he said, "What killed them was nothing that happened around here."

He trudged after her across the broken checkerboard of asphalt and concrete, and when he had stepped around the back end of the parachute-shrouded van he stopped beside her.

The beasties were obviously dead now. Three of them were sprawled on the pavement and in the ice plant here, their gnarled old hands poking limply out of the thrift-store shirt cuffs, their mouths gaping among the patchy gray post-mortem whiskers, their eyes flat and sheenless behind the scavenged spectacles.

Kootie shook his head and clumsily ran the still-numb fingers of his left hand through his curly black hair. "Terrific," he said. "What are we going to do with them?"

Johanna sniffed. "We should give them a burial." "These people died a long time ago, Johanna," Kootie said, "and these aren't their bodies. These aren't anyone's bodies. The coroner would go nuts if he got hold of these. I doubt if they've got any more internal organs than a sea-slug's got…and I always thought their skeletons must be arranged pretty freehand, from the way they walk. Walked. I doubt they've even got fingerprints."

Johanna sighed. "I'm glad I got them the Mikasa glass candies at Christmas."

"They did like those," Kootie agreed absently. Her late common-law husband had got into the habit of feeding the shambling derelicts, and for the last three Christmases Johanna had bought decorative glass treats for the things, in his memory. They couldn't eat organic stuff because it would just rot inside their token bellies, but they had still liked to gobble down things that looked like food.

"Good God," came a man's voice from behind Kootie; and then a woman said, softly, "What would they die of?"

Kootie turned to his adopted parents with a rueful smile. "Top of the morning. I was hoping I'd be able to get a tarp over 'em before you guys got up, so I could break it to you over coffee."

His adopted mother glanced at him, and then stared at his side. "Kootie," she said, her contralto voice suddenly sharp with alarm, "you're bleeding. Worse than usual, I mean."

Kootie had already felt the hot wetness over his ribs. "I know, Angelica," he said to her. To his adopted father he said, "Pete, let's get these necrotic dudes stashed in your van for now. Then I think we'd better go to Johanna's office to…confer. I believe this is going to be a busy day. A busy year."

He nearly always just called them "Mom" and "Dad"—this use of their first names put a stop to further discussion out here, and they both nodded. Angelica said, "I'll get coffee cooking," and strode back toward the building. Pete Sullivan rubbed his chin and said, "Let's use a blanket from inside the van to lift them in. I don't want to have to touch their 'skin."

• • •

Angelica Sullivan's maiden name had been Elizalde, and she had the lean face and high cheekbones of a figure in an El Greco painting; her long, straight hair was as black as Kootie's unruly mane, but after she put four coffee cups of water into the microwave in Johanna's kitchen, and got the restaurant-surplus coffee urn loaded and turned on, she tied her hair back in a hasty ponytail and hurried into the manager's office.

A television set was humming on the cluttered desk, but its screen was black, and the only light in the long room was the yellow glow that filtered in through the dusty, vine-blocked windows high in one wall. A worn couch sat against the opposite wall, and she stepped lithely up onto it to reach the bookshelves above it.

She selected several volumes from the shelves, dropping them onto the couch cushions by her feet, and took down too a nicotine-darkened stuffed toy pig; then she hopped down, sniffed the air sharply, and hurried back into the little kitchen—but the coffee was not burning.

A sudden hard knock at the door made her jump, and when she whirled toward the door she saw Kootie's face peering in at her through the screened door-window; and then the boy opened the door and stepped in, followed by Johanna and Pete.

"You're not on bar-time, Mom," said Kootie, panting. "You jumped after I knocked on the door; and Dad jumped after I flicked cold hose-water on his neck."

Pete's graying hair was wet, and he nodded. "Not much after."

Johanna was staring at Kootie without comprehension, so he told her, "Bar-time is when you react to things an" instant before they actually happen, like you're vibrating in the now notch and hanging over the sides a little. It's…'sympathetically induced resonation,' it means somebody's paying psychic attention to you, watching you magically." He looked at Pete and Angelica. "I've been on bar-time since I woke up. When Johanna found the beasties, I jumped a second before she yelled, and when we went back to the apartment to wash our hands just now, I reached for the phone an instant before it started ringing."

Kootie led the three of them out of the kitchen into Pete's long dim office.

"It was one of your clients on the phone," Pete told Angelica, "Mrs. Perez. She says her grandparents' ghosts are gone from the iron pots you put them in; the pots aren't even magnetic anymore, she says. Oh, and I noticed that your voodoo whosis is gone from the cabinet by our front door—the little cement guy with cowrie shells for his eyes and mouth."

"The Eleggua figure?" said Angelica, collapsing onto the couch. "He's—what, he's the Lord of the Crossroads, what can it mean that he's gone? He must have weighed thirty pounds! Solid concrete! I didn't forget to propitiate him last week—did I, Kootie?"

Kootie shook his head somberly. "You spit rum all over him, and I put the beef jerky and the Pez dispenser in his cabinet myself."

Pete was sniffing the stale office air. "Why does everywhere smell like burning coffee this morning?"

"Kootie," said Angelica, "what's going on here today?"

Kootie had hiked himself up to sit on the desk next to the buzzing black-screened television set, and he pulled his shirt up out of his pants—the bandage taped to his side was blotted with red, and even as they looked at it a line of blood trickled down to his belt. "And my left hand's numb," he said, flexing his fingers, "and I had to rest twice, carrying the dead beasties, because I've got no strength in my legs."

He looked up at his adopted mother. "We're in the middle of winter," he went on, in a tense but flat voice. "This is the season when I sometimes dream that I can…sense the American West Coast. This morning—" He paused to cock his head: "—still, in fact—I've got that sense while I'm awake. What I dreamed of was a crazy woman running through a vineyard, waving a bloody wand with ivy vines wrapped around it and a pinecone stuck on the end of it." He pulled his shirt back down and tucked it in messily. "Some balance of power has shifted drastically somewhere—and somebody is paying attention to me; somebody's going to be coming here. And I don't think the Solville foxing measures are going to fool this person."

"Nobody can see through them!" said Johanna loyally. Her late husband, Solomon "Sol" Shadroe, had bought the apartment building in 1974 because its architecture con-, fused psychic tracking, and he had spent nearly twenty years adding rooms and wings onto the structure, and rerouting the water and electrical systems, and putting up dozens of extraneous old TV antennas with carob seed-pods and false teeth and old radio parts hung from them, to intensify the effect; the result was an eccentric stack and scatter of buildings and sheds and garages and conduit, and even now, more than two years after the, old man's death, the tenants still called the rambling old compound Solville.

Pete Sullivan was the manager and handyman for the place now, and he had dutifully kept up the idiosyncratic construction and maintenance programs; now his lean, tanned face was twisted in a squinting smile of apprehension. "So what is it that you sense, son?"

"There's a—" Kootie said uncertainly, his unfocused gaze moving across the ceiling. "I can almost see it—a chariot—or a…a gold cup? Maybe it's a tarot card from the Cups suit, paired with the Chariot card from the Major Arcana?—coming here." He gave Johanna a mirthless smile. "I think it could find me, even here, and somebody might be riding in it, or carrying it."

Angelica was nodding angrily. "This is the thing, isn't it, Kootie, that was all along going to happen? The reason why we never moved away from here?"

"Why we stopped running," ventured Pete. "Why we've been…standing our little ground."

"Why Kootie is an iyawo," said Johanna, sighing and nodding in the kitchen doorway. "Why this place was first built, from the earthquake wreck of that ghost house. And the—"

"Kootie is not an iyawo," Angelica interrupted, pronouncing the feminine Yoruba noun as if it were an obscenity. "He hasn't undergone the kariocha initiation. Tell her, Pete."

Kootie looked at his adopted father and smiled. "Yeah," he said softly, "tell her, Dad."

Pete Sullivan pulled a pack of Marlboros out of his shirt pocket and cleared his throat. "Uh, 'it's not a river in Egypt,'" he told his wife, quoting a bit of pop-psychology jargon that he knew she hated.

She laughed, though with obvious reluctance. "I know it's not. The Nile, denial—I know the difference. How is this denial, what I'm saying? Kariocha is a very specific ritual—shave the head, cut the scalp, get three specially initiated drummers to play the consecrated bata drums!—and it just has not been done with Kootie."

"Not to the letter of the law," said Pete, shaking out a cigarette and flipping it over the backs of his fingers; "but in the…spirit?" He snapped a wooden match and inhaled smoke, then squeezed the lit match in his fist, which was empty when he opened it again. "Come on, Angie! All the formalities aside, basically a kariocha initiation is putting a thing like an alive-and-kicking ghost inside of somebody's head, right? Call it a 'ghost' or call it an 'orisha.' It makes the person who hosts it…what, different. So—well, you tell me what state Kootie was in when we found him two years ago. I suppose he's not still an omo, since the orisha left his head, voluntarily…but it did happen to the boy."

"I saw him when he was montado," agreed Johanna, "possessed, in this very kitchen, with that yerba buena y tequila telephone. He had great ashe, the boy's orisha did, great luck and power, to make a telephone out of mint and tequila and a pencil sharpener, and then call up dead people on it." She looked across at the boy and smiled sadly. "You're not a virgin in the head anymore, are you, Kootie?"

"More truth than poetry in that, Johanna," Kootie agreed, hopping down from the desk. "Yeah, Mom, this does feel like it." His voice was unsteady, but he managed to look confident as he waved his blood-spotted hand in a gesture that took in the whole building and grounds. "It's why we're here, why I'm what I am." He smiled wanly and added, "It's why your Mexican wizard made you give a nasty name to this witchery shop you run here. And this is the best place for us to be standing when it meets us. Solville can't hide us, but it's a fortified position. We can…receive them, whoever they might be, give them an audience."

Angelica was sitting on the couch, flipping through the pages of her battered copy of Kardec's Selected Prayers. Among the other books she had tossed onto the couch were Reichenbach's Letters on Od and Magnetism, and a spiral-bound notebook with a version of Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida hand-copied into it, and a paperback copy of Guillermo Ceniza-Bendiga's Cunjuro del Tobaco.

"How far away are they?" she snapped, without looking up. "Like, are they coming from Los Angeles? New York? Tibet? Mars?"

"The…thing is…on the coast," said Kootie with a visible shiver. "Sssouth? Yes, south of here, and coming north, like up the 5 Freeway or Pacific Coast Highway."

Copyright © 1997 by Tim Powers

Table of Contents


Prologue The Dolorous Stroke,
Book One To the Boats,
Book Two Diverse Liquors,
Book Three Gout de Terroir,
Epilogue "In the Midsummer of This Year ...",
About the Author,

Customer Reviews