PRISONER CHAPTER 5 SHOWDOWN AND SHOOT-OUT
In a blues tune from the twenties Billie Holiday, who would one day discover the truth for herself, sang: "Doctor tole me daughter you got to quit it fast/Because one more rocket gonna be your last." Henry Dean's last rocket went up just five minutes before the van pulled up in front of The Leaning Tower and his brother was herded inside.
Because he was on Henry's right, George Biondi锟?known to his friends as "Big George" and to his enemies as "Big Nose"锟?asked Henry's questions. Now, as Henry sat nodding and blinking owlishly over the board, Tricks Postino put the die in a hand which had already gone the dusty color that results in the extremities after long-term heroin addiction, the dusty color which is the precursor of gangrene.
"Your turn, Henry," Tricks said, and Henry let the die fall from his hand.
When he went on staring into space and showed no intention of moving his game piece, Jimmy Haspio moved it for him. "Look at this, Henry," he said. "You got a chance to score a piece of the pie."
"Reese's Pieces," Henry said dreamily, and then looked around, as if awakening. "Where's Eddie?"
"He'll be here pretty soon," Tricks soothed him. "Just play the game."
"How about a fix?"
"Play the game, Henry."
"Okay, okay, stop leaning on me."
"Don't lean on him," Kevin Blake said to Jimmy.
"Okay, I won't," Jimmy said.
"You ready?" George Biondi said, and gave the others an enormous wink as Henry's chin floated down to his breastbone and then slowly rose once more锟?it was like watching a soaked log not quite ready to give in and sink for good.
"Yeah," Henry said. "Bring it on."
"Bring it on!" Jimmy Haspio cried happily.
"You bring that fucker!" Tricks agreed, and they all roared with laughter (in the other room Balazar's edifice, now three levels high, trembled again, but did not fall).
"Okay, listen close," George said, and winked again. Although Henry was on a Sports category, George announced the category was Arts and Entertainment. "What popular country and western singer had hits with 'A Boy Named Sue,' 'Folsom Prison Blues,' and numerous other shitkicking songs?"
Kevin Blake, who actually could add seven and nine (if you gave him poker chips to do it with), howled with laughter, clutching his knees and nearly upsetting the board.
Still pretending to scan the card in his hand, George continued: "This popular singer is also known as The Man in Black. His first name means the same as a place you go to take a piss and his last name means what you got in your wallet unless you're a fucking needle freak."
There was a long expectant silence.
"Walter Brennan," Henry said at last.
Bellows of laughter. Jimmy Haspio clutched Kevin Blake. Kevin punched Jimmy in the shoulder repeatedly. In Balazar's office, the house of cards which was now becoming a tower of cards trembled again.
"Quiet down!" 'Cimi yelled. "Da Boss is buildin!"
They quieted at once.
"Right," George said. "You got that one right, Henry. It was a toughie, but you came through."
"Always do," Henry said. "Always come through in the fuckin clutch. How about a fix?"
"Good idea!" George said, and took a Roi-Tan cigar box from behind him. From it he produced a hypo. He stuck it into the scarred vein above Henry's elbow, and Henry's last rocket took off.
The pizza van's exterior was grungy, but underneath the road-filth and spray-paint was a high-tech marvel the DEA guys would have envied. As Balazar had said on more than one occasion, you couldn't beat the bastards unless you could compete with the bastards锟?unless you could match their equipment. It was expensive stuff, but Balazar's side had an advantage: they stole what the DEA had to buy at grossly inflated prices. There were electronics company employees all the way down the Eastern Seaboard willing to sell you top secret stuff at bargain basement prices. These catzzaroni (Jack Andolini called them Silicon Valley Coke-Heads) practically threw the stuff at you.
Under the dash was a fuzz-buster; a UHF police radar jammer; a high-range/high frequency radio transmissions detector; an h-r/hf jammer; a transponder-amplifier that would make anyone trying to track the van by standard triangulation methods decide it was simultaneously in Connecticut, Harlem, and Montauk Sound; a radio-telephone ... and a small red button which Andolini pushed as soon as Eddie Dean got out of the van.
In Balazar's office the intercom uttered a single short buzz.
"That's them," he said. "Claudio, let them in. 'Cimi, you tell everyone to dummy up. So far as Eddie Dean knows, no one's with me but you and Claudio. 'Cimi, go in the storeroom with the other gentlemen."
They went, 'Cimi turning left, Claudio Andolini going right.
Calmly, Balazar started on another level of his edifice.
Just let me handle it, Eddie said again as Claudio opened the door.
Yes, the gunslinger said, but remained alert, ready to come forward the instant it seemed necessary.
Keys rattled. The gunslinger was very aware of odors锟?old sweat from Col Vincent on his right, some sharp, almost acerbic aftershave from Jack Andolini on his left, and, as they stepped into the dimness, the sour tang of beer.
The smell of beer was all he recognized. This was no tumble-down saloon with sawdust on the floor and planks set across sawhorses for a bar - it was as far from a place like Sheb's in Tull as you could get, the gunslinger reckoned. Glass gleamed mellowly everywhere, more glass in this one room than he had seen in all the years since his childhood, when supply-lines had begun to break down, partially because of interdicting raids carried out by the rebel forces of Parson, the Good Man, but mostly, he thought, simply because the world was moving on. Farson had been a symptom of that great movement, not the cause.
He saw their reflections everywhere锟?on the walls, on the glass-faced bar and the long mirror behind it; he could even see them reflected as curved miniatures in the graceful bell-shapes of wine glasses hung upside down above the bar ... glasses as gorgeous and fragile as festival ornaments.
In one corner was a sculpted creation of lights that rose and changed, rose and changed, rose and changed. Gold to green; green to yellow; yellow to red; red to gold again. Written across it in Great Letters was a word he could read but which meant nothing to him: ROCKOLA.
Never mind. There was business to be done here. He was no tourist; he must not allow himself the luxury of behaving like one, no matter how wonderful or strange these things might be.
The man who had let them in was clearly the brother of the man who drove what Eddie called the van (as in vanguard, Roland supposed), although he was much taller and perhaps five years younger. He wore a gun in a shoulder-rig.
"Where's Henry?" Eddie asked. "I want to see Henry." He raised his voice. "Henry! Hey, Henry!"
No reply; only silence in which the glasses hung over the bar seemed to shiver with a delicacy that was just beyond the range of a human ear.
"Mr. Balazar would like to speak to you first."
"You got him gagged and tied up somewhere, don't you?" Eddie asked, and before Claudio could do more than open his mouth to reply, Eddie laughed. "No, what am I thinking about锟?you got him stoned, that's all. Why would you bother with ropes and gags when all you have to do to keep Henry quiet is needle him? Okay. Take me to Balazar. Let's get this over with."
The gunslinger looked at the tower of cards on Balazar's desk and thought: Another sign.
Balazar did not look up锟?the tower of cards had grown too tall for that to be necessary锟?but rather over the top. His expression was one of pleasure and warmth.
"Eddie," he said. "I'm glad to see you, son. I heard you had some trouble at Kennedy."
"I ain't your son," Eddie said flatly.
Balazar made a little gesture that was at the same time comic, sad, and untrustworthy: You hurt me, Eddie, it said, you hurt me when you say a thing like that.
"Let's cut through it," Eddie said. "You know it comes down to one thing or the other: either the Feds are running me or they had to let me go. You know they didn't sweat it out of me in just two hours. And you know if they had I'd be down at 43rd Street , answering questions between an occasional break to puke in the basin."
"Are they running you, Eddie?" Balazar asked mildly.
"No. They had to let me go. They're following, but I'm not leading."
"So you ditched the stuff," Balazar said. "That's fascinating. You must tell me how one ditches two pounds of coke when that one is on a jet plane. It would be handy information to have. It's like a locked room mystery story."
"I didn't ditch it," Eddie said, "but I don't have it anymore, either."
"So who does?" Claudio asked, then blushed when his brother looked at him with dour ferocity.
"He does," Eddie said, smiling, and pointed at Enrico Balazar over the tower of cards. "It's already been delivered."
For the first time since Eddie had been escorted into the office, a genuine expression illuminated Balazar's face: surprise. Then it was gone. He smiled politely.
"Yes," he said. "To a location which will be revealed later, after you have your brother and your goods and are gone. To Iceland , maybe. Is that how it's supposed to go?"
"No," Eddie said. "You don't understand. It's here. Delivery right to your door. Just like we agreed. Because even in this day and age, there are some people who still believe in living up to the deal as it was originally cut. Amazing, I know, but true."
They were all staring at him.
How'm I doing, Roland? Eddie asked.
I think you are doing very well. But don't let this man Balazar get his balance, Eddie. I think he's dangerous.
You think so, huh? Well, I'm one up on you there, my friend. I know he's dangerous. Very fucking dangerous.
He looked at Balazar again, and dropped him a little wink. "That's why you're the one who's gotta be concerned with the Feds now, not me. If they turn up with a search warrant, you could suddenly find yourself fucked without even opening your legs, Mr. Balazar."
Balazar had picked up two cards. His hands suddenly shook and he put them aside. It was minute, but Roland saw it and Eddie saw it, too. An expression of uncertainty锟?even momentary fear, perhaps锟?appeared and then disappeared on his face.
"Watch your mouth with me, Eddie. Watch how you express yourself, and please remember that my time and my tolerance for nonsense are both short."
Jack Andolini looked alarmed.
"He made a deal with them, Mr. Balazar! This little shit turned over the coke and they planted it while they were pretending to question him!"
"No one has been in here," Balazar said. "No one could get close, Jack, and you know it. Beepers go when a pigeon farts on the roof."
"Even if they had managed to set us up somehow, we have so many people in their organization we could drill fifteen holes in their case in three days. We'd know who, when, and how."
Balazar looked back at Eddie.
"Eddie," he said, "you have fifteen seconds to stop bullshitting. Then I'm going to have 'Cimi Dretto step in here and hurt you. Then, after he hurts you for awhile, he will leave, and from a room close by you will hear him hurting your brother."
Easy, the gunslinger murmured, and thought, All you have to do to hurt him is to say his brother's name. It's like poking an open sore with a stick.
"I'm going to walk into your bathroom," Eddie said. He pointed at a door in the far left corner of the room, a door so unobtrusive it could almost have been one of the wall panels. "I'm going in by myself. Then I'm going to walk back out with a pound of your cocaine. Half the shipment. You test it. Then you bring Henry in here where I can look at him. When I see him, see he's okay, you are going to give him our goods and he's going to ride home with one of your gentlemen. While he does, me and..."Roland, he almost said, "... me and the rest of the guys we both know you got here can watch you build that thing. When Henry's home and safe锟?which means no one standing there with a gun in his ear锟?he's going to call and say a certain word. This is something we worked out before I left. Just in case."
The gunslinger checked Eddie's mind to see if this was true or bluff. It was true, or at least Eddie thought it was. Roland saw Eddie really believed his brother Henry would die before saying that word in falsity. The gunslinger was not so sure.
"You must think I still believe in Santa Claus," Balazar said.
"I know you don't."
"Claudio. Search him. Jack, you go in my bathroom and search it. Everything."
"Is there any place in there I wouldn't know about?" Andolini asked.
Balazar paused for a long moment, considering Andolini carefully with his dark brown eyes. "There is a small panel on the back wall of the medicine cabinet," he said. "I keep a few personal things in there. It is not big enough to hide a pound of dope in, but maybe you better check it."
Jack left, and as he entered the little privy, the gunslinger saw a flash of the same frozen white light that had illuminated the privy of the air-carriage. Then the door shut.
Balazar's eyes flicked back to Eddie.
"Why do you want to tell such crazy lies?" he asked, almost sorrowfully. "I thought you were smart."
"Look in my face," Eddie said quietly, "and tell me that I am lying."
Balazar did as Eddie asked. He looked for a long time. Then he turned away, hands stuffed in his pockets so deeply that the crack of his peasant's ass showed a little. His posture was one of sorrow锟?sorrow over an erring son锟?but before he turned Roland had seen an expression on Balazar's face that had not been sorrow. What Balazar had seen in Eddie's face had left him not sorrowful but profoundly disturbed.
"Strip," Claudio said, and now he was holding his gun on Eddie.
Eddie started to take his clothes off.
I don't like this, Balazar thought as he waited for Jack Andolini to come back out of the bathroom. He was scared, suddenly sweating not just under his arms or in his crotch, places where he sweated even when it was the dead of winter and colder than a well-digger's belt-buckle, but all over. Eddie had gone off looking like a junkie锟?a smart junkie but still a junkie, someone who could be led anywhere by the skag fishhook in his balls锟?and had come back looking like ... like what? Like he'd grown in some way, changed.
It's like somebody poured two quarts of fresh guts down his throat.
Yes. That was it. And the dope. The fucking dope. Jack was tossing the bathroom and Claudio was checking Eddie with the thorough ferocity of a sadistic prison guard; Eddie had stood with a stolidity Balazar would not previously have believed possible for him or any other doper while Claudio spat four times into his left palm, rubbed the snot-flecked spittle all over his right hand, then rammed it up Eddie's asshole to the wrist and an inch or two beyond.
There was no dope in his bathroom, no dope on Eddie or in him. There was no dope in Eddie's clothes, his jacket, or his travelling bag. So it was all nothing but a bluff.
Look in my face and tell me that I am lying.
So he had. What he saw was upsetting. What he saw was that Eddie Dean was perfectly confident: he intended to go into the bathroom and come back with half of Balazar's goods.
Balazar almost believed it himself.
Claudio Andolini pulled his arm back. His fingers came out of Eddie Dean's asshole with a plopping sound. Claudio's mouth twisted like a fishline with knots in it.
"Hurry up, Jack, I got this junkie's shit on my hand!" Claudio yelled angrily.
"If I'd known you were going to be prospecting up there, Claudio, I would have wiped my ass with a chair-leg last time I took a dump," Eddie said mildly. "Your hand would have come out cleaner and I wouldn't be standing here feeling like I just got raped by Ferdinand the Bull."
"Go on down to the kitchen and clean yourself up," Balazar said quietly. "Eddie and I have got no reason to hurt each other. Do we, Eddie?"
"No," Eddie said.
"He's clean, anyway," Claudio said. "Well, clean ain't the word. What I mean is he ain't holding. You can be goddam sure of that.'' He walked out, holding his dirty hand in front of him like a dead fish.
Eddie looked calmly at Balazar, who was thinking again of Harry Houdini, and Blackstone, and Doug Henning, and David Copperfield. They kept saying that magic acts were as dead as vaudeville, but Henning was a superstar and the Copperfield kid had blown the crowd away the one time Balazar had caught his act in Atlantic City . Balazar had loved magicians from the first time he had seen one on a streetcorner, doing card-tricks for pocket-change. And what was the first thing they always did before making something appear锟?something that would make the whole audience first gasp and then applaud? What they did was invite someone up from the audience to make sure that the place from which the rabbit or dove or bare-breasted cutie or the whatever was to appear was perfectly empty. More than that, to make sure there was no way to get anything inside.
I think maybe he's done it. I don't know how, and I don't care. The only thing I know for sure is that I don't like any of this, not one damn bit.
George Biondi also had something not to like. He doubted if Eddie Dean was going to be wild about it, either.
George was pretty sure that at some point after 'Cimi had come into the accountant's office and doused the lights, Henry had died. Died quietly, with no muss, no fuss, no bother. Had simply floated away like a dandelion spore on a light breeze. George thought maybe it had happened right around the time Claudio left to wash his shitty hand in the kitchen.
"Henry?" George muttered in Henry's ear. He put his mouth so close that it was like kissing a girl's ear in a movie theater, and that was pretty fucking gross, especially when you considered that the guy was probably dead锟?it was like narcophobia or whatever the fuck they called it锟?but he had to know, and the wall between this office and Balazar's was thin.
"What's wrong, George?" Tricks Postino asked.
"Shut up," 'Cimi said. His voice was the low rumble of an idling truck.
They shut up.
George slid a hand inside Henry's shirt. Oh, this was getting worse and worse. That image of being with a girl in a movie theater wouldn't leave him. Now here he was, feeling her up, only it wasn't a her but a him, this wasn't just narcophobia, it was fucking faggot narcophobia, and Henry's scrawny junkie's chest wasn't moving up and down, and there wasn't anything inside going thump-thump-thump. For Henry Dean it was all over, for Henry Dean the ball-game had been rained out in the seventh inning. Wasn't nothing ticking but his watch.
He moved into the heavy Old Country atmosphere of olive oil and garlic that surrounded 'Cimi Dretto.
"I think we might have a problem," George whispered.
Jack came out of the bathroom.
"There's no dope in there," he said, and his flat eyes studied Eddie. "And if you were thinking about the window, you can forget it. That's ten-gauge steel mesh."
"I wasn't thinking about the window and it is in there," Eddie said quietly. "You just don't know where to look."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Balazar," Andolini said, "but this crock is getting just a little too full for me."
Balazar studied Eddie as if he hadn't even heard Andolini. He was thinking very deeply.
Thinking about magicians pulling rabbits out of hats.
You got a guy from the audience to check out the fact that the hat was empty. What other thing that never changed? That no one saw into the hat but the magician, of course. And what had the kid said? I'm going to walk into your bathroom. I'm going in by myself.
Knowing how a magic trick worked was something he usually wouldn't want to know; knowing spoiled the fun.
This, however, was a trick he couldn't wait to spoil.
"Fine," he said to Eddie. "If it's in there, go get it. Just like you are. Bare-ass."
"Good," Eddie said, and started toward the bathroom door.
"But not alone," Balazar said. Eddie stopped at once, his body stiffening as if Balazar had shot him with an invisible harpoon, and it did Balazar's heart good to see it. For the first time something hadn't gone according to the kid's plan. "Jack's going with you."
"No," Eddie said at once. "That's not what I锟?"
"Eddie," Balazar said gently, "you don't tell me no. That's one thing you never do."
It's all right, the gunslinger said. Let him come.
But ...but ...
Eddie was close to gibbering, barely holding onto his control. It wasn't just the sudden curve-ball Balazar had thrown him; it was his gnawing worry over Henry, and, growing steadily ascendant over all else, his need for a fix.
Let him come. It will be all right. Listen:
Balazar watched him, a slim, naked man with only the first suggestion of the junkie's typical cave-chested slouch, his head cocked to one side, and as he watched Balazar felt some of his confidence evaporate. It was as if the kid was listening to a voice only he could hear.
The same thought passed through Andolini's mind, but in a different way: What's this? He looks like the dog on those old RCA Victor records!
Col had wanted to tell him something about Eddie's eyes. Suddenly Jack Andolini wished he had listened.
Wish in one hand, shit in the other, he thought.
If Eddie had been listening to voices inside his head, they had either quit talking or he had quit paying attention.
"Okay," he said. "Come along, Jack. I'll show you the Eighth Wonder of the World." He flashed a smile that neither Jack Andolini or Enrico Balazar cared for in the slightest.
"Is that so?" Andolini pulled a gun from the clamshell holster attached to his belt at the small of his back. "Am I gonna be amazed?"
Eddie's smile widened. "Oh yeah. I think this is gonna knock your socks off."
Andolini followed Eddie into the bathroom. He was holding the gun up because his wind was up.
"Close the door," Eddie said.
"Fuck you," Andolini answered.
"Close the door or no dope," Eddie said.
"Fuck you," Andolini said again. Now, a little scared, feeling that there was something going on that he didn't understand, Andolini looked brighter than he had in the van.
"He won't close the door," Eddie yelled at Balazar. "I'm getting ready to give up on you, Mr. Balazar. You probably got six wiseguys in this place, every one of them with about four guns, and the two of you are going batshit over a kid in a crapper. Ajunkie kid."
"Shut the fucking door, Jack!" Balazar shouted.
"That's right," Eddie said as Jack Andolini kicked the door shut behind him. "Is you a man or is you a m锟?"
"Oh boy, ain't I had enough of this turd," Andolini said to no one in particular. He raised the gun, butt forward, meaning to pistol-whip Eddie across the mouth.
Then he froze, gun drawn up across his body, the snarl that bared his teeth slackening into a slack-jawed gape of surprise as he saw what Col Vincent had seen in the van.
Eddie's eyes changed from brown to blue.
"Now grab him!" a low, commanding voice said, and although the voice came from Eddie's mouth, it was not Eddie's voice.
Schizo, Jack Andolini thought. He's gone schizo, gone fucking schi锟?
But the thought broke off when Eddie's hands grabbed his shoulders, because when that happened, Andolini saw a hole in reality suddenly appear about three feet behind Eddie.
No, not a hole. Its dimensions were too perfect for that.
It was a door.
"Hail Mary fulla grace," Jack said in a low breathy moan. Through that doorway which hung in space a foot or so above the floor in front of Balazar's private shower he could see a dark beach which sloped down to crashing waves. Things were moving on that beach. Things.
He brought the gun down, but the blow which had been meant to break off all of Eddie's front teeth at the gum-line did no more than mash Eddie's lips back and bloody them a little. All the strength was running out of him. Jack could feel it happening.
"I told you it was gonna knock your socks off, Jack," Eddie said, and then yanked him. Jack realized what Eddie meant to do at the last moment and began to fight like a wildcat, but it was too late锟?they were tumbling backward through that doorway, and the droning hum of New York City at night, so familiar and constant you never even heard it unless it wasn't there anymore, was replaced by the grinding sound of the waves and the grating, questioning voices of dimly seen horrors crawling to and fro on the beach.
We'll have to move very fast, or we'll find ourselves basted in a hot oast, Roland had said, and Eddie was pretty sure the guy meant that if they didn't shuck and jive at damn near the speed of light, their gooses were going to be cooked. He believed it, too. When it came to hard guys, Jack Andolini was like Dwight Gooden: you could rock him, yes, you could shock him, maybe, but if you let him get away in the early innings he was going to stomp you flat later on.
Left hand! Roland screamed at himself as they went through and he separated from Eddie. Remember! Left hand! Left hand!
He saw Eddie and Jack stumble backward, fall, and then go rolling down the rocky scree that edged the beach, struggling for the gun in Andolini's hand.
Roland had just time to think what a cosmic joke it would be if he arrived back in his own world only to discover that his physical body had died while he had been away ... and then it was too late. Too late to wonder, too late to go back.
Andolini didn't know what had happened. Part of him was sure he had gone crazy, part was sure Eddie had doped him or gassed him or something like that, part believed that the vengeful God of his childhood had finally tired of his evils and had plucked him away from the world he knew and set him down in this weird purgatory.
Then he saw the door, standing open, spilling a fan of white light - the light from Balazar's John锟?onto the rocky ground锟?and understood it was possible to get back. Andolini was a practical man above all else. He would worry about what all this meant later on. Right now he intended to kill this creep's ass and get back through that door.
The strength that had gone out of him in his shocked surprise now flooded back. He realized Eddie was trying to pull his small but very efficient Colt Cobra out of his hand and had nearly succeeded. Jack pulled it back with a curse, tried to aim, and Eddie promptly grabbed his arm again.
Andolini hoisted a knee into the big muscle of Eddie's right thigh (the expensive gabardine of Andolini's slacks was now crusted with dirty gray beach sand) and Eddie screamed as the muscle seized up.
"Roland!" he cried. "Help me! For Christ's sake, help me!"
Andolini snapped his head around and what he saw threw him off-balance again. There was a guy standing there ... only he looked more like a ghost than a guy. Not exactly Casper the Friendly Ghost, either. The swaying figure's white, haggard face was rough with beard-stubble. His shirt was in tatters which blew back behind him in twisted ribbons, showing the starved stack of his ribs. A filthy rag was wrapped around his right hand. He looked sick, sick and dying, but even so he also looked tough enough to make Andolini feel like a soft-boiled egg.
And the joker was wearing a pair of guns.
They looked older than the hills, old enough to have come from a Wild West museum ... but they were guns just the same, they might even really work, and Andolini suddenly realized he was going to have to take care of the white-faced man right away ... unless he really was a spook, and if that was the case, it wouldn't matter fuck-all, so there was really no sense worrying about it.
Andolini let go of Eddie and snap-rolled to the right, barely feeling the edge of rock that tore open his five-hundred-dollar sport jacket. At the same instant the gunslinger drew left-handed, and his draw was as it had always been, sick or well, wide awake or still half asleep: faster than a streak of blue summer lightning.
I'm beat, Andolini thought, full of sick wonder. Christ, he's faster than anybody I ever saw! I'm beat, holy Mary Mother of God, he's gonna blow me away, he's g锟?
The man in the ragged shirt pulled the trigger of the revolver in his left hand and Jack Andolini thought锟?really thought锟?he was dead before he realized there had been only a dull click instead of a report.
Smiling, Andolini rose to his knees and raised his own gun.
"I don't know who you are, but you can kiss your ass good-bye, you fucking spook," he said.
Eddie sat up, shivering, his naked body pocked with goosebumps. He saw Roland draw, heard the dry snap that should have been a bang, saw Andolini come up on his knees, heard him say something, and before he really knew what he was doing his hand had found a ragged chunk of rock. He pulled it out of the grainy earth and threw it as hard as he could.
It struck Andolini high on the back of the head and bounced away. Blood sprayed from a ragged hanging flap in Jack Andolini's scalp. Andolini fired, but the bullet that surely would have killed the gunslinger otherwise went wild.
Not really wild, the gunslinger could have told Eddie. When you feel the wind of the slug on your cheek, you can't really call it wild.
He thumbed the hammer of his gun back and pulled the trigger again as he recoiled from Andolini's shot. This time the bullet in the chamber fired锟?the dry, authoritative crack echoed up and down the beach. Gulls asleep on rocks high above the lobstrosities awoke and flew upward in screaming, startled packs.
The gunslinger's bullet would have stopped Andolini for good in spite of his own involuntary recoil, but by then Andolini was also in motion, falling sideways, dazed by the blow on the head. The crack of the gunslinger's revolver seemed distant, but the searing poker it plunged into his left arm, shattering the elbow, was real enough. It brought him out of his daze and he rose to his feet, one arm hanging broken and useless, the gun wavering wildly about in his other hand, looking for a target.
It was Eddie he saw first, Eddie the junkie, Eddie who had somehow brought him to this crazy place. Eddie was standing there as naked as the day he had been born, shivering in the chilly wind, clutching himself with both arms. Well, he might die here, but he would at least have the pleasure of taking Eddie Fucking Dean with him.
Andolini brought his gun up. The little Cobra now seemed to weigh about twenty pounds, but he managed.
This better not be another misfire, Roland thought grimly, and thumbed the hammer back again. Below the din of the gulls, he heard the smooth oiled click as the chamber revolved.
It was no misfire.
The gunslinger hadn't aimed at Andolini's head but at the gun in Andolini's hand. He didn't know if they still needed this man, but they might; he was important to Balazar, and because Balazar had proved to be every bit as dangerous as Roland had thought he might be, the best course was the safest one.
His shot was good, and that was no surprise; what happened to Andolini's gun and hence to Andolini was. Roland had seen it happen, but only twice in all the years he had seen men fire guns at each other.
Bad luck for you, fellow, the gunslinger thought as Andolini wandered off toward the beach, screaming. Blood poured down his shirt and pants. The hand which had been holding the Colt Cobra was missing below the middle of the palm. The gun was a senseless piece of twisted metal lying on the sand.
Eddie stared at him, stunned. No one would ever misjudge Jack Andolini's caveman face again, because now he had no face; where it had been there was now nothing but a churned mess of raw flesh and the black screaming hole of his mouth
"My God, what happened?"
"My bullet must have struck the cylinder of his gun at the second he pulled the trigger," the gunslinger said. He spoke as dryly as a professor giving a police academy ballistics lecture. "The result was an explosion that tore the back off his gun. I think one or two of the other cartridges may have exploded as well."
"Shoot him," Eddie said. He was shivering harder than ever, and now it wasn't just the combination of night air, sea breeze, and naked body that was causing it. "Kill him. Put him out of his misery, for God's s - "
"Too late," the gunslinger said with a cold indifference that chilled Eddie's flesh all the way in to the bone.
And Eddie turned away just too late to avoid seeing the lobstrosities swarm over Andolini's feet, tearing off his Gucci loafers ... with the feet still inside them, of course. Screaming, waving his arms spasmodically before him, Andolini fell forward. The lobstrosities swarmed greedily over him, questioning him anxiously all the while they were eating him alive: Dad-a-chack? Did-a-chick? Dum-a-chum? Dod-a-chock?
"Jesus," Eddie moaned. "What do we do now?"
"Now you get exactly as much of the
(devil-powder the gunslinger said; cocaine Eddie heard)
as you promised the man Balazar," Roland said, "no more and no less. And we go back.'' He looked levelly at Eddie. "Only this time I have to go back with you. As myself."
"Jesus Christ," Eddie said. "Can you do that?" And at once answered his own question. "Sure you can. But why?"
"Because you can't handle this alone," Roland said. "Come here."
Eddie looked back at the squirming hump of clawed creatures on the beach. He had never liked Jack Andolini, but he felt his stomach roll over just the same.
"Come here," Roland said impatiently. "We've little time, and I have little liking for what I must do now. It's something I've never done before. Never thought I would do." His lips twisted bitterly. "I'm getting used to doing things like that."
Eddie approached the scrawny figure slowly, on legs that felt more and more like rubber. His bare skin was white and glimmering in the alien dark. Just who are you, Roland? he thought. What are you? And that heat I feel baking off you锟?is it just fever? Or some kind of madness? I think it might be both.
God, he needed a fix. More: he deserved a fix.
"Never done what before?" he asked. "What are you talking about?"
"Take this," Roland said, and gestured at the ancient revolver slung low on his right hip. Did not point; there was no finger to point with, only a bulky, rag-wrapped bundle. "It's no good to me. Not now, perhaps never again."
"I ..." Eddie swallowed. "I don't want to touch it."
"I don't want you to either," the gunslinger said with curious gentleness, "but I'm afraid neither of us has a choice. There's going to be shooting."
"Yes." The gunslinger looked serenely at Eddie. "Quite a lot of it, I think."
Balazar had become more and more uneasy. Too long. They had been in there too long and it was too quiet. Distantly, maybe on the next block, he could hear people shouting at each other and then a couple of rattling reports that were probably firecrackers ... but when you were in the sort of business Balazar was in, firecrackers weren't the first thing you thought of.
A scream. Was that a scream?
Never mind. Whatever's happening on the next block has nothing to do with you. You're turning into an old woman.
All the same, the signs were bad. Very bad.
"Jack?" he yelled at the closed bathroom door.
There was no answer.
Balazar opened the left front drawer of his desk and took out the gun. This was no Colt Cobra, cozy enough to fit in a clamshell holster; it was a .357 Magnum.
" 'Cimi!" he shouted. "I want you!"
He slammed the drawer. The tower of cards fell with a soft, sighing thump. Balazar didn't even notice.
'Cimi Dretto, all two hundred and fifty pounds of him, filled the doorway. He saw that Da Boss had pulled his gun out of the drawer, and 'Cimi immediately pulled his own from beneath a plaid jacket so loud it could have caused flash-burns on anyone who made the mistake of looking at it too long.
"I want Claudio and Tricks," he said. "Get them quick. The kid is up to something."
"We got a problem," 'Cimi said.
Balazar's eyes flicked from the bathroom door to 'Cimi. "Oh, I got plenty of those already," he said. "What's this new one, 'Cimi?"
'Cimi licked his lips. He didn't like telling Da Boss bad news even under the best of circumstances; when he looked like this ...
"Well," he said, and licked his lips. "You see锟?"
"Will you hurry the fuck up?" Balazar yelled.
The sandalwood grips of the revolver were so smooth that Eddie's first act upon receiving it was to nearly drop it on his toes. The thing was so big it looked prehistoric, so heavy he knew he would have to lift it two-handed. The recoil, he thought, is apt to drive me right through the nearest wall. That's if it fires at all. Yet there was some part of him that wanted to hold it, that responded to its perfectly expressed purpose, that sensed its dim and bloody history and wanted to be part of it.
No one but the best ever held this baby in his hand, Eddie thought. Until now, at least.
"Are you ready?" Roland asked.
"No, but let's do it," Eddie said.
He gripped Roland's left wrist with his left hand. Roland slid his hot right arm around Eddie's bare shoulders.
Together they stepped back through the doorway, from the windy darkness of the beach in Roland's dying world to the cool fluorescent glare of Balazar's private bathroom in The Leaning Tower.
Eddie blinked, adjusting his eyes to the light, and heard 'Cimi Dretto in the other room. "We got a problem," 'Cimi was saying. Don't we all, Eddie thought, and then his eyes riveted on Balazar's medicine chest. It was standing open. In his mind he heard Balazar telling Jack to search the bathroom, and heard Andolini asking if there was any place in there he wouldn't know about. Balazar had paused before replying. There is a small panel on the back wall of the medicine cabinet, he had said. Ikeep a few personal things in there.
Andolini had slid the metal panel open but had neglected to close it. "Roland!" he hissed.
Roland raised his own gun and pressed the barrel against his lips in a shushing gesture. Eddie crossed silently to the medicine chest.
A few personal things -??there was a bottle of suppositories, a copy of a blearily printed magazine called Child's Play (the cover depicting two naked girls of about eight engaged in a soul-kiss) ... and eight or ten sample packages of Keflex. Eddie knew what Keflex was. Junkies, prone as they were to infections both general and local, usually knew.
Keflex was an antibiotic.
"Oh, I got plenty of those already," Balazar was saying. He sounded harried. "What's this new one, 'Cimi?"
If this doesn't knock out whatever's wrong with him nothing will, Eddie thought. He began to grab the packages and went to stuff them into his pockets. He realized he had no pockets and uttered a harsh bark that wasn't even close to laughter.
He began to dump them into the sink. He would have to pick them up later ... if there was a later.
"Well," 'Cimi was saying, "you see锟?"
"Will you hurry the fuck up?" Balazar yelled.
"It's the kid's big brother," 'Cimi said, and Eddie froze with the last two packages of Keflex still in his hand, his head cocked. He looked more like the dog on the old RCA Victor records than ever.
"What about him?" Balazar asked impatiently.
"He's dead," 'Cimi said.
Eddie dropped the Keflex into the sink and turned toward Roland.
"They killed my brother," he said.
Balazar opened his mouth to tell 'Cimi not to bother him with a bunch of crap when he had important things to worry about锟?like this impossible-to-shake feeling that the kid was going to fuck him, Andolini or no Andolini - when he heard the kid as clearly as the kid had no doubt heard him and 'Cimi. "They killed my brother," the kid said.
Suddenly Balazar didn't care about his goods, about the unanswered questions, or anything except bringing this situation to a screeching halt before it could get any weirder.
"Kill him, Jack!" he shouted.
There was no response. Then he heard the kid say it again: "They killed my brother. They killed Henry."
Balazar suddenly knew锟?knew锟? it wasn't Jack the kid was talking to.
"Get all the gentlemen," he said to 'Cimi. "All of them. We're gonna burn his ass and when he's dead we're gonna take him in the kitchen and I'm gonna personally chop his head off."
"They killed my brother," the prisoner said. The gunslinger said nothing. He only watched and thought: The bottles. In the sink. That's what I need, or what he thinks I need. The packets. Don't forget. Don't forget.
From the other room: "Kill him, Jack!"
Neither Eddie nor the gunslinger took any notice of this.
"They killed my brother. They killed Henry."
In the other room Balazar was now talking about taking Eddie's head as a trophy. The gunslinger found some odd comfort in this: not everything in this world was different from his own, it seemed.
The one called 'Cimi began shouting hoarsely for the others. There was an ungentlemanly thunder of running feet.
"Do you want to do something about it, or do you just want to stand here?" Roland asked.
"Oh, I want to do something about it," Eddie said, and raised the gunslinger's revolver. Although only moments ago he had believed he would need both hands to do it, he found that he could do it easily.
"And what is it you want to do?" Roland asked, and his voice seemed distant to his own ears. He was sick, full of fever, but what was happening to him now was the onset of a different fever, one which was all too familiar. It was the fever that had overtaken him in Tull. It was battle-fire, hazing all thought, leaving only the need to stop thinking and start shooting.
"I want to go to war," Eddie Dean said calmly.
"You don't know what you're talking about," Roland said, "but you are going to find out. When we go through the door, you go right. I have to go left. My hand."
Eddie nodded. They went to their war.
Balazar had expected Eddie, or Andolini, or both of them. He had not expected Eddie and an utter stranger, a tall man with dirty gray-black hair and a face that looked as if it had been chiseled from obdurate stone by some savage god. For a moment he was not sure which way to fire.
'Cimi, however, had no such problems. Da Boss was mad at Eddie. Therefore, he would punch Eddie's clock first and worry about the other catzarro later. 'Cimi turned ponderously toward Eddie and pulled the trigger of his automatic three times. The casings jumped and gleamed in the air. Eddie saw the big man turning and went into a mad slide along the floor, whizzing along like some kid in a disco contest, a kid so jived-up he didn't realize he'd left his entire John Travolta outfit, underwear included, behind; he went with his wang wagging and his bare knees first heating and then scorching as the friction built up. Holes punched through plastic that was supposed to look like knotty pine just above him. Slivers of it rained down on his shoulders and into his hair.
Don't let me die naked and needing a fix, God, he prayed, knowing such a prayer was more than blasphemous; it was an absurdity. Still he was unable to stop it. I'll die, but please, just let me have one more锟?
The revolver in the gunslinger's left hand crashed. On the open beach it had been loud; over here it was deafening.
"Oh Jeez!" 'Cimi Dretto screamed in a strangled, breathy voice. It was a wonder he could scream at all. His chest suddenly caved in, as if someone had swung a sledgehammer at a barrel. His white shirt began to turn red in patches, as if poppies were blooming on it. "Oh Jeez! Oh Jeez! Oh J锟?"
Claudio Andolini shoved him aside. 'Cimi fell with a thud. Two of the framed pictures on Balazar's wall crashed down. The one showing Da Boss presenting the Sportsman of the Year trophy to a grinning kid at a Police Athletic League banquet landed on 'Cimi's head. Shattered glass fell on his shoulders.
"oh jeez" he whispered in a fainting little voice, and blood began to bubble from his lips.
Claudio was followed by Tricks and one of the men who had been waiting in the storage room. Claudio had an automatic in each hand; the guy from the storage room had a Remington shotgun sawed off so short that it looked like a derringer with a case of the mumps; Tricks Postino was carrying what he called The Wonderful Rambo Machine锟?this was an M-16 rapid-fire assault weapon.
"Where's my brother, you fucking needle-freak?" Claudio screamed. "What'd you do to Jack?" He could not have been terribly interested in an answer, because he began to fire with both weapons while he was still yelling. I'm dead, Eddie thought, and then Roland fired again. Claudio Andolini was propelled backwards in a cloud of his own blood. The automatics flew from his hands and slid across Balazar's desk. They thumped to the carpet amid a flutter of playing cards. Most of Claudio's guts hit the wall a second before Claudio caught up with them.
"Get him!" Balazar was shrieking. "Get the spook! The kid ain't dangerous! He's nothing but a bare-ass junkie! Get the spook! Blow him away!"
He pulled the trigger on the .357 twice. The Magnum was almost as loud as Roland's revolver. It did not make neat holes in the wall against which Roland crouched; the slugs smashed gaping wounds in the fake wood to either side of Roland's head. White light from the bathroom shone through the holes in ragged rays.
Roland pulled the trigger of his revolver.
Only a dry click.
"Eddie!" the gunslinger yelled, and Eddie raised his own gun and pulled the trigger.
The crash was so loud that for a moment he thought the gun had blown up in his hand, as Jack's had done. The recoil did not drive him back through the wall, but it did snap his arm up in a savage arc that jerked all the tendons under his arm.
He saw part of Balazar's shoulder disintegrate into red spray, heard Balazar screech like a wounded cat, and yelled, "The junkie ain't dangerous, was that what you said? Was that it, you numb fuck? You want to mess with me and my brother? I'll show you who's dangerous! I'll sh锟?"
There was a boom like a grenade as the guy from the storage room fired the sawed-off. Eddie rolled as the blast tore a hundred tiny holes in the walls and bathroom door. His naked skin was seared by shot in several places, and Eddie understood that if the guy had been closer, where the thing's pattern was tight, he would have been vaporized.
Hell, I'm dead anyway, he thought, watching as the guy from the storage room worked the Remington's jack, pumping in fresh cartridges, then laying it over his forearm. He was grinning. His teeth were very yellow锟?Eddie didn't think they had been acquainted with a toothbrush in quite some time.
Christ, I'm going to get killed by some fuckhead with yellow teeth and I don't even know his name, Eddie thought dimly. At least I put one in Balazar. At least I did that much. He wondered if Roland had another shot. He couldn't remember.
"I got him!" Tricks Postino yelled cheerfully. "Gimme a clear field, Dario!" And before the man named Dario could give him a clear field or anything else, Tricks opened up with The Wonderful Rambo Machine. The heavy thunder of machine-gun fire filled Balazar's office. The first result of this barrage was to save Eddie Dean's life. Dario had drawn a bead on him with the sawed-off, but before he could pull its double triggers, Tricks cut him in half.
"Stop it, you idiot!" Balazar screamed.
But Tricks either didn't hear, couldn't stop, or wouldn't stop. Lips pulled back from his teeth so that his spit-shining teeth were bared in a huge shark's grin, he raked the room from one end to the other, blowing two of the wall panels to dust, turning framed photographs into clouds of flying glass fragments, hammering the bathroom door off its hinges. The frosted glass of Balazar's shower stall exploded. The March of Dimes trophy Balazar had gotten the year before bonged like a bell as a slug drove through it.
In the movies, people actually kill other people with hand-held rapid-fire weapons. In real life, this rarely happens. If it does, it happens with the first four or five slugs fired (as the unfortunate Dario could have testified, if he had ever been capable of testifying to anything again). After the first four or five, two things happen to a man锟?even a powerful one锟?trying to control such a weapon. The muzzle begins to rise, and the shooter himself begins to turn either right or left, depending on which unfortunate shoulder he has decided to bludgeon with the weapon's recoil. In short, only a moron or a movie star would attempt the use of such a gun; it was like trying to shoot someone with a pneumatic drill.
For a moment Eddie was incapable of any action more constructive than staring at this perfect marvel of idiocy. Then he saw other men crowding through the door behind Tricks, and raised Roland's revolver.
"Got him!" Tricks was screaming with the joyous hysteria of a man who has seen too many movies to be able to distinguish between what the script in his head says should be happening and what really is. "Got him! I got him! I g锟?"
Eddie pulled the trigger and vaporized Tricks from the eyebrows up. Judging from the man's behavior, that was not a great deal.
Jesus Christ, when these things do shoot, they really blow holes in things, he thought.
There was a loudKA-BLAM from Eddie's left. Something tore a hot gouge in his underdeveloped left bicep. He saw Balazar pointing the Mag at him from behind the corner of his card-littered desk. His shoulder was a dripping red mass. Eddie ducked as the Magnum crashed again.
Roland managed to get into a crouch, aimed at the first of the new men coming in through the door, and squeezed the trigger. He had rolled the cylinder, dumped the used loads and the duds onto the carpet, and had loaded this one fresh shell. He had done it with his teeth. Balazar had pinned Eddie down; Ifthis one's a dud, I think we're both gone.
It wasn't. The gun roared, recoiled in his hand, and Jimmy Haspio spun aside, the .45 he had been holding falling from his dying fingers.
Roland saw the other man duck back and then he was crawling through the splinters of wood and glass that littered the floor. He dropped his revolver back into its holster. The idea of reloading again with two of his right fingers missing was a joke.
Eddie was doing well. The gunslinger measured just how well by the fact that he was fighting naked. That was hard for a man. Sometimes impossible.
The gunslinger grabbed one of the automatic pistols Claudio Andolini had dropped.
"What are the rest of you guys waiting for?" Balazar screamed. "Jesus! Eat these guys!"
Big George Biondi and the other man from the supply room charged in through the door. The man from the supply room was bawling something in Italian.
Roland crawled to the corner of the desk. Eddie rose, aiming toward the door and the charging men. He knows Balazar's there, waiting, but he thinks he's the only one of us with a gun now, Roland thought. Here is another one ready to die for you, Roland. What great wrong did you ever do that you should inspire such terrible loyalty in so many?
Balazar rose, not seeing the gunslinger was now on his flank. Balazar was thinking of only one thing: finally putting an end to the goddam junkie who had brought this ruin down on his head.
"No," the gunslinger said, and Balazar looked around at him, surprise stamped on his features.
"Fuck y锟?" Balazar began, bringing the Magnum around. The gunslinger shot him four times with Claudio's automatic. It was a cheap little thing, not much better than a toy, and touching it made his hand feel dirty, but it was perhaps fitting to kill a despicable man with a despicable weapon.
Enrico Balazar died with an expression of terminal surprise on what remained of his face.
"Hi, George!" Eddie said, and pulled the trigger of the gunslinger's revolver. That satisfying crash came again. No duds in this baby, Eddie thought crazily. Iguess I must have gotten the good one. George got off one shot before Eddie's bullet drove him back into the screaming man, bowling him over like a ninepin, but it went wild. An irrational but utterly persuasive feeling had come over him: a feeling that Roland's gun held some magical, talismanic power of protection. As long as he held it, he couldn't be hurt.
Silence fell then, a silence in which Eddie could hear only the man under Big George moaning (when George landed on Rudy Vechhio, which was this unfortunate fellow's name, he had fractured three of Vechhio's ribs) and the high ringing in his own ears. He wondered if he would ever hear right again. The shooting spree which now seemed to be over made the loudest rock concert Eddie had ever been to sound like a radio playing two blocks over by comparison.
Balazar's office was no longer recognizable as a room of any kind. Its previous function had ceased to matter. Eddie looked around with the wide, wondering eyes of a very young man seeing something like this for the first time, but Roland knew the look, and the look was always the same. Whether it was an open field of battle where thousands had died by cannon, rifle, sword, and halberd or a small room where five or six had shot each other, it was the same place, always the same place in the end: another deadhouse, stinking of gunpowder and raw meat.
The wall between the bathroom and the office was gone except for a few struts. Broken glass twinkled everywhere. Ceiling panels that had been shredded by Tricks Postino's gaudy but useless M-16 fireworks display hung down like pieces of peeled skin.
Eddie coughed dryly. Now he could hear other sounds锟?a babble of excited conversation, shouted voices outside the bar, and, in the distance, the warble of sirens.
"How many?" the gunslinger asked Eddie. "Can we have gotten all of them?"
"Yes, I think锟?"
"I got something for you, Eddie," Kevin Blake said from the hallway. "I thought you might want it, like for a souvenir, you know?" What Balazar had not been able to do to the younger Dean brother Kevin had done to the elder. He lobbed Henry Dean's severed head through the doorway.
Eddie saw what it was and screamed. He ran toward the door, heedless of the splinters of glass and wood that punched into his bare feet, screaming, shooting, firing the last live shell in the big revolver as he went.
"No, Eddie!" Roland screamed, but Eddie didn't hear. He was beyond hearing.
He hit a dud in the sixth chamber, but by then he was aware of nothing but the fact that Henry was dead, Henry, they had cut off his head, some miserable son of a bitch had cut off Henry's head, and that son of a bitch was going to pay, oh yes, you could count on that.
So he ran toward the door, pulling the trigger again and again, unaware that nothing was happening, unaware that his feet were red with blood, and Kevin Blake stepped into the doorway to meet him, crouched low, a Llama .38 automatic in his hand. Kevin's red hair stood around his head in coils and springs, and Kevin was smiling.
He'll be low, the gunslinger thought, knowing he could have to be lucky to hit his target with this untrustworthy little toy even if he had guessed right.
When he saw the ruse of Balazar's soldier was going to draw Eddie out, Roland rose to his knees and steadied his left hand on his right fist, grimly ignoring the screech of pain making that fist caused. He would have one chance only. The pain didn't matter.
Then the man with the red hair stepped into the doorway, smiling, and as always Roland's brain was gone; his eye saw, his hand shot, and suddenly the red-head was lying against the wall of the corridor with his eyes open and a small blue hole in his forehead. Eddie was standing over him, screaming and sobbing, dry-firing the big revolver with the sandalwood grips again and again, as if the man with the red hair could never be dead enough.
The gunslinger waited for the deadly crossfire that would cut Eddie in half and when it didn't come he knew it was truly over. If there had been other soldiers, they had taken to their heels.
He got wearily to his feet, reeled, and then walked slowly over to where Eddie Dean stood.
"Stop it," he said.
Eddie ignored him and went on dry-firing Roland's big gun at the dead man.
"Stop it, Eddie, he's dead. They're all dead. Your feet are bleeding."
Eddie ignored him and went on pulling the revolver's trigger. The babble of excited voices outside was closer. So were the sirens.
The gunslinger reached for the gun and pulled on it. Eddie turned on him, and before Roland was entirely sure what was happening, Eddie struck him on the side of the head with his own gun. Roland felt a warm gush of blood and collapsed against the wall. He struggled to stay on his feet锟?they had to get out of here, quick. But he could feel himself sliding down the wall in spite of his every effort, and then the world was gone for a little while in a drift of grayness.
He was out for no more than two minutes, and then he managed to get things back into focus and make it to his feet. Eddie was no longer in the hallway. Roland's gun lay on the chest of the dead man with the red hair. The gunslinger bent, fighting off a wave of dizziness, picked it up, and dropped it into its holster with an awkward, cross-body movement.
I want my damned fingers back, he thought tiredly, and sighed.
He tried to walk back into the ruins of the office, but the best he could manage was an educated stagger. He stopped, bent, and picked up all of Eddie's clothes that he could hold in the crook of his left arm. The howlers had almost arrived. Roland believed the men winding them were probably militia, a Marshall 's posse, something of that sort ... but there was always the possibility they might be more of Balazar's men.
"Eddie," he croaked. His throat was sore and throbbing again, worse even than the swollen place on the side of his head where Eddie had struck him with the revolver.
Eddie didn't notice. Eddie was sitting on the floor with his brother's head cradled against his belly. He was shuddering all over and crying. The gunslinger looked for the door, didn't see it, and felt a nasty jolt that was nearly terror. Then he remembered. With both of them on this side, the only way to create the door was for him to make physical contact with Eddie.
He reached for him but Eddie shrank away, still weeping. "Don't touch me," he said.
"Eddie, it's over. They're all dead, and your brother's dead, too."
"Leave my brother out of this!" Eddie shrieked childishly, and another fit of shuddering went through him. He cradled the severed head to his chest and rocked it. He lifted his streaming eyes to the gunslinger's face.
"All the times he took care of me, man," he said, sobbing so hard the gunslinger could barely understand him. "All the times. Why couldn't I have taken care of him, just this once, after all the times he took care of me?"
He took care of you, all right, Roland thought grimly. Look at you, sitting there and shaking like a man who's eaten an apple from the fever tree. He took care of you just fine.
"We have to go."
"Go?" for the first time some vague understanding came into Eddie's face, and it was followed immediately by alarm. "I ain't going nowhere. Especially not back to that other place, where those big crabs or whatever they are ate Jack."
Someone was hammering on the door, yelling to open up.
"Do you want to stay here and explain all these bodies?" the gunslinger asked.
"I don't care," Eddie said. "Without Henry, it doesn't matter. Nothing does."
"Maybe it doesn't matter to you," Roland said, "but there are others involved, prisoner."
"Don't call me that!" Eddie shouted.
"I'llcall you that until you show me you can walk out of the cell you're in!" Roland shouted back. It hurt his throat to yell, but he yelled just the same. "Throw that rotten piece of meat away and stop puling!"
Eddie looked at him, cheeks wet, eyes wide and frightened.
"THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE!" an amplified voice said from outside. To Eddie the voice sounded eerily like the voice of a game-show host. "THE S.W.A.T. SQUAD HAS ARRIVED锟?I REPEAT: THE S.W.A.T. SQUAD HAS ARRIVED!"
"What's on the other side of that door for me?" Eddie asked the gunslinger quietly. "Go on and tell me. If you can tell me, maybe I'll come. But if you lie, I'll know."
"Probably death," the gunslinger said. "But before that happens, I don't think you'll be bored. I want you to join me on a quest. Of course, all will probably end in death锟?death for the four of us in a strange place. But if we should win through ..." His eyes gleamed. "If we win through, Eddie, you'll see something beyond all the beliefs of all your dreams."
"The Dark Tower ."
"Where is this Tower?"
"Far from the beach where you found me. How far I know not."
"What is it?"
"I don't know that, either锟?except that it may be a kind of ... of a bolt. A central linchpin that holds all of existence together. All existence, all time, and all size."
"You said four. Who are the other two?"
"I know them not, for they have yet to be drawn."
"As I was drawn. Or as you'd like to draw me."
From outside there was a coughing explosion like a mortar round. The glass of The Leaning Tower's front window blew in. The barroom began to fill with choking clouds of tear-gas.
"Well?" Roland asked. He could grab Eddie, force the doorway into existence by their contact, and pummel them both through. But he had seen Eddie risk his life for him; he had seen this hag-ridden man behave with all the dignity of a born gunslinger in spite of his addiction and the fact that he had been forced to fight as naked as the day he was born, and he wanted Eddie to decide for himself.
"Quests, adventures, towers, worlds to win," Eddie said, and smiled wanly. Neither of them turned as fresh tear-gas rounds flew through the windows to explode, hissing, on the floor. The first acrid tendrils of the gas were now slipping into Balazar's office. "Sounds better than one of those Edgar Rice Burroughs books about Mars Henry used to read me sometimes when we were kids. You only left out one thing."
"The beautiful bare-breasted girls."
The gunslinger smiled. "On the way to the Dark Tower ," he said, "anything is possible."
Another shudder wracked Eddie's body. He raised Henry's head, kissed one cool, ash-colored cheek, and laid the gore-streaked relic gently aside. He got to his feet.
"Okay," he said. "I didn't have anything else planned for tonight, anyway."
"Take these," Roland said, and shoved the clothes at him. "Put on your shoes if nothing else. You've cut your feet."
On the sidewalk outside, two cops wearing Plexiglas faceplates, flak jackets, and Kevlar vests smashed in The Leaning Tower's front door. In the bathroom, Eddie (dressed in his underpants, his Adidas sneakers, and nothing else) handed the sample packages of Keflex to Roland one by one, and Roland put them into the pockets of Eddie's jeans. When they were all safely stowed, Roland slid his right arm around Eddie's neck again and Eddie gripped Roland's left hand again. The door was suddenly there, a rectangle of darkness. Eddie felt the wind from that other world blow his sweaty hair back from his forehead. He heard the waves rolling up that stony beach. He smelled the tang of sour sea-salt. And in spite of everything, all his pain and sorrow, he suddenly wanted to see this Tower of which Roland spoke. He wanted to see it very much. And with Henry dead, what was there in this world for him? Their parents were dead, and there hadn't been a steady girl since he got heavily into the smack three years ago锟?just a steady parade of sluts, needlers, and nosers. None of them straight. Fuck that action.
They stepped through, Eddie actually leading a little.
On the other side he was suddenly wracked with fresh shudders and agonizing muscle-cramps锟?the first symptoms of serious heroin withdrawal. And with them he also had the first alarmed second thoughts.
"Wait!" he shouted. "I want to go back for a minute! His desk! His desk, or the other office! The skag! If they were keeping Henry doped, there's gotta be junk! Heroin! I need it! I need it!"
He looked pleadingly at Roland, but the gunslinger's face was stony.
"That part of your life is over, Eddie," he said. He reached out with his left hand.
"No!" Eddie screamed, clawing at him. "No, you don't get it, man, I need it! I NEED IT!"
He might as well have been clawing stone.
The gunslinger swept the door shut.
It made a dull clapping sound that bespoke utter finality and fell backward onto the sand. A little dust puffed up from its edges. There was nothing behind the door, and now no word written upon it. This particular portal between the worlds had closed forever.
"NO!" Eddie screamed, and the gulls screamed back at him as if in jeering contempt; the lobstrosities asked him questions, perhaps suggesting he could hear them a little better if he were to come a little closer, and Eddie fell over on his side, crying and shuddering and jerking with cramps.
"Your need will pass," the gunslinger said, and managed to get one of the sample packets out of the pocket of Eddie's jeans, which were so like his own. Again, he could read some of these letters but not all. Cheeflet, the word looked like.
Medicine from that other world.
"Kill or cure," Roland murmured, and dry-swallowed two of the capsules. Then he took the other three astin, and lay next to Eddie, and took him in his arms as well as he could, and after some difficult time, both of them slept.
The time following that night was broken time for Roland, time that didn't really exist as time at all. What he remembered was only a series of images, moments, conversation without context; images flashing past like one-eyed jacks and treys and nines and the Bloody Black Bitch Queen of Spiders in a card-sharp's rapid shuffle.
Later on he asked Eddie how long that time lasted, but Eddie didn't know either. Time had been destroyed for both of them. There is no time in hell, and each of them was in his own private hell: Roland the hell of the fever and infection, Eddie the hell of withdrawal.
"It was less than a week," Eddie said. "That's all I know for sure."
"How do you know that?"
"A week's worth of pills was all I had to give you. After that, you were gonna have to do the one thing or the other on your own."
"Get well or die."
There's a gunshot as twilight draws down to dark, a dry crack impinging on the inevitable and ineluctable sound of the breakers dying on the desolate beach: KA-BLAM! He smells a whiff of gunpowder. Trouble, the gunslinger thinks weakly, and gropes for revolvers that aren't there. Oh no, it's the end, it's ...
But there's no more, as something starts to smell
good in the dark. Something, after all this long dark dry time, something is cooking. It's not just the smell. He can hear the snap and pop of twigs, can see the faint orange flicker of a campfire. Sometimes, when the sea-breeze gusts, he smells fragrant smoke as well as that mouth-watering other smell. Food, he thinks. My God, am I hungry? If I'm hungry, maybeI'm getting well.
Eddie, he tries to say, but his voice is all gone. His throat hurts, hurts so bad. We should have brought some astin, too, he thinks, and then tries to laugh: all the drugs for him, none for Eddie.
Eddie appears. He's got a tin plate, one the gunslinger would know anywhere: it came, after all, from his own purse. On it are steaming chunks of whitish-pink meat.
What? he tries to ask, and nothing comes out but a squeaky little farting sound.
Eddie reads the shape of his lips. "I don't know," he says crossly. "All I know is it didn't kill me. Eat it, damn you."
He sees Eddie is very pale, Eddie is shaking, and he smells something coming from Eddie that is either shit or death, and he knows Eddie is in a bad way. He reaches out a groping hand, wanting to give comfort. Eddie strikes it away.
"I'll feed you," he says crossly. "Fucked if I know why. I ought to kill you. I would, if I didn't think that if you could get through into my world once, maybe you could do it again."
Eddie looks around.
"And if it wasn't that I'd be alone. Except for them."
He looks back at Roland and a fit of shuddering runs through him锟?it is so fierce that he almost spills the chunks of meat on the tin plate. At last it passes.
"Eat, God damn you."
The gunslinger eats. The meat is more than not bad; the meat is delicious. He manages three pieces and then everything blurs into a new
effort to speak, but all he can do is whisper. The cup of Eddie's ear is pressed against his lips, except every now and then it shudders away as Eddie goes through one of his spasms. He says it again. "North. Up ... up the beach."
"How do you know?"
"Just know," he whispers.
Eddie looks at him. "You're crazy," he says.
The gunslinger smiles and tries to black out but Eddie slaps him, slaps him hard. Roland's blue eyes fly open and for a moment they are so alive and electric Eddie looks uneasy. Then his lips draw back in a smile that is mostly snarl.
"Yeah, you can drone off," he said, "but first you gotta take your dope. It's time. Sun says it is, anyway. I guess. I was never no Boy Scout, so I don't know for sure. But I guess it's close enough for Government work. Open wide, Roland. Open wide for Dr. Eddie, you kidnapping fuck."
The gunslinger opens his mouth like a baby for the breast. Eddie puts two of the pills in his mouth and then slops fresh water carelessly into Roland's mouth. Roland guesses it must be from a hill stream somewhere to the east. It might be poison; Eddie wouldn't know fair water from foul. On the other hand, Eddie seems fine himself, and there's really no choice, is there? No.
He swallows, coughs, and nearly strangles while Eddie looks at him indifferently.
Roland reaches for him.
Eddie tries to draw away.
The gunslinger's bullshooter eyes command him.
Roland draws him close, so close he can smell the stink of Eddie's sickness and Eddie can smell the stink of his; the combination sickens and compels them both.
"Only two choices here," Roland whispers. "Don't know how it is in your world, but only two choices here. Stand and maybe live, or die on your knees with your head down and the stink of your own armpits in your nose. Nothing ..." He hacks out a cough. "Nothing to me."
"Who are you?" Eddie screams at him.
"Your destiny, Eddie," the gunslinger whispers.
"Why don't you just eat shit and die?" Eddie asks him. The gunslinger tries to speak, but before he can he floats off as the cards
Roland opens his eyes on a billion stars wheeling through the blackness, then closes them again.
He doesn't know what's going on but he thinks everything's okay. The deck's still moving, the cards still
More of the sweet, tasty chunks of meat. He feels better. Eddie looks better, too. But he also looks worried.
"They're getting closer," he says. "They may be ugly, but they ain't completely stupid. They know what I been doing. Somehow they know, and they don't dig it. Every night they get a little closer. It might be smart to move on when daybreak comes, if you can. Or it might be the last daybreak we ever see."
"What?" This is not exactly a whisper but a husk somewhere between a whisper and real speech.
"Them," Eddie says, and gestures toward the beach. "Dad-a-chack, dum-a-chum, and all that shit. I think they're like us, Roland锟?all for eating, but not too big on getting eaten."
Suddenly, in an utter blast of horror, Roland realizes what the whitish-pink chunks of meat Eddie has been feeding him have been. He cannot speak; revulsion robs him of what little voice he has managed to get back. But Eddie sees everything he wants to say on his face.
"What did you think I was doing?" he nearly snarls. "Calling Red Lobster for take-out?"
"They're poison," Roland whispers. "That's why锟?"
"Yeah, that's why you're hors de combat. What I'm trying to keep from you being, Roland my friend, is h'ors d'oeuvres as well. As far as poison goes, rattlesnakes are poison, but people eat them. Rattlesnake tastes real good. Like chicken. I read that somewhere. They looked like lobsters to me, so I decided to take a chance. What else were we gonna eat? Dirt? I shot one of the fuckers and cooked the living Christ out of it. There wasn't anything else. And actually, they taste pretty good. I been shooting one a night just after the sun starts to go down. They're not real lively until it gets completely dark. I never saw you turning the stuff down."
"I like to think maybe I got one of the ones that ate Jack. I like to think I'm eating that dink. It, like, eases my mind, you know?"
"One of them ate part of me, too," the gunslinger husks out. "Two fingers, one toe."
"That's also cool," Eddie keeps smiling. His face is pallid, sharklike ... but some of that ill look has gone now, and the smell of shit and death which has hung around him like a shroud seems to be going away.
"Fuck yourself," the gunslinger husks.
"Roland shows a flash of spirit!" Eddie cries. "Maybe you ain't gonna die after all! Dahling! I think that's mahvellous!"
"Live," Roland says. The husk has become a whisper again. The fishhooks are returning to his throat.
"Yeah?" Eddie looks at him, then nods and answers his own question. "Yeah. I think you mean to. Once I thought you were going and once I thought you were gone. Now it looks like you're going to get better. The antibiotics are helping, I guess, but mostly I think you're hauling yourself up. What for? Why the fuck do you keep trying so hard to keep alive on this scuzzy beach?"
Tower, he mouths, because now he can't even manage a husk.
"You and your fucking Tower," Eddie says, starts to turn away, and then turns back, surprised, as Roland's hand clamps on his arm like a manacle.
They look into each others' eyes and Eddie says, "All right. All right!"
North, the gunslinger mouths. North, I told you. Has he told him that? He thinks so, but it's lost. Lost in the shuffle.
"How do you know?" Eddie screams at him in sudden frustration. He raises his fists as if to strike Roland, then lowers them.
I just know锟?so why do you waste my time and energy asking me foolish questions? he wants to reply, but before he can, the cards
being dragged along, bounced and bumped, his head lolling helplessly from one side to the other, bound to some kind of a weird travois by his own gunbelts, and he can hear Eddie Dean singing a song which is so weirdly familiar he at first believes this must be a delirium dream:
"Heyy Jude ...don't make it bad ...take a saaad song ...and make it better ..."
Where did you hear that? he wants to ask. Did you hear mesinging it, Eddie? And where are we?
But before he can ask anything
Cort would bash the kid's head in if he saw that contraption, Roland thinks, looking at the travois upon which he has spent the day, and laughs. It isn't much of a laugh. It sounds like one of those waves dropping its load of stones on the beach. He doesn't know how far they have come, but it's far enough for Eddie to be totally bushed. He's sitting on a rock in the lengthening light with one of the gunslinger's revolvers in his lap and a half-full water-skin to one side. There's a small bulge in his shirt pocket. These are the bullets from the back of the gunbelts锟?the diminishing supply of "good" bullets. Eddie has tied these up in a piece of his own shirt. The main reason the supply of "good" bullets is diminishing so fast is because one of every four or five has also turned out to be a dud.
Eddie, who has been nearly dozing, now looks up. "What are you laughing about?" he asks.
The gunslinger waves a dismissive hand and shakes his head. Because he's wrong, he realizes. Cort wouldn't bash Eddie for the travois, even though it was an odd, lame-looking thing. Roland thinks it might even be possible that Cort might grunt some word of compliment锟?such a rarity that the boy to whom it happened hardly ever knew how to respond; he was left gaping like a fish just pulled from a cook's barrel.
The main supports were two cottonwood branches of approximately the same length and thickness. A blowdown, the gunslinger presumed. He had used smaller branches as supports, attaching them to the support poles with a crazy conglomeration of stuff: gunbelts, the glue-string that had held the devil-powder to his chest, even the rawhide thong from the gunslinger's hat and his, Eddie's, own sneaker laces. He had laid the gunslinger's bedroll over the supports.
Cort would not have struck him because, sick as he was, Eddie had at least done more than squat on his hunkers and bewail his fate. He had made something. Had tried.
And Cort might have offered one of his abrupt, almost grudging compliments because, crazy as the thing looked, it worked. The long tracks stretching back down the beach to a point where they seemed to come together at the rim of perspective proved that.
"You see any of them?" Eddie asks. The sun is going down, beating an orange path across the water, and so the gunslinger reckons he has been out better than six hours this time. He feels stronger. He sits up and looks down to the water. Neither the beach nor the land sweeping to the western slope of the mountains have changed much; he can see small variations of landscape and detritus (a dead seagull, for instance, lying in a little heap of blowing feathers on the sand about twenty yards to the left and thirty or so closer to the water), but these aside, they might as well be right where they started.
"No," the gunslinger says. Then: "Yes. There's one."
He points. Eddie squints, then nods. As the sun sinks lower and the orange track begins to look more and more like blood, the first of the lobstrosities come tumbling out of the waves and begin crawling up the beach.
Two of them race clumsily toward the dead gull. The winner pounces on it, rips it open, and begins to stuff the rotting remains into its maw. "Did-a-chick?" it asks.
"Dum-a-chum?" responds the loser. "Dod-a锟?"
Roland's gun puts an end to the second creature's questions. Eddie walks down to it and grabs it by the back, keeping a wary eye on its fellow as he does so. The other offers no trouble, however; it is busy with the gull. Eddie brings his kill back. It is still twitching, raising and lowering its claws, but soon enough it stops moving. The tail arches one final time, then simply drops instead of flexing downward. The boxers' claws hang limp.
"Dinnah will soon be served, mawster," Eddie says. "You have your choice: filet of creepy-crawler or filet of creepy-crawler. Which strikes your fancy, mawster?"
"I don't understand you," the gunslinger said.
"Sure you do," Eddie said. "You just don't have any sense of humor. What happened to it?"
"Shot off in one war or another, I guess."
Eddie smiles at that. "You look and sound a little more alive tonight, Roland."
"I am, I think."
"Well, maybe you could even walk for awhile tomorrow. I'll tell you very frankly, my friend, dragging you is the pits and the shits."
"You do that."
"You look a little better, too," Roland ventures. His voice cracks on the last two words like the voice of a young boy. IfIdon't stop talking soon, he thought, I won't be able to talk atall again.
"I guess I'll live." He looks at Roland expressionlessly. "You'll never know how close it was a couple of times, though. Once I took one of your guns and put it against my head. Cocked it, held it there for awhile, and then took it away. Eased the hammer down and shoved it back in your holster. Another night I had a convulsion. I think that was the second night, but I'm not sure." He shakes his head and says something the gunslinger both does and doesn't understand. " Michigan seems like a dream to me now."
Although his voice is down to that husky murmur again and he knows he shouldn't be talking at all, the gunslinger has to know one thing. "What stopped you from pulling the trigger?"
"Well, this is the only pair of pants I've got," Eddie says. "At the last second I thought that if I pulled the trigger and it was one of those dud shells, I'd never get up the guts to do it again ... and once you shit your pants, you gotta wash 'em right away or live with the stink forever. Henry told me that. He said he learned it in Nam . And since it was nighttime and Lester the Lobster was out, not to mention all his friends锟?"
But the gunslinger is laughing, laughing hard, although only an occasional cracked sound actually escapes his lips. Smiling a little himself, Eddie says: "I think maybe you only got your sense of humor shot off up to the elbow in that war.'' He gets up, meaning to go up the slope to where there will be fuel for a fire, Roland supposes.
"Wait," he whispers, and Eddie looks at him. "Why, really?"
"I guess because you needed me. If I'd killed myself, you would have died. Later on, after you're really on your feet again, I may, like, re-examine my options." He looks around and sighs deeply.
"There may be a Disney land or Cony Island somewhere in your world, Roland, but what I've seen of it so far really doesn't interest me much."
He starts away, pauses, and looks back again at Roland. His face is somber, although some of the sickly pallor has left it. The shakes have become no more than occasional tremors.
"Sometimes you really don't understand me, do you?"
"No," the gunslinger whispers. "Sometimes I don't."
"Then I'll elucidate. There are people who need people to need them. The reason you don't understand is because you're not one of those people. You'd use me and then toss me away like a paper bag if that's what it came down to. God fucked you, my friend. You're just smart enough so it would hurt you to do that, and just hard enough so you'd go ahead and do it anyway. You wouldn't be able to help yourself. If I was lying on the beach there and screaming for help, you'd walk over me if I was between you and your goddam Tower. Isn't that pretty close to the truth?"
Roland says nothing, only watches Eddie.
"But not everyone is like that. There are people who need people to need them. Like the Barbara Streisand song. Corny, but true. It's just another way of being hooked through the bag."
Eddie gazes at him.
"But when it comes to that, you're clean, aren't you?"
Roland watches him.
"Except for your Tower." Eddie utters a short laugh. "You're a Tower junkie, Roland."
"Which war was it?" Roland whispers.
"The one where you got your sense of nobility and purpose shot off?"
Eddie recoils as if Roland has reached out and slapped him.
"I'm gonna go get some water," he says shortly. "Keep an eye on the creepy crawlers. We came a long way today, but I still don't know if they talk to each other or not."
He turns away then, but not before Roland has seen the last red rays of sunset reflected on his wet cheeks.
Roland turns back to the beach and watches. The lobstrosities crawl and question, question and crawl, but both activities seem aimless; they have some intelligence, but not enough to pass on information to others of their kind.
God doesn't always dish it in your face, Roland thinks. Most times, but not always.
Eddie returns with wood.
"Well?" he asks. "What do you think?"
"We're all right," the gunslinger croaks, and Eddie starts to say something but the gunslinger is tired now and lies back and looks at the first stars peeking through the canopy of violet sky and
in the three days that followed, the gunslinger progressed steadily back to health. The red lines creeping up his arms first reversed their direction, then faded, then disappeared. On the next day he sometimes walked and sometimes let Eddie drag him. On the day following he didn't need to be dragged at all; every hour or two they simply sat for a period of time until the watery feeling went out of his legs. It was during these rests and in those times after dinner had been eaten but before the fire had burned all the way down and they went to sleep that the gunslinger heard about Henry and Eddie. He remembered wondering what had happened to make their brothering so difficult, but after Eddie had begun, haltingly and with that sort of resentful anger that proceeds from deep pain, the gunslinger could have stopped him, could have told him: Don'tbother, Eddie. I understand everything.
Except that wouldn't have helped Eddie. Eddie wasn't talking to help Henry because Henry was dead. He was talking to bury Henry for good. And to remind himself that although Henry was dead, he, Eddie, wasn't.
So the gunslinger listened and said nothing.
The gist was simple: Eddie believed he had stolen his brother's life. Henry also believed this. Henry might have believed it on his own or he might have believed it because he so frequently heard their mother lecturing Eddie on how much both she and Henry had sacrificed for him, so Eddie could be as safe as anyone could be in this jungle of a city, so he could be happy, as happy as anyone could be in this jungle of a city, so he wouldn't end up like his poor sister that he didn't even hardly remember but she had been so beautiful, God love her. She was with the angels, and that was undoubtedly a wonderful place to be, but she didn't want Eddie to be with the angels just yet, run over in the road by some crazy drunken driver like his sister or cut up by some crazy junkie kid for the twenty-five cents in his pocket and left with his guts running out all over the sidewalk, and because she didn't think Eddie wanted to be with the angels yet, he just better listen to what his big brother said and do what his big brother said to do and always remember that Henry was making a love-sacrifice.
Eddie told the gunslinger he doubted if his mother knew some of the things they had done锟?filching comic books from the candy store on Rincon Avenue or smoking cigarettes behind the Bonded Electroplate Factory on Cohoes Street .
Once they saw a Chevrolet with the keys in it and although Henry barely knew how to drive锟?he was sixteen then, Eddie eight锟?he had crammed his brother into the car and said they were going to New York City . Eddie was scared, crying, Henry scared too and mad at Eddie, telling him to shut up, telling him to stop being such a fuckin baby, he had ten bucks and Eddie had three or four, they could go to the movies all fuckin day and then catch a Pelham train and be back before their mother had time to put supper on the table and wonder where they were. But Eddie kept crying and near the Queensboro Bridge they saw a police car on a side street and although Eddie was pretty sure the cop in it hadn't even been looking their way, he said Yeah when Henry asked him in a harsh, quavering voice if Eddie thought that bull had seen them. Henry turned white and pulled over so fast that he had almost amputated a fire hydrant. He was running down the block while Eddie, now in a panic himself, was still struggling with the unfamiliar doorhandle. Henry stopped, came back, and hauled Eddie out of the car. He also slapped him twice. Then they had walked锟?well, actually they slunk锟? all the way back to Brooklyn . It took them most of the day, and when their mother asked them why they looked so hot and sweaty and tired out, Henry said it was because he'd spent most of the day teaching Eddie how to go one-on-one on the basketball court at the playground around the block. Then some big kids came and they had to run. Their mother kissed Henry and beamed at Eddie. She asked him if he didn't have the bestest big brother in the world. Eddie agreed with her. This was honest agreement, too. He thought he did.
"He was as scared as I was that day," Eddie told Roland as they sat and watched the last of the day dwindle from the water, where soon the only light would be that reflected from the stars. "Scareder, really, because he thought that cop saw us and I knew he didn't. That's why he ran. But he came back. That's the important part. He came back."
Roland said nothing.
"You see that, don't you?" Eddie was looking at Roland with harsh, questioning eyes.
"He was always scared, but he always came back."
Roland thought it would have been better for Eddie, maybe better for both of them in the long run, if Henry had just kept showing his heels that day ... or on one of the others. But people like Henry never did. People like Henry always came back, because people like Henry knew how to use trust. It was the only thing people like Henry did know how to use. First they changed trust into need, then they changed need into a drug, and once that was done, they锟?what was Eddie's word for it?锟?push. Yes. They pushed it.
"I think I'll turn in," the gunslinger said.
The next day Eddie went on, but Roland already knew it all. Henry hadn't played sports in high school because Henry couldn't stay after for practice. Henry had to take care of Eddie. The fact that Henry was scrawny and uncoordinated and didn't much care for sports in the first place had nothing to do with it, of course; Henry would have made a wonderful baseball pitcher or one of those basketball jumpers, their mother assured them both time and again. Henry's grades were bad and he needed to repeat a number of subjects锟?but that wasn't because Henry was stupid; Eddie and Mrs. Dean both knew Henry was just as smart as lickety-split. But Henry had to spend the time he should have spent studying or doing homework taking care of Eddie (the fact that this usually took place in the Dean living room, with both boys sprawled on the sofa watching TV or wrestling around on the floor somehow seemed not to matter). The bad grades meant Henry hadn't been able to be accepted into anything but NYU, and they couldn't afford it because the bad grades precluded any scholarships, and then Henry got drafted and then it was Viet Nam, where Henry got most of his knee blown off, and the pain was bad, and the drug they gave him for it had a heavy morphine base, and when he was better they weaned him from the drug, only they didn't do such a good job because when Henry got back to New York there was still a monkey on his back, a hungry monkey waiting to be fed, and after a month or two he had gone out to see a man, and it had been about four months later, less than a month after their mother died, when Eddie first saw his brother snorting some white powder off a mirror. Eddie assumed it was coke. Turned out it was heroin. And if you traced it all the way back, whose fault was it?
Roland said nothing, but heard the voice of Cort in his mind: Fault always lies in the same place, my fine babies: withhim weak enough to lay blame.
When he discovered the truth, Eddie had been shocked, then angry. Henry had responded not by promising to quit snorting but by telling Eddie he didn't blame him for being mad, he knew Nam had turned him into a worthless shitbag, he was weak, he would leave, that was the best thing, Eddie was right, the last thing he needed was a filthy junkie around, messing up the place. He just hoped Eddie wouldn't blame him too much. He had gotten weak, he admitted it; something in Nam had made him weak, had rotted him out the same way the moisture rotted the laces of your sneakers and the elastic of your underwear. There was also something in Nam that apparently rotted out your heart, Henry told him tearily. He just hoped that Eddie would remember all the years he had tried to be strong.
So Henry tried to leave. And Eddie, of course, couldn't let him. Eddie was consumed with guilt. Eddie had seen the scarred horror that had once been an unmarked leg, a leg that was now more Teflon than bone. They had a screaming match in the hall, Henry standing there in an old pair of khakis with his packed duffle bag in one hand and purple rings under his eyes, Eddie wearing nothing but a pair of yellowing jockey shorts, Henry saying you don't need me around, Eddie, I'm poison to you and I know it, and Eddie yelling back You ain't going nowhere, get your ass back inside, and that's how it went until Mrs. McGursky came out of her place and yelled Go orstay, it's nothing to me, but you better decide one way or the other pretty quick or I'm calling the police. Mrs. McGursky seemed about to add a few more admonishments, but just then she saw that Eddie was wearing nothing but a pair of skivvies. She added: And you're not decent, Eddie Dean! before popping back inside. It was like watching a Jack-in-the-box in reverse. Eddie looked at Henry. Henry looked at Eddie. Looklike Angel-Baby done put on a few pounds, Henry said in a low voice, and then they were howling with laughter, holding onto each other and pounding each other and Henry came back inside and about two weeks later Eddie was snorting the stuff too and he couldn't understand why the hell he had made such a big deal out of it, after all, it was only snorting, shit, it got you off, and as Henry (who Eddie would eventually come to think of as the great sage and eminent junkie) said, in a world that was clearly going to hell head-first, what was so low about getting high?
Time passed. Eddie didn't say how much. The gunslinger didn't ask. He guessed that Eddie knew there were a thousand excuses for getting high but no reasons, and that he had kept his habit pretty well under control. And that Henry had also managed to keep his under control. Not as well as Eddie, but enough to keep from coming completely unravelled. Because whether or not Eddie understood the truth (down deep Roland believed Eddie did), Henry must have: their positions had reversed themselves. Now Eddie held Henry's hand crossing streets.
The day came when Eddie caught Henry not snorting but skin-popping. There had been another hysterical argument, an almost exact repeat of the first one, except it had been in Henry's bedroom. It ended in almost exactly the same way, with Henry weeping and offering that implacable, inarguable defense that was utter surrender, utter admission: Eddie was right, he wasn't fit to live, not fit to eat garbage from the gutter. He would go. Eddie would never have to see him again. He just hoped he would remember all the ...
It faded into a drone that wasn't much different from the rocky sound of the breaking waves as they trudged up the beach. Roland knew the story and said nothing. It was Eddie who didn't know the story, an Eddie who was really clearheaded for the first time in maybe ten years or more. Eddie wasn't telling the story to Roland; Eddie was finally telling the story to himself.
That was all right. So far as the gunslinger could see, time was something they had a lot of. Talk was one way to fill it.
Eddie said he was haunted by Henry's knee, the twisted scar tissue up and down his leg (of course that was all healed now, Henry barely even limped ... except when he and Eddie were quarrelling; then the limp always seemed to get worse); he was haunted by all the things Henry had given up for him, and haunted by something much more pragmatic: Henry wouldn't last out on the streets. He would be like a rabbit let loose in a jungle filled with tigers. On his own, Henry would wind up in jail or Bellevue before a week was out.
So he begged, and Henry finally did him the favor of consenting to stick around, and six months after that Eddie also had a golden arm. From that moment things had begun to move in the steady and inevitable downward spiral which had ended with Eddie's trip to the Bahamas and Roland's sudden intervention in his life.
Another man, less pragmatic and more introspective than Roland, might have asked (to himself, if not right out loud), Why this one? Why this man to start? Why a man who seems topromise weakness or strangeness or even outright doom?
Not only did the gunslinger never ask the question; it never even formulated itself in his mind. Cuthbert would have asked; Cuthbert had questioned everything, had been poisoned with questions, had died with one in his mouth. Now they were gone, all gone. Cort's last gunslingers, the thirteen survivors of a beginning class that had numbered fifty-six, were all dead. All dead but Roland. He was the last gunslinger, going steadily on in a world that had grown stale and sterile and empty.
Thirteen, he remembered Cort saying on the day before the Presentation Ceremonies. This is an evil number. And on the following day, for the first time in thirty years, Cort had not been present at the Ceremonies. His final crop of pupils had gone to his cottage to first kneel at his feet, presenting defenseless necks, then to rise and receive his congratulatory kiss and to allow him to load their guns for the first time. Nine weeks later, Cort was dead. Of poison, some said. Two years after his death, the final bloody civil war had begun. The red slaughter had reached the last bastion of civilization, light, and sanity, and had taken away what all of them had assumed was so strong with the casual ease of a wave taking a child's castle of sand.
So he was the last, and perhaps he had survived because the dark romance in his nature was overset by his practicality and simplicity. He understood that only three things mattered: mortality, ka, and the Tower.
Those were enough things to think about.
Eddie finished his tale around four o'clock on the third day of their northward journey up the featureless beach. The beach itself never seemed to change. If a sign of progress was wanted, it could only be obtained by looking left, to the east. There the jagged peaks of the mountains had begun to soften and slump a bit. It was possible that if they went north far enough, the mountains would become rolling hills.
With his story told, Eddie lapsed into silence and they walked without speaking for a half an hour or longer. Eddie kept stealing little glances at him. Roland knew Eddie wasn't aware that he was picking these glances up; he was still too much in himself. Roland also knew what Eddie was waiting for: a response. Some kind of response. Any kind. Twice Eddie opened his mouth only to close it again. Finally he asked what the gunslinger had known he would ask.
"So? What do you think?"
"I think you're here."
Eddie stopped, fisted hands planted on his hips. "That's all? That's it?"
"That's all I know," the gunslinger replied. His missing fingers and toe throbbed and itched. He wished for some of the astin from Eddie's world.
"You don't have any opinion on what the hell it all means?"
The gunslinger might have held up his subtracted right hand and said, Think about what this means, you silly idiot, but it no more crossed his mind to say this than it had to ask why it was Eddie, out of all the people in all the universes that might exist. "It's ka," he said, facing Eddie patiently.
"What's ka?" Eddie's voice was truculent. "I never heard of it. Except if you say it twice you come out with the baby word for shit."
"I don't know about that," the gunslinger said. "Here it means duty, or destiny, or, in the vulgate, a place you must go."
Eddie managed to look dismayed, disgusted, and amused all at the same time. "Then say it twice, Roland, because words like that sound like shit to this kid."
The gunslinger shrugged. "I don't discuss philosophy. I don't study history. All I know is what's past is past, and what's ahead is ahead. The second is ka, and takes care of itself."
"Yeah?" Eddie looked northward. "Well all I see ahead is about nine billion miles of this same fucking beach. If that's what's ahead, ka and kaka are the same thing. We might have enough good shells to pop five or six more of those lobster dudes, but then we're going to be down to chucking rocks at them. So where are we going?"
Roland did wonder briefly if this was a question Eddie had ever thought to ask his brother, but to ask such a question would only be an invitation to a lot of meaningless argument. So he only cocked a thumb northward and said, "There. To begin with."
Eddie looked and saw nothing but the same reach of shell -??and rock-studded gray shingle. He looked back at Roland, about to scoff, saw the serene certainty on his face, and looked again. He squinted. He shielded the right side of his face from the westering sun with his right hand. He wanted desperately to see something, anything, shit, even a mirage would do, but there was nothing.
"Crap on me all you want to," Eddie said slowly, "but I say it's a goddam mean trick. I put my life on the line for you at Balazar's."
"I know you did." The gunslinger smiled锟?a rarity that lit his face like a momentary flash of sunlight on a dismal luring day. "That's why I've done nothing but square-deal you, Eddie. It's there. I saw it an hour ago. At first I thought it was only a mirage or wishful thinking, but it's there, all right."
Eddie looked again, looked until water ran from the corners of his eyes. At last he said, "I don't see anything up ahead but more beach. And I got twenty-twenty vision."
"I don't know what that means."
"It means if there was something there to see, I'd see it!" But Eddie wondered. Wondered how much further than his own the gunslinger's blue bullshooter's eyes could see. Maybe a little.
Maybe a lot.
"You'll see it," the gunslinger said.
"We won't get there today, but if you see as well as you say, you'll see it before the sun hits the water. Unless you just want to stand here chin-jawing, that is."
"Ka," Eddie said in a musing voice.
Roland nodded. "Ka."
"Kaka," Eddie said, and laughed. "Come on, Roland. Let's take a hike. And if I don't see anything by the time the sun hits the water, you owe me a chicken dinner. Or a Big Mac. Or anything that isn't lobster."
They started walking again, and it was at least a full hour before the sun's lower arc touched the horizon when Eddie Dean began to see the shape in the distance锟?vague, shimmering, indefinable, but definitely something. Something new.
"Okay," he said. "I see it. You must have eyes like Superman."
"Never mind. You've got a really incredible case of culture lag, you know it?"
Eddie laughed. "Never mind. What is it?"
"You'll see." The gunslinger started walking again before Eddie could ask anything else.
Twenty minutes later Eddie thought he did see. Fifteen minutes after that he was sure. The object on the beach was still two, maybe three miles away, but he knew what it was. A door, of course. Another door.
Neither of them slept well that night, and they were up and walking an hour before the sun cleared the eroding shapes of the mountains. They reached the door just as the morning sun's first rays, so sublime and so still, broke over them. Those rays lighted their stubbly cheeks like lamps. They made the gunslinger forty again, and Eddie no older than Roland had been when he went out to fight Cort with his hawk David as his weapon.
This door was exactly like the first, except for what was writ upon it:
THE LADY OF SHADOWS
" So," Eddie said softly, looking at the door which simply stood here with its hinges grounded in some unknown jamb between one world and another, one universe and another. It stood with its graven message, real as rock and strange as starlight.
"So," the gunslinger agreed.
"Here is where you draw the second of your three?"
"It seems so."
The gunslinger knew what was in Eddie's mind before Eddie knew it himself. He saw Eddie make his move before Eddie knew he was moving. He could have turned and broken Eddie's arm in two places before Eddie knew it was happening, but he made no move. He let Eddie snake the revolver from his right holster. It was the first time in his life he had allowed one of his weapons to be taken from him without an offer of that weapon having first been made. Yet he made no move to stop it. He turned and looked at Eddie equably, even mildly.
Eddie's face was livid, strained. His eyes showed starey whites all the way around the irises. He held the heavy revolver in both hands and still the muzzle rambled from side to side, centering, moving off, centering again and then moving off again.
"Open it," he said.
"You're being foolish," the gunslinger said in the same mild voice. "Neither of us has any idea where that door goes. It needn't open on your universe, let alone upon your world. For all either of us know, the Lady of Shadows might have eight eyes and nine arms, like Suvia. Even if it does open on your world, it might be on a time long before you were born or long after you would have died."
Eddie smiled tightly. "Tell you what, Monty: I'm more than willing to trade the rubber chicken and the shitty seaside vacation for what's behind Door #2."
"I don't understand y锟?"
"I know you don't. It doesn't matter. Just open the fucker."
The gunslinger shook his head.
They stood in the dawn, the door casting its slanted shadow toward the ebbing sea.
"Open it!" Eddie cried. "I'm going with you! Don't you get it? I'm going with you! That doesn't mean I won't come back. Maybe I will. I mean, probably I will. I guess I owe you that much. You been square-John with me down the line, don't think I'm not aware of the fact. But while you get whoever this Shadow-Babe is, I'm gonna find the nearest Chicken Delight and pick me up some take-out. I think the Thirty-Piece Family Pak should do for starters."
"You stay here."
"You think I don't mean it?" Eddie was shrill now, close to the edge. The gunslinger could almost see him looking down into the drifty depths of his own damnation. Eddie thumbed back the revolver's ancient hammer. The wind had fallen with the break of the day and the ebb of the tide, and the click of the hammer as Eddie brought it to full cock was very clear. "You just try me."
"I think I will," the gunslinger said.
"I'llshoot you!" Eddie screamed.
"Ka," the gunslinger replied stolidly, and turned to the door. He was reaching for the knob, but his heart was waiting: waiting to see if he would live or die.