“Go, then. There are other worlds than these.”
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 or preceding sections, join me by commenting here.
Last week, Jake and Callahan began tracking Susannah-Mio through 1999 New York City and found Black Thirteen in the hotel room safe.
Song of Susannah, 12th Stanza, “Jake and Callahan,” Section 10
“Sad to see a man’s faith fail,” the vampire Kurt Barlow had said to Pere Callahan when he plucked the cross from his hands. Callahan had always wondered how Barlow had been able to take the cross from him, and he finally realizes it was because Callahan had failed to throw the cross away himself, not realizing it was only a symbol of his faith and not faith itself. And he wonders if that is why God gave him a second chance—to finally learn that lesson.
Callahan and Jake are mesmerized by the power of Black Thirteen. Callahan thinks of death and how he might welcome it. Even a maid working on that floor of the hotel is drawn to it and wants to take it.
Understanding what is happening (even though he has no hope that they will survive the day), Callahan gets the chance to put his faith in action, and he prays for God to intervene and put Black Thirteen back to sleep again. At first, the noise from the box that holds the glass gets louder…and then it stops.
Jake and Callahan need to have a private palaver, so Jake tells the maid she needs to take a nap, and she does. Meanwhile, Callahan directs Jake to take the bag of orizas from the safe and he rifles through the maid’s pockets and takes all the cash he can find. He’s remembered a conversation from his days back at Home about the safest place in NYC to hide something.
What Constant Reader Learns: This is a nice moment for Callahan when he consciously calls on his faith again—he’d been gradually coming back to it while in the Calla, but it was with a certain combination of shame and even arrogance. Here, it’s a simple plea: “God, if you still hear me, this is Callahan. Please still this thing. Please send it back to sleep.”
While Callahan prays in the name of Jesus, Jake adds “in the name of the White.” And the maid adds, “Amen.”
Is this book our first direct reference to the “White”? It seems like it’s only popped up once before and also in this book but I might be forgetting something. (Yeah, hard to believe, I know.)
Interesting that Callahan’s mind feels lighter than it has in a long time. I suspect not only because Black Thirteen is napping again, but because his soul is at rest in some sense. (And then he robs the hotel maid, because a resting soul will only get you so far in the quest to make it to the Dixie Pig in time.)
Song of Susannah, 12th Stanza, “Jake and Callahan,” Section 11
On the elevator going back down to the lobby, Callahan holds the bag containing Black Thirteen and Jake carries the bag with the plates inside. Jake is also carrying their money—which now totals forty-eight dollars. Jake wants to know if that will be enough money, but Callahan isn’t too worried. He’s just robbed a hotel maid, so what concern should he have about stiffing a cab driver? And Jake thinks Roland has done much worse in his quest for the Tower.
What Constant Reader Learns: Not much, except that wherever Callahan wants to stash Black Thirteen, it will require a cab ride.
Song of Susannah, 12th Stanza, “Jake and Callahan,” Section 12
At a quarter before nine, they arrive at the first of their two stops. The taxi meter shows a fare of nine dollars and fifty cents. Callahan pays with a ten and gets a hard time from the cabbie about his “generous” tip.
Jake has been getting some images off and on from Susannah via the Touch, but the last thing he got was of a street musician, singing a song he can’t remember—and it’s a song he should remember. The song was important to Susannah and even Mia was touched by it. After that, Jake thinks Susannah left for the Dixie Pig. Now, she’s out of touch (pun intended).
Callahan goes to the building directory in the center of the huge lobby of the building they’ve come to, and quickly finds what he’s looking for.
What Constant Reader Learns: That sai King is still capable of giving us short, limited-action sections in order to increase our anxiety about whatever Big Thing is about to happen.
Song of Susannah, 12th Stanza, “Jake and Callahan,” Section 13
The sign at their destination reads “Long Term Storage, 10-36 Months” and instructs patrons to use tokens and to take the key. They’re in the subway area beneath a building, and the orizas don’t set off the metal detector, and the machine that dispenses tokens for the storage lockers doesn’t spit out their money except for one wrinkled bill. Among the names of the companies sponsoring the token machine is North Central Positronics—the “snake in the grass,” Callahan thinks.
What Constant Reader Learns: On the one hand, it’s pretty cool and very ka-like that the orizas don’t set off the metal detectors, and that the money-taking machines, which in my experience have proven very finicky, don’t seem to care which way Callahan inserts the money. On the other hand, it brings up the whole debate over predestination (or “ka,” if you will) versus free will, doesn’t it? To put it in terms of a story Pere Callahan might consider, if it was ka that Judas betrayed Jesus—if it was predestined that he would do so—then did he really have a choice? And if he followed “ka” in that betrayal, was he as much victim as villain? The same might be said of some of Roland’s more brutal choices. Is he a gunslinger obsessed with the Tower at the cost of all else, or is he simply following ka? Oh well, I think I had a point when I began that whole spiel but I’ve lost it. Yes, again, hard to believe, I know.
I wonder if North Central Positronics’ place (smallest, last) among the token machine sponsors means Eddie’s plan has worked or if it’s just that, in this world, NCP hasn’t yet achieved the size and scope it has in Mid-World.
Song of Susannah, 12th Stanza, “Jake and Callahan,” Section 14
The number on the locker they choose is 883. Once Jake has inserted all the tokens Callahan bought, they place the bag containing Black Thirteen into the locker and lock it away.
Callahan thinks it’s time to remind Jake of where they’re going and what they might find. If Jake has the Touch, it’s likely some of the Crimson King’s minions has it as well—they might even pull Black Thirteen’s location from them, and they can’t let that happen. Callahan’s convinced they won’t live through the day. And, he tells Jake, they can’t be taken alive.
Jake replies, “don’t worry about that, Pere. We won’t be.” He says it in a very gunslinger-like way, which Callahan finds a bit chilling.
What Constant Reader Learns: I like that even though they choose locker 883, no one (except me) feels the need to point out that it adds up to nineteen. And so far, Callahan is treating Jake more like a kid than a gunslinger, which I suspect will change.
Song of Susannah, 12th Stanza, “Jake and Callahan,” Section 15
Back outside, they look for another cab. Jake asks Callahan if he thinks Black Thirteen will be safe in the locker, and he assures the boy it’s the safest storage area in Manhattan.
What Constant Reader Learns: Yikes!! This was chilling, as I (duh) finally realized they had left Black Thirteen beneath the World Trade Center, which of course sent me racing to the copyright page to see when the book came out. “Callahan spared one final glance at the twin towers of the World Trade Center,” and thinks Black Thirteen is secure until June 2012—“unless the building falls down on top of it,” Jake adds. And he doesn’t sound as if he’s joking.
So, a few things come to mind after reading the fate of Black Thirteen. First, chillingly brilliant idea—SK was probably in the late revision cycle of the book when 911 happened. Second, had 911 not happened, what would have been the fate of Black Thirteen—would they simply have left it? Third, I dunno, was this a convenient (albeit clever) way of saying “we’re done with B13, so let’s just stick it somewhere”? And fourth, would 911 really have destroyed B13 as Callahan thinks, or did it simply awaken it? Or did it cause it? Hey, I’m thinking Dark Tower Eight here (or Nine, if the recent “prequel” counts as number eight).
Song of Susannah, 12th Stanza, “Jake and Callahan,” Section 16
The cab drops Jake and Callahan off at the corner of Lexington and 59th, which leaves them two dollars—but Callahan figures their time of needing money is done. When they reach the corner of Lexington and 60th, Jake points to a number of cigarette butts smashed into the sidewalk and tells Callahan it’s where his last vision of Susannah came—it’s where the guy was playing the song.
Suddenly, in perfect pitch, Jake sings “A Man of Constant Sorrow”—the song he had forgotten earlier. It’s the song Susannah sang on their first night in the Calla, before Roland’s magic dance.
Jake remembers something else—that Susannah left something for them, but now it’s gone. He’s upset, but Callahan isn’t—he’s come to accept that they are going to die in the Dixie Pig, no matter what. And he’s okay with that.
What Constant Reader Learns: Not a lot, so here’s a chance to watch George Clooney pretend to sing “Constant Sorrow,” from O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Song of Susannah, 12th Stanza, “Jake and Callahan,” Section 17
At the corner of Lexington and 61st, Jake spots the green awning of the Dixie Pig. Parked in front are five long, black limos, and a black mist is spreading down the avenue. Jake give the Ruger to Callahan—he plans to use the orizas since he and Benny used to practice with them. Jake tells Callahan how they’re going in and what they’re going to do.
What Constant Reader Learns: Black mist spreading down the avenue cannot be a good omen.
I like that after being kind of paternal throughout this chapter, Callahan steps back and hands the operation over to Jake the gunslinger. I also really like Jake’s grim determination: “Shoot whatever asks to be shot, and without hesitation,” he tells Callahan. It’s hard to remember he’s just a little boy. Although he isn’t really, is he?
Song of Susannah, 12th Stanza, “Jake and Callahan,” Section 18
As they approach the Dixie Pig, being pretty much ignored by the limo drivers (ka), Callahan begins administering the Last Rites to Jake, but they’re interrupted by Oy, who has found the skoldpadda. This gives them a bit more hope, especially Callahan, although he’s still pretty sure they’re going to die. If not, however, he asks Jake if they bring Susannah out of there, he can then be a gunslinger. Jake answers, “Khef, ka and ka-tet.”
Callahan holds the scrimshaw turtle up to his face and asks, “Is it the Turtle Maturin? It is, isn’t it?” Jake tells him that Susannah calls it the skoldpadda and that it might help them, but it won’t kill those waiting on them inside.
Saying, “let’s give them some last rites,” Jake opens the door and, together, they go into the dim light and the aroma of roasting pork.
What Constant Reader Learns: Ah, the skoldpadda has been found! It will be interesting to see what role it plays in the coming drama, and at what point Eddie and Roland will show up, if at all.
It occurs to me, probably rather late considering all the hints, that Callahan might very well not survive this visit to the Dixie Pig. After all, his role appears to be done and he has resolved the issue of his faith, or so it seems at this point. I’m voting him “most likely to be roasted.”
And…that’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue with our read of Dark Tower Book Six, Song of Susannah.