THE PUSHER CHAPTER 4 THE DRAWING
As the sun's bottom arc first touched the Western Sea in Roland's world, striking bright golden fire across the water to where Eddie lay trussed like a turkey, Officers O'Mearah and Delevan were coming groggily back to consciousness in the world from which Eddie had been taken.
"Let me out of these cuffs, would ya?" Fat Johnny asked in a humble voice.
"Where is he?" O'Mearah asked thickly, and groped for his holster. Gone. Holster, belt, bullets, gun. Gun.
He began thinking of the questions that might be asked by the shits in the Department of Internal Affairs, guys who had learned all they knew about the streets from Jack Webb on Dragnet, and the monetary value of his lost gun suddenly became about as important to him as the population of Ireland or the principal mineral deposits of Peru. He looked at Carl and saw Carl had also been stripped of his weapon.
Oh dear Jesus, bring on the clowns, O'Mearah thought miserably, and when Fat Johnny asked again if O'Mearah would use the key on the counter to unlock the handcuffs, O'Mearah said, "I ought to ... "He paused, because he'd been about to say I ought to shoot you in the guts instead, but he couldn't very well shoot Fat Johnny, could he? The guns here were chained down, and the geek in the gold-rimmed glasses, the geek who had seemed so much like a solid citizen, had taken his and Carl's as easily as O'Mearah himself might take a popgun from a kid.
Instead of finishing, he got the key and unlocked the cuffs. He spotted the .357 Magnum which Roland had kicked into the corner and picked it up. It wouldn't fit in his holster, so he stuffed it in his belt.
"Hey, that's mine!" Fat Johnny bleated.
"Yeah? You want it back?" O'Mearah had to speak slowly. His head really ached. At that moment all he wanted to do was find Mr. Gold-Rimmed Specs and nail him to a handy wall. With dull nails. "I hear they like fat guys like you up in Attica , Johnny. They got a saying: 'The bigger the cushion, the better the pushin.' You sure you want it back?"
Fat Johnny turned away without a word, but not before O'Mearah had seen the tears welling in his eyes and the wet patch on his pants. He felt no pity.
"Where is he?" Carl Delevan asked in a furry, buzzing voice.
"He left," Fat Johnny said dully. "That's all I know. He left. I thought he was gonna kill me."
Delevan was getting slowly to his feet. He felt tacky wetness on the side of his face and looked at his fingers. Blood. Fuck. He groped for his gun and kept groping, groping and hoping, long after his fingers had assured him his gun and holster were gone. O'Mearah merely had a headache; Delevan felt as if someone had used the inside of his head as a nuclear weapons testing site.
"Guy took my gun," he said to O'Mearah. His voice was so slurry the words were almost impossible to make out.
"Join the club."
"He still here?" Delevan took a step toward O'Mearah, tilted to the left as if he were on the deck of a ship in a heavy sea, and then managed to right himself.
"How long?" Delevan looked at Fat Johnny, who didn't answer, perhaps because Fat Johnny, whose back was turned, thought Delevan was still talking to his partner. Delevan, not a man noted for even temper and restrained behavior under the best of circumstances, roared at the man, even though it made his head feel like it was going to crack into a thousand pieces: "I asked you a question, you fat shit! How long has that motherfucker been gone?"
"Five minutes, maybe," Fat Johnny said dully. "Took his shells and your guns." He paused. "Paid for the shells. I couldn't believe it."
Five minutes, Delevan thought. The guy had come in a cab. Sitting in their cruiser and drinking coffee, they had seen him get out of it. It was getting close to rush-hour. Cabs were hard to get at this time of day. Maybe -
"Come on," he said to George O'Mearah. "We still got a chance to collar him. We'll want a gun from this slut here - "
O'Mearah displayed the Magnum. At first Delevan saw two of them, then the image slowly came together.
"Good.'' Delevan was coming around, not all at once but getting there, like a prizefighter who has taken a damned hard one on the chin. "You keep it. I'll use the shotgun under the dash." He started for the door, and this time he did more than reel; he staggered and had to claw the wall to keep his feet.
"You gonna be all right?" O'Mearah asked.
"If we catch him," Delevan said.
They left. Fat Johnny was not as glad about their departure as he had been about that of the spook in the blue suit, but almost. Almost.
Delevan and O'Mearah didn't even have to discuss which direction the perp might have taken when he left the gun-shop. All they had to do was listen to the radio dispatcher.
"Code 19," she said over and over again. Robbery in progress, shots fired. "Code 19, Code 19. Location is 395 West 49th, Katz's Drugs, perpetrator tall, sandy-haired, blue suit - "
Shots fired, Delevan thought, his head aching worse than ever. I wonder if they were fired with George's gun or mine? Or both? If that shitbag killed someone, we're fucked. Unless we get him.
"Blast off," he said curtly to O'Mearah, who didn't need to be told twice. He understood the situation as well as Delevan did. He flipped on the lights and the siren and screamed out into traffic. It was knotting up already, rush-hour starting, and so O'Mearah ran the cruiser with two wheels in the gutter and two on the sidewalk, scattering pedestrians like quail. He clipped the rear fender of a produce truck sliding onto Forty-Ninth. Ahead he could see twinkling glass on the sidewalk. They could both hear the strident bray of the alarm. Pedestrians were sheltering in doorways and behind piles of garbage, but residents of the overhead apartments were staring out eagerly, as if this was a particularly good TV show, or a movie you didn't have to pay to see.
The block was devoid of automobile traffic; cabs and commuters alike had scatted.
"I just hope he's still there," Delevan said, and used a key to unlock the short steel bars across the stock and barrel of the pump shotgun under the dashboard. He pulled it out of its clips. "I just hope that rotten-crotch son of a bitch is still, there."
What neither understood was that, when you were dealing with the gunslinger, it was usually better to leave bad enough alone.
When Roland stepped out of Katz's Drugs, the big bottle of Keflex had joined the cartons of ammo in Jack Mort's coat pockets. He had Carl Delevan's service .38 in his right hand. It felt so damned good to hold a gun in a whole right hand.
He heard the siren and saw the car roaring down the street. Them, he thought. He began to raise the gun and then remembered: they were gunslingers. Gunslingers doing their duty. He turned and went back into the alchemist's shop.
"Hold it, motherfucker!" Delevan screamed. Roland's eyes flew to the convex mirror in time to see one of the gunslingers - the one whose ear had bled - leaning out of the window with a scatter-rifle. As his partner pulled their carriage to a screaming halt that made its rubber wheels smoke on the pavement he jacked a shell into its chamber.
Roland hit the floor.
Katz didn't need any mirror to see what was about to happen. First the crazy man, now the crazy cops. Oy vay.
"Drop!" he screamed to his assistant and to Ralph, the security guard, and then fell to his knees behind the counter without waiting to see if they were doing the same or not.
Then, a split-second before Delevan triggered the shotgun, his assistant dropped on top of him like an eager tackle sacking the quarterback in a football game, driving Katz's head against the floor and breaking his jaw in two places.
Through the sudden pain which went roaring through his head, he heard the shotgun's blast, heard the remaining glass in the windows shatter - along with bottles of aftershave, cologne, perfume, mouthwash, cough syrup, God knew what else. A thousand conflicting smells rose, creating one hell-stench, and before he passed out, Katz again called upon God to rot his father for chaining this curse of a drug store to his ankle in the first place.
Roland saw bottles and boxes fly back in a hurricane of shot. A glass case containing time-pieces disintegrated. Most of the watches inside also disintegrated. The pieces flew backwards in a sparkling cloud.
They can't know if there are still innocent people in here or not, he thought. They can't know and yet they used a scatter-rifle just the same!
It was unforgivable. He felt anger and suppressed it. They were gunslingers. Better to believe their brains had been addled by the head-knocking they'd taken than to believe they'd done such a thing knowingly, without a care for whom they might hurt or kill.
They would expect him to either run or shoot.
Instead, he crept forward, keeping low. He lacerated both hands and knees on shards of broken glass. The pain brought Jack Mort back to consciousness. He was glad Mort was back. He would need him. As for Mort's hands and knees, he didn't care. He could stand the pain easily, and the wounds were being inflicted on the body of a monster who deserved no better.
He reached the area just under what remained of the plate-glass window. He was to the right of the door. He crouched there, body coiled. He bolstered the gun which had been in his right hand.
He would not need it.
"What are you doing, Carl?" O'Mearah screamed. In his head he suddenly saw a Daily News headline: COP KILLS 4 IN WEST SIDE DRUG STORE SNAFU.
Delevan ignored him and pumped a fresh shell into the shotgun. "Let's go get this shit."
It happened exactly as the gunslinger had hoped it would.
Furious at being effortlessly fooled and disarmed by a man who probably looked to them no more dangerous than any of the other lambs on the streets of this seemingly endless city, still groggy from the head-knocking, they rushed in with the idiot who had fired the scatter-rifle in the lead. They ran slightly bent-over, like soldiers charging an enemy position, but that was the only concession they made to the idea that their adversary might still be inside. In their minds, he was already out the back and fleeing down an alley.
So they came crunching over the sidewalk glass, and when the gunslinger with the scatter-rifle pulled open the glassless door and charged in, the gunslinger rose, his hands laced together in a single fist, and brought it down on the nape of Officer Carl Delevan's neck.
While testifying before the investigating committee, Delevan would claim he remembered nothing at all after kneeling down in Clements' and seeing the perp's wallet under the counter. The committee members thought such amnesia was, under the circumstances, pretty damned convenient, and Delevan was lucky to get off with a sixty-day suspension without pay. Roland, however, would have believed, and, under different circumstances (if the fool hadn't discharged a scatter-rifle into a store which might have been full of innocent people, for instance), even sympathized. When you got your skull busted twice in half an hour, a few scrambled brains were to be expected.
As Delevan went down, suddenly as boneless as a sack of oats, Roland took the scatter-rifle from his relaxing hands.
"Hold it!" O'Mearah screamed, his voice a mixture of anger and dismay. He was starting to raise Fat Johnny's Magnum, but it was as Roland had suspected: the gunslingers of this world were pitifully slow. He could have shot O'Mearah three times, but there was no need. He simply swung the scatter-gun in a strong, climbing arc. There was a flat smack as the stock connected with O'Mearah's left cheek, the sound of a baseball bat connecting with a real steamer of a pitch. All at once O'Mearah's entire face from the cheek on down moved two inches to the right. It would take three operations and four steel pegs to put him together again. He stood there for a moment, unbelieving, and then his eyes rolled up the whites. His knees unhinged and he collapsed.
Roland stood in the doorway, oblivious to the approaching sirens. He broke the scatter-rifle, then worked the pump action, ejecting all the fat red cartridges onto Delevan's body. That done, he dropped the gun itself onto Delevan.
"You're a dangerous fool who should be sent west," he told the unconscious man. "You have forgotten the face of your father."
He stepped over the body and walked to the gunslingers' carriage, which was still idling. He climbed in the door on the far side and slid behind the driving wheel.
Can you drive this carriage? he asked the screaming, gibbering thing that was Jack Mort.
He got no coherent answer; Mort just went on screaming. The gunslinger recognized this as hysteria, but one which was not entirely genuine. Jack Mort was having hysterics on purpose, as a way of avoiding any conversation with this weird kidnapper.
Listen, the gunslinger told him. Ionly have time to say this - and everything else - once. My time has grown very short. If you don't answer my question, I am going to put your right thumb into your right eye. I'll jam it in as far as it will go, and then I'll pull your eyeball right out of your head and wipe it on the seat of this carriage like a booger. I can get along with one eye just fine. And, after all, it isn't as if it were mine.
He could no more have lied to Mort than Mort could have lied to him; the nature of their relationship was cold and reluctant on both their parts, yet it was much more intimate than the most passionate act of sexual intercourse would have been. This was, after all, not a joining of bodies but the ultimate meeting of minds.
He meant exactly what he said.
And Mort knew it.
The hysterics stopped abruptly. Ican drive it, Mort said. It was the first sensible communication Roland had gotten from Mort since he had arrived inside the man's head.
Then do it.
Where do you want me to go?
Do you know a place called "The Village"?
Where in the Village?
For now, just drive.
We'll be able to go faster if I use the siren.
Fine. Turn it on. Those flashing lights, too.
For the first time since he had seized control of him, Roland pulled back a little and allowed Mort to take over. When Mort's head turned to inspect the dashboard of Delevan's and O'Mearah's blue-and-white, Roland watched it turn but did not initiate the action. But if he had been a physical being instead of only his own disembodied ka, he would have been standing on the balls of his feet, ready to leap forward and take control again at the slightest sign of mutiny.
There was none, though. This man had killed and maimed God knew how many innocent people, but he had no intention of losing one of his own precious eyes. He flicked switches, pulled a lever, and suddenly they were in motion. The siren whined and the gunslinger saw red pulses of light kicking off the front of the carriage.
Drive fast, the gunslinger commanded grimly.
In spite of lights and siren and Jack Mort beating steadily on the horn, it took them twenty minutes to reach Greenwich Village in rush-hour traffic. In the gunslinger's world Eddie Dean's hopes were crumbling like dykes in a downpour. Soon they would collapse altogether.
The sea had eaten half the sun.
Well, Jack Mort said, we're here. He was telling the truth (there was no way he could lie) although to Roland everything here looked just as it had everywhere else: a choke of buildings, people, and carriages. The carriages choked not only the streets but the air itself - with their endless clamor and their noxious fumes. It came, he supposed, from whatever fuel it was they burned. It was a wonder these people could live at all, or the women give birth to children that were not monsters, like the Slow Mutants under the mountains.
Now where do we go? Mort was asking.
This would be the hard part. The gunslinger got ready - as ready as he could, at any rate.
Turn off the siren and the lights. Stop by the sidewalk.
Mort pulled the cruiser up beside a fire hydrant.
There are underground railways in this city, the gunslinger said. Iwant you to take me to a station where these trains stop to let passengers on and off.
Which one? Mort asked. The thought was tinged with the mental color of panic. Mort could hide nothing from Roland, and Roland nothing from Mort - not, at least, for very long.
Some years ago - I don't know how many - you pushed a young woman in front of a train in one of those underground stations. That's the one I want you to take me to.
There ensued a short, violent struggle. The gunslinger won, but it was a surprisingly hard go. In his way, Jack Mort was as divided as Odetta. He was not a schizophrenic as she was; he knew well enough what he did from time to time. But he kept his secret self - the part of him that was The Pusher - as carefully locked away as an embezzler might lock away his secret skim.
Take me there, you bastard, the gunslinger repeated. He slowly raised the thumb toward Mort's right eye again. It was less than half an inch away and still moving when he gave in.
Mort's right hand moved the lever by the wheel again and they rolled toward the Christopher Street station where that fabled A-train had cut off the legs of a woman named Odetta Holmes some three years before.
"Well looky there," foot patrolman Andrew Staunton said to his partner, Norris Weaver, as Delevan's and O'Mearah's blue-and-white came to a stop halfway down the block. There were no parking spaces, and the driver made no effort to find one. He simply double-parked and let the clog of traffic behind him inch its laborious way through the loophole remaining, like a trickle of blood trying to serve a heart hopelessly clogged with cholesterol.
Weaver checked the numbers on the side by the right front headlight. 744. Yes, that was the number they'd gotten from dispatch, all right.
The flashers were on and everything looked kosher - until the door opened and the driver stepped out. He was wearing a blue suit, all right, but not the kind that came with gold buttons and a silver badge. His shoes weren't police issue either, unless Staunton and Weaver had missed a memo notifying officers that duty footwear would henceforth come from Gucci. That didn't seem likely. What seemed likely was that this was the creep who had hijacked the cops uptown. He got out oblivious to the honkings and cries of protest from the drivers trying to get by him.
"Goddam," Andy Staunton breathed.
Approach with extreme caution, the dispatcher had said. This man is armed and extremely dangerous. Dispatchers usually sounded like the most bored human beings on earth - for all Andy Staunton knew, they were - and so the almost awed emphasis this one put on the word extremely had stuck to his consciousness like a burr.
He drew his weapon for the first time in his four years on the force, and glanced at Weaver. Weaver had also drawn. The two of them were standing outside a deli about thirty feet from the IRT stairway. They had known each other long enough to be attuned to each other in a way only cops and professional soldiers can be. Without a word between them they stepped back into the doorway of the delicatessen, weapons pointing upward.
"Subway?" Weaver asked.
"Yeah." Andy took one quick glance at the entrance. Rush hour was in high gear now, and the subway stairs were clogged with people heading for their trains. "We've got to take him right now, before he can get close to the crowd."
"Let's do it."
They stepped out of the doorway in perfect tandem, gunslingers Roland would have recognized at once as adversaries much more dangerous than the first two. They were younger, for one thing; and although he didn't know it, some unknown dispatcher had labeled him extremely dangerous, and to Andy Staunton and Norris Weaver, that made him the equivalent of a rogue tiger. Ifhe doesn't stop the second I tell him to, he's dead, Andy thought.
"Hold it!" he screamed, dropping into a crouch with his gun held out before him in both hands. Beside him, Weaver had done the same. "Police! Get your hands on your he - "
That was as far as he got before the guy ran for the IRT stairway. He moved with a sudden speed that was uncanny. Nevertheless, Andy Staunton was wired, all his dials turned up to the max. He swivelled on his heels, feeling a cloak of emotionless coldness drop over him - Roland would have known this, too. He had felt it many times in similar situations.
Andy led the running figure slightly, then squeezed the trigger of his .38. He saw the man in the blue suit spin around, trying to keep his feet. Then he fell to the pavement, as commuters who, only seconds ago, had been concentrating on nothing but surviving another trip home on the subway, screamed and scattered like quail. They had discovered there was more to survive than the uptown train this afternoon.
"Holy fuck, partner," Norris Wheaton breathed, "you blew him away."
"I know," Andy said. His voice didn't falter. The gunslinger would have admired it. "Let's go see who he was."
I'm dead! Jack Mort was screaming. I'm dead, you've gotten me killed, I'm dead, I'm -
No, the gunslinger responded. Through slitted eyes he saw the cops approaching, guns still out. Younger and faster than the ones who had been parked near the gunshop. Faster. And at least one of them was a hell of a shot. Mort - and Roland along with him - should have been dead, dying, or seriously wounded. Andy Staunton had shot to kill, and his bullet had drilled through the left lapel of Mort's suit-coat. It had likewise punched through the pocket of Mort's Arrow shirt - but that was as far as it went. The life of both men, the one inside and the one outside, were saved by Mort's lighter.
Mort didn't smoke, but his boss - whose job Mort had confidently expected to have himself by this time next year - did. Accordingly, Mort had bought a two hundred dollar silver lighter at Dunhill's. He did not light every cigarette Mr. Framingham stuck in his gob when the two of them were together - that would have made him look too much like an ass-kisser. Just once in awhile ... and usually when someone even higher up was present, someone who could appreciate a.) Jack Mort's quiet courtesy, and b.) Jack Mort's good taste.
Do-Bees covered all the bases.
This time covering the bases saved his life and Roland's. Staunton's bullet smashed the silver lighter instead of Mort's heart (which was generic; Mort's passion for brand names - good brand names - stopped mercifully at the skin).
He was hurt just the same, of course. When you were hit by a heavy-caliber slug, there was no such thing as a free ride. The lighter was driven against his chest hard enough to create a hollow. It flattened and then smashed apart, digging shallow grooves in Mort's skin; one sliver of shrapnel sliced Mort's left nipple almost in two. The hot slug also ignited the lighter's fluid-soaked batting. Nevertheless, the gunslinger lay still as they approached. The one who had not shot him was telling people to stay back, just stay back, goddammit.
I'm on fire! Mort shrieked. I'm on fire, put it out! Put it out! PUT IT OWWWWWW -
The gunslinger lay still, listening to the grit of the gunslingers' shoes on the pavement, ignoring Mort's shrieks, trying to ignore the coal suddenly glowing against his chest and the smell of frying flesh.
A foot slid beneath his ribcage, and when it lifted, the gunslinger allowed himself to roll bonelessly onto his back. Jack Mort's eyes were open. His face was slack. In spite of the shattered, burning remains of the lighter, there was no sign of the man screaming inside.
"God," someone muttered, "did you shoot him with a tracer, man?"
Smoke was rising from the hole in the lapel of Mort's coat in a neat little stream. It was escaping around the edge of the lapel in more untidy blotches. The cops could smell burning flesh as the wadding in the smashed lighter, soaked with Ronson lighter fluid, really began to blaze.
Andy Staunton, who had performed faultlessly thus far, now made his only mistake, one for which Cort would have sent him home with a fat ear in spite of his earlier admirable performance, telling him one mistake was all it took, took to get a man killed most of the time. Staunton had been able to shoot the guy - a thing no cop really knows if he can do until he's faced with a situation where he must find out - but the idea that his bullet had somehow set the guy on fire filled him with unreasoning horror. So he bent forward to put it out without thinking, and the gunslinger's feet smashed into his belly before he had time to do more than register the blaze of awareness in eyes he would have sworn were dead.
Staunton went flailing back into his partner. His pistol flew from his hand. Wheaton held onto his own, but by the time he had gotten clear of Staunton , he heard a shot and his gun was magically gone. The hand it had been in felt numb, as if it had been struck with a very large hammer.
The guy in the blue suit got up, looked at them for a moment and said, "You're good. Better than the others. So let me advise you. Don't follow. This is almost over. I don't want to have to kill you."
Then he whirled and ran for the subway stairs.
The stairs were choked with people who had reversed their downward course when the yelling and shooting started, obsessed with that morbid and somehow unique New Yorkers' curiosity to see how bad, how many, how much blood spilled on the dirty concrete. Yet somehow they still found a way to shrink back from the man in the blue suit who came plunging down the stairs. It wasn't much wonder. He was holding a gun, and another was strapped around his waist.
Also, he appeared to be on fire.
Roland ignored Mort's increasing shrieks of pain as his shirt, undershirt, and jacket began to burn more briskly, as the silver of the lighter began to melt and run down his midsection to his belly in burning tracks.
He could smell dirty moving air, could hear the roar of an oncoming train.
This was almost the time; the moment had almost come around, the moment when he would draw the three or lose it all. For the second time he seemed to feel worlds tremble and reel about his head.
He reached the platform level and tossed the .38 aside. He unbuckled Jack Mort's pants and pushed them casually down, revealing a pair of white underdrawers like a whore's panties. He had no time to reflect on this oddity. If he did not move fast, he could stop worrying about burning alive; the bullets he had purchased would get hot enough to go off and this body would simply explode.
The gunslinger stuffed the boxes of bullets into the underdrawers, took out the bottle of Keflex, and did the same with it. Now the underdrawers bulged grotesquely. He stripped off the flaming suit-jacket, but made no effort to take off the flaming shirt.
He could hear the train roaring toward the platform, could see its light. He had no way of knowing it was a train which kept the same route as the one which had run over Odetta, but all the same he did know. In matters of the Tower, fate became a thing as merciful as the lighter which had saved his life and as painful as the fire the miracle had ignited. Like the wheels of the oncoming train, it followed a course both logical and crushingly brutal, a course against which only steel and sweetness could stand.
He hoicked up Mort's pants and began to run again, barely aware of the people scattering out of his way. As more air fed the fire, first his shirt collar and then his hair began to burn. The heavy boxes in Mort's underdrawers slammed against his balls again and again, mashing them; excruciating pain rose into his gut. He jumped the turnstile, a man who was becoming a meteor. Put me out! Mort screamed. Put me out before I burn up!
You ought to burn, the gunslinger thought grimly. What's going to happen to you is more merciful than you deserve.
What do you mean? WHAT DO YOU MEAN?
The gunslinger didn't answer; in fact turned him off entirely as he pelted toward the edge of the platform. He felt one of the boxes of shells trying to slip out of Mort's ridiculous panties and held it with one hand.
He sent out every bit of his mental force toward the Lady. He had no idea if such a telepathic command could be heard, or if the hearer could be compelled to obey, but he sent it just the same, a swift, sharp arrow of thought:
THE DOOR! LOOK THROUGH THE DOOR! NOW! NOW!
Train-thunder filled the world. A woman screamed "Oh my God he's going to jump!" A hand slapped at his shoulder, trying to pull him back. Then Roland pushed the body of Jack Mort past the yellow warning line and dove over the edge of the platform. He fell into the path of the oncoming train with his hands cupping his crotch, holding the luggage he would bring back ... if, that was, he was fast enough to get out of Mort at just the right instant. As he fell he called her - them -??again:
ODETTA HOLMES! DETTAWALKER! LOOK NOW!
As he called, as the train bore down upon him, its wheels turning with merciless silver speed, the gunslinger finally turned his head and looked back through the door.
And directly into her face.
Both of them, I see both of them at the same time -
NOO - ! Mort shrieked, and in the last split second before the train ran him down, cutting him in two not above the knees but at the waist, Roland lunged at the door ... and through it.
Jack Mort died alone.
The boxes of ammunition and the bottle of pills appeared beside Roland's physical body. His hands clenched spasmodically at them, then relaxed. The gunslinger forced himself up, aware that he was wearing his sick, throbbing body again, aware that Eddie Dean was screaming, aware that Odetta was shrieking in two voices. He looked - only for a moment - and saw exactly what he had heard: not one woman but two. Both were legless, both dark-skinned, both women of great beauty. Nonetheless, one of them was a hag, her interior ugliness not hidden by her outer beauty but enhanced by it.
Roland stared at these twins who were not really twins at all but negative and positive images of the same woman. He stared with a feverish, hypnotic intensity.
Then Eddie screamed again and the gunslinger saw the lobstrosities tumbling out of the waves and strutting toward the place where Detta had left him, trussed and helpless.
The sun was down. Darkness had come.
Detta saw herself in the doorway, saw herself through her eyes, saw herself through the gunslinger's eyes, and her sense of dislocation was as sudden as Eddie's, but much more violent.
She was here.
She was there, in the gunslinger's eyes.
She heard the oncoming train.
Odetta! she screamed, suddenly understanding everything: what she was and when it had happened.
Detta! she screamed, suddenly understanding everything: what she was and who had done it.
A brief sensation of being turned inside out ... and then a much more agonizing one.
She was being torn apart.
Roland shambled down the short slope to the place where Eddie lay. He moved like a man who has lost his bones. One of the lobster-things clawed at Eddie's face. Eddie screamed. The gunslinger booted it away. He bent rustily and grabbed Eddie's arms. He began to drag him backwards, but it was too late, his strength was too little, they were going to get Eddie, hell, both of them -
Eddie screamed again as one of the lobstrosities asked him did-a-chick? and then tore a swatch of his pants and a chunk of meat to go along with it. Eddie tried another scream, but nothing came out but a choked gargle. He was strangling in Detta's knots.
The things were all around them, closing in, claws clicking eagerly. The gunslinger threw the last of his strength into a final yank ... and tumbled backwards. He heard them coming, them with their hellish questions and clicking claws. Maybe it wasn't so bad, he thought. He had staked everything, and that was all he had lost.
The thunder of his own guns filled him with stupid wonder.
The two women lay face to face, bodies raised like snakes about to strike, fingers with identical prints locked around throats marked with identical lines.
The woman was trying to kill her but the woman was not real, no more than the girl had been real; she was a dream created by a falling brick ...but now the dream was real, the dream was clawing her throat and trying to kill her as the gunslinger tried to save his friend. The dream-made-real was screeching obscenities and raining hot spittle into her face. "I took the blue plate because that woman landed me in the hospital and besides Ididn't get no forspecial plate an I bust it cause it needed bustin an when I saw a white boy I could bust why I bust him too I hurt the white boys because they needed hurtin I stole from the stores that only sell things that are forspecial to whitefolks while the brothers and sisters go hungry in Harlem and the rats eat their babies, I'm the one, you bitch, I'm the one, I ...I ...I!
Kill her, Odetta thought, and knew she could not.
She could no more kill the hag and survive than the hag could kill her and walk away. They could choke each other to death while Eddie and the
(Roland)/(Really Bad Man)
one who had called them were eaten alive down there by the edge of the water. That would finish all of them. Or she could
Odetta let go of Detta's throat, ignored the fierce hands throttling her, crushing her windpipe. Instead of using her own hands to choke, she used them to embrace the other.
"No, you bitch!" Detta screamed, but that scream was infinitely complex, both hateful and grateful. "N o, you leave me lone, you jes leave me - "
Odetta had no voice with which to reply. As Roland kicked the first attacking lobstrosity away and as the second moved in to lunch on a chunk of Eddie's arm, she could only whisper in the witch-woman's ear: "I love you."
For a moment the hands tightened into a killing noose ... and then loosened.
She was being turned inside out again ... and then, suddenly, blessedly, she was whole. For the first time since a man named Jack Mort had dropped a brick on the head of a child who was only there to be hit because a white taxi driver had taken one look and driven away (and had not her father, in his pride, refused to try again for fear of a second refusal), she was whole. She was Odetta Holmes, but the other - ?
Hurry up, bitch! Detta yelled ... but it was still her own voice; she and Detta had merged. She had been one; she had been two; now the gunslinger had drawn a third from her. Hurry up or they gonna be dinner!
She looked at the shells. There was no time to use them; by the time she had his guns reloaded it would be over. She could only hope.
But is there anything else? she asked herself, and drew.
And suddenly her brown hands were full of thunder.
Eddie saw one of the lobstrosities loom over his face, its rugose eyes dead yet hideously sparkling with hideous life. Its claws descended toward his face.
Dod-a - , it began, and then it was smashed backward in chunks and splatters.
Roland saw one skitter toward his flailing left hand and thought There goes the other hand ... and then the lobstrosity was a splatter of shell and green guts flying into the dark air.
He twisted around and saw a woman whose beauty was heart stopping, whose fury was heart-freezing. "COME ON, MAHFAHS!" she screamed. "YOU JUST COME ON! YOU JUST COME FOR EM! I'M GONNA BLOW YO EYES RIGHT BACK THROUGH YO FUCKIN ASSHOLES!"
She blasted a third one that was crawling rapidly between Eddie's spraddled legs, meaning to eat on him and neuter him at the same time. It flew like a tiddly-wink.
Roland had suspected they had some rudimentary intelligence; now he saw the proof.
The others were retreating.
The hammer of one revolver fell on a dud, and then she blew one of the retreating monsters into gobbets.
The others ran back toward the water even faster. It seemed they had lost their appetite.
Meanwhile, Eddie was strangling.
Roland fumbled at the rope digging a deep furrow into his neck. He could see Eddie's face melting slowly from purple to black. Eddie's strugglings were weakening.
Then his hands were pushed away by stronger ones.
"I'll take care of it. "There was a knife in her hand ... his knife.
Take care of what? he thought as his consciousness faded. What is it you'll take care of, now that we're both at your mercy?
"Who are you?" he husked, as darkness deeper than night began to take him down.
''I am three women,'' he heard her say, and it was as if she were speaking to him from the top of a deep well into which he was falling. "I who was; I who had no right to be but was; I am the woman who you have saved.
"I thank you, gunslinger."
She kissed him, he knew that, but for a long time after, Roland knew only darkness.
For the first time in what seemed like a thousand years, the gunslinger was not thinking about the Dark Tower . He thought only about the deer which had come down to the pool in the woodland clearing.
He sighted over the fallen log with his left hand.
Meat, he thought, and fired as saliva squirted warmly into his mouth.
Missed, he thought in the millisecond following the shot. It's gone. All my skill ...gone.
The deer fell dead at the edge of the pool.
Soon the Tower would fill him again, but now he only blessed what gods there were that his aim was still true, and thought of meat, and meat, and meat. He reholstered the gun - the only one he wore now - and climbed over the log behind which he had patiently lain as late afternoon drew down to dusk, waiting for something big enough to eat to come to the pool.
Iam getting well, he thought with some amazement as he drew his knife. Iam really getting well.
He didn't see the woman standing behind him, watching with assessing brown eyes.
They had eaten nothing but lobster-meat and had drunk nothing but brackish stream water for six days following the confrontation at the end of the beach. Roland remembered very little of that time; he had been raving, delirious. He sometimes called Eddie Alain, sometimes Cuthbert, and always he called the woman Susan.
His fever had abated little by little, and they began the laborious trek into the hills. Eddie pushed the woman in the chair some of the time, and sometimes Roland rode in it while Eddie carried her piggyback, her arms locked loosely around his neck. Most of the time the way made it impossible for either to ride, and that made the going slow. Roland knew how exhausted Eddie was. The woman knew, too, but Eddie never complained.
They had food; during the days when Roland lay between life and death, smoking with fever, reeling and railing of times long past and people long dead, Eddie and the woman killed again and again and again. Bye and bye the lobstrosities began staying away from their part of the beach, but by then they had plenty of meat, and when they at last got into an area where weeds and slutgrass grew, all three of them ate compulsively of it. They were starved for greens, any greens. And, little by little, the sores on their skins began to fade. Some of the grass was bitter, some sweet, but they ate no matter what the taste ... except once.
The gunslinger had wakened from a tired doze and seen the woman yanking at a handful of grass he recognized all too well.
"No! Not that!" he croaked. "Never that! Mark it, and remember it! Never that!"
She looked at him for a long moment and put it aside without asking for an explanation.
The gunslinger lay back, cold with the closeness of it. Some of the other grasses might kill them, but what the woman had pulled would damn her. It had been devil-weed.
The Keflex had brought on explosions in his bowels, and he knew Eddie had been worried about that, but eating the grasses had controlled it.
Eventually they had reached real woods, and the sound of the Western Sea diminished to a dull drone they heard only when the wind was right.
And now ... meat.
The gunslinger reached the deer and tried to gut it with the knife held between the third and fourth fingers of his right hand. No good. His fingers weren't strong enough. He switched the knife to his stupid hand, and managed a clumsy cut from the deer's groin to its chest. The knife let out the steaming blood before it could congeal in the meat and spoil it ... but it was still a bad cut. A puking child could have done better.
You are going to learn to be smart, he told his left hand, and prepared to cut again, deeper.
Two brown hands closed over his one and took the knife.
Roland looked around.
"I'll do it," Susannah said.
"Have you ever?"
"No, but you'll tell me how."
"Meat," she said, and smiled at him.
"Yes," he said, and smiled back. "Meat."
"What's happening?" Eddie called. "I heard a shot."
"Thanksgiving in the making!" she called back. "Come help!"
Later they ate like two kings and a queen, and as the gunslinger drowsed toward sleep, looking up at the stars, feeling the clean coolness in this upland air, he thought that this was the closest he had come to contentment in too many years to count.
He slept. And dreamed.
It was the Tower. The Dark Tower .
It stood on the horizon of a vast plain the color of blood in the violent setting of a dying sun. He couldn't see the stairs which spiraled up and up and up within its brick shell, but he could see the windows which spiraled up along that staircase's way, and saw the ghosts of all the people he had ever known pass through them. Up and up they marched, and an arid wind brought him the sound of voices calling his name.
"I come," he whispered, and awoke sitting bolt upright, sweating and shivering as if the fever still held his flesh.
"Bad. Good. Dark."
They looked toward Susannah, but she slept on, undisturbed. Once there had been a woman named Odetta Susannah Holmes; later, there had been another named Detta Susannah Walker. Now there was a third: Susannah Dean.
Roland loved her because she would fight and never give in; he feared for her because he knew he would sacrifice her - Eddie as well - without a question or a look back.
For the Tower.
The God-Damned Tower .
"Time for a pill," Eddie said.
"I don't want them anymore."
"Take it and shut up."
Roland swallowed it with cold stream-water from one of the skins, then burped. He didn't mind. It was a meaty burp.
Eddie asked, "Do you know where we're going?"
"To the Tower."
"Well, yeah," Eddie said, "but that's like me being some ignoramus from Texas without a road-map saying he's going to Achin' Asshole, Alaska . Where is it? Which direction?"
"Bring me my purse."
Eddie did. Susannah stirred and Eddie paused, his face red planes and black shadows in the dying embers of the campfire. When she rested easy again, he came back to Roland.
Roland rummaged in the purse, heavy now with shells from that other world. It was short enough work to find what he wanted in what remained of his life.
The jawbone of the man in black.
"We'll stay here awhile," he said, "and I'll get well."
"You'll know when you are?"
Roland smiled a little. The shakes were abating, the sweat drying in the cool night breeze. But still, in his mind, he saw those figures, those knights and friends and lovers and enemies of old, circling up and up, seen briefly in those windows and then gone; he saw the shadow of the Tower in which they were pent struck black and long across a plain of blood and death and merciless trial.
"I won't," he said, and nodded at Susannah. "But she will."
Roland held up the jawbone of Walter. "This once spoke."
He looked at Eddie.
"It will speak again."
"It's dangerous." Eddie's voice was flat.
"Not just to you."
"I love her, man."
"If you hurt her - "
"I'll do what I need to," the gunslinger said.
"And we don't matter? Is that it?"
"I love you both." The gunslinger looked at Eddie, and Eddie saw that Roland's cheeks glistened red in what remained of the campfire's embered dying glow. He was weeping.
"That doesn't answer the question. You'll go on, won't you?"
"To the very end."
"Yes. To the very end."
"No matter what." Eddie looked at him with love and hate and all the aching dearness of one man's dying hopeless helpless reach for another man's mind and will and need.
The wind made the trees moan.
"You sound like Henry, man." Eddie had begun to cry himself. He didn't want to. He hated to cry. "He had a tower, too, only it wasn't dark. Remember me telling you about Henry's tower? We were brothers, and I guess we were gunslingers. We had this White Tower, and he asked me to go after it with him the only way he could ask, so I saddled up, because he was my brother, you dig it? We got there, too. Found the White Tower . But it was poison. It killed him. It would have killed me. You saw me. You saved more than my life. You saved my fuckin soul."
Eddie held Roland and kissed his cheek. Tasted his tears.
"So what? Saddle up again? Go on and meet the man again?"
The gunslinger said not a word.
"I mean, we haven't seen many people, but I know they're up ahead, and whenever there's a Tower involved, there's a man. You wait for the man because you gotta meet the man, and in the end money talks and bullshit walks, or maybe here it's bullets instead of bucks that do the talking. So is that it? Saddle up? Go to meet the man? Because if it's just a replay of the same old shitstorm, you two should have left me for the lobsters." Eddie looked at him with dark-ringed eyes. "I been dirty, man. If I found out anything, it's that I don't want to die dirty."
"It's not the same."
"No? You gonna tell me you're not hooked?"
Roland said nothing.
"Who's gonna come through some magic door and save you, man? Do you know? I do. No one. You drew all you could draw. Only thing you can draw from now on is a fucking gun, because that's all you got left. Just like Balazar."
Roland said nothing.
"You want to know the only thing my brother ever had to teach me?" His voice was hitching and thick with tears.
"Yes," the gunslinger said. He leaned forward, his eyes intent upon Eddie's eyes.
"He taught me if you kill what you love, you're damned."
"I am damned already," Roland said calmly. "But perhaps even the damned may be saved."
"Are you going to get all of us killed?"
Roland said nothing.
Eddie seized the rags of Roland's shirt. "Are you going to get her killed?"
"We all die in time," the gunslinger said. "It's not just the world that moves on." He looked squarely at Eddie, his faded blue eyes almost the color of slate in this light. "But we will be magnificent." He paused. "There's more than a world to win, Eddie. I would not risk you and her - I would not have allowed the boy to die - if that was all there was."
"What are you talking about?"
"Everything there is," the gunslinger said calmly. "We are going to go, Eddie. We are going to fight. We are going to be hurt. And in the end we will stand."
Now it was Eddie who said nothing. He could think of nothing to say.
Roland gently grasped Eddie's arm. "Even the damned love," he said.
Eddie eventually slept beside Susannah, the third Roland had drawn to make a new three, but Roland sat awake and listened to voices in the night while the wind dried the tears on his cheeks.
He would come to the Dark Tower and there he would sing their names; there he would sing their names; there he would sing all their names.
The sun stained the east a dusky rose, and at last Roland, no longer the last gunslinger but one of the last three, slept and dreamed his angry dreams through which there ran only that one soothing blue thread:
There I will sing all their names!
This completes the second of six or seven books which make up a long tale called TheDarkTower. The third, The Waste Lands, details half of the quest of Roland, Eddie, and Susannah to reach the Tower; the fourth, Wizard and Glass, tells of an enchantment and a seduction but mostly of those things which befell Roland before his readers first met him upon the trail of the man in black.
My surprise at the acceptance of the first volume of this work, which is not at all like the stories for which I am best known, is exceeded only by my gratitude to those who have read it and liked it. This work seems to be my own Tower, you know; these people haunt me, Roland most of all. Do I really know what that Tower is, and what awaits Roland there (should he reach it, and you must prepare yourself for the very real possibility that he will not be the one to do so)? Yes ... and no. All I know is that the tale has called to me again and again over a period of seventeen years. This longer second volume, still leaves many questions unanswered and the story's climax far in the future, but I feel that it is a much more complete volume than the first.
And the Tower is closer.
December 1st, 1986