“First comes smiles, then lies. Last is gunfire.”
—Roland Deschain, of Gilead
Welcome to A Read of the Dark Tower series. Join me each week as I, Constant Reader, tackle the magnum opus of Stephen King’s career for the first time. If you want to discuss in general terms or talk about these first sections, join me by commenting here.
Last week, our ka-tet munched down on some muffin-balls before Roland mentioned that, oops, they might cause weird dreams. Eddie had just drifted off to sleep, and he, Jake and Oy “entered” New York City.
Wolves of the Calla, Part I, Todash; Chapter 2, “New York Groove,” Section 1
Jake falls asleep to the sensation of falling, and then hears a chiming melody he thinks is “too beautiful.” The chime makes his bones vibrate and becomes almost painful. He thinks it’s sort of like the thinny, but not exactly.
He opens his eyes and is standing in New York. Jake thinks it’s more like traveling in the Wizard’s Glass than dreaming—people don’t seem to actually see him but they still detour around where he and Oy are standing, near a midtown saloon called Kansas City Blues (KANSAS, get it?). He and Oy walk around the corner and see Eddie Dean standing outside Barcelona Luggage. They’re cracking jokes when Jake sees himself—the John Chambers before he went into the house on Dutch Hill—and he knows it’s May 31, 1977, in New York, the day he left Piper School for good.
Then Jake remembers what came later that day: he saw the rose. He went to the bookstore, then to the vacant lot where Tom and Jerry’s Artistic Deli used to be. Mid-World Jake and Eddie decide to follow 1977 Jake.
What Constant Reader Learns: Jake is startled by the noise of New York because he’s gotten used to the “deep silences of Mid-World” and come to love them. Still, he’s a little glad to be back. Oy? Not so much. Poor little guy isn’t used to such a racket.
When Jake sees Eddie, Eddie’s wearing his old jeans, deerskin shirt and moccasins, and his hair is down to his shoulders. Jake realizes he’s still wearing the “battered remains” of the Dockers he’d had on when he left his world. It’s our first look in a while at how our travelers might have changed physically. Also, when Jake sees his other self, he thinks how “soft and innocent and painfully young” he looked, and he wonders how he ever survived.
Wolves of the Calla, Part I, Todash; Chapter 2, “New York Groove,” Section 2
Mid-World Jake and Eddie follow 1977 Jake, and MW Jake remembers the tug-of-war that had been going on in his mind that day—did he die, or did he not?
Jake realizes the day is the same, yet not quite. He looks around, trying to figure out what’s different. Everything looks normal—except nothing is normal. He can’t put his finger on it.
What Constant Reader Learns: Okay…okay…what’s different, Jake?
Wolves of the Calla, Part I, Todash; Chapter 2, “New York Groove,” Section 3
Jake asks Eddie the eternal question, “What’s wrong with this picture?” And Eddie looks around, also realizing something is wrong. At first he thinks they’ve lost their shadows, but they haven’t. He thinks they shouldn’t see their shadows when it’s dark, and yet it’s not really dark—it’s morning. “Yet it still seemed somehow dark to Eddie, as if all this were nothing but fragile surface, like the canvas backdrop of a stage set…Only behind this canvas you wouldn’t find the workshop and storage areas of backstage but only a great bulging darkness. Some vast dead universe where Roland’s Tower had already fallen.”
Jake and Eddie compare notes, and realize they both heard the chimes. And then 1977 Jake goes into the Manhattan Restaurant of the Mind, where he was about to buy Charlie the Choo-Choo and the book of riddles from a man named Calvin Tower.
What Constant Reader Learns: Oy gets to stop and hike his leg by a fire hydrant…wonder what 1977 NYC dogs will make of that?
So if Jake and Eddie are not physically there, at least not in a way others can actually see them, why do they cast shadows? Or are these shadows only they can see? Inquiring minds and all that.
Wolves of the Calla, Part I, Todash; Chapter 2, “New York Groove,” Section 4
When they get to the door of the bookstore, Mid-World Jake thinks, again, that something is wrong, but he can’t place it.
He’s hesitant to go inside, fearful that 1977 Jake will see him, but realizes Eddie’s right when he says they’re meant to go inside.
What Constant Reader Learns: Okay, here’s the Today’s Specials signs from the new visit to the Manhattan Restaurant of the Mind:
From Mississippi! Pan-Fried William Faulkner
From Maine! Chilled Stephen King
From California! Hard-Boiled Raymond Chandler
And from Jake’s initial visit in The Waste Lands:
From Florida! Fresh-Broiled John D. MacDonald
From Mississippi! Pan-Fried William Faulkner
From California! Hard-Boiled Raymond Chandler
So Stephen King has replaced John D. MacDonald with himself (and has book-club bargains available).
Wolves of the Calla, Part I, Todash; Chapter 2, “New York Groove,” Section 5
Again, Eddie has the sense that it’s dark in the store when it really isn’t. Yet it somehow is dark despite the light coming in from the street. “The fact that you couldn’t exactly see that darkness made it worse still…and Eddie realized a terrible thing; these people were in danger. Tower, Deepneau, Kid Seventy-seven. Probably him and Mid-World Jake and Oy, as well. All of them.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Eddie’s relieved when they go inside and he counts twenty-one books on the table where 1977 Jake is studying the titles—until he realizes that when Jake buys his two books, that will leave…nineteen.
The whole dark/not dark thing is interesting. Just reading it, it makes no sense but the fact that I can visualize how it might feel means props to Stephen King for somehow making it imaginable.
Wolves of the Calla, Part I, Todash; Chapter 2, “New York Groove,” Section 6
As 1977 Jake talks to Calvin Tower, MW Jake steps closer, and thinks Calvin’s eyes shift slightly in his direction for a moment, as if he can sense their presence.
Jake urges Eddie to look at Charlie the Choo-Choo. It takes Eddie a moment to realize what’s different, and then he spots it. Now, Charlie isn’t written by Beryl Evans but, instead, by Claudia y Inez Bachman.
What Constant Reader Learns: Oh, this is too delicious. I caught the Richard Bachman reference, but didn’t know the Claudia reference—Claudia is the fictional Richard Bachman’s fictional wife, who also took his fictional author photo, which turned out to be his agent’s insurance guy. And the ‘y’ is added to bring the number of letters in the name to…yep…nineteen. I don’t know what the heck it means in terms of the Dark Tower story, but it amuses me.
Wolves of the Calla, Part I, Todash; Chapter 2, “New York Groove,” Section 7
The sense of unease grows with Eddie, Jake, and Oy as 1977 Jake pays for his books and heads for the door. MW Jake wants to go on to the vacant lot on Second and Forty-sixth Street, where the rose will be waiting, but Eddie senses there’s more for them to see at the bookstore.
So as ‘77 Jake exits the store and leaves, MW Jake is studying the sign with the daily specials again. He knows it’s different but can’t figure it out. “It’s another riddle,” he says. “I hate riddles.” Eddie assures him that if it’s something important he’s not seeing, Roland will be able to help him remember.
A dark gray Lincoln Town Car pulls up in front of the bookshop and parks by the fire hydrant with a sense of ownership. Eddie freaks when he sees who’s getting out.
What Constant Reader Learns: Jake thinks back to when Roland hypnotized him back at the Way Station: “Roland’s friend Alain might have been the one with the strongest ability to touch other minds, and his friend Cuthbert had gotten all the sense of humor in that particular ka-tet, but Roland had developed over the years into one hell of a hypnotist. He could have made a fortune in Vegas.”
Wolves of the Calla, Part I, Todash; Chapter 2, “New York Groove,” Section 8
Jake doesn’t know the guy getting out of the Town Car, although Eddie’s face is an ashy gray. He does think the day has gotten darker than ever, as though there’s a black corona forming around the circle of the sun. In the distance, 1977 Jake is headed toward his rendezvous with the rose.
The men in the car are Enrico Balazar, looking ten years younger than when Eddie and Roland killed him 1987. The driver is Jack Andolini, although Jake hasn’t heard the story about how Jack got his face eaten off by lobstrosities. And the other bodyguard is George Biondi, whom Eddie killed himself. And Jake asks the million-dollar question (or maybe the nineteen-dollar question): “Why are hard guys from Brooklyn visiting a used-book store in Manhattan?”
Eddie doesn’t know, so they go back into the Manhattan Restaurant of the Mind.
What Constant Reader Learns: After all he’s been through since then, Eddie’s total freakout over seeing Balazar and company in this earlier version of New York seems odd to me. Jake’s freaked out over seeing his earlier self, but not to such an extent. Maybe with youth comes greater resilience and weirdness-acceptance.
I must say, I didn’t expect to see Balazar and Co. again.
Wolves of the Calla, Part I, Todash; Chapter 2, “New York Groove,” Section 9
The “smell of fear in the bookstore was palpable” as they re-enter the store. The guys at the counter make a quick exit, leaving only Calvin Tower and Aaron Deepneau behind.
Apparently, Calvin took $100,000 from Balazar, and Balazar’s going through his whole Wise Guys routine. Yet, this: “I want to talk to you,” Balazar tells Calvin. “Because my employers in this matter want me to talk to you.”
Jake is still amazed that all this happened after he’d left the store and was making his way to the vacant lot.
Leaving Deepneau to man the register, Tower leads Balazar and his muscle into the back room and they close the door behind them. Jake and Eddie hear the sound of a deadbolt sliding home. Needing to see inside, Eddie decides to try walking through the wall and—what do you know—it works. Jake and Oy follow, with a moment of darkness, the smell of wood, and, deep in Jake’s head, a couple more of those awful-beautiful chimes.
What Constant Reader Learns: Balazar keeps calling Calvin Tower “Mr. Toren,” and Calvin says he legally changed his name. Which certainly would indicate that Calvin had fallen under the spell of the Tower or ka or something like it.
So Balazar is acting on behalf of someone else…hm….
Wolves of the Calla, Part I, Todash; Chapter 2, “New York Groove,” Section 10
The back room is stacked high with books—as much as fourteen or sixteen feet high (why not nineteen?). Tower leads his visitors to a little corner that served as an office, and sits in a chair behind a desk.
Balazar brings out a sheet of paper, and Eddie moves forward, sensing that it’s something he needs to see.
What Constant Reader Learns: There’s a calendar hanging on the “office” wall—of Robert Browning. Childe Roland, perhaps?
I have to wonder what dreams Susannah and Roland are having while Jake and Eddie are in New York? I guess we’ll find out soon enough.
Wolves of the Calla, Part I, Todash; Chapter 2, “New York Groove,” Section 11
Eddie’s trying to read the paper, but the guys are really sensing their presence. Balazar even asks Tower if someone else is there. Then the chimes begin again inside Jake’s, Oy’s and Eddie’s heads, and the room begins to dim. Eddie realizes they’re going back—but he needs to see that paper.
He leans in, not worrying about the fact the mobsters sense his presence, and reads as much of the paper as he can while the chimes grow louder and he feels them being swept away. He tells Jake to hold onto his belt so they won’t get separated.
The document is an agreement between Calvin Tower, owner of a vacant lot, Lot #298, Block #19, at 46th Street and Second Avenue, and Sombra Corporation. Sombra has paid Calvin a hundred grand to not to sell the property during a one-year period ending July 15, 1977—after which time, he can do whatever he wants with the property.
As the chimes grow to a deafening volume, Eddie finds himself floating in darkness, “somewhere beyond the stars and the galaxies,” and everything is gone, including Jake and Oy and Mid-World.
What Constant Reader Learns: Lot #298…add the numerals together and you get nineteen. And it’s on Block 19. “Sombra Corporation” also wanted the block vacant through the time period where Jake visited, and a couple of months beyond.
Eddie, as the chimes grow louder, has a moment of clarity: “For just one moment, Eddie understood—hell, could almost see—how thin this world had become. All of the worlds, probably. As thin and worn as his own jeans.”
Uh-oh. Where’s Eddie going next?
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue with the next chapter of Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla.