“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.
We last left our story with Eddie, Suze, Jake and Oy sitting on the porch of Took’s Store, talking to locals, and Roland climbing up to the cave with the Manni chief, Henchick, and hearing the story of how the Manni found Callahan when he came through the door with Black Thirteen.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 9, “The Priest’s Tale Concluded (Unfound),” Section 1
When Eddie, Susannah, Jake and Oy return to Callahan’s they learn the priest has gone out on sick-rounds, but Rosalita has the beds ready. It’s mid-afternoon, so they’re confused about beds, but she knows they’re tired and need naps. Which is true, because the townspeople poured over to the store when they learned the gunslingers were friendly and not prone to shooting anyone.
What Constant Reader Learns: I thought this was an interesting observation, and had to wonder if it reflected more on sai King’s observations than Eddie’s, since Eddie, as far as I know, had never aspired to be a celebrity: “As the trickle (of people) became a flood, Eddie at last discovered what it was to be a public person. He was astounded by how difficult it was, how draining…All in all, it had been five of the longest hours Eddie had ever put in, and he thought he would never regard celebrity in quite the same way again.”
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 9, “The Priest’s Tale Concluded (Unfound),” Section 2
Jake and Oy will be napping in Callahan’s room, and Jake is sure he won’t be able to sleep—he’s never been a good napper. “Less than a minute later, he was snoring lightly.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Uh…not much.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 9, “The Priest’s Tale Concluded (Unfound),” Section 3
Before they nap, Eddie tries to talk to Suze about Gran-pere’s tale, which she hasn’t heard—and doesn’t want to. “We could get into this, but I’m tired,” she says. “Tell Roland what the old guy told you, and tell Jake if you want to, but don’t tell me. Not yet.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Does Susannah not want to hear because on some unconscious level she thinks it’s better she doesn’t? Or is she feeling like she isn’t part of what’s going on? Or is she just tired?
I like this: “A rectangle of light moved steadily up their bodies as the sun sank. It had moved back into the true west, at least for the time being.”
And we get a sentence that tells us Roland is on his way back to the rectory with “his aching legs kicked free of the stirrups.” It will be interesting to see where what seems to be his coming infirmity will take us, and who picks up the slack if there is slack.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 9, “The Priest’s Tale Concluded (Unfound),” Section 4
Rosalita comes out to greet Roland, and she knows some of the women will be asked to throw the dish when the time comes. Then there’s some awkward sexual banter as she and Roland yap back and forth about what might get rubbed and what might need to be rubbed and what types of aching joints might be eased by rubbing.
What Constant Reader Learns: Is it just me, or does the sexual banter with Roland and Rosalita and all their “rubbing” seem kinda squicky and forced? At least we were spared a love scene, although the symbolism of “she kept a secret spring surrounded by sweet moss, and there he was refreshed” was kinda gag-inducing.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 9, “The Priest’s Tale Concluded (Unfound),” Section 5
Callahan returns home about 5:30, and they all sit down to dinner at 6. After all his rubbing, Roland eats three helpings.
Callahan clearly hasn’t been sleeping well, worried about telling the rest of his story. He picks up with returning to New York after seeing the newspaper about the Hitler brothers attacking Rowan Magruder from the Home. He goes to see Rowan in the hospital; he’s not expected to survive. Turns out Rowan has a twin sister who’s visiting him.
What Constant Reader Learns: Here’s a nice, surreal moment from Callahan: “I can’t tell you how strange it was to be sitting in a Manni cabin in Calla Bryn Sturgis, looking toward the darkness of Thunderclap and listening to Elton John.” Amen, Father Don.
Eddie tries to weave Nineteen into Callahan’s story but it’s clear the number has no significance for the priest.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 9, “The Priest’s Tale Concluded (Unfound),” Section 6
We switch from past-tense (Callahan telling the story) to present (Callahan living the story). Magruder’s sister goes off on Callahan, blaming him and the other down-on-their-luck guys at the shelter for robbing Magruder of all he could have accomplished in his life. He won a big poetry prize in college, graduated cum laude from NYU, etc. Throughout this tirade, Callahan stands there, stunned and silent.
When she finally flounces away, Rowan speaks from within his mask of bandages and tells Callahan he’s the eighth person she’s given that sermon to that day. When Callahan asks Rowan what he can do for him, Rowan tells him to stay away from Home. That it wasn’t Rowan they were looking for, but Callahan. The priest asks if the men had red eyes and wore trenchcoats, but Rowan says no. Then he dies, and Callahan knows he needs to get out of Dodge—he figures the Hitlers were hired by the low men.
What Constant Reader Learns: “Where’s Jane Pauley? She interviewed him on the Today show, you know,” says Magruder’s sister. Ah, love a good ‘80s flashback.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 9, “The Priest’s Tale Concluded (Unfound),” Section 7
Callahan left the hospital with every intention of leaving New York, but he started thinking about the people at Home and some of the things that had happened there. He finds himself walking past the vacant lot. Jake wants to know what was there in 1981, and Callahan says a high fence of ten or twelve feet. There was a street mural on the side of the fence, and Callahan remembers thinking something wasn’t right.
What Constant Reader Learns: Eddie’s still caught up on 19—the numbers of Magruder’s hospital room—577—add up to 19. Callahan kind of thinks he’s nuts.
When Callahan starts describing the area around the vacant lot and the gunslingers know the area very well, he gets a little freaked out. Of course during this and the 19 diversion, we can imagine Roland sitting to the side and rolling his eyes. Finally, he just twirls his finger in his favorite signal for them to get on with it.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 9, “The Priest’s Tale Concluded (Unfound),” Section 8
Callahan hears the chimes as he passes the lot, and decides he needs to get out of there. He turns, and there are two men behind him—the Hitler brothers. One is short, one tall; the big one grabs his collar; the little one grabs his testicles. There’s much squeezing and pain and racist yammering and posturing, during which time Callahan hears a beautiful humming noise nearby—he knows there’s something “powerful and good” inside that lot behind the fence, but he doesn’t get a chance to find out.
They hustle him along to an empty store. The sign on the floor reads: TURTLE BAY WASHATERIA U WASH OR WE WASH EITHER WAY IT ALL COMES KLEEN!
They force Callahan’s hands behind his back and secure them with duct tape. When he asks if the low men hired them, they don’t answer, but he thinks he sees a flicker of unease on Nort’s face. With another hearty squeeze of the nuts, Bill brings Callahan to the floor, and tapes his ankles. Nort takes a photo of him with a Polaroid—Callahan’s “before” picture. Their bosses want another shot “after.”
Callahan listens as Bill begs for permission to cut the swastika into his forehead—apparently Bill’s not too good at such an artistic endeavor, but Nort finally agrees. He ends up carving a cross in Callahan’s forehead instead of a swastika, and Callahan’s faith is gone. “Squabbling over him like a couple of kids while his balls ache and his broke jaw throbs and his sight drowns in blood. All those seventies-era arguments about whether or not God was dead, and Christ, look at him! How could there be any doubt.”
And the cavalry arrives.
What Constant Reader Learns: While he’s being kicked so hard in the face his jaw is broken in four places, Callahan thinks of himself as being “in an insane universe where God has clearly died and lies stinking on the floor of a pillaged heaven.”
Hm…what cavalry would this be? And why?
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 9, “The Priest’s Tale Concluded (Unfound),” Section 9
We cut back to the present, where the group is sitting at a table on the porch after the meal has been finished. Roland wants Callahan to slow down so he can hear this next part in detail. Jake “touches” Roland’s mind and asks, “Were WE the calvary?”
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland is shocked when Jake pulls the question from his mind, but then is amused by it. Me, I’m thinking I wouldn’t be so amused. I’d be figuring out a way to keep the kid out of my head. But perhaps my thoughts are not as pure as Roland’s.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 9, “The Priest’s Tale Concluded (Unfound),” Section 10
Someone comes into the washateria with a searchlight that blinds the Hitler brothers. He calls them by their names, and Callahan can tell that he—whoever he is—is scared. A second voice tells them to put their hands up, then take their shoes and pants off. Nort tries to explain that the guys who hired them will kill them. The nervous “cavalry” is throwing around a lot of Yiddish slang. Finally, the Hitler brothers run out the door.
The two rescuers won’t tell Callahan who they are, won’t let him see their faces, won’t say how they knew he was there. They leave him, and an ambulance arrives a short while later.
What Constant Reader Learns: One of Callahan’s cavalry members is wearing a signet ring with EX LIBRIS written on it. So this is, like, a group that tails the Hitler bros and tries to stop whatever they’re doing? Sounds like.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 9, “The Priest’s Tale Concluded (Unfound),” Section 10
“And that,” Callahan says, “is how I ended up in Room 577 of that same hospital that same night.” Before his morphine cocktail kicks in, he wonders if Rowan’s sister will come and finish him off. He’s in the hospital for a week, then was transferred to a welfare rehab unit in Queens. On the day he was checked out of the Queens facility, he saw a story in the paper about two men (Nort and Bill) found shot to death in Coney Island—thought to be a mob job. Callahan thinks the low men got them.
Once he’s out, Callahan looks for his hidden footbridge again, but doesn’t see it. Over the next two months, he glimpses it a couple of times, but mostly it’s gone. He also sees some Type Three Vampires, but he didn’t bother to kill them. He spent his days doing day-labor work and his nights drinking.
He finally hit bottom in Topeka late in the winter of 1982.
What Constant Reader Learns: Eddie wants to know if the bodies were ever identified as being the Hitler brothers, but Callahan doesn’t think so—publicly, at least. Having them alive and out there somewhere sold more papers.
Topeka! A magical place, indeed.
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll tackle the next chapter of Wolves of the Calla.