“You do want it, baby. You just don’t know you want it. You don’t yet understand yourself.”
She pressed the glass to my lips again, and I turned my head away from it.
“Poor Odd Thomas,” she said, “so fearful of corruption. Do you think I’m a dirty thing?”
Offending her too openly might be bad for Danny. Now that she had lured me here, she had little if any further use for him. She could punish me for any insult by pushing the black button on the remote.
Lamely, I said, “I just catch cold easily, that’s all.”
“But I don’t have a cold.”
“Well, you never know. You might have one but not be showing symptoms yet.”
“I take echinacea. You should, too. You’ll never have a cold again.”
“I’m not much into herbal remedies,” I said.
She slid her left arm around my neck. “You’ve been brainwashed by the big drug companies, baby.”
“You’re right. I probably have been.”
“Big drugs, big oil, big tobacco, big media—they’ve gotten inside everyone’s head. They’re poisoning us. You don’t need man-made chemicals. Nature has a cure for everything.”
“Brugmansia is really effective,” I said. “I could use some brugmansia leaf right now. Or flower. Or root.”
“I’m not familiar with that one.”
Under the bouquet of Cabernet Sauvignon, her breath carried another scent, an astringent odor, almost bitter, that I could not identify.
I remembered reading that the sweat and breath of certifiable psychopaths have a subtle but distinctive chemical odor because of certain physiological conditions accompanying that mental disorder. Maybe her breath smelled of craziness.
“A spoonful of white mustard seed,” she said, “protects against all harm.”
“I wish I had a spoonful.”
“Eating wonder-world root will make you rich.”
“Sounds better than hard work.”
She pressed the glass against my lips again, and when I tried to pull my head back, she resisted my effort with the arm that she had slipped around my neck.
When I turned my head to the side, she took the glass away and surprised me by giggling. “I know you’re a mundunugu, but you’re so good at pretending to be a church mouse.”
A sudden shift of wind threw shatters of rain against the windows.
She wriggled her bottom against my lap, smiled, and kissed my forehead.
“It’s stupid not to use herbal remedies, Odd Thomas. You don’t eat meat, do you?”
“I’m a fry cook.”
“I know you cook it,” she said, “but please tell me you don’t eat it.”
“Even cheeseburgers with bacon.”
“That’s so self-destructive.”
“And French fries,” I added.
She sucked a mouthful of wine from the glass and spat it in my face. “Now what did resistance get you, baby? Datura always has her way. I can break you.”
Not if my mother couldn’t, I thought as I wiped my face with my left hand.
“Andre and Robert can hold you,” she said, “while I pinch your nose shut. When you open your mouth to breathe, I pour the wine down your throat. Then I bust the glass against your teeth, and you can chew the pieces. Is that what you’d prefer?”
Before she could press the wineglass to my lips again, I said, “Do you want to see the dead?”
No doubt some men saw an exciting blue fire in her eyes, but they mistook appetite for passion; her gaze was that of a cool and ravenous crocodile.
Searching my eyes, she said, “You told me no one but you could see them.”
“I guard my secrets.”
“So you can conjure, after all.”
“Yes,” I lied.
“I knew you could. I knew.”
“The dead are here, just like you thought.”
She looked around. The shimmering candlelight shivered the shadows.
“They aren’t in this room,” I said.
“Downstairs. I saw several earlier, in the casino.”
She rose from my lap. “Conjure them here.”
“They choose where they haunt.”
“You have the power to summon.”
“It doesn’t work that way. There are exceptions, but for the most part, they cling to the very place where they died…or where they were happiest in life.”
Putting her wineglass on the table, she said, “What trick do you have up your sleeve?”
“I’m wearing a T-shirt.”
Her eyes narrowed. “What does that mean?”
Rising from the chair, I said, “Gessel, the Gestapo agent—does he ever manifest anywhere but in the basement of that building in Paris? Anywhere but the very place where he died?”
She thought about that. “All right. We’ll go to the casino.”
TO FACILITATE THE EXPLORATION OF THE abandoned hotel, they had brought Coleman lant
erns, which operated on canned fuel. These lamps would press back the darkness more effectively than flashlights.
Andre left the shotgun on the floor near the window of Room 1203, which convinced me that both he and Robert carried pistols under their black jackets.
The remote control remained on the table. If my conjuring act in the casino failed to please Datura, at least she wouldn’t be able to waste Danny at once. She would have to return here to retrieve the device that could trigger the blast.
As we were about to leave the room, she realized that she had not eaten a banana since the previous day. This oversight clearly concerned her.
Picnic coolers packed with food and drink were in the adjacent bathroom. She returned from there with one of Chiquita’s finest.
As she peeled the fruit, she explained that the banana tree—“as you know, Odd Thomas”—was the tree of forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.
“I thought it was an apple tree.”
“Play dumb if you want,” she said.
Although certain that I was aware of it, she also told me that the Serpent (with a capital S) lives forever because he eats twice daily of the fruit of the banana tree. And every serpent (with a small s) will live for a thousand years by following this simple dietary requirement.
“But you’re not a serpent,” I said.
“When I was nineteen,” she revealed, “I made a wanga to charm the spirit of a snake from its body into mine. As I’m sure you can see, it’s twined among my ribs, where it’ll live forever.”
“Well, for a thousand years, anyway.”
Her patchwork theology—obviously stitched together in part from voodoo, but God alone knew from what else—made the ravings of Jim Jones in Guyana, David Koresh in Waco, and the leader of the comet cult that committed mass suicide near San Diego sound like rational men of faith.
Although I expected Datura to make the eating of the banana an erotic performance, she consumed the fruit with a kind of dogged determination. She chewed without apparent pleasure, and more than once grimaced when she swallowed.
I guessed that she was twenty-five or twenty-six years old. She might have been on this two-bananas-per-day regimen for as long as seven years.