“There they stood, ranged along the hillsides, met
To view the last of me, a living frame
For one more picture! In a sheet of flame
I saw them and I knew them all.”
—Robert Browning, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”
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 time, Sheemie, Ted and Dinky, along with the ka-tet, formed their plan of attack on Algul Siento.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 11: The Attack on Algul Siento, Section 1
It’s almost time for the morning shift change in the town, and Pimli Prentiss has gotten up early due to bad dreams. He can’t put his finger on his case of the jitters, even to the point of holding his pistol like a security blanket. He feels a sense of impending doom, and feels the need to go in his bathroom to pray, but doesn’t get far into his chat with God before Finli shows up—also not sleeping well. There have been more blips on the “Deep Telemetry,” but they don’t really know what the blips mean.
They decide to walk over to Damli House to look at the readouts, and on they way, they encounter Haylis, the Rod, walking with a wicker basket. When Haylis doesn’t want to show the contents of his basket, Finli orders him to open it or else. It was full of snotty used Kleenex, and Pimli asks if his housekeeper Tammy told Haylis he could have what he wanted from the wastecans. Haylis nods yes, and they send him on his way, laughing about the “snot saboteur.” As he leaves town, Haylis is glad he was able to successfully plant the ball-thing the gunslinger had given him.
What Constant Reader Learns: I’m both excited and sad to begin this chapter because we’ve been told often enough that the ka-tet is going to be broken, and the earlier hints make me think we’re going to lose Eddie. Sigh.
Ah, I love sai King, so I do, but I hate it when he pops in as himself out of the blue and jolts me right out of the story, as in this after noting that Pimli has slipped the pistol into its holster without really thinking about it, “so moving us a step closer to what you will not want to hear and I will not want to tell.” Damn, but that’s annoying. I guess it tells us Pimli will be the one to kill Eddie, if my suspicions prove true. But, oh, sai King, please stop doing that. I know it’s a reminder that you’re part of the story as the teller of the story, but heavy-handed much?
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 11: The Attack on Algul Siento, Section 2
Susannah’s on her “Cruisin Trike” north of the compound, and sees Haylist go past, so she knows his mission has gone well. From her perch, she can see both stone towers and the guards inside. She sees a total lack of attention and knows Roland was right—this is the time they are vulnerable. She has a machine gun trained on the towers, waiting for the music to start and the horn to sound.
What Constant Reader Learns: When the music starts, it’s a recorded version of “’At’s Amore,” which is I guess a bastardization of “That’s Amore,” for those of us of a sufficient vintage to remember the old Dean Martin TV show.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 11: The Attack on Algul Siento, Section 3
Eddie, Jake, and Roland are hiding behind the boxcars at the south end of Pleasantville. They’re all heavily armed, but Jake also has his bag of Orizas, what’s left of them.
What Constant Reader Learns: “Dino Martino,” Eddie says, not Dean Martin. Jake is not of sufficient vintage to get it, and Roland wants them to shut up.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 11: The Attack on Algul Siento, Section 4
Pimli Printiss, we’re told, doesn’t recognize his employees have actual personalities, so he has no idea that housekeeper Tammy and houseboy Tassa despise each other. Boss is out walking around with Finli and Jakli, a “taheen tech,” so he doesn’t hear Tammy and Tassa are arguing about the lack of food in Pimli’s pantry, not even the “Campbell’s Tamater” soup he likes so much. They’re in a heated disagreement about whose responsibility it is to keep the pantry stocked. Then it morphs into her gluttony versus his homosexuality, which Master’s Bible, in the “Book of Leviticracks,” says is a sin.
They’re almost coming to blows when they realize they smell smoke, and then a smoke detector goes off “with a loud and frightening bray.” They run for the fire extinguishers.
What Constant Reader Learns: *Snort* Apparently, there’s a domestic robot known as a “house-elf” and its name is Dobbie. Hile, Harry Potter, sai!
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 11: The Attack on Algul Siento, Section 5
Gaskie O’Tego, the deputy security chief, is standing in front of one of the dorms talking to James Cagney, a redhaired Can-Toi who is fond of cowboy apparel. They’re going over the current roster of security guards who are sick—a case of the “momps” is going around. Nearby, watching an early-morning basketball game, they see Ted Brautigan and note that he’s up a lot earlier than usual, as is Dinky Earnshaw.
They think they smell smoke.
What Constant Reader Learns: This is unfolding slowly, but I really like seeing it happen through the different characters’ points of view as they begin to realize something is wrong.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 11: The Attack on Algul Siento, Section 6
Ted’s sitting on the steps watching the basketball game and waiting. He has a sheet of paper with the lines: Go south with your hands up; you won’t be hurt. Behind him, a smoke detector goes off and he thinks, “Here we go.”
What Constant Reader Learns: I assume Ted’s going to do some broadcasting of that message.
We learn in more specific terms how it was they knew the ka-tet was coming: Ted realizes he had made the real decision to rebel at the point he’d asked Dinky to help him reach out “to the gunslingers that Sheemie Ruiz insisted were nearby.”
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 11: The Attack on Algul Siento, Section 7
Three-quarters of the way to Damli House, Pimli, Finli and Jakli come to a halt as they hear the smoke detectors. The horn for shift change still hasn’t gone off. Tammy and Tassa come barreling out the doors of the Warden’s House, yelling “Fire!”
It must be a false alarm, he tells Finli, or else the smoke detector in his house and the one in the dorm wouldn’t be going off at the same time. Before he can finish his sentence, a side window of his house explodes outward, followed by flames. Then another alarm stars, in Damli House itself.
Then the horn goes off signaling shift change. “And suddenly, [Pimli] realized how vulnerable they would be for the next seven minutes or so. Vulnerable to all sorts of things. He refused to admit the word ‘attack’ into his consciousness.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Well, Ted told Roland right on this one. They’re totally unprepared.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 11: The Attack on Algul Siento, Section 8
Dinky is in the Study, ostensibly on duty, but he’s too nervous to take advantage of the feel-good vibes from the other Breakers. He’s pretending to work on a crossword puzzle, but across the top of the page, he’s written Go south with your hands up, you won’t be hurt.
The fire alarm begins to go off, and he’s relieved—maybe even joyful, because the assault on the Beam has stopped, at least for now. He begins to broadcast that there’s a fire in the building, they shouldn’t panic, they should walk up the north stairway and onto the back lawn. The other breakers rebroadcasting and strengthening the message.
What Constant Reader Learns: Clever plan; hope it works. I suspect it won’t be bloodless, though.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 11: The Attack on Algul Siento, Section 9
Susannah realizes she has a clear shot at the backs of the three tower guards, who are all looking away, toward the fire alarms. She looks through the sights of her gun and gets ready to fire.
What Constant Reader Learns: Uh-huh.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 11: The Attack on Algul Siento, Section 10
Pimli’s in a bit of a daze, but Finli finally gets through that the Breakers are the ones they have to see about. He realizes they’re right; they need to make sure they don’t lose a third of their psychics in an electrical fire or “half-assed act of sabotage.”
They begin to run toward Damli House, and Pimli hears a new sound: gunfire. “If some clown was shooting at his Breakers, that clown’s head would finish the day on a high pole, by the gods.” Neither he or Finli thinks the gunfire might be aimed at guards and not the Breakers.
What Constant Reader Learns: Even Roland couldn’t have been assured that these people would be this clueless, although I guess Ted would have.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 11: The Attack on Algul Siento, Section 11
The alarms are going off everywhere and Eddie can’t hear himself talk. Roland and Jake, with Oy at their heels, take a new position where they can see the guards of the south watchtower. They get their Orizas ready.
The front of the Pleasantville Hardware descends into a slot in the ground and a robotic fire engine roars into the street, its amplified voice warning people to stand clear for “Fire-Response Team Bravo.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Robotic fire engines hidden behind a hardware store façade! Brilliant.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 11: The Attack on Algul Siento, Section 12
Shootin’ time! Suze takes aim and takes out the guard in the west tower, then, before he had fallen, turned her aim to the pair in the east tower. She sees the Breakers running out in a herd, and Dinky telling them to raise their hands. Most of them did so, but Susannah thinks it isn’t necessary—it’s easy to tell the “sheep and goats,” because “a haunted clarity had fallen over her vision.”
She begins to pick off the guards as they come out of The Study. She’d gotten eight, then moves the SCT vehicle and hits one of her lasers’ ON buttons. To get the Breakers moving faster, she blows out the upper level of a nearby dorm with her machine gun. She sees Ted and Dinky join the flow of Breakers.
What Constant Reader Learns: Suze is having way too much fun; the Detta part of her even comes out of hiding for a little trash talk. And she’s disappointed when there aren’t more taheen, low men or guards to shoot. Because she’s a gunslinger now, and this is what she’s meant to do.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 11: The Attack on Algul Siento, Section 13
Sheemie, meanwhile, is tucked in his dormitory of Corbett Hall, which Suze (who had no idea what she was shooting) had just raked with a pile of bullets. Thanks to ka, Sheemie, however, is on his knees and out of range, praying for his friends’ safety. He can hear Dinky and Ted’s voices in his head, giving orders to the breakers. He doesn’t stop praying even when the propane tanks behind Damli House explode.
What Constant Reader Learns: Oh, I do love Sheemie. He’s in the middle of his prayer when Ted and Dinky start coming through and he picks up their message so his prayer ends up being “Our father, p’teck my pals, go south with your hands up, you won’t be hurt.”
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 11: The Attack on Algul Siento, Section 14
Gangli, the Damli House physician who tends to his rounds wearing roller skates and is a holy terror, is in the infirmary, skating up and down the aisles and screaming orders for people to grab his files and papers. He’d already gotten the patients out, but there are a few orderlies left.
Outside, he can hear “This is Fire-Response Team Bravo.” And then the propane tanks blow and he’s thrown into the air. He looks at his burning papers and thinks: The end has come early.
What Constant Reader Learns: Interesting to see what some of the average-joe workers are thinking: that the Beam has broken. Not an attack.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 11: The Attack on Algul Siento, Section 15
Finally, Roland and Jake release their Orizas, taking off the heads of the south-tower guards. Eddie makes his move while the others use their remaining Orizas to take out the electric fence that surrounds the compound. They then move into the town, and each moves into his spot. Almost time for the ambush itself.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland takes a moment to reflect that everything so far had been working like a charm, and that makes him really nervous.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 11: The Attack on Algul Siento, Section 16
Everything descends into chaos.
What Constant Reader Learns: Welcome back, sai-King, who tells us that “all I can do now is point here and there and hope you can bring your own order out of the general chaos.” Which does make it easier, if one moves the burden of creating order to the reader, yes? But mayhap that’s where it always belongs, anyway. The writer writes; the reader has to interpret in his own way. Just a little philosophy for you this morning.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 11: The Attack on Algul Siento, Section 17
Trampas, can-toi friend of Ted, is wearing a thinking cap so he isn’t hearing the messages to flee south. He turns and sees the robot fire engine, with two steel robot firemen clinging to the back, barreling down the street. It flattens Pimli’s housekeeper, Tammy. James Cagney tries to warn the guards standing nearby to get out of the way, but it plows over a few more, including a dozen or so Breakers.
Pimli isn’t wearing a thinking cap, though, and he picks up on the beating thought to go south with hands up, and he begins to gather up the guards to form a sort of reception line for the Breakers to run past, herding them toward a common area to be corralled because he doesn’t know the electric fence has been disabled.
It occurs to Pimli that the confusion is deliberate. Finli suspects Dinky, but Pimli wants to talk to Ted Brautigan—this has all been too organized. He wants to interrogate Brautigan. He spots Trampas and tells him to grab Dinky, who’s nearby. Trampas chases Dinky down just as an 11-year-old Breaker comes out of Damli house, struggling to pull two hydrocephalic children behind her in red wagons. Dinky wants to help her, but Trampas keeps pulling him back until the handy robotic fire engine mows down one of the children. Dinky finally gets away, and before Trampas can shoot him, Ted spots them and uses the “mind-spear” to kill him.
Finli manages to get a shot off and clips Ted in the arm. And on the third floor of Corbett Hall, Sheemie has a revelation. He leaps to his feet and runs outside, yelling: “Beam says thankya! Beam says all may yet be well.”
What Constant Reader Learns: The Fire-Response Team Bravo hasn’t been in use for over 800 years.
Finli is furious and grabs a guard, demanding to know who’s behind this attack. Because there’s not much point in denying it at this point. The guy doesn’t know, but “there has to be fifty, maybe a hundred of the devils! Dinky got us out! God bless Dinky!” Finli wants to talk to the hero Dinky, because something isn’t right.
When Ted releases his mind-spear at Trampas, a weapon he hasn’t used since back in 1935 when the guy stole his wallet, Trampas gives him “a look of unbelieving reproach that Ted would remember to the end of his life.” This implies, to me, that his life has some years left to go. Chalk up Ted as a likely survivor.
Not so sure about Sheemie, though, who steps on a sharp spear of glass on his way out, a spear “carrying his death on its tip, had he but known it, say sorry, say Discordia.” Blood poisoning or infection with a wound in the poisoned air of Thunderclap, mayhap?
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 11: The Attack on Algul Siento, Section 18
On the south end of town, the Breakers finally arrive. Eddie’s hidden in the box office of the Gem Theater, Jake in the shell of a Ford sedan in front of the Bake Shoppe, Roland behind a mannequin in the window of Gay Paree Fashions.
The three watch as the guards appear and form the line to herd the Breakers toward the same area. Before long, word drifts back that the fence has been cut and the guards are dead. Still, the gunslingers wait. Roland wants Pimli and Finli.
Finally, they show up. Pimli has a loaded holster and has blood streaming from his nose and eye, as if something has ruptured in his head. Roland levels his gun at Prentiss and shoots him in the head and he collapses at Finli’s feet.
Now begins the real work. “Hile, you gunslingers, kill them all,” Roland yells. “For Gilead, for New York, for the Beam, for your fathers. Hear me, hear me! Leave not one of them standing! Kill them all.”
By the time Suze arrives, having picked off quite a few souls on her way, Finli and Jakli are dying. James Cagney is dead. The Breakers are huddled to the south like sheep. Suze and Eddie and Jake have a big group hug, and Suze notices Roland standing apart with an expression of longing on his face. “Come here, Gilead,” she says. “This is a group hug, and you’re part of the group.” And he joins them, “smiling as we do when we have surprised by happiness.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Uh-oh. This: Pimli was “weaving slightly from side to side—it was this drunken weave that Roland would later blame in his bitter heart for the final outcome of that morning’s work.” Guess Pimli’s not dead from that head wound.
Oh, no. Here’s sai King again: “I’d have you see them like this; I’d have you see them very well…I’d have you see them this way not because they have won a great battle…but because now they are ka-tet for the last time. The story of their fellowship ends here, on this make-believe street and beneath this artificial sun; the rest of the tale will be short and brutal compared to all that’s gone before. Because when ka-tet breaks, the end always comes quickly. Say sorry.”
Oh, Eddie. Pimli’s not dead; I just know it.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 11: The Attack on Algul Siento, Section 19
Pimli is dying but still aware enough to watch the gunslingers celebrating, still aware enough to grasp his gun.
Eddie separates from the group because he realizes Finli isn’t dead. Finli’s looking at him with contempt. “You’re at the end of the path, my friend,” he tells him. “Do you have something you want to stay?”
“Thee and thine are a pack of yellowback dogs, killing men from ambush,” he says, and Eddie shoots him in the head.
Eddie catches movement from the corner of his eye, but even his gunslinger reflexes aren’t fast enough. Pimli shoots and hits Eddie in the head. Roland kills Pimli and at first Susannah doesn’t think Eddie’s hurt that badly because it takes him a few moments to fall. But then “he took one step, a second, a third…and then fell facedown in the street, just as Gran-pere Jaffords had known he would…For the boy was a gunslinger, say true, and it was the only end that one such as he could expect.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Sniff. Just because I expected it didn’t make it any easier. I expect the fallout in terms of morale will be painful. Roland will have to rally them, especially Jake, who’s still mourning Pere Callahan.
And…that’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue our read of the final book of the Dark Tower saga.