THE PUSHER CHAPTER 3 ROLAND TAKES HIS MEDICINE
Now Jack Mort knew the gunslinger was here. If he had been another person - an Eddie Dean or an Odetta Walker, for instance - Roland would have held palaver with the man, if only to ease his natural panic and confusion at suddenly finding one's self shoved rudely into the passenger seat of the body one's brain had driven one's whole life.
But because Mort was a monster - worse, than Detta Walker ever had been or could be - he made no effort to explain or speak at all. He could hear the man's clamorings - Who are you? What's happening to me? - but disregarded them. The gunslinger concentrated on his short list of necessities, using the man's mind with no compunction at all. The clamorings became screams of terror. The gunslinger went right on disregarding them.
The only way he could remain in the worm-pit which was this man's mind was to regard him as no more than a combination atlas and encyclopedia. Mort had all the information Roland needed. The plan he made was rough, but rough was often better than smooth. When it came to planning, there were no creatures in the universe more different than Roland and Jack Mort.
When you planned rough, you allowed room for improvisation. And improvisation at short notice had always been one of Roland's strong points.
A fat man with lenses over his eyes, like the bald man who had poked his head into Mort's office five minutes earlier (it seemed that in Eddie's world many people wore these, which his Mortcypedia identified as "glasses"), got into the elevator with him. He looked at the briefcase in the hand of the man who he believed to be Jack Mort and then at Mort himself.
"Going to see Dorfman, Jack?"
The gunslinger said nothing.
"If you think you can talk him out of sub-leasing, I can tell you it's a waste of time," the fat man said, then blinked as his colleague took a quick step backward. The doors of the little box closed and suddenly they were falling.
He clawed at Mort's mind, ignoring the screams, and found this was all right. The fall was controlled.
"If I spoke out of turn, I'm sorry," the fat man said. The gunslinger thought: This one is afraid, too. "You've handled the jerk better than anyone else in the firm, that's what I think."
The gunslinger said nothing. He waited only to be out of this falling coffin.
"I say so, too," the fat man continued eagerly. "Why, just yesterday I was at lunch with - "
Jack Mort's head turned, and behind Jack Mort's gold-rimmed glasses, eyes that seemed a somehow different shade of blue than Jack's eyes had ever been before stared at the fat man. "Shut up," the gunslinger said tonelessly.
Color fell from the fat man's face and he took two quick steps backward. His flabby buttocks smacked the fake wood panels at the back of the little moving coffin, which suddenly stopped. The doors opened and the gunslinger, wearing Jack Mort's body like a tight-fitting set of clothes, stepped out with no look back. The fat man held his finger on the DOOR OPEN button of the elevator and waited inside until Mort was out of sight. Always did have a screw loose, the fat man thought, but this could be serious. This could be a breakdown.
The fat man found that the idea of Jack Mort tucked safely away in a sanitarium somewhere was very comforting.
The gunslinger wouldn't have been surprised.
Somewhere between the echoing room which his Mortcypedia identified as a lobby, to wit, a place of entry and exit from the offices which filled this sky-tower, and the bright sunshine of street (his Mortcypedia identified this street as both 6th Avenue and Avenue of the Americas), the screaming of Roland's host stopped. Mort had not died of fright; the gunslinger felt with a deep instinct which was the same as knowing that if Mort died, their kas would be expelled forever, into that void of possibility which lay beyond all physical worlds. Not dead - fainted. Fainted at the overload of terror and strangeness, as Roland himself had done upon entering the man's mind and discovering its secrets and the crossing of destinies too great to be coincidence.
He was glad Mort had fainted. As long as the man's unconsciousness hadn't affected Roland's access to the man's knowledge and memories - and it hadn't - he was glad to have him out of the way.
The yellow cars were public conveyences called Tack-Sees or Cabs or Hax. The tribes which drove them, the Mortcypedia told him, were two: Spix and Mockies. To make one stop, you held your hand up like a pupil in a classroom.
Roland did this, and after several Tack-Sees which were obviously empty save for their drivers had gone by him, he saw that these had signs which read Off-Duty. Since these were Great Letters, the gunslinger didn't need Mort's help. He waited, then put his hand up again. This time the Tack-See pulled over. The gunslinger got into the back seat. He smelled old smoke, old sweat, old perfume. It smelled like a coach in his own world.
"Where to, my friend?" the driver asked - Roland had no idea if he was of the Spix or Mockies tribe, and had no intention of asking. It might be impolite in this world.
"I'm not sure," Roland said.
"This ain't no encounter group, my friend. Time is money."
Tell him to put his flag down, the Mortcypedia told him.
"Put your flag down," Roland said.
"That ain't rolling nothing but time," the driver replied.
Tell him you'll tip him five bux, the Mortcypedia advised.
"I'll tip you five bucks," Roland said.
"Let's see it," the cabbie replied. "Money talks, bullshit walks."
Ask him if he wants the money or if he wants to go fuck himself, the Mortcypedia advised instantly.
"Do you want the money, or do you want to go fuck yourself?" Roland asked in a cold, dead voice.
The cabbie's eyes glanced apprehensively into the rear-view mirror for just a moment, and he said no more.
Roland consulted Jack Mort's accumulated store of knowledge more fully this time. The cabbie glanced up again, quickly, during the fifteen seconds his fare spent simply sitting there with his head slightly lowered and his left hand spread across his brow, as if he had an Excedrin Headache. The cabbie had decided to tell the guy to get out or he'd yell for a cop when the fare looked up and said mildly, "I'd like you to take me to Seventh Avenue and Forty-Ninth street . For this trip I will pay you ten dollars over the fare on your taxi meter, no matter what your tribe."
A weirdo, the driver (a WASP from Vermont trying to break into showbiz) thought, but maybe a rich weirdo. He dropped the cab into gear. "We're there, buddy," he said, and pulling into traffic he added mentally, And the sooner the better.
Improvise. That was the word.
The gunslinger saw the blue-and-white parked down the block when he got out, and read Police as Posse without checking Mort's store of knowledge. Two gunslingers inside, drinking something - coffee, maybe - from white paper glasses. Gunslingers, yes - but they looked fat and lax.
He reached into Jack Mort's wallet (except it was much too small to be a real wallet; a real wallet was almost as big as a purse and could carry all of a man's things, if he wasn't travelling too heavy) and gave the driver a bill with the number 20 on it. The cabbie drove away fast. It was easily the biggest tip he'd make that day, but the guy was so freaky he felt he had earned every cent of it.
The gunslinger looked at the sign over the shop.
CLEMENTS GUNS AND SPORTING GOODS, it said. AMMO, FISHING TACKLE, OFFICIAL FACSIMILES.
He didn't understand all of the words, but one look in the window was all it took for him to see Mort had brought him to the right place. There were wristbands on display, badges of rank ... and guns. Rifles, mostly, but pistols as well. They were chained, but that didn't matter.
He would know what he needed when - if -??he saw it.
Roland consulted Jack Mort's mind - a mind exactly sly enough to suit his purposes - for more than a minute.
One of the cops in the blue-and-white elbowed the other. "Now that," he said, "is a serious comparison shopper."
His partner laughed. "Oh God," he said in an effeminate voice as the man in the business suit and gold-rimmed glasses finished his study of the merchandise on display and went inside. "I think he jutht dethided on the lavender handcuffths."
The first cop choked on a mouthful of lukewarm coffee and sprayed it back into the styrofoam cup in a gust of laughter.
A clerk came over almost at once and asked if he could be of help.
"I wonder," the man in the conservative blue suit replied, "if you have a paper ..." He paused, appeared to think deeply, and then looked up. "A chart, I mean, which shows pictures of revolver ammunition."
"You mean a caliber chart?" the clerk asked.
The customer paused, then said, "Yes. My brother has a revolver. I have fired it, but it's been a good many years. I think I will know the bullets if I see them."
"Well, you may think so," the clerk replied, "but it can be hard to tell. Was it a .22? A .38? Or maybe - "
"If you have a chart, I'll know," Roland said.
"Just a sec." The clerk looked at the man in the blue suit doubtfully for a moment, then shrugged. Fuck, the customer was always right, even when he was wrong ... if he had the dough to pay, that was. Money talked, bullshit walked. "I got a Shooter's Bible. Maybe that's what you ought to look at."
"Yes." He smiled. Shooter's Bible. It was a noble name for a book.
The man rummaged under the counter and brought out a well-thumbed volume as thick as any book the gunslinger had ever seen in his life - and yet this man seemed to handle it as if it were no more valuable than a handful of stones.
He opened it on the counter and turned it around. "Take a look. Although if it's been years, you're shootin' in the dark." He looked surprised, then smiled. "Pardon my pun."
Roland didn't hear. He was bent over the book, studying pictures which seemed almost as real as the things they represented, marvellous pictures the Mortcypedia identified as Fottergraffs.
He turned the pages slowly. No ... no ... no ...
He had almost lost hope when he saw it. He looked up at the clerk with such blazing excitement that the clerk felt a little afraid.
"There!" he said. "There! Right there!"
The photograph he was tapping was one of a Winchester .45 pistol shell. It was not exactly the same as his own shells, because it hadn't been hand-thrown or hand-loaded, but he could see without even consulting the figures (which would have meant almost nothing to him anyway) that it would chamber and fire from his guns.
"Well, all right, I guess you found it," the clerk said, "but don't cream your jeans, fella. I mean, they're just bullets."
"You have them?"
"Sure. How many boxes do you want?"
"How many in a box?"
"Fifty." The clerk began to look at the gunslinger with real suspicion. If the guy was planning to buy shells, he must know he'd have to show a Permit to Carry photo-I.D. No P.C., no ammo, not for handguns; it was the law in the borough of Manhattan . And if this dude had a handgun permit, how come he didn't know how many shells came in a standard box of ammo?
"Fifty!" Now the guy was staring at him with slack-jawed surprise. He was off the wall, all right.
The clerk edged a bit to his left, a bit nearer the cash register ... and, not so coincidentally, a bit nearer to his own gun, a .357 Mag which he kept fully loaded in a spring clip under the counter.
"Fifty!" the gunslinger repeated. He had expected five, ten, perhaps as many as a dozen, but this ... this ...
How much money do you have? he asked the Mortcypedia. The Mortcypedia didn't know, not exactly, but thought there was at least sixty bux in his wallet.
"And how much does a box cost?" It would be more than sixty dollars, he supposed, but the man might be persuaded to sell him part of a box, or -
"Seventeen-fifty," the clerk said. "But, mister - "
Jack Mort was an accountant, and this time there was no waiting; translation and answer came simultaneously.
"Three," the gunslinger said. "Three boxes." He tapped the Fotergraff of the shells with one finger. One hundred and fifty rounds! Ye gods! What a mad storehouse of riches this world was!
The clerk wasn't moving.
"You don't have that many," the gunslinger said. He felt no real surprise. It had been too good to be true. A dream.
"Oh, I got Winchester .45s I got .45s up the kazoo." The clerk took another step to the left, a step closer to the cash register and the gun. If the guy was a nut, something the clerk expected to find out for sure any second now, he was soon going to be a nut with an extremely large hole in his midsection. "I got .45 ammo up the old ying-yang. What I want to know, mister, is if you got the card."
"A handgun permit with a photo. I can't sell you handgun ammo unless you can show me one. If you want to buy ammo without a P.C., you're gonna hafta go up to Westchester ."
The gunslinger stared at the man blankly. This was all gabble to him. He understood none of it. His Mortcypedia had some vague notion of what the man meant, but Mort's ideas were too vague to be trusted in this case. Mort had never owned a gun in his life. He did his nasty work in other ways.
The man sidled another step to the left without taking his eyes from his customer's face and the gunslinger thought: He's got a gun. He expects me to make trouble ... or maybe he wants me to make trouble. Wants an excuse to shoot me.
He remembered the gunslingers sitting in their blue and white carriage down the street. Gunslingers, yes, peacekeepers, men charged with keeping the world from moving on. But these had looked - at least on a passing glance - to be nearly as soft and unobservant as everyone else in this world of lotus-eaters; just two men in uniforms and caps, slouched down in the seats of their carriage, drinking coffee. He might have misjudged. He hoped for all their sakes - that he had not.
"Oh! I understand," the gunslinger said, and drew an apologetic smile on Jack Mort's face. "I'm sorry. I guess I haven't kept track of how much the world has moved on - changed - since I last owned a gun."
"No harm done," the clerk said, relaxing minutely. Maybe the guy was all right. Or maybe he was pulling a gag.
"I wonder if I could look at that cleaning kit?" Roland pointed to a shelf behind the clerk.
"Sure." The clerk turned to get it, and when he did, the gunslinger removed the wallet from Mort's inside jacket pocket. He did this with the flickering speed of a fast draw. The clerk's back was to him for less than four seconds, but when he turned back to Mort, the wallet was on the floor.
"It's a beaut," the clerk said, smiling, having decided the guy was okay after all. Hell, he knew how lousy you felt when you made a horse's ass of yourself. He had done it in the Marines enough times. "And you don't need a goddam permit to buy a cleaning kit, either. Ain't freedom wonderful?"
"Yes," the gunslinger said seriously, and pretended to look closely at the cleaning kit, although a single glance was enough to show him that it was a shoddy thing in a shoddy box. While he looked, he carefully pushed Mort's wallet under the counter with his foot.
After a moment he pushed it back with a passable show of regret. "I'm afraid I'll have to pass."
"All right," the clerk said, losing interest abruptly. Since the guy wasn't crazy and was obviously a looker, not a buyer, their relationship was at an end. Bullshit walks. "Anything else?" His mouth asked while his eyes told blue-suit to get out.
"No, thank you." The gunslinger walked out without a look back. Mort's wallet was deep under the counter. Roland had set out his own honeypot.
Officers Carl Delevan and George O'Mearah had finished their coffee and were about to move on when the man in the blue suit came out of Clements' - which both cops believed to be a powderhorn (police slang for a legal gunshop which sometimes sells guns to independent stick-up men with proven credentials and which does business, sometimes in bulk, to the Mafia), and approached their squad car.
He leaned down and looked in the passenger side window at O'Mearah. O'Mearah expected the guy to sound like a fruit - probably as fruity as his routine about the lavender handcuffths had suggested, but a pouf all the same. Guns aside, Clements' did a lively trade in handcuffs. These were legal in Manhattan , and most of the people buying them weren't amateur Houdinis (the cops didn't like it, but when had what the cops thought on any given subject ever changed things?). The buyers were homos with a little taste for s & m. But the man didn't sound like a fag at all. His voice was flat and expressionless, polite but somehow dead.
"The tradesman in there took my wallet," he said.
"Who?" O'Mearah straightened up fast. They had been itching to bust Justin Clements for a year and a half. If it could be done, maybe the two of them could finally swap these bluesuits for detective's badges. Probably just a pipe-dream - this was too good to be true - but just the same ...
"The tradesman. The - " A brief pause. "The clerk."
O'Mearah and Carl Delevan exchanged a glance.
"Black hair?" Delevan asked. "On the stocky side?"
Again there was the briefest pause. "Yes. His eyes were brown. Small scar under one of them."
There was something about the guy ... O'Mearah couldn't put his finger on it then, but remembered later on, when there weren't so many other things to think about. The chief of which, of course, was the simple fact that the gold detective's badge didn't matter; it turned out that just holding onto the jobs they had would be a pure brassy-ass miracle.
But years later there was a brief moment of epiphany when O'Mearah took his two sons to the Museum of Science in Boston . They had a machine there - a computer - that played tic-tac-toe, and unless you put your X in the middle square on your first move, the machine fucked you over every time. But there was always a pause as it checked its memory for all possible gambits. He and his boys had been fascinated. But there was something spooky about it ... and then he remembered Blue-Suit. He remembered because Blue-Suit had had that some fucking habit. Talking to him had been like talking to a robot.
Delevan had no such feeling, but nine years later, when he took his own son (then eighteen and about to start college) to the movies one night, Delevan would rise unexpectedly to his feet about thirty minutes into the feature and scream, "It's him! That's HIM! That's the guy in the fucking blue suit! The guy who was at Cle - "
Somebody would shout Down in front! but needn't have bothered; Delevan, seventy pounds overweight and a heavy smoker, would be struck by a fatal heart attack before the complainer even got to the second word. The man in the blue suit who approached their cruiser that day and told them about his stolen wallet didn't look like the star of the movie, but the dead delivery of words had been the same; so had been the somehow relentless yet graceful way he moved.
The movie, of course, had been The Terminator.
The cops exchanged a glance. The man Blue-Suit was talking about wasn't Clements, but almost as good: "Fat Johnny" Holden, Clements' brother-in-law. But to have done something as totally dumb-ass as simply stealing a guy's wallet would be -
- would be right up that gink's alley, O'Mearah's mind finished, and he had to put a hand to his mouth to cover a momentary little grin.
"Maybe you better tell us exactly what happened," Delevan said. "You can start with your name."
Again, the man's response struck O'Mearah as a little wrong, a little off-beat. In this city, where it sometimes seemed that seventy per cent of the population believed Go fuck yourself was American for Have a nice day, he would have expected the guy to say something like, Hey, that S.O.B. took my wallet! Are you going to get it back for me or are we going to stand out here playing Twenty Questions?
But there was the nicely cut suit, the manicured fingernails. A guy maybe used to dealing with bureaucratic bullshit. In truth, George O'Mearah didn't care much. The thought of busting Fat Johnny Holden and using him as a lever on Arnold Clements made O'Mearah's mouth water. For one dizzy moment he even allowed himself to imagine using Holden to get Clements and Clements to get one of the really big guys - that wop Balazar, for instance, or maybe Ginelli. That wouldn't be too tacky. Not too tacky at all.
"My name is Jack Mort," the man said.
Delevan had taken a butt-warped pad from his back pocket. "Address?"
That slight pause. Like the machine, O'Mearah thought again. A moment of silence, then an almost audible click.
" 409 Park Avenue South ."
Delevan jotted it down.
"Social Security number?"
After another slight pause, Mort recited it.
"Want you to understand I gotta ask you these questions for identification purposes. If the guy did take your wallet, it's nice if I can say you told me certain stuff before I take it into my possession. You understand."
"Yes." Now there was the slightest hint of impatience in the man's voice. It made O'Mearah feel a little better about him somehow. "Just don't drag it out any more than you have to. Time passes, and - "
"Things have a way of happening, yeah, I dig."
"Things have a way of happening," the man in the blue suit agreed. "Yes."
"Do you have a photo in your wallet that's distinctive?"
A pause. Then: "A picture of my mother taken in front of the Empire State Building . On the back is written: 'It was a wonderful day and a wonderful view. Love, Mom.' "
Delevan jotted furiously, then snapped his notebook closed. "Okay. That should do it. Only other thing'll be to have you write your signature if we get the wallet back and compare it with the sigs on your driver's license, credit cards, stuff like that. Okay?"
Roland nodded, although part of him understood that, although he could draw on Jack Mort's memories and knowledge of this world as much as he needed, he hadn't a chance in hell of duplicating Mort's signature with Mort's consciousness absent, as it was now.
"Tell us what happened."
"I went in to buy shells for my brother. He has a .45 Winchester revolver. The man asked me if I had a Permit to Carry. I said of course. He asked to see it."
"I took out my wallet. I showed him. Only when I turned my wallet around to do that showing, he must have seen there were quite a few - " slight pause " - twenties in there. I am a tax accountant. I have a client named Dorfman who just won a small tax refund after an extended - " pause " - litigation. The sum was only eight hundred dollars, but this man, Dorfman, is - " pause " - the biggest prick we handle." Pause. "Pardon my pun."
O'Mearah ran the man's last few words back through his head and suddenly got it. The biggest prick we handle. Not bad. He laughed. Thoughts of robots and machines that played tic-tac-toe went out of his mind. The guy was real enough, just upset and trying to hide it by being cool.
"Anyway, Dorfman wanted cash. He insisted on cash."
"You think Fat Johnny got a look at your client's dough," Delevan said. He and O'Mearah got out of the blue-and-white.
"Is that what you call the man in the that shop?"
"Oh, we call him worse than that on occasion," Delevan said. "What happened after you showed him your P.C., Mr. Mort?"
"He asked for a closer look. I gave him my wallet but he didn't look at the picture. He dropped it on the floor. I asked him what he did that for. He said that was a stupid question. Then I told him to give me back my wallet. I was mad."
"I bet you were." Although, looking at the man's dead face, Delevan thought you'd never guess this man could get mad.
"He laughed. I started to come around the counter and get it. That was when he pulled the gun."
They had been walking toward the shop. Now they stopped. They looked excited rather than fearful. "Gun?" O'Mearah asked, wanting to be sure he had heard right.
"It was under the counter, by the cash register," the man in the blue suit said. Roland remembered the moment when he had almost junked his original plan and gone for the man's weapon. Now he told these gunslingers why he hadn't. He wanted to use them, not get them killed. "I think it was in a docker's clutch."
"A what?" O'Mearah asked.
"A longer pause this time. The man's forehead wrinkled. "I don't know exactly how to say it ... a thing you put your gun into. No one can grab it but you unless they know how to push - "
"A spring-clip!" Delevan said. "Holy shit!" Another exchange of glances between the partners. Neither wanted to be the first to tell this guy that Fat Johnny had probably harvested the cash from his wallet already, shucked his buns out the back door, and tossed it over the wall of the alley behind the building ... but a gun in a spring-clip ... that was different. Robbery was a possible, but all at once a concealed weapons charge looked like a sure thing. Maybe not as good, but a foot in the door.
"What then?" O'Mearah asked.
"Then he told me I didn't have a wallet. He said - '' pause " - that I got my picket pocked - my pocket picked, I mean - on the street and I'd better remember it if I wanted to stay healthy. I remembered seeing a police car parked up the block and I thought you might still be there. So I left."
"Okay," Delevan said. "Me and my partner are going in first, and fast. Give us about a minute - a full minute - just in case there's some trouble. Then come in, but stand by the door. Do you understand?"
"Okay. Let's bust this motherfucker."
The two cops went in. Roland waited thirty seconds and then followed them.
"Fat Johnny" Holden was doing more than protesting. He was bellowing.
"Guy's crazy! Guy comes in here, doesn't even know what he wants, then, when he sees it in the Shooter's Bible, he don't know how many comes in a box, how much they cost, and what he says about me wantin' a closer look at his P.C. is the biggest pile of shit I ever heard, because he don't have no Permit to - " Fat Johnny broke off. "There he is! There's the creep! Right there! I see you, buddy! I see your face! Next time you see mine you're gonna be fuckin sorry! I guarantee you that! I fuckin guarantee - "
"You don't have this man's wallet?" O'Mearah asked.
"You know I don't have his wallet!"
"You mind if we take a look behind this display case?" Delevan countered. "Just to be sure?"
"Jesus-fuckin-jumped-up-Christ-on-a-pony! The case is glass! You see any wallets there?"
"No, not there ... I meant here," Delevan said, moving toward the register. His voice was a cat's purr. At this point a chrome-steel reinforcing strip almost two feet wide ran down the shelves of the case. Delevan looked back at the man in the blue suit, who nodded.
"I want you guys out of here right now," Fat Johnny said. He had lost some of his color. "You come back with a warrant, that's different. But for now, I want you the fuck out. Still a free fuckin country, you kn - hey! hey! HEY, QUIT THAT!"
O'Mearah was peering over the counter.
"That's illegal!" Fat Johnny was howling. "That's fuckin illegal, the Constitution ...my fuckin lawyer ...you get back on your side right now or - "
"I just wanted a closer look at the merchandise," O'Mearah said mildly, "on account of the glass in your display case is so fucking dirty. That's why I looked over. Isn't it, Carl?"
"True shit, buddy," Delevan said solemnly.
"And look what I found."
Roland heard a click, and suddenly the gunslinger in the blue uniform was holding an extremely large gun in his hand.
Fat Johnny, who had finally realized he was the only person in the room who would tell a story that differed from the fairy tale just told by the cop who had taken his Mag, turned sullen.
"I got a permit," he said.
"To carry?" Delevan asked.
"To carry concealed?"
"This gun registered?" O'Mearah asked. "It is, isn't it?"
"Well ... I mighta forgot."
"Might be it's hot, and you forgot that, too."
"Fuck you. I'm calling my lawyer."
Fat Johnny started to turn away. Delevan grabbed him.
"Then there's the question of whether or not you got a permit to conceal a deadly weapon in a spring-clip device," he said in the same soft, purring voice. "That's an interesting question, because so far as I know, the City of New York doesn't issue a permit like that."
The cops were looking at Fat Johnny; Fat Johnny was glaring back at them. So none of them noticed Roland turn the sign hanging in the door from OPEN to CLOSED.
"Maybe we could start to resolve this matter if we could find the gentleman's wallet," O'Mearah said. Satan himself could not have lied with such genial persuasiveness. "Maybe he just dropped it, you know."
"I told you! 1 don't know nothing about the guy's wallet! Guy's out of his mind!"
Roland bent down. "There it is," he remarked. "I can just see it. He's got his foot on it."
This was a lie, but Delevan, whose hand was still on Fat Johnny's shoulder, shoved the man back so rapidly that it was impossible to tell if the man's foot had been there or not.
It had to be now. Roland glided silently toward the counter as the two gunslingers bent to peer under the counter. Because they were standing side by side, this brought their heads close together. O'Mearah still had the gun the clerk had kept under the counter in his right hand.
"Goddam, it's there!" Delevan said excitedly. "I see it!"
Roland snapped a quick glance at the man they had called Fat Johnny, wanting to make sure he was not going to make a play. But he was only standing against the wall - pushing against it, actually, as if wishing he could push himself into it - with his hands hanging at his sides and his eyes great wounded O's. He looked like a man wondering how come his horoscope hadn't told him to beware this day.
No problem there.
"Yeah!" O'Mearah replied gleefully. The two men peered under the counter, hands on uniformed knees. Now O'Mearah's left his knee and he reached out to snag the wallet. "I see it, t - "
Roland took one final step forward. He cupped Delevan's right cheek in one hand, O'Mearah's left cheek in the other, and all of a sudden a day Fat Johnny Holden believed had to have hit rock bottom got a lot worse. The spook in the blue suit brought the cops' heads together hard enough to make a sound like rocks wrapped in felt colliding with each other.
The cops fell in a heap. The man in the gold-rimmed specs stood. He was pointing the .357 Mag at Fat Johnny. The muzzle looked big enough to hold a moon rocket.
"We're not going to have any trouble, are we?" the spook asked in his dead voice.
"No sir," Fat Johnny said at once, "not a bit."
"Stand right there. If your ass loses contact with that wall, you are going to lose contact with life as you have always known it. You understand?"
"Yes sir," Fat Johnny said, "I sure do."
Roland pushed the two cops apart. They were both still alive. That was good. No matter how slow and unobservant they might be, they were gunslingers, men who had tried to help a stranger in trouble. He had no urge to kill his own.
But he had done it before, hadn't he? Yes. Had not Alain himself, one of his sworn brothers, died under Roland's and Cuthbert's own smoking guns?
Without taking his eyes from the clerk, he felt under the counter with the toe of Jack Mort's Gucci loafer. He felt the wallet. He kicked it. It came spinning out from underneath the counter on the clerk's side. Fat Johnny jumped and shrieked like a goosey girl who spies a mouse. His ass actually did lose contact with the wall for a moment, but the gunslinger overlooked it. He had no intention of putting a bullet in this man. He would throw the gun at him and poleaxe him with it before firing a shot. A gun as absurdly big as this would probably bring half the neighborhood.
"Pick it up," the gunslinger said. "Slowly."
Fat Johnny reached down, and as he grasped the wallet, he farted loudly and screamed. With faint amusement the gunslinger realized he had mistaken the sound of his own fart for a gunshot and his time of dying had come.
When Fat Johnny stood up, he was blushing furiously. There was a large wet patch on the front of his pants.
"Put the purse on the counter. Wallet, I mean."
Fat Johnny did it.
"Now the shells. Winchester .45s. And I want to see your hands every second."
"I have to reach into my pocket. For my keys."
As Fat Johnny first unlocked and then slid open the case with the stacked cartons of bullets inside, Roland cogitated.
"Give me four boxes," he said at last. He could not imagine needing so many shells, but the temptation to have them was not to be denied.
Fat Johnny put the boxes on the counter. Roland slid one of them open, still hardly able to believe it wasn't a joke or a sham. But they were bullets, all right, clean, shining, unmarked, never fired, never reloaded. He held one up to the light for a moment, then put it back in the box.
"Now take out a pair of those wristbands."
"Wristbands - ?"
The gunslinger consulted the Mortcypedia. "Handcuffs."
"Mister, I dunno what you want. The cash register's - "
"Do what I say. Now."
Christ, this ain't never gonna to end, Fat Johnny's mind moaned. He opened another section of the counter and brought out a pair of cuffs.
"Key?" Roland asked.
Fat Johnny put the key to the cuffs on the counter. It made a small click. One of the unconscious cops made an abrupt snoring sound and Johnny uttered a wee screech.
"Turn around," the gunslinger said.
"You ain't gonna shoot me, are you? Say you ain't!"
"Ain't," Roland said tonelessly. "As long as you turn around right now. If you don't do that, I will."
Fat Johnny turned around, beginning to blubber. Of course the guy said he wasn't going to, but the smell of mob hit was getting too strong to ignore. He hadn't even been skimming that much. His blubbers became choked wails.
"Please, mister, for my mother's sake don't shoot me. My mother's old. She's blind. She's - "
"She's cursed with a yellowgut son," the gunslinger said dourly. "Wrists together."
Mewling, wet pants sticking to his crotch, Fat Johnny put them together. In a trice the steel bracelets were locked in place. He had no idea how the spook had gotten over or around the counter so quickly. Nor did he want to know.
"Stand there and look at the wall until I tell you it's all right to turn around. If you turn around before then, I'll kill you."
Hope lighted Fat Johnny's mind. Maybe the guy didn't mean to hit him after all. Maybe the guy wasn't crazy, just insane.
"I won't. Swear to God. Swear before all of His saints. Swear before all His angels. Swear before all His arch - "
"I swear if you don't shut up I'll put a slug through your neck," the spook said.
Fat Johnny shut up. It seemed to him that he stood facing the wall for an eternity. In truth, it was about twenty seconds.
The gunslinger knelt, put the clerk's gun on the floor, took a quick look to make sure the maggot was being good, then rolled the other two onto their backs. Both were good and out, but not dangerously hurt, Roland judged. They were both breathing regularly. A little blood trickled from the ear of the one called Delevan, but that was all.
He took another quick glance at the clerk, then unbuckled the gunslingers' gunbelts and stripped them off. Then he took off Mort's blue suitcoat and buckled the belts on himself. They were the wrong guns, but it still felt good to be packing iron again. Damned good. Better than he would have believed.
Two guns. One for Eddie, and one for Odetta ... when and if Odetta was ready for a gun. He put on Jack Mort's coat again, dropped two boxes of shells into the right pocket and two into the left. The coat, formerly impeccable, now bulged out of shape. He picked up the clerk's .357 Mag and put the shells in his pants pocket. Then he tossed the gun across the room. When it hit the floor Fat Johnny jumped, uttered another wee shriek, and squirted a little more warm water in his pants.
The gunslinger stood up and told Fat Johnny to turn around.
When Fat Johnny got another look at the geek in the blue suit and the gold-rimmed glasses, his mouth fell open. For a moment he felt an overwhelming certainty that the man who had come in here had become a ghost when Fat Johnny's back was turned. It seemed to Fat Johnny that through the man he could see a figure much more real, one of those legendary gunfighters they used to make movies and TV shows about when he was a kid: Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Butch Cassidy, one of those guys.
Then his vision cleared and he realized what the crazy nut had done: taken the cops' guns and strapped them around his waist. With the suit and tie the effect should have been ludicrous, but somehow it wasn't.
"The key to the wristbands is on the counter. When the possemen wake up they'll free you."
He took the wallet, opened it, and, incredibly, laid four twenty dollar bills on the glass before stuffing the wallet back into his pocket.
"For the ammunition," Roland said. "I've taken the bullets from your own gun. I intend to throw them away when I leave your store. I think that, with an unloaded gun and no wallet, they may find it difficult to charge you with a crime."
Fat Johnny gulped. For one of the few times in his life he was speechless.
"Now where is the nearest - " Pause. " - nearest drugstore?"
Fat Johnny suddenly understood - or thought he understood - everything. The guy was a junkball, of course. That was the answer. No wonder he was so weird. Probably hopped up to the eyeballs.
"There's one around the corner. Half a block down Forty-Ninth."
"If you're lying, I'll come back and put a bullet in your brain."
"I'm not lying!" Fat Johnny cried. "I swear before God the Father! I swear before all the Saints! I swear on my mother's - "
But then the door was swinging shut. Fat Johnny stood for a moment in utter silence; unable to believe the nut was gone.
Then he walked as rapidly as he could around the counter and to the door. He turned his back to it and fumbled around until he was able to grasp and turn the lock. He fumbled some more until he had managed to shoot the bolt as well.
Only then did he allow himself to slide slowly into a sitting position, gasping and moaning and swearing to God and all His saints and angels that he would go to St. Anthony's this very afternoon, as soon as one of those pigs woke up and let him out of these cuffs, as a matter of fact. He was going to make confession, do an act of contrition, and take communion.
Fat Johnny Holden wanted to get right with God.
This had just been too fucking close.
The setting sun became an arc over the Western Sea . It narrowed to a single bright line which seared Eddie's eyes. Looking at such a light for long could put a permanent burn on your retinas. This was just one of the many interesting facts you learned in school, facts that helped you get a fulfilling job like part-time bartender and an interesting hobby like the full-time search for street-skag and the bucks with which to buy it. Eddie didn't stop looking. He didn't think it was going to matter much longer if he got eye-burned or not.
He didn't beg the witch-woman behind him. First, it wouldn't help. Second, begging would degrade him. He had lived a degrading life; he discovered that he had no wish to degrade himself further in the last few minutes of it. Minutes were all he had left now. That's all there would be before that bright line disappeared and the time of the lobstrosities came.
He had ceased hoping that a miraculous change would bring Odetta back at the last moment, just as he ceased hoping that Detta would recognize that his death would almost certainly strand her in this world forever. He had believed until fifteen minutes ago that she was bluffing; now he knew better.
Well, it'll be better than strangling an inch at a time, he thought, but after seeing the loathsome lobster-things night after night, he really didn't believe that was true. He hoped he would be able to die without screaming. He didn't think this would be possible, but he intended to try.
"They be comin fo you, honky!" Detta screeched. "Be comin any minute now! Goan be the best dinner those daddies evah had!"
It wasn't just a bluff, Odetta wasn't coming back ... and the gunslinger wasn't, either. This last hurt the most, somehow. He had been sure he and the gunslinger had become - well, partners if not brothers - during their trek up the beach, and Roland would at least make an effort to stand by him.
But Roland wasn't coming.
Maybe it isn't that he doesn't want to come. Maybe he can't come. Maybe he's dead, killed by a security guard in a drugstore - shit, that'd be a laugh, the world's last gunslinger killed by a Rent-A-Cop - or maybe run over by a taxi. Maybe he's dead and the door's gone. Maybe that's why she's not running a bluff. Maybe there's no bluff to run.
"Goan be any minute now!" Detta screamed, and then Eddie didn't have to worry about his retinas anymore, because that last bright slice of light disappeared, leaving only afterglow.
He stared at the waves, the bright afterimage slowly fading from his eyes, and waited for the first of the lobstrosities to come rolling and tumbling out of the waves.
Eddie tried to turn his head to avoid the first one, but he was too slow. It ripped off a swatch of his face with one claw, splattering his left eye to jelly and revealing the bright gleam of bone in the twilight as it asked its questions and the Really Bad Woman laughed....
Stop it, Roland commanded himself. Thinking such thoughts is worse than helpless; it is a distraction. And it need not be. There may still be time.
And there still was - then. As Roland strode down Forty-Ninth street in Jack Mort's body, arms swinging, bullshooter's eyes fixed firmly upon the sign which read DRUGS, oblivious to the stares he was getting and the way people swerved to avoid him, the sun was still up in Roland's world. Its lower rim would not touch the place where sea met sky for another fifteen minutes or so. If Eddie's time of agony was to come, it was still ahead.
The gunslinger did not know this for a fact, however; he only knew it was later over there than here and while the sun should still be up over there, the assumption that time in this world and his own ran at the same speed might be a deadly one ... especially for Eddie, who would die the death of unimaginable horror that his mind nevertheless kept trying to imagine.
The urge to look back, to see, was almost insurmountable. Yet he dared not. Must not.
The voice of Cort interrupted the run of his thoughts sternly: Control the things you can control, maggot. Let everything else take a flying fuck at you, and if you must go down, go down with your guns blazing.
But it was hard.
Very hard, sometimes.
He would have seen and understood why people were staring at him and then veering away if he had been a little less savagely fixed on finishing his work in this world as soon as he could and getting the hell out, but it would have changed nothing. He strode so rapidly toward the blue sign where, according to the Mortcypedia, he could get the Keflex stuff his body needed, that Mort's suitcoat flapped out behind him in spite of the heavy lead weighting in each pocket. The gunbelts buckled across his hips were clearly revealed. He wore them not as their owners had, straight and neat, but as he wore his own, criss-cross, low-hung on his hips.
To the shoppers, hoppers, and hawkers on Forty-Ninth, he looked much as he had looked to Fat Johnny: like a desperado.
Roland reached Katz's Drug Store and went in.
The gunslinger had known magicians, enchanters, and alchemists in his time. Some had been clever charlatans, some stupid fakes in whom only people more stupid than they were themselves could believe (but there had never been a shortage of fools in the world, so even the stupid fakes survived; in fact most actually thrived), and a small few actually able to do those black things of which men whisper - these few could call demons and the dead, could kill with a curse or heal with strange potions. One of these men had been a creature the gunslinger believed to be a demon himself, a creature that pretended to be a man and called itself Flagg. He had seen him only briefly, and that had been near the end, as chaos and the final crash approached his land. Hot on his heels had come two young men who looked desperate and yet grim, men named Dennis and Thomas. These three had crossed only a tiny part of what had been a confused and confusing time in the gunslinger's life, but he would never forget seeing Flagg change a man who had irritated him into a howling dog. He remembered that well enough. Then there had been the man in black.
And there had been Marten.
Marten who had seduced his mother while his father was away, Marten who had tried to author Roland's death but had instead authored his early manhood, Marten who, he suspected, he might meet again before he reached the Tower ... or at it.
This is only to say that his experience of magic and magicians had led him to expect something quite different than what he did find in Katz's Drug Store.
He had anticipated a dim, candle-lit room full of bitter fumes, jars of unknown powders and liquids and philters, many covered with a thick layer of dust or spun about with a century's cobwebs. He had expected a man in a cowl, a man who might be dangerous. He saw people moving about inside through the transparent plate-glass windows, as casually as they would in any shop, and believed they must be an illusion.
So for a moment the gunslinger merely stood inside the door, first amazed, then ironically amused. Here he was in a world which struck him dumb with fresh wonders seemingly at every step, a world where carriages flew through the air and paper seemed as cheap as sand. And the newest wonder was simply that for these people, wonder had run out: here, in a place of miracles, he saw only dull faces and plodding bodies.
There were thousands of bottles, there were potions, there were philters, but the Mortcypedia identified most as quack remedies. Here was a salve that was supposed to restore fallen hair but would not; there a cream which promised to erase unsightly spots on the hands and arms but lied. Here were cures for things that needed no curing: things to make your bowels run or stop them up, to make your teeth white and your hair black, things to make your breath smell better as if you could not do that by chewing alder-bark. No magic here; only trivialities - although there was astin, and a few other remedies which sounded as if they might be useful. But for the most part, Roland was appalled by the place. In a place that promised alchemy but dealt more in perfume than potion, was it any wonder that wonder had run out?
But when he consulted the Mortcypedia again, he discovered that the truth of this place was not just in the things he was looking at. The potions that really worked were kept safely out of sight. One could only obtain these if you had a sorcerer's fiat. In this world, such sorcerers were called DOCKTORS, and they wrote their magic formulae on sheets of paper which the Mortcypedia called REXES. The gunslinger didn't know the word. He supposed he could have consulted further on the matter, but didn't bother. He knew what he needed, and a quick look into the Mortcypedia told him where in the store he could get it.
He strode down one of the aisles toward a high counter with the words PRESCRIPTIONS FILLED over it.
The Katz who had opened Katz's Pharmacy and Soda Fountain (Sundries and Notions for Misses and Misters) on 49th Street in 1927 was long in his grave, and his only son looked ready for his own. Although he was only forty-six, he looked twenty years older. He was balding, yellow-skinned, and frail. He knew people said he looked like death on horseback, but none of them understood why.
Take this crotch on the phone now. Mrs. Rathbun. Ranting that she would sue him if he didn't fill her goddamned Valium prescription and right now, RIGHT THIS VERY INSTANT.
What do you think, lady, I'm gonna pour a stream of blue bombers through the phone? If he did, she would at least do him a favor and shut up. She would just tip the receiver up over her mouth and open wide.
The thought raised a ghostly grin which revealed his sallow dentures.
"You don't understand, Mrs. Rathbun," he interrupted after he had listened to a minute - a full minute, timed it with the sweep second-hand of his watch - of her raving. He would like, just once, to be able to say: Stop shouting at me, you stupid crotch! Shout at your DOCTOR! He's the one who hooked you on that shit! Right. Damn quacks gave it out like it was bubblegum, and when they decided to cut off the supply, who got hit with the shit? The sawbones? Oh, no! He did!
"What do you mean, I don't understand?" The voice in his ear was like an angry wasp buzzing in a jar. "I understand I do a lot of business at your tacky drugstore, I understand I've been a loyal customer all these years, I understand - "
"You'll have to speak to - " He glanced at the crotch's Rolodex card through his half-glasses again. " - Dr. Brumhall, Mrs. Rathbun. Your prescription has expired. It's a Federal crime to dispense Valium without a prescription." And it ought to be one to prescribe it in the first place ...unless you're going to give the patient you're prescribing it for your unlisted number with it, that is, he thought.
"It was an oversight!" the woman screamed. Now there was a raw edge of panic in her voice. Eddie would have recognized that tone at once: it was the call of the wild Junk-Bird.
"Then call him and ask him to rectify it," Katz said. "He has my number." Yes. They all had his number. That was precisely the trouble. He looked like a dying man at forty-six because of the fershlugginer doctors.
And all I have to do to guarantee that the last thin edge of profit I am somehow holding onto in this place will melt away is tell a few of these junkie bitches to go fuck themselves. That's all.
"I CAN'T CALL HIM!" she screamed. Her voice drilled painfully into his ear. "HIM AND HIS FAG BOYFRIEND ARE ON VACATION SOMEPLACE AND NO ONE WILL TELL ME WHERE!"
Katz felt acid seeping into his stomach. He had two ulcers, one healed, the other currently bleeding, and women like this bitch were the reason why. He closed his eyes. Thus he did not see his assistant stare at the man in the blue suit and the gold-rimmed glasses approaching the prescription counter, nor did he see Ralph, the fat old security guard (Katz paid the man a pittance but still bitterly resented the expense; his father had never needed a security guard, but his father, God rot him, had lived in a time when New York had been a city instead of a toilet-bowl) suddenly come out of his usual dim daze and reach for the gun on his hip. He heard a woman scream, but thought it was because she had just discovered all the Revlon was on sale, he'd been forced to put the Revlon on sale because that putz Dollentz up the street was undercutting him.
He was thinking of nothing but Dollentz and this bitch on the phone as the gunslinger approached like fated doom, thinking of how wonderful the two of them would look naked save for a coating of honey and staked out over anthills in the burning desert sun. HIS and HERS anthills, wonderful. He was thinking this was the worst it could get, the absolute worst. His father had been so determined that his only son follow in his footsteps that he had refused to pay for anything but a degree in pharmacology, and so he had followed in his father's footsteps, and God rot his father, for this was surely the lowest moment in a life that had been full of low moments, a life which had made him old before his time.
This was the absolute nadir.
Or so he thought with his eyes closed.
"If you come by, Mrs. Rathbun, I could give you a dozen five milligram Valium. Would that be all right?"
"The man sees reason! Thank God, the man sees reason!" And she hung up. Just like that. Not a word of thanks. But when she saw the walking rectum that called itself a doctor again, she would just about fall down and polish the tips of his Gucci loafers with her nose, she would give him a blowjob, she would -
"Mr. Katz," his assistant said in a voice that sounded strangely winded. "I think we have a prob - "
There was another scream. It was followed by the crash of a gun, startling him so badly he thought for a moment his heart was simply going to utter one monstrous clap in his chest and then stop forever.
He opened his eyes and stared into the eyes of the gunslinger. Katz dropped his gaze and saw the pistol in the man's fist. He looked left and saw Ralph the guard nursing one hand and staring at the thief with eyes that seemed to be bugging out of his face. Ralph's own gun, the .38 which he had toted dutifully through eighteen years as a police officer (and which he had only fired from the line of the 23rd Precinct's basement target range; he said he had drawn it twice in the line of duty ... but who knew?), was now a wreck in the corner.
"I want Keflex," the man with the bullshooter eyes said expressionlessly. "I want a lot. Now. And never mind the REX."
For a moment Katz could only look at him, his mouth open, his heart struggling in his chest, his stomach a sickly boiling pot of acid.
Had he thought he had hit rock bottom?
Had he really?
"You don't understand," Katz managed at last. His voice sounded strange to himself, and there was really nothing very odd about that, since his mouth felt like a flannel shirt and his tongue like a strip of cotton batting. "There is no cocaine here. It is not a drug which is dispensed under any cir - "
"I did not say cocaine," the man in the blue suit and the gold-rimmed glasses said. "I said Keflex."
That's what I thought you said, Katz almost told this crazy momser, and then decided that might provoke him. He had heard of drug stores getting held up for speed, for Bennies, for half a dozen other things (including Mrs. Rathbun's precious Valium), but he thought this might be the first penicillin robbery in history.
The voice of his father (God rot the old bastard) told him to stop dithering and gawping and do something.
But he could think of nothing to do.
The man with the gun supplied him with something.
"Move," the man with the gun said. "I'm in a hurry."
"H-How much do you want?" Katz asked. His eyes flicked momentarily over the robber's shoulder, and he saw something he could hardly believe. Not in this city. But it looked like it was happening, anyway. Good luck? Katz actually has some good luck? That you could put in The Guinness Book of World Records!
"I don't know," the man with the gun said. "As much as you can put in a bag. A big bag." And with no warning at all, he whirled and the gun in his fist crashed again. A man bellowed. Plate glass blew onto the sidewalk and the street in a sparkle of shards and splinters. Several passing pedestrians were cut, but none seriously. Inside Katz's drugstore, women (and not a few men) screamed. The burglar alarm began its own hoarse bellow. The customers panicked and stampeded toward and out the door. The man with the gun turned back to Katz and his expression had not changed at all: his face wore the same look of frightening (but not inexhaustable) patience that it had worn from the first. "Do as I say rapidly. I'm in a hurry."
"Yes, sir," he said.
The gunslinger had seen and admired the curved mirror in the upper left corner of the shop while he was still halfway to the counter behind which they kept the powerful potions. The creation of such a curved mirror was beyond the ability of any craftsman in his own world as things were now, although there had been a time when such things - and many of the others he saw in Eddie and Odetta's world - might have been made. He had seen the remains of some in the tunnel under the mountains, and he had seen them in other places as well ... relics as ancient and mysterious as the Druit stones that sometimes stood in the places where demons came.
He also understood the mirror's purpose.
He had been a bit late seeing the guard's move - he was still discovering how disastrously the lenses Mort wore over his eyes restricted his peripheral vision - but he'd still time to turn and shoot the gun out of the guard's hand. It was a shot Roland thought as nothing more than routine, although he'd needed to hurry a little. The guard, however, had a different opinion. Ralph Lennox would swear to the end of his days that the guy had made an impossible shot ... except, maybe, on those old kiddie Western shows like Annie Oakley.
Thanks to the mirror, which had obviously been placed where it was to detect thieves, Roland was quicker dealing with the other one.
He had seen the alchemist's eyes flick up and over his shoulder for a moment, and the gunslinger's own eyes had immediately gone to the mirror. In it he saw a man in a leather jacket moving up the center aisle behind him. There was a long knife in his hand and, no doubt, visions of glory in his head.
The gunslinger turned and fired a single shot, dropping the gun to his hip, aware that he might miss with the first shot because of his unfamiliarity with this weapon, but unwilling to injure any of the customers standing frozen behind the would-be hero. Better to have to shoot twice from the hip, firing slugs that would do the job while travelling on an upward angle that would protect the bystanders than to perhaps kill some lady whose only crime had been picking the wrong day to shop for perfume.
The gun had been well cared for. Its aim was true. Remembering the podgy, underexercised looks of the gunslingers he had taken these weapons from, it seemed that they cared better for the weapons they wore than for the weapons they were. It seemed a strange way to behave, but of course this was a strange world and Roland could not judge; had no time to judge, come to that.
The shot was a good one, chopping through the man's knife at the base of the blade, leaving him holding nothing but the hilt.
Roland stared evenly at the man in the leather coat, and something in his gaze must have made the would-be hero remember a pressing appointment elsewhere, for he whirled, dropped the remains of the knife, and joined the general exodus.
Roland turned back and gave the alchemist his orders. Any more fucking around and blood would flow. When the alchemist turned away, Roland tapped his bony shoulder blade with the barrel of the pistol. The man made a strangled "Yeeek!" sound and turned back at once.
"Not you. You stay here. Let your 'prentice do it."
"Him." The gunslinger gestured impatiently at the aide.
"What should I do, Mr. Katz?" The remains of the aide's teenage acne stood out brilliantly on his white face.
"Do what he says, you putz! Fill the order! Keflex!"
The aide went to one of the shelves behind the counter and picked up a bottle. "Turn it so I may see the words writ upon it," the gunslinger said.
The aide did. Roland couldn't read it; too many letters were not of his alphabet. He consulted the Mortcypedia. Keflex, it confirmed, and Roland realized even checking had been a stupid waste of time. He knew he couldn't read everything in this world, but these men didn't.
"How many pills in that bottle?"
"Well, they're capsules, actually," the aide said nervously. "If it's a cillin drug in pill form you're interested in - "
"Never mind all that. How many doses?"
"Oh. Uh - " The flustered aide looked at the bottle and almost dropped it. "Two hundred."
Roland felt much as he had when he discovered how much ammunition could be purchased in this world for a trivial sum. There had been nine sample bottles of Keflex in the secret compartment of Enrico Balazar's medicine cabinet, thirty-six doses in all, and he had felt well again. If he couldn't kill the infection with two hundred doses, it couldn't be killed.
"Give it to me," the man in the blue suit said.
The aide handed it over.
The gunslinger pushed back the sleeve of his jacket, revealing Jack Mort's Rolex. "I have no money, but this may serve as adequate compensation. I hope so, anyway."
He turned, nodded toward the guard, who was still sitting on the floor by his overturned stool and staring at the gunslinger with wide eyes, and then walked out.
Simple as that.
For five seconds there was no sound in the drugstore but the bray of the alarm, which was loud enough to blank out even the babble of the people on the street.
"God in heaven, Mr. Katz, what do we do now?" the aide whispered.
Katz picked up the watch and hefted it.
Gold. Solid gold.
He couldn't believe it.
He had to believe it.
Some madman walked in off the street, shot a gun out of his guard's hand and a knife out of another's, all in order to obtain the most unlikely drug he could think of.
Maybe sixty dollars' worth of Keflex.
For which he had paid with a $6500 Rolex watch.
"Do?" Katz asked. "Do? The first thing you do is put that wristwatch under the counter. You never saw it." He looked at Ralph. "Neither did you."
"No sir," Ralph agreed immediately. "As long as I get my share when you sell it, I never saw that watch at all."
"They'll shoot him like a dog in the street," Katz said with unmistakable satisfaction.
"Keflex! And the guy didn't even seem to have the sniffles!" the aide said wonderingly.