Through a mutual friend — the renowned mystery writer, P. Oswald Boone, the only acquaintance of mine who both weighs 400 pounds and has eleven fingers — I arranged to meet Odd Thomas in a back booth at the Pico Mundo Grille, in Pico Mundo, California, where he has worked as a short-order cook. I agreed in advance that I would not ask about his heroic actions at Green Moon Mall last year. He is embarrassed by the subject and does not consider himself a hero. When I arrived, he was drinking a cherry Coke and had taken the liberty of ordering one for me.
OT: Or you could have a lemon Coke. I can get you one.
DK: Cherry is fine.
OT: I feel funny about this, sir. I’m afraid I’ve never read any of your novels.
DK: Well, you’re only twenty-one, and you’ve led a very full life. Not much time for reading.
OT: Actually, I’ve had a lot of time for reading. I’ve just never tried any of yours. I thought they were about vampires, but Ozzie tells me they aren’t.
DK: You don’t like vampire novels?
OT: Vampires, werewolves… I don’t find that kind of story convincing.
DK: Yet you see ghosts.
OT: I see the lingering dead, yes. But that’s just between us, right?
OT: That’s a secret. Only a few friends know about it.
DK: Your secret’s safe with me, son.
OT: Ozzie says never trust a writer.
DK: He’s a writer.
OT: Ozzie says that’s how he knows what swine they are. No offense, sir. I’m just quoting him.
DK: But he’s a writer, and you trust him.
OT: Yes, but he’s Ozzie.
DK: And I’m not half the man that he is.
OT: Barely more than a third, sir. But…I think I can trust you. I almost feel as if we’ve met before.
DK: I understand Elvis Presley hangs out with you.
OT: His spirit. Yes, sir.
DK: That must be cool.
OT: Cooler than if it was the spirit of Lawrence Welk, I guess.
DK: Why hasn’t he moved on to the next world? Has he told you?
OT: The dead don’t talk, sir.
DK: Or sing?
OT: No, sir. But now and then he does some fine dance moves.
DK: Does he still like fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches?
OT: The dead don’t eat, either. Which is a good thing. I don’t earn enough to feed them. And there would be an awful lot of dishes to wash.
DK: What does Elvis do when you hang out together?
OT: Sometimes we listen to his music. And he cries.
DK: The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll cries?
OT: Sometimes he’s a faucet, sir.
DK: But you like having him around?
OT: I do. Yes, sir. There’s something sweet about him.
DK: He’s not the kind of guy to shoot someone at the Vibe Awards.
OT: No, sir. In Elvis’s day, singers didn’t shoot or stab one another.
DK: Maybe they weren’t as passionate about their music as the new guys are.
OT: Or maybe they were sane.
DK: Why do these spirits come to you, Odd?
OT: Mostly for justice.
DK: Because they’ve been murdered?
OT: Not Elvis. But others, yes. And sometimes it’s just for comfort, reassurance.
DK: You’ve been given quite a gift. But the dead showing up all the time — that must be disconcerting.
OT: And they don’t respect the privacy of the living. I’ll be in the bathroom, and one of them will walk right through the wall.
DK: That would be annoying.
OT: Yes, sir. And constipating.
DK: Every gift has a price.
OT: I’m never caught up with the laundry.
OT: All the running, jumping, and chasing — seems like it always leads me through one filthy place or another. I sometimes go through three pairs of jeans a day.
DK: What laundry detergent do you use?
OT: Whatever’s cheapest.
DK: Do you always wear jeans?
OT: Not always. I own two pair of chinos, but those are mainly for dressy occasions.
DK: When do you feel the need to dress up?
OT: Never. What do you wear when you write, sir?
DK: Jeans and Hawaiian shirts. But fortunately writing isn’t a filthy business.
OT: Ozzie says it can be when you’re dealing with Hollywood. Have you ever seen a ghost, sir?
DK: No. And I’m not sure I’d want to.
OT: Well, at least they don’t shoot at you.
DK: Do people often shoot at you, son?
OT: More often than I’d like.
DK: What kind of gun do you carry, Odd?
OT: I don’t carry a gun, sir. I’m a short-order cook. I don’t need much more than a spatula.
DK: Have you had strange experiences other than with ghosts? For instance, have you ever seen Big Foot?
OT: I haven’t had the pleasure of making Mr. Foot’s acquaintance.
OT: Like everyone, I’ve seen Mr. Donald Trump on TV, but I’ve never had a face-to-face encounter with a being from another world.
DK: So for you, it’s just ghosts.
OT: Yes, sir. I just see the lingering dead. But that’s enough. Believe me, that’s plenty.