PRISONER CHAPTER 4 THE TOWER
Eddie Dean was sitting in a chair. The chair was in a small white room. It was the only chair in the small white room. The small white room was crowded. The small white room was smoky. Eddie was in his underpants. Eddie wanted a cigarette. The other six锟?no, seven锟?men in the small white room were dressed. The other men were standing around him, enclosing him. Three锟?no, four锟?of them were smoking cigarettes.
Eddie wanted to jitter and jive. Eddie wanted to hop and bop.
Eddie sat still, relaxed, looking at the men around him with amused interest, as if he wasn't going crazy for a fix, as if he wasn't going crazy from simple claustrophobia.
The other in his mind was the reason why. He had been terrified of the other at first. Now he thanked God the other was there.
The other might be sick, dying even, but there was enough steel left in his spine for him to have some left to loan this scared twenty-one-year-old junkie.
"That is a very interesting red mark on your chest," one of the Customs men said. A cigarette hung from the corner of his mouth. There was a pack in his shirt pocket. Eddie felt as if he could take about five of the cigarettes in that pack, line his mouth with them from corner to corner, light them all, inhale deeply, and be easier in his mind. "It looks like a stripe. It looks like you had something taped there, Eddie, and all at once decided it would be a good idea to rip it off and get rid of it."
"I picked up an allergy in the Bahamas ," Eddie said. "I told you that. I mean, we've been through all of this several times. I'm trying to keep my sense of humor, but it's getting harder all the time."
"Fuck your sense of humor," another said savagely, and Eddie recognized that tone. It was the way he himself sounded when he'd spent half a night in the cold waiting for the man and the man didn't come. Because these guys were junkies, too. The only difference was guys like him and Henry were their junk.
"What about that hole in your gut? Where'd that come from, Eddie? Publishers' Clearing House?" A third agent was pointing at the spot where Eddie had poked himself. It had finally stopped dribbling but there was still a dark purple bubble there which looked more than ready to break open at the slightest urging.
Eddie indicated the red band where the tape had been. "It itches," he said. This was no lie. "I fell asleep on the plane锟?check the stew if you don't believe me锟?"
"Why wouldn't we believe you, Eddie?"
"I don't know," Eddie said. "Do you usually get big drug smugglers who snooze on their way in?" He paused, gave them a second to think about it, then held out his hands. Some of the nails were ragged. Others were jagged. When you went cool turkey, he had discovered, your nails suddenly became your favorite munchies. "I've been pretty good about not scratching, but I must have dug myself a damned good one while I was sleeping."
"Or while you were on the nod. That could be a needle-mark." Eddie could see they both knew better. You shot yourself up that close to the solar plexus, which was the nervous system's switchboard, you weren't ever going to shoot yourself up again.
"Give me a break," Eddie said. "You were in my face so close to look at my pupils I thought you were going to soul-kiss me. You know I wasn't on the nod."
The third Customs agent looked disgusted. "For an innocent lambikins, you know an awful lot about dope, Eddie."
"What I didn't pick up on Miami Vice I got from The Readers' Digest. Now tell me the truth锟?how many times are we going to go through this?"
A fourth agent held up a small plastic Baggie. In it were several fibers.
"These are filaments. We'll get lab confirmation, but we know what sort they are. They're filaments of strapping tape."
"I didn't take a shower before I left the hotel," Eddie said for the fourth time. "I was out by the pool, getting some sun. Trying to get rid of the rash. The allergy rash. I fell asleep. I was damned lucky to make the plane at all. I had to run like hell. The wind was blowing. I don't know what stuck to my skin and what didn't."
Another reached out and ran a finger up the three inches of flesh from the inner bend of Eddie's left elbow.
"And these aren't needle tracks."
Eddie shoved the hand away. "Mosquito bites. I told you. Almost healed. Jesus Christ, you can see that for yourself!"
They could. This deal hadn't come up overnight. Eddie had stopped arm-popping a month ago. Henry couldn't have done that, and that was one of the reasons it had been Eddie, had to be Eddie. When he absolutely had to fix, he had taken it very high on his upper left thigh, where his left testicle lay against the skin of the leg ... as he had the other night, when the sallow thing had finally brought him some stuff that was okay. Mostly he had just snorted, something with which Henry could no longer content himself. This caused feelings Eddie couldn't exactly define ... a mixture of pride and shame. If they looked there, if they pushed his testicles aside, he could have some serious problems. A blood-test could cause him problems even more serious, but that was one step further than they could go without some sort of evidence锟?and evidence was something they just didn't have. They knew everything but could prove nothing. All the difference between world and want, his dear old mother would have said.
"And the red mark's an allergic reaction."
"Yes. I had it when I went to the Bahamas ; it just wasn't that bad."
"He had it when he went down there," one of the men said to another.
"Uh-huh," the second said. "You believe it?"
"You believe in Santa Claus?"
"Sure. When I was a kid I even had my picture taken with him once." He looked at Eddie. "You got a picture of this famous red mark from before you took your little trip, Eddie?"
Eddie didn't reply.
"If you're clean, why won't you take a blood-test?" This was the first guy again, the guy with the cigarette in the corner of his mouth. It had almost burned down to the filter.
Eddie was suddenly angry锟?white-hot angry. He listened inside.
Okay, the voice responded at once, and Eddie felt more than agreement, he felt a kind of go-to-the-wall approval. It made him feel the way he felt when Henry hugged him, tousled his hair, punched him on the shoulder, and said You done good, kid锟?don't let it go to your head, but you done good.
"You know I'm clean." He stood up suddenly锟?so suddenly they moved back. He looked at the smoker who was closest to him. "And I'll tell you something, babe, if you don't get that coffin-nail out my face I'm going to knock it out."
The guy recoiled.
"You guys have emptied the crap-tank on that plane already. God, you've had enough time to have been through it three times. You've been through my stuff. I bent over and let one of you stick the world's longest finger up my ass. If a prostate check is an exam, that was a motherfucking safari. I was scared to look down. I thought I'd see that guy's fingernail sticking out of my cock."
He glared around at them.
"You've been up my ass, you've been through my stuff, and I'm sitting here in a pair of Jockies with you guys blowing smoke in my faces. You want a blood-test? Kay. Bring in someone to do it."
They murmured, looked at each other. Surprised. Uneasy.
"But if you want to do it without a court order," Eddie said, "whoever does it better bring a lot of extra hypos and vials, because I'll be damned if I'm gonna piss alone. I want a Federal marshal in here, and I want each one of you to take the same goddam test, and I want your names and IDs on each vial, and I want them to go into that Federal marshal's custody. And whatever you test mine for锟?cocaine, heroin, bennies, pot, whatever锟?I want those same tests performed on the samples from you guys. And then I want the results turned over to my lawyer."
"Oh boy, YOUR LAWYER," one of them cried. "That's what it always comes down to with you shitbags, doesn't it, Eddie? You'll hear from MY LAWYER. I'll sic MY LAWYER on you. That crap makes me want to puke!"
"As a matter of fact I don't currently have one," Eddie said, and this was the truth. "I didn't think I needed one. You guys changed my mind. You got nothing because I have nothing, but the rock and roll just doesn't stop, does it? So you want me to dance? Great. I'll dance. But I'm not gonna do it alone. You guys'll have to dance, too."
There was a thick, difficult silence.
"I'd like you to take down your shorts again, please, Mr. Dean," one of them said. This guy was older. This guy looked like he was in charge of things. Eddie thought that maybe锟?just maybe锟?this guy had finally realized where the fresh tracks might be. Until now they hadn't checked. His arms, his shoulders, his legs ... but not there. They had been too sure they had a bust.
"I'm through taking things off, taking things down, and eating this shit," Eddie said. "You get someone in here and we'll do a bunch of blood-tests or I'm getting out. Now which do you want?"
That silence again. And when they started looking at each other, Eddie knew he had won.
WE won, he amended. What's your name, fella?
Roland. Yours is Eddie. Eddie Dean.
You listen good.
Listen and watch.
"Give him his clothes," the older man said disgustedly. He looked at Eddie. "I don't know what you had or how you got rid of it, but I want you to know that we're going to find out."
The old dude surveyed him.
"So there you sit. There you sit, almost grinning. What you say doesn't make me want to puke. What you are does."
"I make you want to puke."
"Oh boy," Eddie said. "I love it. I'm sitting here in a little room and I've got nothing on but my underwear and there's seven guys around me with guns on their hips and make you want to puke? Man, you have got a problem."
Eddie took a step toward him. The Customs guy held his ground for a moment, and then something in Eddie's eyes锟?a crazy color that seemed half-hazel, half-blue锟?made him step back against his will.
"I'M NOT CARRYING!" Eddie roared. "QUIT NOW! JUST QUIT! LET ME ALONE!"
The silence again. Then the older man turned around and yelled at someone, "Didn't you hear me? Get his clothes!"
And that was that.
"You think we're being tailed?" the cabbie asked. He sounded amused.
Eddie turned forward. "Why do you say that?"
"You keep looking out the back window."
"I never thought about being tailed," Eddie said. This was the absolute truth. He had seen the tails the first time he looked around. Tails, not tail. He didn't have to keep looking around to confirm their presence. Outpatients from a sanitarium for the mentally retarded would have trouble losing Eddie's cab on this late May afternoon; traffic on the L.I.E. was sparse. "I'm a student of traffic patterns, that's all."
"Oh," the cabbie said. In some circles such an odd statement would have prompted questions, but New York cab drivers rarely question; instead they assert, usually in a grand manner. Most of these assertions begin with the phrase This city! as if the words were a religious invocation preceding a sermon ... which they usually were. Instead, this one said: "Because if you did think we were being tailed, we're not. I'd know. This city! Jesus! I've tailed plenty of people in my time. You'd be surprised how many people jump into my cab and say 'Follow that car.' I know, sounds like something you only hear in the movies, right? Right. But like they say, art imitates life and life imitates art. It really happens! And as for shaking a tail, it's easy if you know how to set the guy up. You ..."
Eddie tuned the cabbie down to a background drone, listening just enough so he could nod in the right places. When you thought about it, the cabbie's rap was actually quite amusing. One of the tails was a dark blue sedan. Eddie guessed that one belonged to Customs. The other was a panel truck with GINELLI'S PIZZA written on the sides. There was also a picture of a pizza, only the pizza was a smiling boy's face, and the smiling boy was smacking his lips, and written under the picture was the slogan "UMMMMM! It's-a GOOOOD Pizza!" Only some young urban artist with a spray-can and a rudimentary sense of humor had drawn a line through PIZZA and had printed PUSSY above it.
Ginelli. There was only one Ginelli Eddie knew; he ran a restaurant called Four Fathers. The pizza business was a sideline, a guaranteed stiff, an accountant's angel. Ginelli and Balazar. They went together like hot dogs and mustard.
According to the original plan, there was to have been a limo waiting outside the terminal with a driver ready to whisk him away to Balazar's place of business, which was a midtown saloon. But of course the original plan hadn't included two hours in a little white room, two hours of steady questioning from one bunch of Customs agents while another bunch first drained and then raked the contents of Flight 901's waste-tanks, looking for the big carry they also suspected, the big carry that would be unflushable, undissolvable.
When he came out, there was no limo, of course. The driver would have had his instructions: if the mule isn't out of the terminal fifteen minutes or so after the rest of the passengers have come out, drive away fast. The limo driver would know better than to use the car's telephone, which was actually a radio that could easily be monitored. Balazar would call people, find out Eddie had struck trouble, and get ready for trouble of his own. Balazar might have recognized Eddie's steel, but that didn't change the fact that Eddie was a junkie. A junkie could not be relied upon to be a stand-up guy.
This meant there was a possibility that the pizza truck just might pull up in the lane next to the taxi, someone just might stick an automatic weapon out of the pizza truck's window, and then the back of the cab would become something that looked like a bloody cheese-grater. Eddie would have been more worried about that if they had held him for four hours instead of two, and seriously worried if it had been six hours instead of four. But only two ... he thought Balazar would trust him to have hung on to his lip at least that long. He would want to know about his goods.
The real reason Eddie kept looking back was the door.
It fascinated him.
As the Customs agents had half-carried, half-dragged him down the stairs to Kennedy's administration section, he had looked back over his shoulder and there it had been, improbable but indubitably, inarguably real, floating along at a distance of about three feet. He could see the waves rolling steadily in, crashing on the sand; he saw that the day over there was beginning to darken.
The door was like one of those trick pictures with a hidden image in them, it seemed; you couldn't see that hidden part for the life of you at first, but once you had, you couldn't unsee it, no matter how hard you tried.
It had disappeared on the two occasions when the gunslinger went back without him, and that had been scary锟?Eddie had felt like a child whose nightlight has burned out. The first time had been during the customs interrogation.
Ihave to go, Roland's voice had cut cleanly through whatever question they were currently throwing at him. I'll only be a few moments. Don't be afraid.
Why? Eddie asked. Why do you have to go?
"What's wrong?" one of the Customs guys had asked him. "All of a sudden you look scared."
All of a sudden he had felt scared, but of nothing this yo-yo would understand.
He looked over his shoulder, and the Customs men had also turned. They saw nothing but a blank white wall covered with white panels drilled with holes to damp sound; Eddie saw the door, its usual three feet away (now it was embedded in the room's wall, an escape hatch none of his interrogators could see). He saw more. He saw things coming out of the waves, things that looked like refugees from a horror movie where the effects are just a little more special than you want them to be, special enough so everything looks real. They looked like a hideous cross-breeding of prawn, lobster, and spider. They were making some weird sound.
"You getting the jim-jams?" one of the Customs guys had asked. "Seeing a few bugs crawling down the wall, Eddie?"
That was so close to the truth that Eddie had almost laughed. He understood why the man named Roland had to go back, though; Roland's mind was safe enough锟?at least for the time being锟?but the creatures were moving toward his body, and Eddie had a suspicion that if Roland did not soon vacate it from the area it currently occupied, there might not be any body left to go back to.
Suddenly in his head he heard David Lee Roth bawling: Oh lyyyyy ...ain't got no body ... and this time he did laugh. He couldn't help it.
"What's so funny?" the Customs agent who had wanted to know if he was seeing bugs asked him.
"This whole situation," Eddie had responded. "Only in the sense of peculiar, not hilarious. I mean, if it was a movie it would be more like Fellini than Woody Allen, if you get what I mean."
You'll be all right? Roland asked.
Yeah, fine. TCB, man.
I don't understand.
Go take care of business.
Oh. All right. I'll not be long.
And suddenly that other had been gone. Simply gone. Like a wisp of smoke so thin that the slightest vagary of wind could blow it away. Eddie looked around again, saw nothing but drilled white panels, no door, no ocean, no weird monstrosities, and he felt his gut begin to tighten. There was no question of believing it had all been a hallucination after all; the dope was gone, and that was all the proof Eddie needed. But Roland had ... helped, somehow. Made it easier.
"You want me to hang a picture there?" one of the Customs guys asked.
"No," Eddie said, and blew out a sigh. "I want you to let me out of here."
"Soon as you tell us what you did with the skag," another said, "or was it coke?" And so it started again: round and round she goes and where she stops nobody knows.
Ten minutes later锟?ten very long minutes锟?Roland was suddenly back in his mind. One second gone, next second there. Eddie sensed he was deeply exhausted.
Taken care of? he asked.
Yes. I'm sorry it took so long. A pause. Ihad to crawl.
Eddie looked around again. The doorway had returned, but now it offered a slightly different view of that world, and he realized that, as it moved with him here, it moved with Roland there. The thought made him shiver a little. It was like being tied to this other by some weird umbilicus. The gunslinger's body lay collapsed in front of it as before, but now he was looking down a long stretch of beach to the braided high-tide line where the monsters wandered about, growling and buzzing. Each time a wave broke all of them raised their claws. They looked like the audiences in those old documentary films where Hitler's speaking and everyone is throwing that old seig heil! salute like their lives depended on it锟?which they probably did, when you thought about it. Eddie could see the tortured markings of the gunslinger's progress in the sand.
As Eddie watched, one of the horrors reached up, lightning quick, and snared a sea-bird which happened to swoop too close to the beach. The thing fell to the sand in two bloody, spraying chunks. The parts were covered by the shelled horrors even before they had stopped twitching. A single white feather drifted up. A claw snatched it down.
Holy Christ, Eddie thought numbly. Look at thosesnappers.
"Why do you keep looking back there?" the guy in charge had asked.
"From time to time I need an antidote," Eddie said.
The cab driver dropped Eddie at the building in Co-Op City , thanked him for the dollar tip, and drove off. Eddie just stood for a moment, zipper bag in one hand, his jacket hooked over a finger of the other and slung back over his shoulder. Here he shared a two-bedroom apartment with his brother. He stood for a moment looking up at it, a monolith with all the style and taste of a brick Saltines box. The many windows made it look like a prison cellblock to Eddie, and he found the view as depressing as Roland锟?the other锟? did amazing.
Never, even as a child, did I see a building so high, Roland said. And there are so many of them!
Yeah, Eddie agreed. We live like a bunch of ants in a hill. It may look good to you, but I'll tell you, Roland, it gets old. It gets old in a hurry.
The blue car cruised by; the pizza truck turned in and approached. Eddie stiffened and felt Roland stiffen inside him. Maybe they intended to blow him away after all.
The door? Roland asked. Shall we go through? Do you wish it? Eddie sensed Roland was ready锟?for anything锟?but the voice was calm.
Not yet, Eddie said. Could be they only want to talk. But be ready.
He sensed that was an unnecessary thing to say; he sensed that Roland was readier to move and act in his deepest sleep than Eddie would ever be in his most wide-awake moment.
The pizza truck with the smiling kid on the side closed in. The passenger window rolled down and Eddie waited outside the entrance to his building with his shadow trailing out long in front of him from the toes of his sneakers, waiting to see which it would be锟?a face or a gun.
The second time Roland left him had been no more than five minutes after the Customs people had finally given up and let Eddie go.
The gunslinger had eaten, but not enough; he needed to drink; most of all he needed medicine. Eddie couldn't yet help him with the medicine Roland really needed (although he suspected the gunslinger was right and Balazar could ... if Balazar wanted to), but simple aspirin might at least knock down the fever that Eddie had felt when the gunslinger stepped close to sever the top part of the tape girdle. He paused in front of the newsstand in the main terminal.
Do you have aspirin where you come from?
I have never heard of it. Is it magic or medicine?
Both, I guess.
Eddie went into the newsstand and bought a tin of Extra-Strength Anacin. He went over to the snack bar and bought a couple of foot-long dogs and an extra-large Pepsi. He was putting mustard and catsup on the franks (Henry called the foot-longs Godzilla-dogs) when he suddenly remembered this stuff wasn't for him. For all he knew, Roland might not like mustard and catsup. For all he knew, Roland might be a veggie. For all he knew, this crap might kill Roland.
Well, too late now, Eddie thought. When Roland spoke锟?when Roland acted锟? Eddie knew all this was really happening. When he was quiet, that giddy feeling that it must be a dream - an extraordinarily vivid dream he was having as he slept on Detta 901 inbound to Kennedy锟?insisted on creeping back.
Roland had told him he could carry the food into his own world. He had already done something similar once, he said, when Eddie was asleep. Eddie found it all but impossible to believe, but Roland assured him it was true.
Well, we still have to be damned careful, Eddie said. They've got two Customs guys watching me. Us. Whatever the hell I am now.
I know we have to be careful, Roland returned. There aren't two; there are five. Eddie suddenly felt one of the weirdest sensations of his entire life. He did not move his eyes but felt them moved. Roland moved them.
A guy in a muscle shirt talking into a telephone.
A woman sitting on a bench, rooting through her purse.
A young black guy who would have been spectacularly handsome except for the harelip which surgery had only partially repaired, looking at the tee-shirts in the newsstand Eddie had come from not long since.
There was nothing wrong about any of them on top, but Eddie recognized them for what they were nonetheless and it was like seeing those hidden images in a child's puzzle, which, once seen, could never be unseen. He felt dull heat in his cheeks, because it had taken the other to point out what he should have seen at once. He had spotted only two. These three were a little better, but not that much; the eyes of the phone-man weren't blank, imagining the person he was talking to but aware, actually looking, and the place where Eddie was ... that was the place to which the phone-man's eyes just happened to keep returning. The purse-woman didn't find what she wanted or give up but simply went on rooting endlessly. And the shopper had had a chance to look at every shirt on the spindle-rack at least a dozen times.
All of a sudden Eddie felt five again, afraid to cross the street without Henry to hold his hand.
Never mind, Roland said. And don't worry about the food, either. I've eaten bugs while they were still lively enough for some of them to go running down my throat.
Yeah, Eddie replied, but this isNew York.
He took the dogs and the soda to the far end of the counter and stood with his back to the terminal's main concourse. Then he glanced up in the left-hand corner. A convex mirror bulged there like a hypertensive eye. He could see all of his followers in it, but none was close enough to see the food and cup of soda, and that was good, because Eddie didn't have the slightest idea what was going to happen to it.
Put the astin on the meat-things. Then hold everything in your hands.
Good. Call It flutergork if you want, pr ...Eddie. Just do it.
He took the Anacin out of the stapled bag he had stuffed in his pocket, almost put it down on one of the hot-dogs, and suddenly realized that Roland would have problems just getting what Eddie thought of as the poison-proofing锟?off the tin, let alone opening it.
He did it himself, shook three of the pills onto one of the napkins, debated, then added three more.
Three now, three later, he said. Ifthere is a later.
All right. Thank you.
Hold all of it.
Eddie had glanced into the convex mirror again. Two of the agents were strolling casually toward the snack bar, maybe not liking the way Eddie's back was turned, maybe smelling a little prestidigitation in progress and wanting a closer look. If something was going to happen, it better happen quick.
He put his hands around everything, feeling the heat of the dogs in their soft white rolls, the chill of the Pepsi. In that moment he looked like a guy getting ready to carry a snack back to his kids ... and then the stuff started to melt.
He stared down, eyes widening, widening, until it felt to him that they must soon fall out and dangle by their stalks.
He could see the hotdogs through the rolls. He could see the Pepsi through the cup, the ice-choked liquid curving to conform to a shape which could no longer be seen.
Then he could see the red Formica counter through the foot-longs and the white wall through the Pepsi. His hands slid toward each other, the resistance between them growing less and less ... and then they closed against each other, palm to palm. The food ... the napkins ... the Pepsi Cola ... the six Anacin ... all the things which had been between his hands were gone.
Jesus jumped up and played the fiddle, Eddie thought numbly. He flicked his eyes up toward the convex mirror.
The doorway was gone ... just as Roland was gone from his mind.
Eat hearty, my friend, Eddie thought ... but was this weird alien presence that called itself Roland his friend? That was far from proved, wasn't it? He had saved Eddie's bacon, true enough, but that didn't mean he was a Boy Scout.
All the same, he liked Roland. Feared him ... but liked him as well.
Suspected that in time he could love him, as he loved Henry.
Eat well, stranger, he thought. Eat well, stay alive ...and come back.
Close by were a few mustard-stained napkins left by a previous customer. Eddie balled them up, tossed them in the trash-barrel by the door on his way out, and chewed air as if finishing a last bite of something. He was even able to manufacture a burp as he approached the black guy on his way toward the signs pointing the way to LUGGAGE and GROUND TRANSPORTATION.
"Couldn't find a shirt you liked?" Eddie asked.
"I beg your pardon?" the black guy turned from the American Airlines departures monitor he was pretending to study.
"I thought maybe you were looking for one that said PLEASE FEED ME, I AM A U.S. GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEE," Eddie said, and walked on.
As he headed down the stairs he saw the purse-rooter hurriedly snap her purse shut and get to her feet.
Oh boy, this is gonna be like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.
It had been one fuck of an interesting day, and Eddie didn't think it was over yet.
When Roland saw the lobster-things coming out of the waves again (their coming had nothing to do with tide, then; it was the dark that brought them), he left Eddie Dean to move himself before the creatures could find and eat him.
The pain he had expected and was prepared for. He had lived with pain so long it was almost an old friend. He was appalled, however, by the rapidity with which his fever had increased and his strength decreased. If he had not been dying before, he most assuredly was now. Was there something powerful enough in the prisoner's world to keep that from happening? Perhaps. But if he didn't get some of it within the next six or eight hours, he thought it wouldn't matter. If things went much further, no medicine or magic in that world or any other that would make him well again.
Walking was impossible. He would have to crawl.
He was getting ready to start when his eye fixed upon the twisted band of sticky stuff and the bags of devil-powder. If he left the stuff here, the lobstrosities would almost surely tear the bags open. The sea-breeze would scatter the powder to the four winds. Which is where it belongs, the gunslinger thought grimly, but he couldn't allow it. When the time came, Eddie Dean would be in a long tub of trouble if he couldn't produce that powder. It was rarely possible to bluff men of the sort he guessed this Balazar to be. He would want to see what he had paid for, and until he saw it Eddie would have enough guns pointed at him to equip a small army.
The gunslinger pulled the twisted rope of glue-string over to him and slung it over his neck. Then he began to work his way up the beach.
He had crawled twenty yards锟?almost far enough to consider himself safe, he judged锟?when the horrible (yet cosmically funny) funny realization that he was leaving the doorway behind came to him. What in God's name was he going through this for?
He turned his head and saw the doorway, not down on the beach, but three feet behind him. For a moment Roland could only stare, and realize what he would have known already, if not for the fever and the sound of the Inquisitors, drumming their ceaseless questions at Eddie, Where did you, how did you, why did you, when did you (questions that seemed to merge eerily with the questions of the scrabbling horrors that came crawling and wriggling out of the waves: Dad-a-chock? Dad-a-chum? Did-a-chick?), as mere delirium. Not so.
Now I take it with me everywhere I go, he thought, just as he does. It comes with us everywhere now, following like a curse you can never get rid of.
All of this felt so true as to be unquestionable ... and so did one other thing.
If the door between them should close, it would be closed forever.
When that happens, Roland thought grimly, he must be on this side. With me.
What a paragon of virtue you are, gunslinger! the man in black laughed. He seemed to have taken up permanent residence inside Roland's head. You have killed the boy; that was the sacrifice that enabled you to catch me and, I suppose, to create the door between worlds. Now you intend to draw your three, one by one, and condemn all of them to something you would not have for yourself: a lifetime in an alien world, where they may die as easily as animals in a zoo set free in a wild place.
The Tower, Roland thought wildly. Once I've gotten to the Tower and done whatever it is I'm supposed to do there, accomplished whatever fundamental act of restoration or redemption for which I was meant, then perhaps they锟?
But the shrieking laughter of the man in black, the man who was dead but lived on as the gunslinger's stained conscience, would not let him go on with the thought.
Neither, however, could the thought of the treachery he contemplated turn him aside from his course.
He managed another ten yards, looked back, and saw that even the largest of the crawling monsters would venture no further than twenty feet above the high-tide line. He had already managed three times that distance.
It's well, then.
Nothing is well, the man in black replied merrily, and you know it.
Shut up, the gunslinger thought, and for a wonder, the voice actually did.
Roland pushed the bags of devil-dust into the cleft between two rocks and covered them with handfuls of sparse saw-grass. With that done he rested briefly, head thumping like a hot bag of waters, skin alternately hot and cold, then rolled back through the doorway into that other world, that other body, leaving the increasing deadly infection behind for a little while.
The second time he returned to himself, he entered a body so deeply asleep that he thought for a moment it had entered a comatose state ... a state of such lowered bodily function that in moments he would feel his own consciousness start down a long slide into darkness.
Instead, he forced his body toward wakefulness, punched and pummelled it out of the dark cave into which it had crawled. He made his heart speed up, made his nerves re-accept the pain that sizzled through his skin and woke his flesh to groaning reality.
It was night now. The stars were out. The popkin-things Eddie had bought him were small bits of warmth in the chill.
He didn't feel like eating them, but eat them he would. First, though ...
He looked at the white pills in his hand. Astin, Eddie called it. No, that wasn't quite right, but Roland couldn't pronounce the word as the prisoner had said it. Medicine was what it came down to. Medicine from that other world.
Ifanything from your world is going to do for me, Prisoner, Roland thought grimly, I think it's more apt to be your potions than your popkins.
Still, he would have to try it. Not the stuff he really needed锟?or so Eddie believed锟?but something which might reduce his fever.
Three now, three later. If there is a later.
He put three of the pills in his mouth, then pushed the cover锟?some strange white stuff that was neither paper nor glass but which seemed a bit like both锟?off the paper cup which held the drink, and washed them down.
The first swallow amazed him so completely that for a moment he only lay there, propped against a rock, his eyes so wide and still and full of reflected starlight that he would surely have been taken for dead already by anyone who happened to pass by. Then he drank greedily, holding the cup in both hands, the rotted, pulsing hurt in the stumps of his fingers barely noticed in his total absorption with the drink.
Sweet! Gods, such sweetness! Such sweetness! Such锟?
One of the small flat icecubes in the drink caught in his throat. He coughed, pounded his chest, and choked it out. Now there was a new pain in his head: the silvery pain that comes with drinking something too cold too fast.
He lay still, feeling his heart pumping like a runaway engine, feeling fresh energy surge into his body so fast he felt as if he might actually explode. Without thinking of what he was doing, he tore another piece from his shirt锟?soon it would be no more than a rag hanging around his neck锟?and laid it across one leg. When the drink was gone he would pour the ice into the rag and make a pack for his wounded hand. But his mind was elsewhere.
Sweet! it cried out again and again, trying to get the sense of it, or to convince itself there was sense in it, much as Eddie had tried to convince himself of the other as an actual being and not some mental convulsion that was only another part of himself trying to trick him. Sweet! Sweet! Sweet!
The dark drink was laced with sugar, even more than Marten锟?who had been a great glutton behind his grave ascetic's exterior锟?had put in his coffee in mornings and at 'Downers.
Sugar ...white ...powder ...
The gunslinger's eyes wandered to the bags, barely visible under the grass he had tossed over them, and wondered briefly if the stuff in this drink and the stuff in the bags might be one and the same. He knew that Eddie had understood him perfectly over here, where they were two separate physical creatures; he suspected that if he had crossed bodily to Eddie's world (and he understood instinctively it could be done ... although if the door should shut while he was there, he would be there forever, as Eddie would be here forever if their positions were reversed), he would have understood the language just as perfectly. He knew from being in Eddie's mind that the languages of the two worlds were similar to begin with. Similar, but not the same. Here a sandwich was a popkin. There to rustle was finding something to eat. So ... was it not possible that the drug Eddie called cocaine was, in the gunslinger's world, called sugar?
Reconsideration made it seem unlikely. Eddie had bought this drink openly, knowing that he was being watched by people who served the Priests of Customs. Further, Roland sensed he had paid comparatively little for it. Less, even, than for the popkins of meat. No, sugar was not cocaine, but Roland could not understand why anyone would want cocaine or any other illegal drug, for that matter, in a world where such a powerful one as sugar was so plentiful and cheap.
He looked at the meat popkins again, felt the first stirrings of hunger ... and realized with amazement and confused thankfulness that he felt better.
The drink? Was that it? The sugar in the drink?
That might be part of it锟?but a small part. Sugar could revive one's strength for awhile when it was flagging; this was something he had known since he was a child. But sugar could not dull pain or damp the fever-fire in your body when some infection had turned it into a furnace. All the same, that was exactly what had happened to him ... was still happening.
The convulsive shuddering had stopped. The sweat was drying on his brow. The fishhooks which had lined his throat seemed to be disappearing. Incredible as it was, it was also an inarguable fact, not just imagination or wishful thinking (in point of fact, the gunslinger had not been capable of such frivolity as the latter in unknown and unknowable decades). His missing fingers and toes still throbbed and roared, but he believed even these pains to be muted.
Roland put his head back, closed his eyes and thanked God.
God and Eddie Dean.
Don't make the mistake of putting your heart near his hand, Roland, a voice from the deeper ranges of his mind spoke锟?this was not the nervous, tittery-bitchy voice of the man in black or the rough one of Cort; to the gunslinger it sounded like his father. You know that what he's done for you he has done out of his own personal need, just as you know that those men - Inquisitors though they may be锟?are partly or completely right about him. He is a weak vessel, and the reason they took him was neither false nor base. There is steel in him, I dispute it not. But there is weakness as well. He is like Hax, the cook. Hax poisoned reluctantly ...but reluctance has never stilled the screams of the dying as their intestines rupture. And there is yet another reason to beware ...
But Roland needed no voice to tell him what that other reason was. He had seen that in Jake's eyes when the boy finally began to understand his purpose.
Don't make the mistake of putting your heart near his hand.
Good advice. You did yourself ill to feel well of those to whom ill must eventually be done.
Remember your duty, Roland.
"I've never forgotten it," he husked as the stars shone pitilessly down and the waves grated on the shore and the lobster monstrosities cried their idiot questions. "I'm damned for my duty. And why should the damned turn aside?"
He began to eat the meat popkins which Eddie called "dogs."
Roland didn't much care for the idea of eating dog, and these things tasted like gutter-leavings compared to the tooter-fish, but after that marvellous drink, did he have any right to complain? He thought not. Besides, it was late in the game to worry overmuch about such niceties.
He ate everything and then returned to the place where now Eddie was, in some magical vehicle that rushed along a metal road filled with other such vehicles ... dozens, maybe hundreds, and not a horse pulling a single one.
Eddie stood ready as the pizza truck pulled up; Roland stood even more ready inside of him.
Just another version of Diana's Dream, Roland thought. What was in the box? The golden bowl or the biter-snake? And just as she turns the key and puts her hands upon the lid she hears her mother calling "Wake up, Diana! It's time to milk!"
Okay, Eddie thought. Which is it gonna be? The lady or the tiger?
A man with a pale, pimply face and big buck teeth looked out of the pizza truck's passenger window. It was a face Eddie knew.
"Hi, Col ," Eddie said without much enthusiasm. Beyond Col Vincent, sitting behind the wheel, was Old Double-Ugly, which was what Henry called Jack Andolini.
But Henry never called him that to his face, Eddie thought. No, of course not. Calling Jack something like that to his face would be a wonderful way to get yourself killed. He was a huge man with a bulging caveman's forehead and a prothagonous jaw to match. He was related to Enrico Balazar by marriage ... a niece, a cousin, some fucking thing. His gigantic hands clung to the wheel of the delivery truck like the hands of a monkey clinging to a branch. Coarse sprouts of hair grew from his ears. Eddie could only see one of those ears now because Jack Andolini remained in profile, never looking around.
Old Double-Ugly. But not even Henry (who, Eddie had to admit, was not always the most perceptive guy in the world) had ever made the mistake of calling him Old Double-Stupid. Colin Vincent was no more than a glorified gofer. Jack, however, had enough smarts behind that Neanderthal brow to be Balazar's number one lieutenant. Eddie didn't like the fact that Balazar had sent a man of such importance. He didn't like it at all.
"Hi, Eddie," Col said. "Heard you had some trouble."
"Nothing I couldn't handle," Eddie said. He realized he was scratching first one arm then the other, one of the typical junkie moves he had tried so hard to keep away from while they had him in custody. He made himself stop. But Col was smiling, and Eddie felt an urge to slam a fist all the way through that smile and out the other side. He might have done it, too ... except for Jack. Jack was still staring straight ahead, a man who seemed to be thinking his own rudimentary thoughts as he observed the world in the simple primary colors and elementary motions which were all a man of such intellect (or so you'd think, looking at him) could perceive. Yet Eddie thought Jack saw more in a single day than Col Vincent would in his whole life.
"Well, good," Col said. "That's good."
Silence. Col looked at Eddie, smiling, waiting for Eddie to start the Junkie Shuffle again, scratching, shifting from foot to foot like a kid who needs to go to the bathroom, waiting mostly for Eddie to ask what was up, and by the way, did they just happen to have any stuff on them?
Eddie only looked back at him, not scratching now, not moving at all.
A faint breeze blew a Ring-Ding wrapper across the parking lot. The scratchy sound of its skittering passage and the wheezy thump of the pizza truck's loose valves were the only sounds.
Col 's knowing grin began to falter.
"Hop in, Eddie," Jack said without looking around. "Let's take a ride."
"Where?" Eddie asked, knowing.
"Balazar's." Jack didn't look around. He flexed his hands on the wheel once. A large ring, solid gold except for the onyx stone which bulged from it like the eye of a giant insect, glittered on the third finger of his right as he did it. "He wants to know about his goods."
"I have his goods. They're safe."
"Fine. Then nobody has anything to worry about," Jack Andolini said, and did not look around.
"I think I want to go upstairs first," Eddie said. "I want to change my clothes, talk to Henry锟?"
"And get fixed up, don't forget that," Col said, and grinned his big yellow-toothed grin. "Except you got nothing to fix with, little chum."
Dad-a-chum? the gunslinger thought in Eddie's mind, and both of them shuddered a little.
Col observed the shudder and his smile widened. Oh, here it is after all, that smile said. The good old Junkie Shuffle. Had me worried there for a minute, Eddie. The teeth revealed by the smile's expansion were not an improvement on those previously seen.
"Mr. Balazar thought it would be better to make sure youguys had a clean place," Jack said without looking around. He went on observing the world an observer would have believed it impossible for such a man to observe. "In case anyone showed up."
"People with a Federal search warrant, for instance," Col said. His face hung and leered. Now Eddie could feel Roland also wanting to drive a fist through the rotted teeth that made that grin so reprehensible, so somehow irredeemable. The unanimity of feeling cheered him up a little. "He sent in a cleaning service to wash the walls and vacuum the carpets and he ain't going to charge you a red cent for it, Eddie!"
Now you'll ask what I've got, Col 's grin said. Oh yeah, now you'll ask, Eddie my boy. Because you may not love the candy-man, but you do love the candy, don't you? And now that you know Balazar's made sure your own private stash is gone锟?
A sudden thought, both ugly and frightening, flashed through his mind. If the stash was gone锟?
"Where's Henry?" he said suddenly, so harshly that Col drew back, surprised.
Jack Andolini finally turned his head. He did so slowly, as if it was an act he performed only rarely, and at great personal cost. You almost expected to hear old oilless hinges creaking inside the thickness of his neck.
"Safe," he said, and then turned his head back to its original position again, just as slowly.
Eddie stood beside the pizza truck, fighting the panic trying to rise in his mind and drown coherent thought. Suddenly the need to fix, which he had been holding at bay pretty well, was overpowering. He had to fix. With a fix he could think, get himself under control锟?
Quit it! Roland roared inside his head, so loud Eddie winced (and Col , mistaking Eddie's grimace of pain and surprise for another little step in the Junkie Shuffle, began to grin again). Quit it! I'll be all the goddamned control you need!
You don't understand! He's my brother! He's my fucking brother! Balazar's got my brother!
You speak as if it was a word I'd never heard before. Do you fear for him?
Yes! Christ, yes!
Then do what they expect. Cry. Pule and beg. Ask for this fix of yours. I'm sure they expect you to, and I'm sure they have it. Do all those things, make them sure of you, and you can be sure all your fears will be justified.
I don't understand what you m锟?
I mean if you show a yellow gut, you will go far toward getting your precious brother killed. Is that what you want?
All right. I'll be cool. It may not sound that way, but I'll be cool.
Is that what you call it? All right, then. Yes. Be cool.
"This isn't the way the deal was supposed to go down," Eddie said, speaking past Col and directly at Jack Andolini's tufted ear. "This isn't why I took care of Balazar's goods and hung onto my lip while some other guy would have been puking out five names for every year off on the plea-bargain."
"Balazar thought your brother would be safer with him," Jack said, not looking around. "He took him into protective custody."
"Well good," Eddie said. "You thank him for me, and you tell him that I'm back, his goods are safe, and I can take care of Henry just like Henry always took care of me. You tell him I'll have a six-pack on ice and when Henry walks in the place we're going to split it and then we'll get in our car and come on into town and do the deal like it was supposed to be done. Like we talked about it."
"Balazar wants to see you, Eddie," Jack said. His voice was implacable, immovable. His head did not turn. "Get in the truck."
"Stick it where the sun doesn't shine, motherfucker," Eddie said, and started for the doors to his building.
It was a short distance but he had gotten barely halfway when Andolini's hand clamped on his upper arm with the paralyzing force of a vise-grip. His breath as hot as a bull's on the back of Eddie's neck. He did all this in the time you would have thought, looking at him, it would have taken his brain to convince his hand to pull the door-handle up.
Eddie turned around.
Be cool, Eddie, Roland whispered.
Cool, Eddie responded.
"I could kill you for that," Andolini said. "No one tells me stick it up my ass, especially no shitass little junkie like you."
"Kill shit!" Eddie screamed at him锟?but it was a calculated scream. A cool scream, if you could dig that. They stood there, dark figures in the golden horizontal light of late spring sundown in the wasteland of housing developments that is the Bronx's Co-Op City, and people heard the scream, and people heard the word kill, and if their radios were on they turned them up and if their radios were off they turned them on and then turned them up because it was better that way, safer.
"Rico Balazar broke his word! I stood up for him and he didn't stand up for me! So I tell you to stick it up your fuckin ass, I tell him to stick it up his fuckin ass, I tell anybody I want to stick it up his fuckin ass!"
Andolini looked at him. His eyes were so brown the color seemed to have leaked into his corneas, turning them the yellow of old parchment.
"Itell President Reagan to stick it up his ass if he breaks his word to me, and fuck his fuckin rectal palp or whatever it is!"
The words died away in echoes on brick and concrete. A single child, his skin very black against his white basketball shorts and high-topped sneakers, stood in the playground across the street, watching them, a basketball held loosely against his side in the crook of his elbow.
"You done?" Andolini asked when the last of the echoes were gone.
"Yes," Eddie said in a completely normal tone of voice.
"Okay," Andolini said. He spread his anthropoid fingers and smiled ... and when he smiled, two things happened simultaneously: the first was that you saw a charm that was so surprising it had a way of leaving people defenseless; the second was that you saw how bright he really was. How dangerously bright. "Now can we start over?"
Eddie brushed his hands through his hair, crossed his arms briefly so he could scratch both arms at the same time, and said, "I think we better, because this is going nowhere."
"Okay," Andolini said. "No one has said nothing, and no one has ranked out nobody.'' And without turning his head or breaking the rhythm of his speech he added, "Get back in the truck, dumb wit."
Col Vincent, who had climbed cautiously out of the delivery truck through the door Andolini had left open retreated so fast he thumped his head. He slid across the seat and slouched in his former place, rubbing it and sulking.
"You gotta understand the deal changed when the Customs people put the arm on you," Andolini said reasonably. "Balazar is a big man. He has interests to protect. People to protect. One of those people, it just so happens, is your brother Henry. You think that's bullshit? If you do, you better think about the way Henry is now."
"Henry's fine," Eddie said, but he knew better and he couldn't keep the knowing out of his voice. He heard it and knew Jack Andolini heard it, too. These days Henry was always on the nod, it seemed like. There were holes in his shirts from cigarette burns. He had cut the shit out of his hand using the electric can-opener on a can of Calo for Potzie, their cat. Eddie didn't know how you cut yourself with an electric can-opener, but Henry had managed it. Sometimes the kitchen table would be powdery with Henry's leavings, or Eddie would find blackened curls of char in the bathroom sink.
Henry, he would say, Henry, you gotta take care of this, this is getting out of hand, you're a bust walking around and waiting to happen.
Yeah, okay, little brother, Henry would respond, zero perspiration, I got it all under control, but sometimes, looking at Henry's ashy face and burned out eyes, Eddie knew Henry was never going to have anything under control again.
What he wanted to say to Henry and couldn't had nothing to do with Henry getting busted or getting them both busted. What he wanted to say was Henry, it's like you're looking for a room to die in. That's how it looks to me, and I want you to fucking quit it. Because if you die, what did I live for?
"Henry isn't fine," Jack Andolini said. "He needs someone to watch out for him. He needs锟?what's that song say? A bridge over troubled waters. That's what Henry needs. A bridge over troubled waters. IlRoche is being that bridge."
Il Roche is a bridge to hell, Eddie thought. Out loud he said, "That's where Henry is? At Balazar's place?"
"I give him his goods, he gives me Henry?"
"And your goods," Andolini said, "don't forget that."
"The deal goes back to normal, in other words."
"Now tell me you think that's really gonna happen. Come on, Jack. Tell me. I wanna see if you can do it with a straight face. And if you can do it with a straight face, I wanna see how much your nose grows."
"I don't understand you, Eddie."
"Sure you do. Balazar thinks I've got his goods? If he thinks that, he must be stupid, and I know he's not stupid."
"I don't know what he thinks," Andolini said serenely. "It's not my job to know what he thinks. He knows you had his goods when you left the Islands, he knows Customs grabbed you and then let you go, he knows you're here and not on your way to Riker's, he knows his goods have to be somewhere."
"And he knows Customs is still all over me like a wetsuit on a skin-diver, because you know it, and you sent him some kind of coded message on the truck's radio. Something like 'Double cheese, hold the anchovies,' right, Jack?"
Jack Andolini said nothing and looked serene.
"Only you were just telling him something he already knew. Like connecting the dots in a picture you can already see what it is."
Andolini stood in the golden sunset light that was slowly turning furnace orange and continued to look serene and continued to say nothing at all.
"He thinks they turned me. He thinks they're running me. He thinks I might be stupid enough to run. I don't exactly blame him. I mean, why not? A smackhead will do anything. You want to check, see if I'm wearing a wire?"
"I know you're not," Andolini said. "I got something in the van. It's like a fuzz-buster, only it picks up short-range radio transmissions. And for what it's worth, I don't think you're running for the Feds."
"Yeah. So do we get in the van and go into the city or what?"
"Do I have a choice?"
No, Roland said inside his head.
"No," Andolini said.
Eddie went back to the van. The kid with the basketball was still standing across the street, his shadow now so long it was a gantry.
"Get out of here, kid," Eddie said. "You were never here, you never saw nothing or no one. Fuck off."
The kid ran.
Col was grinning at him.
"Push over, champ," Eddie said.
"I think you oughtta sit in the middle, Eddie."
"Push over," Eddie said again. Col looked at him, then looked at Andolini, who did not look at him but only pulled the driver's door closed and looked serenely straight ahead like Buddha on his day off, leaving them to work the seating arrangements out for themselves. Col glanced back at Eddie's face and decided to push over.
They headed into New York锟?and although the gunslinger (who could only stare wonderingly at spires even greater and more graceful, bridges that spanned a wide river like steel cobwebs, and rotored air-carriages that hovered like strange man-made insects)
did not know it, the place they were headed for was the Tower.
Like Andolini, Enrico Balazar did not think Eddie Dean was running for the Feds; like Andolini, Balazar knew it.
The bar was empty. The sign on the door read CLOSED TONITE ONLY. Balazar sat in his office, waiting for Andolini and Col Vincent to arrive with the Dean kid. His two personal bodyguards, Claudio Andolini, Jack's brother, and 'Cimi Dretto, were with him. They sat on the sofa to the left of Balazar's large desk, watching, fascinated, as the edifice Balazar was building grew. The door was open. Beyond the door was a short hallway. To the right it led to the back of the bar and the little kitchen beyond, where a few simple pasta dishes were prepared. To the left was the accountant's office and the storage room. In the accountant's office three more of Balazar's "gentlemen"锟?this was how they were known - were playing Trivial Pursuit with Henry Dean.
"Okay," George Biondi was saying, "here's an easy one, Henry. Henry? You there, Henry? Earth to Henry, Earth people need you. Come in, Henry. I say again: come in, H锟?"
"I'm here, I'm here," Henry said. His voice was the slurry, muddy voice of a man who is still asleep telling his wife he's awake so she'll leave him alone for another five minutes.
"Okay. The category is Arts and Entertainment. The question is ... Henry? Don't you fuckin nod off on me, asshole!"
"I'm not!" Henry cried back querulously.
"Okay. The question is, 'What enormously popular novel by William Peter Blatty, set in the posh Washington D.C. suburb of Georgetown , concerned the demonic possession of a young girl?'"
"Johnny Cash," Henry replied.
"Jesus Christ!" Tricks Postino yelled. "That's what you say to every thin! Johnny Cash, that's what you say to fuckin everythin!"
"Johnny Cash is everything," Henry replied gravely, and there was a moment of silence palpable in its considering surprise ... then a gravelly burst of laughter not just from the men in the room with Henry but the two other "gentlemen" sitting in the storage room.
"You want me to shut the door, Mr. Balazar?" 'Cimi asked quietly.
"No, that's fine," Balazar said. He was second-generation Sicilian, but there was no trace of accent in his speech, nor was it the speech of a man whose only education had been in the streets. Unlike many of his contemporaries in the business, he had finished high school. Had in fact done more: for two years he had gone to business school锟?NYU. His voice, like his business methods, was quiet and cultured and American, and this made his physical aspect as deceiving as Jack Andolini's. People hearing his clear, unaccented American voice for the first time almost always looked dazed, as if hearing a particularly good piece of ventriloquism. He looked like a farmer or innkeeper or small-time mafioso who had been successful more by virtue of being at the right place at the right time than because of any brains. He looked like what the wiseguys of a previous generation had called a "Mustache Pete." He was a fat man who dressed like a peasant. This evening he wore a plain white cotton shirt open at the throat (there were spreading sweat-stains beneath the arms) and plain gray twill pants. On his fat sockless feet were brown loafers, so old they were more like slippers than shoes. Blue and purple varicose veins squirmed on his ankles.
'Cimi and Claudio watched him, fascinated.
In the old days they had called him IlRoche锟? The Rock. Some of the old-timers still did. Always in the right-hand top drawer of his desk, where other businessmen might keep pads, pens, paper-clips, things of that sort, Enrico Balazar kept three decks of cards. He did not play games with them, however.
He built with them.
He would take two cards and lean them against each other, making an A without the horizontal stroke. Next to it he would make another A-shape. Over the top of the two he would lay a single card, making a roof. He would make A after A, overlaying each, until his desk supported a house of cards. You bent over and looked in, you saw something that looked like a hive of triangles. 'Cimi had seen these houses fall over hundreds of times (Claudio had also seen it happen from time to time, but not so frequently, because he was thirty years younger than 'Cimi, who expected to soon retire with his bitch of a wife to a farm they owned in northern New Jersey, where he would devote all his time to his garden ... and to outliving the bitch he had married; not his mother-in-law, he had long since given up any wistful notion he might once have had of eating fettucini at the wake of La Monstra, La Monstra was eternal, but for outliving the bitch there was at least some hope; his father had had a saying which, when translated, meant something like "God pisses down the back of your neck every day but only drowns you once," and while 'Cimi wasn't completely sure he thought it meant God was a pretty good guy after all, and so he could hope to outlive the one if not the other), but had only seen Balazar put out of temper by such a fall on a single occasion. Mostly it was something errant that did it - someone closing a door hard in another room, or a drunk stumbling against a wall; there had been times when 'Cimi saw an edifice Mr. Balazar (whom he still called Da Boss, like a character in a Chester Gould comic strip) had spent hours building fall down because the bass on the juke was too loud. Other times these airy constructs fell down for no perceptible reason at all. Once锟?this was a story he had told at least five thousand times, and one of which every person he knew (with the exception of himself) had tired锟?Da Boss had looked up at him from the ruins and said: "You see this 'Cimi? For every mother who ever cursed God for her child dead in the road, for every father who ever cursed the man who sent him away from the factory with no job, for every child who was ever born to pain and asked why, this is the answer. Our lives are like these things I build. Sometimes they fall down for a reason, sometimes they fall down for no reason at all."
Carlocimi Dretto thought this the most profound statement of the human condition he had ever heard.
That one time Balazar had been put out of temper by the collapse of one of his structures had been twelve, maybe fourteen years ago. There was a guy who came in to see him about booze. A guy with no class, no manners. A guy who smelled like he took a bath once a year whether he needed it or not. A mick, in other words. And of course it was booze. With micks it was always booze, never dope. And this mick, he thought what was on Da Boss's desk was a joke. "Make a wish!" he yelled after Da Boss had explained to him, in the way one gentleman explains to another, why it was impossible for them to do business. And then the mick, one of those guys with curly red hair and a complexion so white he looked like he had TB or something, one of those guys whose names started with O and then had that little curly mark between the O and the real name, had blown on Da Boss's desk, like a nino blowing out the candles on a birthday cake, and cards flew everywhere around Balazar's head, and Balazar had opened the left top drawer in his desk, the drawer where other businessmen might keep their personal stationery or their private memos or something like that, and he had brought out a .45, and he had shot the Mick in the head, and Balazar's expression never changed, and after 'Cimi and a guy named Truman Alexander who had died of a heart attack four years ago had buried the Mick under a chickenhouse somewhere outside of Sedonville, Connecticut, Balazar had said to 'Cimi, "It's up to men to build things, paisan. It's up to God to blow them down. You agree?"
"Yes, Mr. Balazar," 'Cimi had said. He did agree.
Balazar had nodded, pleased. "You did like I said? You put him someplace where chickens or ducks or something like that could shit on him?"
"That's very good," Balazar said calmly, and took a fresh deck of cards from the right top drawer of his desk.
One level was not enough for Balazar , IlRoche. Upon the roof of the first level he would build a second, only not quite so wide; on top of the second a third; on top of the third a fourth. He would go on, but after the fourth level he would have to stand to do so. You no longer had to bend much to look in, and when you did what you saw wasn't rows of triangle shapes but a fragile, bewildering, and impossibly lovely hall of diamond-shapes. You looked in too long, you felt dizzy. Once 'Cimi had gone in the Mirror Maze at Coney and he had felt like that. He had never gone in again.
'Cimi said (he believed no one believed him; the truth was no one cared one way or the other) he had once seen Balazar build something which was no longer a house of cards but a tower of cards, one which stood nine levels high before it collapsed. That no one gave a shit about this was something 'Cimi didn't know because everyone he told affected amazement because he was close to Da Boss. But they would have been amazed if he had had the words to describe it锟?how delicate it had been, how it reached almost three quarters of the way from the top of the desk to the ceiling, a lacy construct of jacks and deuces and kings and tens and Big Akers, a red and black configuration of paper diamonds standing in defiance of a world spinning through a universe of incoherent motions and forces; a tower that seemed to 'Cimi's amazed eyes to be a ringing denial of all the unfair paradoxes of life.
If he had known how, he would have said: I looked at what he built, and to me it explained the stars.
Balazar knew how everything would have to be.
The Feds had smelled Eddie锟?maybe he had been stupid to send Eddie in the first place, maybe his instincts were failing him, but Eddie had seemed somehow so right, so perfect. His uncle, the first man he had worked for in the business, said there were exceptions to every rule but one: Never trust a junkie. Balazar had said nothing锟?it was not the place of a boy of fifteen to speak, even if only to agree锟?but privately had thought the only rule to which there was no exception was that there were some rules for which that was not true.
But if Tio Verone were alive today, Balazar thought, he would laugh at you and say look, Rico, you always were too smart for your own good, you knew the rules, you kept your mouth shut when it was respectful to keep it shut, but you always had that snot look in your eyes. You always knew too much about how smart you were, and so you finally fell into the pit of your own pride, just like I always knew you would.
He made an A shape and overlaid it.
They had taken Eddie and held him awhile and then let him go.
Balazar had grabbed Eddie's brother and the stash they shared. That would be enough to bring him ... and he wanted Eddie.
He wanted Eddie because it had only been two hours, and two hours was wrong.
They had questioned him at Kennedy, not at 43rd Street , and that was wrong, too. That meant Eddie had succeeded in ditching most or all of the coke.
Or had he?
He thought. He wondered.
Eddie had walked out of Kennedy two hours after they took him off the plane. That was too short a time for them to have sweated it out of him and too long for them to have decided he was clean, that some stew had made a rash mistake.
He thought. He wondered.
Eddie's brother was a zombie, but Eddie was still smart, Eddie was still tough. He wouldn't have turned in just two hours ... unless it was his brother. Something about his brother.
But still, how come no 43rd Street ? How come no Customs van, the ones that looked like Post Office trucks except for the wire grilles on the back windows? Because Eddie really had done something with the goods? Ditched them? Hidden them?
Impossible to hide goods on an airplane.
Impossible to ditch them.
Of course it was also impossible to escape from certain prisons, rob certain banks, beat certain raps. But people did. Harry Houdini had escaped from strait-jackets, locked trunks, fucking bank vaults. But Eddie Dean was no Houdini.
He could have had Henry killed in the apartment, could have had Eddie cut down on the L.I.E. or, better yet, also in the apartment, where it would look to the cops like a couple of junkies who got desperate enough to forget they were brothers and killed each other. But it would leave too many questions unanswered.
He would get the answers here, prepare for the future or merely satisfy his curiosity, depending on what the answers were, and then kill both of them.
A few more answers, two less junkies. Some gain and no great loss.
In the other room, the game had gotten around to Henry again. "Okay, Henry," George Biondi said. "Be careful, because this one is tricky. The category is Geography. The question is, 'What is the only continent where kangaroos are a native form of life?' "
A hushed pause.
"Johnny Cash," Henry said, and this was followed by a bull-throated roar of laughter.
The walls shook.
'Cimi tensed, waiting for Balazar's house of cards (which would become a tower only if God, or the blind forces that ran the universe in His name, willed it), to fall down.
The cards trembled a bit. If one fell, all would fall.
Balazar looked up and smiled at 'Cimi. "Piasan," he said. "II Dio est bono; il Dio est malo; temps est poco-poco; tu est une grande peeparollo."
'Cimi smiled. "Si, senor," he said. "lo grande peeparollo; lo va fanculo por tu."
"None va fanculo, catzarro," Balazar said. "Eddie Dean va fanculo." He smiled gently, and began on the second level of his tower of cards.
When the van pulled to the curb near Balazar's place, Col Vincent happened to be looking at Eddie. He saw something impossible. He tried to speak and found himself unable. His tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth and all he could get out was a muffled grunt.
He saw Eddie's eyes change from brown to blue.
This time Roland made no conscious decision to come forward. He simply leaped without thinking, a movement as involuntary as rolling out of a chair and going for his guns when someone burst into a room.
The Tower! he thought fiercely. It's the Tower, my God, the Tower is in the sky, the Tower! I see the Tower in the sky, drawn in lines of red fire! Cuthbert! Alan! Desmond! The Tower! The T锟?
But this time he felt Eddie struggling - not against him, but trying to talk to him, trying desperately to explain something to him.
The gunslinger retreated, listening锟?listening desperately, as above a beach some unknown distance away in space and time, his mindless body twitched and trembled like the body of a man experiencing a dream of highest ecstasy or deepest horror.
Sign! Eddie was screaming into his own head ... and into the head of that other.
It's a sign, just a neon sign, I don't know what tower it is you're thinking about but this is just a bar, Balazar's place, TheLeaningTower, he named it that after the one inPisa! It's just a sign that's supposed to look like the fuckingLeaningTowerofPisa! Let up! Let up! You want to get us killed before we have a chance to go at them?
Pitsa? the gunslinger replied doubtfully, and looked again.
A sign. Yes, all right, he could see now: it was not the Tower, but a Signpost. It leaned to one side, and there were many scalloped curves, and it was a marvel, but that was all. He could see now that the sign was a thing made of tubes, tubes which had somehow been filled with glowing red swamp-fire. In some places there seemed to be less of it than others; in those places the lines of fire pulsed and buzzed.
He now saw letters below the tower which had been made of shaped tubes; most of them were Great Letters. TOWER he could read, and yes, LEANING. LEANING TOWER . The first word was three letters, the first T, the last E, the middle one which he had never seen.
Tre? he asked Eddie.
THE. It doesn't matter. Do you see it's just a sign? That's what matters!
Isee, the gunslinger answered, wondering if the prisoner really believed what he was saying or was only saying it to keep the situation from spilling over as the tower depicted in those lines of fire seemed about to do, wondering if Eddie believed any sign could be a trivial thing.
Then ease off! Do you hear me? Ease off!
Be cool? Roland asked, and both felt Roland smile a little in Eddie's mind.
Be cool, right. Let me handle things.
Yes. All right. He would let Eddie handle things.
Col Vincent finally managed to get his tongue off the roof of his mouth. "Jack." His voice was as thick as shag carpet.
Andolini turned off the motor and looked at him, irritated.
"What about his eyes?"
"Yeah, what about my eyes?" Eddie asked.
Col looked at him.
The sun had gone down, leaving nothing in the air but the day's ashes, but there was light enough for Col to see that Eddie's eyes were brown again.
If they had ever been anything else.
You saw it, part of his mind insisted, but had he? Col was twenty-four, and for the last twenty-one of those years no one had really believed him trustworthy. Useful sometimes. Obedient almost always ... if kept on a short leash. Trustworthy? No. Col had eventually come to believe it himself.
"Nothing," he muttered.
"Then let's go," Andolini said.
They got out of the pizza van. With Andolini on their left and Vincent on their right, Eddie and the gunslinger walked into The Leaning Tower.