THE LADY OF SHADOWS CHAPTER 2 RINGING THE CHANGES

1

August, 1959:

When the intern came outside half an hour later, he found Julio leaning against the ambulance which was still parked in the emergency bay of Sisters of Mercy Hospital on 23rd Street . The heel of one of Julio's pointy-toed boots was hooked over the front fender. He had changed to a pair of glaring pink pants and a blue shirt with his name written in gold stitches over the left pocket: his bowling league outfit. George checked his watch and saw that Julio's team求The Spics of Supremacy求would already be rolling.

"Thought you'd be gone," George Shavers said. He was an intern at Sisters of Mercy. "How're your guys gonna win without the Wonder Hook?"

"They got Miguel Basale to take my place. He ain't steady, but he gets hot sometimes. They'll be okay." Julio paused. "I was curious about how it came out." He was the driver, a Cubano with a sense of humor George wasn't even sure Julio knew he had. He looked around. Neither of the paramedics who rode with them were in sight.

"Where are they?" George asked.

"Who? The fuckin Bobbsey Twins? Where do you think they are? Chasin Minnesota poontang down in the Village. Any idea if she'll pull through?"

"Don't know."

He tried to sound sage and knowing about the unknown, but the fact was that first the resident on duty and then a pair of surgeons had taken the black woman away from him almost faster than you could say hail Mary fulla grace (which had actually been on his lips to say求the black lady really hadn't looked as if she was going to last very long).

"She lost a hell of a lot of blood."

"No shit."

George was one of sixteen interns at Sisters of Mercy, and one of eight assigned to a new program called Emergency Ride. The theory was that an intern riding with a couple of paramedics could sometimes make the difference between life and death in an emergency situation. George knew that most drivers and paras thought that wet-behind-the-ears interns were as likely to kill red-blankets as save them, but George thought maybe it worked.

Sometimes.

Either way it made great PR for the hospital, and although the interns in the program liked to bitch about the extra eight hours (without pay) it entailed each week, George Shavers sort of thought most of them felt the way he did himself求proud, tough, able to take whatever they threw his way.

Then had come the night the T.W.A. Tri-Star crashed at Idlewild. Sixty-five people on board, sixty of them what Julio Estevez referred to as D.R.T.求Dead Right There求and three of the remaining five looking like the sort of thing you might scrape out of the bottom of a coal-furnace ... except what you scraped out of the bottom of a coal furnace didn't moan and shriek and beg for someone to give them morphine or kill them, did they? Ifyou can take this, he thought afterward, remembering the severed limbs lying amid the remains of aluminum flaps and seat-cushions and a ragged chunk of tail with the numbers 17 and a big red letter T and part of a W on it, remembering the eyeball he had seen resting on top of a charred Samsonite suitcase, remembering a child's teddybear with staring shoe-button eyes lying beside a small red sneaker with a child's foot still in it, if you can take this, baby, you can take anything. And he had been taking it just fine. He went right on taking it just fine all the way home. He went on taking it just fine through a late supper that consisted of a Swanson's turkey TV dinner. He went to sleep with no problem at all, which proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was taking it just fine. Then, in some dead dark hour of the morning he had awakened from a hellish nightmare in which the thing resting on top of the charred Samsonite suitcase had not been a teddybear but his mother's head, and her eyes had opened, and they had been charred; they were the staring expressionless shoebutton eyes of the teddy-bear, and her mouth had opened, revealing the broken fangs which had been her dentures up until the T.W.A. Tri-Star was struck by lightning on its final approach, and she had whispered You couldn't save me, George, we scrimped for you, we saved for you, we went without for you, your dad fixed up the scrape you got into with that girl and you STILL COULDN'T SAVE ME GOD DAMN YOU, and he had awakened screaming, and he was vaguely aware of someone pounding on the wall, but by then he was already pelting into the bathroom, and he barely made it to the kneeling penitential position before the porcelain altar before dinner came up the express elevator. It came special delivery, hot and steaming and still smelling like processed turkey. He knelt there and looked into the bowl, at the chunks of half-digested turkey and the carrots which had lost none of their original flourescent brightness, and this word flashed across his mind in large red letters:

ENOUGH

Correct.

It was:

ENOUGH.

He was going to get out of the sawbones business. He was going to get out because:

ENOUGH WAS ENOUGH.

He was going to get out because Popeye's motto was That's all I can stands and I can't stand nummore, and Popeye was as right as rain.

He had flushed the toilet and gone back to bed and fell asleep almost instantly and awoke to discover he still wanted to be a doctor, and that was a goddam good thing to know for sure, maybe worth the whole program, whether you called it Emergency Ride or Bucket of Blood or Name That Tune.

He still wanted to be a doctor.

He knew a lady who did needlework. He paid her ten dollars he couldn't afford to make him a small, old-fashioned-looking sampler. It said:

IF YOU CAN TAKE THIS, YOU CAN TAKE ANYTHING.

Yes. Correct.

The messy business in the subway happened four weeks later.

2

"That lady was some fuckin weird, you know it?" Julio said.

George breathed an interior sigh of relief. If Julio hadn't opened the subject, George supposed he wouldn't have had the sack. He was an intern, and someday he was going to be a full-fledged doc, he really believed that now, but Julio was a vet, and you didn't want to say something stupid in front of a vet. He would only laugh and say Hell, I seen that shit a thousand times, kid. Get y'selfa towel and wipe off whatever it is behind your ears, cause it's wet and drippin down the sides of your face.

But apparently Julio hadn't seen it a thousand times, and that was good, because George wanted to talk about it.

"She was weird, all right. It was like she was two people.''

He was amazed to see that now Julio was the one who looked relieved, and he was struck with sudden shame. Julio Estavez, who was going to do no more than pilot a limo with a couple of pulsing red lights on top for the rest of his life, had just shown more courage than he had been able to show.

"You got it, doc. Hunnert per cent." He pulled out a pack of Chesterfields and stuck one in the corner of his mouth.

"Those things are gonna kill you, my man," George said.

Julio nodded and offered the pack.

They smoked in silence for awhile. The paras were maybe chasing tail like Julio had said ... or maybe they'd just had enough. George had been scared, all right, no joke about that. But he also knew he had been the one who saved the woman, not the paras, and he knew Julio knew it too. Maybe that was really why Julio had waited. The old black woman had helped, and the white kid who had dialed the cops while everyone else (except the old black woman) had just stood around watching like it was some goddam movie or TV show or something, part of a Peter Gunn episode, maybe, but in the end it had all come down to George Shavers, one scared cat doing his duty the best way he could.

The woman had been waiting for the train Duke Ellington held in such high regard求that fabled A-train. Just been a pretty young black woman in jeans and a khaki shirt waiting for the fabled A-Train so she could go uptown someplace.

Someone had pushed her.

George Shavers didn't have the slightest idea if the police had caught the slug who had done it - that wasn't his business. His business was the woman who had tumbled screaming into the tube of the tunnel in front of that fabled A-train. It had been a miracle that she had missed the third rail; the fabled third rail that would have done to her what the State of New York did to the bad guys up at Sing-Sing who got a free ride on that fabled A-train the cons called Old Sparky.

Oboy, the miracles of electricity.

She tried to crawl out of the way but there hadn't been quite enough time and that fabled A-train had come into the station screeching and squalling and puking up sparks because the motorman had seen her but it was too late, too late for him and too late for her. The steel wheels of that fabled A-train had cut the living legs off her from just above the knees down. And while everyone else (except for the white kid who had dialed the cops) had only stood there pulling their puds (or pushing their pudenda, George supposed), the elderly black woman had jumped down, dislocating one hip in the process (she would later be given a Medal of Bravery by the Mayor), and had used the doorag on her head to cinch a tourniquet around one of the young woman's squirting thighs. The young white guy was screaming for an ambulance on one side of the station and the old black chick was screaming for someone to give her a help, to give her a tie-off for God's sake, anything, anything at all, and finally some elderly white business type had reluctantly surrendered his belt, and the elderly black chick looked up at him and spoke the words which became the headline of the New York Daily News the next day, the words which made her an authentic American apple-pie heroine: "Thank you, bro." Then she had noosed the belt around the young woman's left leg halfway between the young woman's crotch and where her left knee had been until that fabled A-train had come along.

George had heard someone say to someone else that the young black woman's last words before passing out had been "WHO WAS THAT MAHFAH? I GONE HUNT HIM DOWN AND KILL HIS ASS!"

There was no way to punch holes far enough up for the elderly black woman to notch the belt, so she simply held on like grim old death until Julio, George, and the paras arrived.

George remembered the yellow line, how his mother had told him he must never, never, never go past the yellow line while he was waiting for a train (fabled or otherwise), the stench of oil and electricity when he hopped down onto the cinders, remembered how hot it had been. The heat seemed to be baking off him, off the elderly black woman, off the young black woman, off the train, the tunnel, the unseen sky above and hell itself beneath. He remembered thinking incoherently If they put a blood-pressure cuff on me now I'd go off the dial and then he went cool and yelled for his bag, and when one of the paras tried to jump down with it he told the para to fuck off, and the para had looked startled, as if he was really seeing George Shavers for the first time, and he had fucked off.

George tied off as many veins and arteries as he could tie off, and when her heart started to be-bop he had shot her full of Digitalin. Whole blood arrived. Cops brought it. Want to bring her up, doc? one of them had asked and George had told him not yet, and he got out the needle and stuck the juice to her like she was a junkie in dire need of a fix.

Then he let them take her up.

Then they had taken her back.

On the way she had awakened.

Then the weirdness started.

3

George gave her a shot of Demerol when the paras loaded her into the ambulance求she had begun to stir and cry out weakly. He gave her a boost hefty enough for him to be confident she would remain quiet until they got to Sisters of Mercy. He was ninety per cent sure she would still be with them when they got there, and that was one for the good guys.

Her eyes began to flutter while they were still six blocks from the hospital, however. She uttered a thick moan.

"We can shoot her up again, doc," one of the paras said.

George was hardly aware this was the first time a paramedic had deigned to call him anything other than George or, worse, Georgie. "Are you nuts? I'd just as soon not confuse D.O.A. and O.D. if it's all the same to you."

The paramedic drew back.

George looked back at the young black woman and saw the eyes returning his gaze were awake and aware.

"What has happened to me?" she asked.

George remembered the man who had told another man about what the woman had supposedly said (how she was going to hunt the motherfucker down and kill his ass, etc., etc.). That man had been white. George decided now it had been pure invention, inspired either by that odd human urge to make naturally dramatic situations even more dramatic, or just race prejudice. This was a cultured, intelligent woman.

"You've had an accident," he said. "You were求"

Her eyes slipped shut and he thought she was going to sleep again. Good. Let someone else tell her she had lost her legs. Someone who made more than $7,600 a year. He had shifted a little to the left, wanting to check her b.p. again, when she opened her eyes once more. When she did, George Shavers was looking at a different woman.

"Fuckah cut off mah laigs. I felt 'em go. Dis d'amblance?"

"Y-Y-Yes," George said. Suddenly he needed something to drink. Not necessarily alcohol. Just something wet. His voice was dry. This was like watching Spencer Tracy in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, only for real.

"Dey get dat honkey mahfah?"

"No," George said, thinking The guy got it right, goddam, the guy did actually get it right.

He was vaguely aware that the paramedics, who had been hovering (perhaps hoping he would do something wrong) were now backing off.

"Good. Honky fuzz jus be lettin him off anyway. I be gittin him. I be cuttin his cock off. Sumbitch! I tell you what I goan do t'dat sumbitch! I tell you one thing, you sumbitch honky! I goan tell you ... tell ..."

Her eyes fluttered again and George had thought Yes, go to sleep, please go to sleep, I don't get paid for this, I don't understand this, they told us about shock but nobody mentioned schizophrenia as one of the -

The eyes opened. The first woman was there.

"What sort of accident was it?" she asked. "I remember coming out of the I - "

"Eye?" he said stupidly.

She smiled a little. It was a painful smile. "The Hungry I. It's a coffee house."

"Oh. Yeah. Right."

The other one, hurt or not, had made him feel dirty and a little ill. This one made him feel like a knight in an Arthurian tale, a knight who has successfully rescued the Lady Fair from the jaws of the dragon.

"I remember walking down the stairs to the platform, and after that求"

''Someone pushed you. "It sounded stupid, but what was wrong with that? It was stupid.

"Pushed me in front of the train?"

"Yes."

"Have I lost my legs?"

George tried to swallow and couldn't. There seemed to be nothing in his throat to grease the machinery.

"Not all of them," he said inanely, and her eyes closed.

Let it be a faint, he thought then, please let it be a f求

They opened, blazing. One hand came up and slashed five slits through the air within an inch of his face - any closer and he would have been in the E.R. getting his cheek stitched up instead of smoking Chesties with Julio Estavez.

"YOU AIN'T NUTHIN BUT A BUNCH A HONKY SONSA BITCHES!" she screamed. Her face was monstrous, her eyes full of hell's own light. It wasn't even the face of a human being. "GOAN KILL EVERY MAHFAHIN HONKY I SEE! GOAN GELD EM FUST! GOAN CUT OFF THEIR BALLS AND SPIT EM IN THEY FACES! GOAN求"

It was crazy. She talked like a cartoon black woman, Butterfly McQueen gone Loony Tunes. She求or it求also seemed superhuman. This screaming, writhing thing could not have just undergone impromptu surgery by subway train half an hour ago. She bit. She clawed out at him again and again. Snot spat from her nose. Spit flew from her lips. Filth poured from her mouth.

"Shoot her up, doc!" one of the paras yelled. His face was pale. "Fa crissakes shoot her up!" The para reached toward the supply case. George shoved his hand aside.

"Fuck off, chickenshit."

George looked back at his patient and saw the calm, cultured eyes of the other one looking at him.

"Will I live?" she asked in a conversational tea-room voice. He thought, She is unaware of her lapses. Totally unaware. And, after a moment: So is the other one, for that matter.

"I求" He gulped, rubbed at his galloping heart through his tunic, and then ordered himself to get control of this. He had saved her life. Her mental problems were not his concern.

"Are you all right?" she asked him, and the genuine concern in her voice made him smile a little求her asking him.

"Yes, ma'am."

"To which question are you responding?"

For a moment he didn't understand, then did. "Both," he said, and took her hand. She squeezed it, and he looked into her shining lucent eyes and thought A man could fall in love, and that was when her hand turned into a claw and she was telling him he was a honky mahfah, and she wadn't just goan take his balls, she was goan chew on those mahfahs.

He pulled away, looking to see if his hand was bleeding, thinking incoherently that if it was he would have to do something about it, because she was poison, the woman was poison, and being bitten by her would be about the same as being bitten by a copperhead or rattler. There was no blood. And when he looked again, it was the other woman求the first woman.

"Please," she said. "I don't want to die. Pl求" Then she went out for good, and that was good. For all of them.

4

"So whatchoo t'ink?" Julio asked.

"About who's gonna be in the Series?" George squashed the butt under the heel of his loafer. "White Sox. I got 'em in the pool."

"Whatchoo t'ink about that lady?"

"I think she might be schizophrenic," George said slowly.

"Yeah, I know that. I mean, whass gonna happen to her?"

"I don't know."

"She needs help, man. Who gonna give it?"

"Well, I already gave her one," George said, but his face felt hot, as if he were blushing.

Julio looked at him. "If you already gave her all the help you can give her, you shoulda let her die, doc."

George looked at Julio for a moment, but found he couldn't stand what he saw in Julio's eyes求not accusation but sadness.

So he walked away.

He had places to go.

5

The Time of the Drawing:

In the time since the accident it was, for the most part, still Odetta Holmes who was in control, but Detta Walker had come forward more and more, the thing Detta liked to do best was steal. It didn't matter that her booty was always little more than junk, no more than it mattered that she often threw it away later.

The taking was what mattered.

When the gunslinger entered her head in Macy's, Detta screamed in a combination of fury and horror and terror, her hands freezing on the junk jewelry she was scooping into her purse.

She screamed because when Roland came into her mind, when he came forward, she for a moment sensed the other, as if a door had been swung open inside of her head.

And she screamed because the invading raping presence was a honky.

She could not see but nonetheless sensed his whiteness.

People looked around. A floorwalker saw the screaming woman in the wheelchair with her purse open, saw one hand frozen in the act of stuffing costume jewelry into a purse that looked (even from a distance of thirty feet) worth three times the stuff she was stealing.

The floorwalker yelled, "Hey Jimmy!" and Jimmy Halvorsen, one of Macy's house detectives, looked around and saw what was happening. He started toward the black woman in the wheelchair on a dead run. He couldn't help running求he had been a city cop for eighteen years and it was built into his system求but he was already thinking it was gonna be a shit bust. Little kids, cripples, nuns; they were always a shit bust. Busting them was like kicking a drunk. They cried a little in front of the judge and then took a walk. It was hard to convince judges that cripples could also be slime.

But he ran just the same.

6

Roland was momentarily horrified by the snakepit of hate and revulsion in which he found himself ... and then he heard the woman screaming, saw the big man with the potato-sack belly running toward her/him, saw people looking, and took control.

Suddenly he was the woman with the dusky hands. He sensed some strange duality inside her, but couldn't think about it now.

He turned the chair and began to shove it forward. The aisle rolled past him/her. People dived away to either side. The purse was lost, spilling Detta's credentials and stolen treasure in a wide trail along the floor. The man with the heavy gut skidded on bogus gold chains and lipstick tubes and then fell on his ass.

7

Shit! Halvorsen thought furiously, and for a moment one hand clawed under his sport-coat where there was a .38 in a clamshell holster. Then sanity reasserted itself. This was no drug bust or armed robbery; this was a crippled black lady in a wheelchair. She was rolling it like it was some punk's drag-racer, but a crippled black lady was all she was just the same. What was he going to do, shoot her? That would be great, wouldn't it? And where was she going to go? There was nothing at the end of the aisle but two dressing rooms.

He picked himself up, massaging his aching ass, and began after her again, limping a little now.

The wheelchair flashed into one of the dressing rooms. The door slammed, just clearing the push-handles on the back.

Got you now, bitch, Jimmy thought. And I'm going to give you one hell of a scare. I don't care if you got five orphan children and only a year to live. I'm not gonna hurt you, but oh babe I'm gonna shake your dice.

He beat the floorwalker to the dressing room, slammed the door open with his left shoulder, and it was empty.

No black woman.

No wheelchair.

No nothing.

He looked at the floorwalker, starey-eyed.

"Other one!" the floorwalker yelled. "Other one!"

Before Jimmy could move, the floorwalker had busted open the door of the other dressing room. A woman in a linen skirt and a Playtex Living Bra screamed piercingly and crossed her arms over her chest. She was very white and very definitely not crippled.

"Pardon me," the floorwalker said, feeling hot crimson flood his face.

"Get out of here, you pervert!" the woman in the linen skirt and the bra cried.

"Yes, ma'am," the floorwalker said, and closed the door.

At Macy's, the customer was always right.

He looked at Halvorsen.

Halvorsen looked back.

"What is this shit?" Halvorsen asked. "Did she go in there or not?"

"Yeah, she did."

"So where is she?"

The floorwalker could only shake his head. "Let's go back and pick up the mess."

"You pick up the mess," Jimmy Halvorsen said. "I feel like I just broke my ass in nine pieces." He paused. "To tell you the truth, me fine bucko, I also feel extremely confused."

8

The moment the gunslinger heard the dressing room door bang shut behind him, he rammed the wheelchair around in a half turn, looking for the doorway. If Eddie had done what he had promised, it would be gone.

But the door was open. Roland wheeled the Lady of Shadows through it.