THE LADY OF SHADOWS CHAPTER 1 DETTA AND ODETTA
Stripped of jargon, what Adler said was this: the perfect schizophrenic锟?if there was such a person锟?would be a man or woman not only unaware of his other persona(e), but one unaware that anything at all was amiss in his or her life.
Adler should have met Detta Walker and Odetta Holmes.
"锟?last gunslinger," Andrew said.
He had been talking for quite awhile, but Andrew always talked and Odetta usually just let it flow over her mind the way you let warm water flow over your hair and face in the shower. But this did more than catch her attention; it snagged it, as if on a thorn.
"I beg pardon?"
"Oh, it was just some column in the paper," Andrew said. "I dunno who wrote it. I didn't notice. One of those political fellas. Prob'ly you'd know, Miz Holmes. I loved him, and I cried the night he was elected锟?"
She smiled, touched in spite of herself. Andrew said his ceaseless chatter was something he couldn't stop, wasn't responsible for, that it was just the Irish in him coming out, and most of it was nothing锟?cluckings and chirrupings about relatives and friends she would never meet, half-baked political opinions, weird scientific commentary gleaned from any number of weird sources (among other things, Andrew was a firm believer in flying saucers, which he called you-foes)锟? but this touched her because she had also cried the night he was elected.
"But I didn't cry when that son of a bitch锟?pardon my French, Miz Holmes锟?when that son of a bitch Oswald shot him, and I hadn't cried since, and it's been锟?what, two months?"
Three months and two days, she thought.
"Something like that, I guess."
Andrew nodded. "Then I read this column锟?in The DailyNews, it mighta been锟?yesterday, about how Johnson's probably gonna do a pretty good job, but it won't be the same. The guy said America had seen the passage of the world's last gunslinger."
"I don't think John Kennedy was that at all," Odetta said, and if her voice was sharper than the one Andrew was accustomed to hearing (which it must have been, because she saw his eyes give a startled blink in the rear-view mirror, a blink that was more like a wince), it was because she felt herself touched by this, too. It was absurd, but it was also a fact. There was something about that phrase锟?America has seen the passage of the world's last gunslinger锟? that rang deeply in her mind. It was ugly, it was untrue锟?John Kennedy had been a peacemaker, not a leather-slapping Billy the Kid type, that was more in the Goldwater line锟?but it had also for some reason given her goosebumps.
"Well, the guy said there would be no shortage of shooters in the world," Andrew went on, regarding her nervously in the rear-view mirror. "He mentioned Jack Ruby for one, and Castro, and this fellow in Haiti锟?"
"Duvalier," she said. "Poppa Doc."
"Yeah, him, and Diem锟?"
"The Diem brothers are dead."
"Well, he said Jack Kennedy was different, that's all. He said he would draw, but only if someone weaker needed him to draw, and only if there was nothing else to do. He said Kennedy was savvy enough to know that sometimes talking don't do no good. He said Kennedy knew if it's foaming at the mouth you have to shoot it."
His eyes continued to regard her apprehensively.
"Besides, it was just some column I read."
The limo was gliding up Fifth Avenue now, headed toward Central Park West, the Cadillac emblem on the end of the hood cutting the frigid February air.
"Yes," Odetta said mildly, and Andrew's eyes relaxed a trifle. "I understand. I don't agree, but I understand."
You are a liar; a voice spoke up in her mind. This was a voice she heard quite often. She had even named it. It was the voice of The Goad. You understand perfectly and agree completely. Lie to Andrew if you feel it necessary, but for God's sake don't lie to yourself, woman.
Yet part of her protested, horrified. In a world which had become a nuclear powder keg upon which nearly a billion people now sat, it was a mistake锟?perhaps one of suicidal proportions锟?to believe there was a difference between good shooters and bad shooters. There were too many shaky hands holding lighters near too many fuses. This was no world for gunslingers. If there had ever been a time for them, it had passed.
She closed her eyes briefly and rubbed at her temples. She could feel one of her headaches coming on. Sometimes they threatened, like an ominous buildup of thunderheads on a hot summer afternoon, and then blew away ... as those ugly summer brews sometimes simply slipped away in one direction or another, to stomp their thunders and lightnings into the ground of some other place.
She thought, however, that this time the storm was going to happen. It would come complete with thunder, lightning, and hail the size of golf-balls.
The streetlights marching up Fifth Avenue seemed much too bright.
"So how was Oxford , Miz Holmes?" Andrew asked tentatively.
"Humid. February or not, it was very humid." She paused, telling herself she wouldn't say the words that were crowding up her throat like bile, that she would swallow them back down. To say them would be needlessly brutal. Andrew's talk of the world's last gunslinger had been just more of the man's endless prattling. But on top of everything else it was just a bit too much and it came out anyway, what she had no business saying. Her voice sounded as calm and as resolute as ever, she supposed, but she was not fooled: she knew a blurt when she heard one. "The bail bondsman came very promptly, of course; he had been notified in advance. They held onto us as long as they could nevertheless, and I held on as long as I could, but I guess they won that one, because I ended up wetting myself.'' She saw Andrew's eyes wince away again and she wanted to stop and couldn't stop. "It's what they want to teach you, you see. Partly because it frightens you, I suppose, and a frightened person may not come down to their precious Southland and bother them again. But I think most of them锟?even the dumb ones and they are by all means not all dumb锟?know the change will come in the end no matter what they do, and so they take the chance to degrade you while they still can. To teach you you can be degraded. You can swear before God, Christ, and the whole company of Saints that you will not, will not, will not soil yourself, but if they hold onto you long enough of course you do. The lesson is that you're just an animal in a cage, no more than that, no better than that. Just an animal in a cage. So I wet myself. I can still smell dried urine and that damned holding cell. They think we are descended from the monkeys, you know. And that's exactly what I smell like to myself right now.
She saw Andrew's eyes in the rear-view mirror and was sorry for the way his eyes looked. Sometimes your urine wasn't the only thing you couldn't hold.
"I'm sorry, Miz Holmes."
"No," she said, rubbing at her temples again. "I am the one who is sorry. It's been a trying three days, Andrew."
"I should think so," he said in a shocked old-maidish voice that made her laugh in spite of herself. But most of her wasn't laughing. She thought she had known what she was getting into, that she had fully anticipated how bad it could get. She had been wrong.
A trying three days. Well, that was one way to put it. Another might be that her three days in Oxford , Mississippi had been a short season in hell. But there were some things you couldn't say. Some things you would die before saying ... unless you were called upon to testify to them before the Throne of God the Father Almighty, where, she supposed, even the truths that caused the hellish thunderstorms in that strange gray jelly between your ears (the scientists said that gray jelly was nerveless, and if that wasn't a hoot and a half she didn't know what was) must be admitted.
"I just want to get home and bathe, bathe, bathe, and sleep, sleep, sleep. Then I reckon I will be as right as rain."
"Why, sure! That's just what you're going to be!" Andrew wanted to apologize for something, and this was as close as he could come. And beyond this he didn't want to risk further conversation. So the two of them rode in unaccustomed silence to the gray Victorian block of apartments on the corner of Fifth and Central Park South, a very exclusive gray Victorian block of apartments, and she supposed that made her a blockbuster, and she knew there were people in those poshy-poshy flats who would not speak to her unless they absolutely had to, and she didn't really care. Besides, she was above them, and they knew she was above them. It had occurred to her on more than one occasion that it must have galled some of them mightily, knowing there was a nigger living in the penthouse apartment of this fine staid old building where once the only black hands allowed had been clad in white gloves or perhaps the thin black leather ones of a chauffeur. She hoped it did gall them mightily, and scolded herself for being mean, for being unchristian, but she did wish it, she hadn't been able to stop the piss pouring into the crotch of her fine silk imported underwear and she didn't seem to be able to stop this other flood of piss, either. It was mean, it was unchristian, and almost as bad锟?no, worse, at least as far as the Movement was concerned, it was counterproductive. They were going to win the rights they needed to win, and probably this year: Johnson, mindful of the legacy which had been left him by the slain President (and perhaps hoping to put another nail in the coffin of Barry Goldwater), would do more than oversee the passage of the Civil Rights Act; if necessary he would ram it into law. So it was important to minimize the scarring and the hurt. There was more work to be done. Hate would not help do that work. Hate would, in fact, hinder it.
But sometimes you went on hating just the same.
Oxford Town had taught her that, too.
Detta Walker had absolutely no interest in the Movement and much more modest digs. She lived in the loft of a peeling Greenwich Village apartment building. Odetta didn't know about the loft and Detta didn't know about the penthouse and the only one left who suspected something was not quite right was Andrew Feeny, the chauffeur. He had begun working for Odetta's father when Odetta was fourteen and Detta Walker hardly existed at all.
Sometimes Odetta disappeared. These disappearances might be a matter of hours or of days. Last summer she had disappeared for three weeks and Andrew had been ready to call the police when Odetta called him one evening and asked him to bring the car around at ten the next day锟?she planned to do some shopping, she said.
It trembled on his lips to cry out Miz Holmes! Where haveyou been? But he had asked this before and had received only puzzled stares锟?truly puzzled stares, he was sure锟?in return. Right here, she would say. Why, right here, Andrew锟?you've been driving me two or three places every day, haven't you? You aren't starting to go a little mushy in the head, are you? Then she would laugh and if she was feeling especially good (as she often seemed to feel after her disappearances), she would pinch his cheek.
"Very good, Miz Holmes," he had said. "Ten it is."
That scary time she had been gone for three weeks, Andrew had put down the phone, closed his eyes, and said a quick prayer to the Blessed Virgin for Miz Holmes's safe return. Then he had rung Howard, the doorman at her building.
"What time did she come in?"
"Just about twenty minutes ago," Howard said.
"Who brought her?"
"Dunno. You know how it is. Different car every time. Sometimes they park around the block and I don't see em at all, don't even know she's back until I hear the buzzer and look out and see it's her." Howard paused, then added: "She's got one hell of a bruise on her cheek."
Howard had been right. It sure had been one hell of a bruise, and now it was getting better. Andrew didn't like to think what it might have looked like when it was fresh. Miz Holmes appeared promptly at ten the next morning, wearing a silk sundress with spaghetti-thin straps (this had been late July), and by then the bruise had started to yellow. She had made only a perfunctory effort to cover it with make-up, as if knowing that too much effort to cover it would only draw further attention to it.
"How did you get that, Miz Holmes?" he asked.
She laughed merrily. "You know me, Andrew锟?clumsy as ever. My hand slipped on the grab-handle while I was getting out of the tub yesterday锟?I was in a hurry to catch the national news. I fell and banged the side of my face." She gauged his face. "You're getting ready to start blithering about doctors and examinations, aren't you? Don't bother answering; after all these years I can read you like a book. I won't go, so you needn't bother asking. I'm just as fine as paint. Onward, Andrew! I intend to buy half of Saks', all of Gimbels, and eat everything at Four Seasons in between."
"Yes, Miz Holmes," he had said, and smiled. It was a forced smile, and forcing it was not easy. That bruise wasn't a day old; it was a week old, at least ... and he knew better, anyway, didn't he? He had called her every night at seven o'clock for the last week, because if there was one time when you could catch Miz Holmes in her place, it was when the Huntley-Brinkley Report came on. A regular junkie for her news was Miz Holmes. He had done it every night, that was, except last night. Then he had gone over and wheedled the passkey from Howard. A conviction had been growing on him steadily that she had had just the sort of accident she had described ... only instead of getting a bruise or a broken bone, she had died, died alone, and was lying up there dead right now. He had let himself in, heart thumping, feeling like a cat in a dark room criss-crossed with piano wires. Only there had been nothing to be nervous about. There was a butter-dish on the kitchen counter, and although the butter had been covered it had been out long enough to be growing a good crop of mould. He got there at ten minutes of seven and had left by five after. In the course of his quick examination of the apartment, he had glanced into the bathroom. The tub had been dry, the towels neatly锟?even austerely锟?arrayed, the room's many grab-handles polished to a bright steel gleam that was unspotted with water.
He knew the accident she had described had not happened.
But Andrew had not believed she was lying, either. She had believed what she had told him.
He looked in the rear-view mirror again and saw her rubbing her temples lightly with the tips of her fingers. He didn't like it. He had seen her do that too many times before one of her disappearances.
Andrew left the motor running so she could have the benefit of the heater, then went around to the trunk. He looked at her two suitcases with another wince. They looked as if petulant men with small minds and large bodies had kicked them relentlessly back and forth, damaging the bags in a way they did not quite dare damage Miz Holmes herself锟?the way they might have damaged him, for instance, if he had been there. It wasn't just that she was a woman; she was a nigger, an uppity northern nigger messing where she had no business messing, and they probably figured a woman like that deserved just what she got. Thing was, she was also a rich nigger. Thing was, she was almost as well-known to the American public as Medgar Evers or Martin Luther King. Thing was, she'd gotten her rich nigger face on the cover of Time magazine and it was a little harder to get away with sticking someone like that in the 'toolies and then saying What? No sir, boss, we sho dint see nobody looked like that down here, did we, boys? Thing was, it was a little harder to work yourself up to hurting a woman who was the only heir to Holmes Dental Industries when there were twelve Holmes plants in the sunny South, one of them just one county over from Oxford Town, Oxford Town.
So they'd done to her suitcases what they didn't dare do to her.
He looked at these mute indications of her stay in Oxford Town with shame and fury and love, emotions as mute as the scars on the luggage that had gone away looking smart and had come back looking dumb and thumped. He looked, temporarily unable to move, and his breath puffed out on the frosty air.
Howard was coming out to help, but Andrew paused a moment longer before grasping the handles of the cases. Whoare you, Miz Holmes? Who are you really? Where do you go sometimes, and what do you do that seems so bad that you have to make up a false history of the missing hours or days even to yourself? And he thought something else in the moment before Howard arrived, something weirdly apt: Where's the rest of you?
You want to quit thinking like that. If anyone around here was going to do any thinking like that it would be Miz Holmes, but she doesn't and so you don't need to, either.
Andrew lifted the bags out of the trunk and handed them to Howard, who asked in a low voice: "Is she all right?"
"I think so," Andrew replied, also pitching his voice low. "Just tired is all. Tired all the way down to her roots."
Howard nodded, took the battered suitcases, and started back inside. He paused only long enough to tip his cap to Odetta Holmes锟?who was almost invisible behind the smoked glass windows锟?in a soft and respectful salute.
When he was gone, Andrew took out the collapsed stainless steel scaffolding at the bottom of the trunk and began to unfold it. It was a wheelchair.
Since August 19th, 1959 , some five and a half years before, the part of Odetta Holmes from the knees down had been as missing as those blank hours and days.
Before the subway incident, Detta Walker had had only been conscious a few times锟?those were like coral islands which look isolated to one above them but are, in fact, only nodes in the spine of a long archipelago which is mostly underwater. Odetta suspected Detta not at all, and Detta had no idea that there was such a person as Odetta ... but Detta at least had a clear understanding that something was wrong, that someone was fucking with her life. Odetta's imagination novelized all sorts of things which had happened when Detta was in charge of her body; Detta was not so clever. She thought she remembered things, some things, at least, but a lot of the time she didn't.
Detta was at least partially aware of the blanks.
She could remember the china plate. She could remember that. She could remember slipping it into the pocket of her dress, looking over her shoulder all the while to make sure the Blue Woman wasn't there, peeking. She had to make sure because the china plate belonged to the Blue Woman. The china plate was, Detta understood in some vague way, a forspecial. Detta took it for that why. Detta remembered taking it to a place she knew (although she didn't know how she knew) as The Drawers, a smoking trash-littered hole in the earth where she had once seen a burning baby with plastic skin. She remembered putting the plate carefully down on the gravelly ground and then starting to step on it and stopping, remembered taking off her plain cotton panties and putting them into the pocket where the plate had been, and then carefully slipping the first finger of her left hand carefully against the cut in her at the place where Old Stupid God had joined her and all other girls and women imperfectly, but something about that place must be right, because she remembered the jolt, remembered wanting to press, remembered not pressing, remembered how delicious her vagina had been naked, without the cotton panties in the way of it and the world, and she had not pressed, not until her shoe pressed, her black patent leather shoe, not until her shoe pressed down on the plate, then she pressed on the cut with her finger the way she was pressing on the Blue Woman's forspecial china plate with her foot, she remembered the way the black patent leather shoe covered the delicate blue webbing on the edge of the plate, she remembered the press, yes, she remembered pressing in The Drawers, pressing with finger and foot, remembered the delicious promise of finger and cut, remembered that when the plate snapped with a bitter brittle snap a similar brittle pleasure had skewered upward from that cut into her guts like an arrow, she remembered the cry which had broken from her lips, an unpleasant cawing like the sound of a crow scared up from a cornpatch, she could remember staring dully at the fragments of the plate and then taking the plain white cotton panties slowly out of her dress pocket and putting them on again, step-ins, so she had heard them called in some time unhoused in memory and drifting loose like turves on a flood-tide, step-ins, good, because first you stepped out to do your business and then you stepped back in, first one shiny patent leather shoe and then the other, good, panties were good, she could remember drawing them up her legs so clearly, drawing them past her knees, a scab on the left one almost ready to fall off and leave clean pink new babyskin, yes, she could remember so clearly it might not have been a week ago or yesterday but only one single moment ago, she could remember how the waistband had reached the hem of her party dress, the clear contrast of white cotton against brown skin, like cream, yes, like that, cream from a pitcher caught suspended over coffee, the texture, the panties disappearing under the hem of the dress, except then the dress was burnt orange and the panties were not going up but down but they were still white but not cotton, they were nylon, cheap see-through nylon panties, cheap in more ways than one, and she remembered stepping out of them, she remembered how they glimmered on the floormat of the '46 Dodge DeSoto, yes, how white they were, how cheap they were, not anything dignified like underwear but cheap panties, the girl was cheap and it was good to be cheap, good to be on sale, to be on the block not even like a whore but like a good breedsow; she remembered no round china plate but the round white face of a boy, some surprised drunk fraternity boy, he was no china plate but his face was as round as the Blue Woman's china plate had been, and there was webbing on his cheeks, and this webbing looked as blue as the webbing on the Blue Woman's forspecial china plate had been, but that was only because the neon was red, the neon was garish, in the dark the neon from the roadhouse sign made the spreading blood from the places on his cheeks where she had clawed him look blue, and he had said Why did youwhy did you why did you do, and then he unrolled the window so he could get his face outside to puke and she remembered hearing Dodie Stevens on the jukebox, singing about tan shoes with pink shoelaces and a big Panama with a purple hatband, she remembered the sound of his puking was like gravel in a cement mixer, and his penis, which moments before had been a livid exclamation point rising from the tufted tangle of his pubic hair, was collapsing into a weak white question mark; she remembered the hoarse gravel sounds of his vomiting stopped and then started again and she thought Well I guess he ain't made enough to lay this foundation yet and laughing and pressing her finger (which now came equipped with a long shaped nail) against her vagina which was bare but no longer bare because it was overgrown with its own coarse briared tangle, and there had been the same brittle breaking snap inside her, and it was still as much pain as it was pleasure (but better, far better, than nothing at all), and then he was grabbing blindly for her and saying in a hurt breaking tone Oh you goddamned nigger cunt and she went on laughing just the same, dodging him easily and snatching up her panties and opening the door on her side of the car, feeling the last blind thud of his fingers on the back of her blouse as she ran into a May night that was redolent of early honeysuckle, red-pink neon light stuttering off the gravel of some postwar parking lot, stuffing her panties, her cheap slick nylon panties not into the pocket of her dress but into a purse jumbled with a teenager's cheerful conglomeration of cosmetics, she was running, the light was stuttering, and then she was twenty-three and it was not panties but a rayon scarf, and she was casually slipping it into her purse as she walked along a counter in the Nice Notions section of Macy's锟?a scarf which sold at that time for $1.99.
Cheap like the white nylon panties.
The body she inhabited was that of a woman who had inherited millions, but that was not known and didn't matter锟?the scarf was white, the edging blue, and there was that same little breaking sense of pleasure as she sat in the back seat of the taxi, and, oblivious of the driver, held the scarf in one hand, looking at it fixedly, while her other hand crept up under her tweed skirt and beneath the leg-band of her white panties, and that one long dark finger took care of the business that needed to be taken care of in a single merciless stroke.
So sometimes she wondered, in a distracted sort of way, where she was when she wasn't here, but mostly her needs were too sudden and pressing for any extended contemplation, and she simply fulfilled what needed to be fulfilled, did what needed to be done.
Roland would have understood.
Odetta could have taken a limo everywhere, even in 1959锟?although her father was still alive and she was not as fabulously rich as she would become when he died in 1962, the money held in trust for her had become hers on her twenty-fifth birthday, and she could do pretty much as she liked. But she cared very little for a phrase one of the conservative columnists had coined a year or two before锟?the phrase was "limosine liberal,'' and she was young enough not to want to be seen as one even if she really was one. Not young enough (or stupid enough!) to believe that a few pairs of faded jeans and the khaki shirts she habitually wore in any real way changed her essential status, or riding the bus or the subway when she could have used the car (but she had been self-involved enough not to see Andrew's hurt and deep puzzlement; he liked her and thought it must be some sort of personal rejection), but young enough to still believe that gesture could sometimes overcome (or at least overset) truth.
On the night of August 19th, 1959 , she paid for the gesture with half her legs ... and half her mind.
Odetta had been first tugged, then pulled, and finally caught up in the swell which would eventually turn into a tidal wave. In 1957, when she became involved, the thing which eventually became known as the Movement had no name. She knew some of the background, knew the struggle for equality had gone on not since the Emancipation Proclamation but almost since the first boatload of slaves had been brought to America (to Georgia, in fact, the colony the British founded to get rid of their criminals and debtors), but for Odetta it always seemed to begin in the same place, with the same three words: I'm not movin.
The place had been a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and the words had been spoken by a black woman named Rosa Lee Parks, and the place from which Rosa Lee Parks was not movin was from the front of the city bus to the back of the city bus, which was, of course, the Jim Crow part of the city bus. Much later, Odetta would sing "We Shall Not Be Moved" with the rest of them, and it always made her think of Rosa Lee Parks, and she never sang it without a sense of shame. It was so easy to sing we with your arms linked to the arms of a whole crowd; that was easy even for a woman with no legs. So easy to sing we, so easy to be we. There had been no we on that bus, that bus that must have stank of ancient leather and years of cigar and cigarette smoke, that bus with the curved ad cards saying things like LUCKY STRIKE L.S.M.F.T. and ATTEND THE CHURCH OF YOUR CHOICE FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE and DRINK OVALTINE! YOU'LL SEE WHAT WE MEAN! and CHESTERFIELD , TWENTY-ONE GREAT TOBACCOS MAKE TWENTY WONDERFUL SMOKES, no we under the disbelieving gazes of the motorman, the white passengers among whom she sat, the equally disbelieving stares of the blacks at the back.
No marching thousands.
Only Rosa Lee Parks starting a tidal wave with three words: I'm not movin.
Odetta would think If I could do something like that锟?if I could be that brave - I think I could be happy for the rest of my life. But that sort of courage is not in me.
She had read of the Parks incident, but with little interest at first. That came little by little. It was hard to say exactly when or how her imagination had been caught and fired by that at first almost soundless racequake which had begun to shake the south.
A year or so later a young man she was dating more or less regularly began taking her down to the Village, where some of the young (and mostly white) folk-singers who performed there had added some new and startling songs to their repetoire锟?suddenly, in addition to all those old wheezes about how John Henry had taken his hammer and outraced the new steam-hammer (killing himself in the process, lawd, lawd) and how Bar'bry Allen had cruelly rejected her lovesick young suitor (and ended up dying of shame, lawd, lawd), there were songs about how it felt to be down and out and ignored in the city, how it felt to be turned away from a job you could do because your skin was the wrong color, how it felt to be taken into a jail cell and whipped by Mr. Charlie because your skin was dark and you had dared, lawd, lawd, to sit in the white folks' section of the lunch-counter at an F.W. Woolworths' in Montgomery, Alabama.
Absurdly or not, it was only then that she had become curious about her own parents, and their parents, and their parents before them. She would never read Roots锟? she was in another world and time long before that book was written, perhaps even thought of, by Alex Haley, but it was at this absurdly late time in her life when it first dawned upon her that not so many generations back her progenitors had been taken in chains by white men. Surely the fact had occurred to her before, but only as a piece of information with no real temperature gradient, like an equation, never as something which bore intimately upon her own life.
Odetta totted up what she knew, and was appalled by the smallness of the sum. She knew her mother had been born in Odetta , Arkansas , the town for which she (the only child) had been named. She knew her father had been a small-town dentist who had invented and patented a capping process which had lain dormant and unremarked for ten years and which had then, suddenly, made him a moderately wealthy man. She knew that he had developed a number of other dental processes during the ten years before and the four years after the influx of wealth, most of them either orthodontic or cosmetic in nature, and that, shortly after moving to New York with his wife and daughter (who had been born four years after the original patent had been secured), he had founded a company called Holmes Dental Industries, which was now to teeth what Squibb was to antibiotics.
But when she asked him what life had been like during all the years between锟?the years when she hadn't been there, and the years when she had, her father wouldn't tell her. He would say all sorts of things, but he wouldn't tell her anything. He closed that part of himself off to her. Once her ma, Alice锟?he called her ma or sometimes Allie if he'd had a few or was feeling good锟?said, "Tell her about the time those men shot at you when you drove the Ford through the covered bridge, Dan," and he gave Odetta's ma such a gray and forbidding look that her ma, always something of a sparrow, had shrunk back in her seat and said no more.
Odetta had tried her mother once or twice alone after that night, but to no avail. If she had tried before, she might have gotten something, but because he wouldn't speak, she wouldn't speak either锟?and to him, she realized, the past锟?those relatives, those red dirt roads, those stores, those dirt floor cabins with glassless windows ungraced by a single simple curtsey of a curtain, those incidents of hurt and harassment, those neighbor children who went dressed in smocks which had begun life as flour sacks锟?all of that was for him buried away like dead teeth beneath perfect blinding white caps. He would not speak, perhaps could not, had perhaps willingly afflicted himself with a selective amnesia; the capped teeth was their life in the Greymarl Apartments on Central Park South. All else was hidden beneath that impervious outer cover. His past was so well-protected that there had been no gap to slide through, no way past that perfect capped barrier and into the throat of revelation.
Detta knew things, but Detta didn't know Odetta and Odetta didn't know Detta, and so the teeth lay as smooth and closed as a redan gate there, also.
She had some of her mother's shyness in her as well as her father's unblinking (if unspoken) toughness, and the only time she had dared pursue him further on the subject, to suggest that what he was denying her was a deserved trust fund never promised and apparenily never to mature, had been one night in his library. He had shaken his Wall Street Journal carefully, closed it, folded it, and laid it aside on the deal table beside the standing lamp. He had removed his rimless steel spectacles and had laid them on top of the paper. Then he had looked at her, a thin black man, thin almost to the point of emaciation, tightly kinked gray hair now drawing rapidly away from the deepening hollows of his temples where tender clocksprings of veins pulsed steadily, and he had said only, Idon't talk about that part of my life, Odetta, or think about it. It would be pointless. The world had moved on since then.
Roland would have understood.
When Roland opened the door with the words THE LADY OF THE SHADOWS written upon it, he saw things he did not understand at all锟?but he understood they didn't matter.
It was Eddie Dean's world, but beyond that it was only a confusion of lights, people and objects锟?more objects than he had ever seen in his life. Lady-things, from the look of them, and apparently for sale. Some under glass, some arranged in tempting piles and displays. None it mattered any more than the movement as that world flowed past the edges of the doorway before them. The doorway was the Lady's eyes. He was looking through them just as he had looked through Eddie's eyes when Eddie had moved up the aisle of the sky-carriage.
Eddie, on the other hand, was thunderstruck. The revolver in his hand trembled and dropped a little. The gunslinger could have taken it from him easily but did not. He only stood quietly. It was a trick he had learned a long time ago.
Now the view through the doorway made one of those turns the gunslinger found so dizzying锟?but Eddie found this same abrupt swoop oddly comforting. Roland had never seen a movie. Eddie had seen thousands, and what he was looking at was like one of those moving point-of-view shots they did in ones like Halloween and The Shining. He even knew what they called the gadget they did it with. Steadi-Cam. That was it.
"Star Wars, too," he muttered. "Death Star. That fuckin crack, remember?"
Roland looked at him and said nothing.
Hands锟?dark brown hands锟?entered what Roland saw as a doorway and what Eddie was already starting to think of as some sort of magic movie screen ... a movie screen which, under the right circumstances, you might be able to walk into the way that guy had just walked out of the screen and into the real world in The Purple Rose of Cairo. Bitchin movie.
Eddie hadn't realized how bitchin until just now.
Except that movie hadn't been made yet on the other side of the door he was looking through. It was New York, okay锟?somehow the very sound of the taxi-cab horns, as mute and faint as they were锟?proclaimed that锟?and it was some New York department store he had been in at one time or another, but it was ... was ...
"It's older," he muttered.
"Before your when?" the gunslinger asked.
Eddie looked at him and laughed shortly. "Yeah. If you want to put it that way, yeah."
"Hello, Miss Walker ," a tentative voice said. The view in the doorway rose so suddenly that even Eddie was a bit dizzied and he saw a saleswoman who obviously knew the owner of the black hands锟?knew her and either didn't like her or feared her. Or both. "Help you today?"
"This one." The owner of the black hands held up a white scarf with a bright blue edge. "Don't bother to wrap it up, babe, just stick it in a bag."
"Cash or ch锟?"
"Cash, it's always cash, isn't it?"
"Yes, that's fine, Miss Walker."
"I'm so glad you approve, dear."
There was a little grimace on the salesgirl's face锟?Eddie just caught it as she turned away. Maybe it was something as simple as being talked to that way by a woman the salesgirl considered an "uppity nigger" (again it was more his experience in movie theaters than any knowledge of history or even life on the streets as he had lived it that caused this thought, because this was like watching a movie either set or made in the '60s, something like that one with Sidney Steiger and Rod Poitier, In the Heat of the Night ), but it could also be something even simpler: Roland's Lady of the Shadows was, black or white, one rude bitch.
And it didn't really matter, did it? None of it made a damned bit of difference. He cared about one thing and one thing only and that was getting the fuck out.
That was New York , he could almost smell New York .
And New York meant smack.
He could almost smell that, too.
Except there was a hitch, wasn't there?
One big motherfucker of a hitch.
Roland watched Eddie carefully, and although he could have killed him six times over at almost any time he wanted, he had elected to remain still and silent and let Eddie work the situation out for himself. Eddie was a lot of things, and a lot of them were not nice (as a fellow who had consciously let a child drop to his death, the gunslinger knew the difference between nice and not quite well), but one thing Eddie wasn't was stupid.
He was a smart kid.
He would figure it out.
So he did.
He looked back at Roland, smiled without showing his teeth, twirled the gunslinger's revolver once on his finger, clumsily, burlesquing a show-shooter's fancy coda, and then he held it out to Roland, butt first.
"This thing might as well be a piece of shit for all the good it can do me, isn't that right?"
You can talk bright when you want to, Roland thought. Why do you so often choose to talk stupid, Eddie? Is it because you think that's the way they talked in the place where your brother went with his guns?
"Isn't that right?" Eddie repeated.
"If I had plugged you, what would have happened to that door?"
"I don't know. I suppose the only way to find out would be to try it and see."
"Well, what do you think would happen?"
"I think it would disappear."
Eddie nodded. That was what he thought, too. Poof! Gone like magic! Now ya see it, my friends, now ya don't. It was really no different than what would happen if the projectionist in a movie-theater were to draw a six-shooter and plug the projector, was it?
If you shot the projector, the movie stopped.
Eddie didn't want the picture to stop.
Eddie wanted his money's worth.
"You can go through by yourself," Eddie said slowly.
"You wind up in her head. Like you wound up in mine.''
"So you can hitchhike into my world, but that's all."
Roland said nothing. Hitchhike was one of the words Eddie sometimes used that he didn't exactly understand ... but he caught the drift.
"But you could go through in your body. Like at Balazar's." He was talking out loud but really talking to himself. "Except you'd need me for that, wouldn't you?"
"Then take me with you."
The gunslinger opened his mouth, but Eddie was already rushing on.
"Not now, I don't mean now," he said. "I know it would cause a riot or some goddam thing if we just ... popped out over there." He laughed rather wildly. "Like a magician pulling rabbits out of a hat, except without any hat, sure I did. We'll wait until she's alone, and锟?"
"I'll come back with you," Eddie said. "I swear it, Roland. I mean, I know you got a job to do, and I know I'm a part of it. I know you saved my ass at Customs, but I think I saved yours at Balazar's锟?now what do you think?"
"I think you did," Roland said. He remembered the way Eddie had risen up from behind the desk, regardless of the risk, and felt an instant of doubt.
But only an instant.
"So? Peter pays Paul. One hand washes the other. All I want to do is go back for a few hours. Grab some take-out chicken, maybe a box of Dunkin Donuts." Eddie nodded toward the doorway, where things had begun to move again. "So what do you say?"
"No," the gunslinger said, but for a moment he was hardly thinking about Eddie. That movement up the aisle锟?the Lady, whoever she was, wasn't moving the way an ordinary person moved锟?wasn't moving, for instance, the way Eddie had moved when Roland looked through his eyes, or (now that he stopped to think of it, which he never had before, any more than he had ever stopped and really noticed the constant presence of his own nose in the lower range of his peripheral vision) the way he moved himself. When one walked, vision became a mild pendulum: left leg, right leg, left leg, right leg, the world rocking back and forth so mildly and gently that after awhile锟?shortly after you began to walk, he supposed锟?you simply ignored it. There was none of that pendulum movement in the Lady's walk锟?she simply moved smoothly up the aisle, as if riding along tracks. Ironically, Eddie had had this same perception ... only to Eddie it had looked like a SteadiCam shot. He had found this perception comforting because it was familiar.
To Roland it was alien ... but then Eddie was breaking in, his voice shrill.
"Well why not? Just why the fuck not?"
"Because you don't want chicken," the gunslinger said. "I know what you call the things you want, Eddie. You want to 'fix.' You want to 'score.' "
"So what?" Eddie cried锟?almost shrieked. "So what if I do? I said I'd come back with you! You got my promise! I mean, you got my fuckin PROMISE! What else do you want? You want me to swear on my mother's name? Okay, I swear on my mother's name! You want me to swear on my brother Henry's name? All right, I swear! I swear! I SWEAR!"
Enrico Balazar would have told him, but the gunslinger didn't need the likes of Balazar to tell him this one fact of life: Never trust a junkie.
Roland nodded toward the door. "Until after the Tower, at least, that part of your life is done. After that I don't care. After that you're free to go to hell in your own way. Until then I need you."
''Oh you fuckin shitass liar,'' Eddie said softly. There was no audible emotion in his voice, but the gunslinger saw the glisten of tears in his eyes. Roland said nothing. "You know there ain't gonna be no after, not for me, not for her, or whoever the Christ this third guy is. Probably not for you, either锟?you look as fuckin wasted as Henry did at his worst. If we don't die on the way to your Tower we'll sure as shit die when we get there so why are you lying to me?"
The gunslinger felt a dull species of shame but only repeated: "At least for now, that part of your life is done."
"Yeah?" Eddie said. "Well, I got some news for you, Roland. I know what's gonna happen to your real body when you go through there and inside of her. I know because I saw it before. I don't need your guns. I got you by that fabled place where the short hairs grow, my friend. You can even turn her head the way you turned mine and watch what I do to the rest of you while you're nothing but your goddam ka. I'd like to wait until nightfall, and drag you down by the water. Then you could watch the lobsters chow up on the rest of you. But you might be in too much of a hurry for that."
Eddie paused. The graty breaking of the waves and the steady hollow conch of the wind both seemed very loud.
"So I think I'll just use your knife to cut your throat."
"And close that door forever?"
"You say that part of my life is done. You don't just mean smack, either. You mean New York , America , my time, everything. If that's how it is, I want this part done, too. The scenery sucks and the company stinks. There are times, Roland, when you make Jimmy Swaggart look almost sane."
"There are great wonders ahead," Roland said. "Great adventures. More than that, there is a quest to course upon, and a chance to redeem your honor. There's something else, too. You could be a gunslinger. I needn't be the last after all. It's in you, Eddie. I see it. I feel it."
Eddie laughed, although now the tears were coursing down his cheeks. "Oh, wonderful. Wonderful! Just what I need! My brother Henry. He was a gunslinger. In a place called Viet Nam , that was. It was great for him. You should have seen him when he was on a serious nod, Roland. He couldn't find his way to the fuckin bathroom without help. If there wasn't any help handy, he just sat there and watched Big Time Wrestling and did it in his fuckin pants. It's great to be a gunslinger. I can see that. My brother was a doper and you're out of your fucking gourd."
"Perhaps your brother was a man with no clear idea of honor."
"Maybe not. We didn't always get a real clear picture of what that was in the Projects. It was just a word you used after Your if you happened to get caught smoking reefer or lifting the spinners off some guy's T-Bird and got ho'ed up in court for it."
Eddie was crying harder now, but he was laughing, too.
"Your friends, now. This guy you talk about in your sleep, for instance, this dude Cuthbert锟?"
The gunslinger started in spite of himself. Not all his long years of training could stay that start.
"Did they get this stuff you're talking about like a goddam Marine recruiting sergeant? Adventure, quests, honor?"
"They understood honor, yes," Roland said slowly, thinking of all the vanished others.
"Did it get them any further than gunslinging got my brother?"
The gunslinger said nothing.
"I know you," Eddie said. "I seen lots of guys like you. "You're just another kook singing 'Onward Christian Soldiers' with a flag in one hand and a gun in the other. I don't want no honor. I just want a chicken dinner and fix. In that order. So I'm telling you: go on through. You can. But the minute you're gone, I'm gonna kill the rest of you."
The gunslinger said nothing.
Eddie smiled crookedly and brushed the tears from his cheeks with the backs of his hands. "You want to know what we call this back home?"
"A Mexican stand-off."
For a moment they only looked at each other, and then Roland looked sharply into the doorway. They had both been partially aware锟?Roland rather more than Eddie锟?that there had been another of those swerves, this time to the left. Here was an array of sparkling jewelry. Some was under protective glass but because most wasn't, the gunslinger supposed it was trumpery stuff ... what Eddie would have called costume jewelry. The dark brown hands examined a few things in what seemed an only cursory manner, and then another salesgirl appeared. There had been some conversation which neither of them really noticed, and the Lady (some Lady, Eddie thought) asked to see something else. The salesgirl went away, and that was when Roland's eyes swung sharply back.
The brown hands reappeared, only now they held a purse. It opened. And suddenly the hands were scooping things锟?seemingly, almost certainly, at random锟?into the purse.
"Well, you're collecting quite a crew, Roland," Eddie said, bitterly amused. "First you got your basic white junkie, and then you got your basic black shoplif锟?"
But Roland was already moving toward the doorway between the worlds, moving swiftly, not looking at Eddie at all.
"I mean it!" Eddie screamed. "You go through and I'll cut your throat, I'll cut your fucking thr锟?"
Before he could finish, the gunslinger was gone. All that was left of him was his limp, breathing body lying upon the beach.
For a moment Eddie only stood there, unable to believe that Roland had done it, had really gone ahead and done this idiotic thing in spite of his promise锟?his sincere fucking guarantee, as far as that went锟?of what the consequences would be.
He stood for a moment, eyes rolling like the eyes of a frightened horse at the onset of a thunderstorm ... except of course there was no thunderstorm, except for the one in the head.
All right. All right, goddammit.
There might only be a moment. That was all the gun-slinger might give him, and Eddie damned well knew it. He glanced at the door and saw the black hands freeze with a gold necklace half in and half out of a purse that already glittered like a pirate's cache of treasure. Although he could not hear it, Eddie sensed that Roland was speaking to the owner of the black hands.
He pulled the knife from the gunslinger's purse and then rolled over the limp, breathing body which lay before the doorway. The eyes were open but blank, rolled up to the whites.
"Watch, Roland!" Eddie screamed. That monotonous, idiotic, never-ending wind blew in his ears. Christ, it was enough to drive anyone bugshit. "Watch very closely! I want to complete your fucking education! I want to show you what happens when you fuck over the Dean brothers!"
He brought the knife down to the gunslinger's throat.