The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 32

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Part IV

Chapter 32

____________________________________

Lloyd Callahan wasn’t quite frantic, yet, but it had been five months since he’d last seen his son, and that had been just after the premiere of Imogen’s concerto.

Harry had changed. Sara’s murder had done something he’d never expected would happen to his boy: Harry appeared to have simply given up. Like a party balloon that had slowly deflated, by the time Harry and the team made it back to Israel – after the brief stop in Davos – his son looked like a different human being.

He’d stopped eating and his eyes seemed to have sunken deep within their sockets, and around his eyes Lloyd had noted splotchy dark circles. When offered food Harry pushed it away, though from time to time he drank coffee…black coffee.

Then he’d done something Lloyd never expected: Harry had gone out to his mother’s crypt. He’d been followed, of course, but even his followers had little to report. Harry had reportedly sat in some modest shade and had talked – quietly – for an hour or so…to at least two people who remained invisible. When Colonel Goodman relayed that information, Lloyd felt sick to his stomach. 

Was Harry coming undone? Would the affliction that had plagued Imogen all her life now come for their son? Would Harry fall under the dark spell of that voice?

That Goodman girl wouldn’t let him to see his son, and he’d immediately resented her for that unwarranted bit of sanctimoniousness. And though he’d sat next to his boy at the premiere, Harry had sat there quietly, almost stoically, through the entire performance, the only emotion on display coming as the final crescendo approached. Lloyd had seen his son’s hands grip the armrests, could feel the tension rise in his boy’s quivering arms and legs, but then there had come un unexpected release, like the explosion Harry had been expecting didn’t come. And at first Harry had seemed confused, then relieved when the expected calamity didn’t materialize…

But then…nothing.

Harry had returned to the compound and disappeared into his room – what had once been his mother’s and Avi’s room – and the next morning he was gone.

And now, after one round trip to Hong Kong just completed, Lloyd was home for a scheduled rest-leave and not due to captain another sailing until early December. With almost a month on his hands, he had wanted to tackle some long overdue home maintenance – but had halfway been expecting his boy to come around to lend him a hand.

He was sitting on the covered front porch sipping his favorite Good Earth tea, watching homes come alive as his neighbors got home from work. Dogs were leashed and taken for walks, backyard grills lit-off and grilling burgers filled the air with their own uniquely familiar aroma, and, yes, he could hear a loud argument over mismanaged money already underway just across the street.

Life on the street was as boringly predictable now as it had been almost forty years ago, but even so he couldn’t stop himself from thinking about Harry’s girlfriend, June. He looked to the right, looked where their old house had been before some yuppies came in and built a multi-unit condo. In another world, another life, maybe she would be sitting out here with him, both of them waiting for Harry to get in from work. Or better still, Lloyd Callahan thought, Imogen would be in the kitchen…making dinner for the four of them.

Nothing had turned out the way he’d expected, he thought. Or wanted.

And now…all this bullshit with vigilantes and Columbian drug-lords, the police department in tatters and his son’s career up in the air.

It felt like the entire world was coming undone.

The Iranians taking the embassy almost four hundred days ago, all those people still hostages, Ronald Reagan looking like he might actually run that that peanut farmer out of the White House. The commies in Cuba lending a hand in Nicaragua, exporting their revolution to Central America, while the U.S. still seemed to be lost inside some kind of narcissistic coma after the Fall of Saigon.

Yeah…what had happened?

It wasn’t all that long ago, he thought as he sipped his tea, that Kennedy had challenged the nation to land men on the moon. And these crazy Americans had pulled it off, too. They’d fought a war in Southeast Asia and done it all at the same time, hadn’t they?

Then Oswald and the Grassy Knoll became a part of the lexicon, just before John, Paul, George and Ringo came along and She Loves You Yeah Yeah Yeah was all the rage.

Was that all a happenstance, he wondered? Could we have had the Beatles without Kennedy falling by the wayside? Would they have made sense to us without all that despair? Could everything that happened after – the free-speech thing over in Berkeley, all those wild groups up at the Fillmore giving birth to the next ‘real’ counter-culture – have happened without Kennedy’s murder? And all the murders that followed?

He looked down into his tea, swirled the cup and looked at the scattering leaves, wondering what might come next…

“Hey Dad.”

He looked up, saw what looked like just another long-haired freak standing on the steps to his house, but no…there was something in the eyes…

“Harry?”

“Yeah Dad, it’s me.”

He stood, almost stumbled to the floor but his son caught him; they stood staring at one another for a moment…then Lloyd Callahan grabbed his son and pulled him close, wrapped his arms around this cool echo of himself and held on tight.

_______________________________________

They walked down to the waterfront, down to their favorite clam-shack for a basket and a schooner of beer, and Harry talked to his father about where he’d been, and a few of the things he’d done. About the girl in New Orleans and a friend of his from ‘Nam out in West Texas. About his bus ride from there up through New Mexico, where things had gotten dicey…

“Dicey? What do you mean by dicey…?”

“Oh, the bus stopped in the town out in the middle of nowhere, Farmington…something like that. Time enough to go into this little diner for a burger. Some redneck started to beat up on his girl and she was like nine months pregnant. She went down hard and, well, so I intervened…”

“Which means what? You beat the ever-lovin’ crap out of the guy?”

“Something like that, yeah.”

“And…?”

“He was the mayor’s kid.”

“Hoo-boy. Have your badge with you?”

“No. I called Didi from their little jail.”

“Jail? No shit?”

“No charges filed. Turns out the kid’s father went and beat him up even worse.”

“What did Didi do?”

“Shit, I don’t know. About a half hour later they let me out and the mayor put me up in a hotel.”

“What happened to the girl?”

“Baby boy, healthy.”

“Uh-huh. What are you not telling me?”

“She wanted out. Out of that town, out of that relationship…”

“So you made that happen too, right?”

“Yeah.”

“What? Did you buy her a house?”

“Something like that?”

Lloyd shook his head. “Harry, man, I don’t know what’s eating you, but I’m not sure buying-up other people’s troubles and making them disappear is going to make all yours go away…”

“Yeah? Maybe not, but let me tell you something, Dad. If you’ve ever looked into someone’s eyes and seen despair, and I mean real despair, and you had the capability to snap your fingers and make it all go away, are you telling me you wouldn’t? Because the look in peoples eyes when you do that is something you wouldn’t believe…”

“I don’t know, son. Is it really your place?”

“Who’s place is it, Dad? I mean, really, and I hate to get all holy-roller on you, but didn’t someone say we should strive to be our brother’s keeper? Ya know, like once upon a time? To treat others as you’d treat yourself?”

“I know, but…”

“There aren’t any buts about it, Dad. No man is an island, right? We either look after one another or we don’t. Only thing I can tell, really, is that helping people when they’re down makes a difference. It changes things. Like a domino falling, maybe. You never know what the end results might be, but that doesn’t matter. If you see someone down on their luck and simply ignore them, think of it as a missed chance, or a missed opportunity to change the flow of all our falling dominoes.”

“Okay. So that’s what you’ve been up to?”

“I wasn’t up to anything, Dad, at least not anything I can make sense of yet, but all of a sudden I felt like I was drowning in history. My history. June, An Linh, then Stacy and Sara, all of it. I kept falling – back – into that stuff and as I was listening to mother’s composition I heard something different. Like a voice within the music telling me that it was time to, well, fall…forward? Does that make any sense?”

“Fall forward? I don’t know. Not really…”

“I know. It’s hard to describe the feeling, but it was there, in the music. As clear as any voice I’ve ever heard. Stop looking to the past. Move on to the future. And moving on, to me, meant finding a way to change the course of some of those falling dominoes.”

“Son? Don’t all dominoes, sooner or later, end up falling?” 

“Maybe so, Dad. But there’s something else going on here too, something I really don’t understand. And I’ve kept thinking about it, too… Take that girl in New Orleans. What drew her to me? Why did she follow me? Why didn’t I push her away, let her domino fall. Now, suppose she actually does become a physician, and suppose she ends up saving a bunch of lives? I mean, think about it, Dad. Is it all simple coincidence, or is their something else at work here…?”

“I don’t know, Harry. You’d have to go to seminary to find answers to questions like that…”

“Seminary? Oh no, Dad…you’re not going to put all this on God, are you?”

“What else?”

“Seems unfair. Everything we don’t understand gets dumped on Him. Kind of lazy.”

“Lazy?”

“Yeah, Dad. Like we really don’t take the time to look at things like this. The things that are hard to explain. We don’t even take the time to acknowledge them, let alone the why of it all.”

Lloyd looked at his son then shook his head. “You seem…different. What are you going to do now?”

“Get back to work.”

“At the department? Really?”

“Yeah, sure…why not? Got eight more years, ya know, ‘til I can draw retirement…”

They both laughed at the absurdity of that idea.

“What about you, Dad? What are you up to?”

“I’ve got four weeks off. Gonna get new shingles on the roof and paint on the gables.”

“Want some help?”

“I don’t know. You up to it?”

“Hey, Dad. I just put up three miles of barbed-wire fence in Alpine Texas. You got no idea what that means…”

“Fence is fence, Harry. What was so…”

“Rattlesnakes. I’ve never seen so many fucking snakes in my life…”

“I hate snakes,” Lloyd whispered.

“Who doesn’t?”

“Did you kill any?”

Harry looked away, and Lloyd could feel the change that came over his son in that seismic moment. 

“Only one more snake to kill, Dad.”

Lloyd nodded even as a chill ran down his spine. “So, you’re gonna go through with it?”

“She killed my wife, Dad. She made it personal.”

“Did you ever stop to think…”

“It doesn’t matter what she thought, Dad. She did what she did. Her choice. Now I’m going to do what I’ve got to do.”

Lloyd looked at his son and could only shake his head. “You know, Stacy was a little girl too, once upon a time. Maybe she just made a mistake, Harry. Maybe there was nobody around to keep her domino from falling.”

“Yeah. Ain’t life a bitch.”

____________________________________

“I’m glad the pitch is what it is!” Harry called down to his father. “Not sure I could handle it if this was any steeper.”

“We’re makin’ good progress, son. At this rate, we may finish by sundown.”

“What do you make it? Two more squares?”

“‘Bout that. Maybe a tad more.”

“Dad?”

“Yeah?”

“Why red?”

“What?”

“Why red shingles. Don’t you think that’s carrying the whole red thing a little too far?”

“They’re not red, Harry. The color is called Redwood Breeze.”

“Looks fuckin’ red to me, Dad.”

“I just couldn’t see doing gray again. She needs something new.”

“She?”

“This old house. She’s carried us through some times, ya know?”

“Reckon so.”

“Besides, after I’m gone you can change the color to whatever you want.”

“Dad? Would you stop with the ‘after I’m gone’ bullshit? It’s creepy.”

“Creepy?”

“Yeah, creepy.”

“I haven’t heard that one since you and Junie watched those horror movies…”

“Horror movies?”

“Oh, you know, like that Beast from 20,000 Fathoms thing. Crap like that.”

“That wasn’t crap, Dad. That was Art.”

“You say so.”

“Gonna need some more nails up here soon.”

“I’ll go get some. Why don’t you knock off for a minute? Go get us a couple of Cokes?”

“Will do.” Harry put his roofing hammer down and walked over to the ladder, then made his way down to the yard. Everything about this old place still felt like home, like a pair of old shoes…comfortable old shoes. He took a deep breath and turned to face the sun, held his arms out to soak up all the sun’s warmth, then he looked away, shook his head and went inside to the kitchen. 

It was the same refrigerator that had been in the same spot from when he was a spud, the same faucet at the sink, too…everything was the same, like his dad was afraid to change anything, afraid he might lose all his associations that had formed between Imogen and the things in this space.

He pulled a couple of glasses down and filled them with ice cubes, and he heard his dad sitting on the front porch as he poured the drinks. 

“Want anything to eat?” he called out.

“No, I’m good.”

He carried the drinks out, sat down beside his father as he passed over a glass.

“Feels good to do this together again, Harry.”

Harry nodded. “Yeah. It almost feels like we’re connected to the earth through this place. When I think of home, this is it. I really used to like it when we put up the tree, had all those Christmas decorations and lights up.”

Lloyd nodded. “Took me a while to get used to all that.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I grew up in Scotland, son. Christmastime in the 1930s wasn’t exactly like California in the 50s. If I got a new sweater for Christmas that represented a real financial burden for my parents. Things got different after the war, after the depression ended.”

Harry shook his head. “Hard to imagine.”

“People have gotten used to this life. Not sure they could go back to the way it was.”

“Maybe we won’t have to.”

“Things change, son. And if it’s predictable, it ain’t change. Remember that, okay?”

“Dad?”

“Yeah?”

“It’s okay. We’re gonna be alright.”

Lloyd took a deep breath, held it a second then let the air slip away. “Yeah, I hear you.”

“What did you think of Mom’s concerto?”

“Over my head. A couple of parts seemed unfinished, the ending most of all.”

“Yeah, I felt that too.”

“It felt like, to me, that the last few minutes of the thing were written by somebody else.”

“Yeah. Like somebody was trying to hide something,” Harry added.

Lloyd nodded. “Yeah. I was just going to say that.”

They both sat there for a moment, then Lloyd spoke again. “You think she was trying to tell us something?”

The thought hit Harry, and he leaned forward, took a sip of Coke from his glass. “Not sure, Dad. I thought it was more like that conductor had, maybe, changed something.”

“Why would he do that?”

“Again, I’m not sure, Dad, but something felt wrong.”

“Anyway you could check?”

“Well, I’d have to compare her original composition against what’s published, but the only person who was there was that Karajan fella, so he’s the only one who truly knows what she meant to say.”

“Who has the original?”

“I’m not sure. Technically, it belongs to me.”

“Who can you call to find out?”

“Didi.”

“Does that girl know everything?”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

“She’s cute, don’t you think?”

“I don’t want to think about her like that. I can’t. She’s holding things together for me right now.”

“Well, if you can ever get your head out of your butt take a good look at her. She’s cute as hell, son.”

“Why don’t you go after her, Dad?”

“No way. That goddamn psychiatrist squeezed the bejesus out of my nuts. I’m done with all that for a while.”

“What? No more Caverject?”

“Well now, I didn’t exactly say that…”

“Man, I don’t know how you do it…”

“Do what?”

“Give yourself a shot, in the willie…”

“You think about something else. Notably, about how good it’s gonna feel to pop your nut…”

“The doc? How was she?”

“Kinky as shit.”

“No kidding?”

“Yeah. They do things differently in Switzerland.”

“Really? Not just tab A into slot B?”

“No way. She was a fuckin’ trip, son. Leather, whips, chains…”

“Whoa, Dad! Too much information!”

Both of them laughed, nervously, like fathers and sons often do.

“Anyway, I couldn’t handle her kind of medicine.”

“Jeez. I had no idea.”

“You know who’s weird? That Frank Bullitt character.”

“Frank? Really? How do you mean?”

“The whole time back at the compound, that woman never let up on him. Screaming at him all the time, and he just takes it.”

“He loves her, Dad.”

“Yeah? I’d sure like to know why, because I couldn’t live with anyone who went after me the way that woman went after him.”

“I must’ve missed something…”

“She was hitting on him, Harry, biting, you name it…”

“Maybe it’s menopause?”

“Yeah? Maybe. Anyway, I doubt those two will last much longer.”

“Too bad. I’ve always liked Cathy – kind of classy, ya know. Too bad.”

“Well, maybe they’ll get it together,” Lloyd added.

“You get those roofing nails?”

“Yeah, I put ‘em down by the ladder.”

“Oh well,” Harry moaned, “we better get back at it. We’re burnin’ daylight.”

“You gettin’ tired?”

“No. You?”

“I got a little bit left in me.”

“Well, let me buy the clams tonight, old man.”

“You ain’t exactly a spring chicken, ya know?”

Harry finished up the shingles, even running the ridge-line, then he went down and helped his dad get paintbrushes into thinner. After a quick shower, they met out front and were about to walk down to the waterfront when an old green Ford Mustang pulled up out front. Frank Bullitt jumped out of the car and ambled over.

“Lloyd,” Bullitt began, “good to see you again.”

“You too.”

“Harry? Long time no see. You get it all figured out?”

“Think so. What brings you out here?”

“Just thought I’d drop by. Y’all headed out?”

“Just down to the clam-shack. Wanna join us?”

“Sounds great. Wanna drive down?”

“Nah,” Lloyd said. “I need to work the kinks out. Legs’ll cramp up if I don’t.”

Bullitt nodded as they began the short walk down to the waterfront. “So, Harry. Where-ya been?”

“All over. New Orleans, Texas, New Mexico. Just looking around.”

“Oh? So…What are you going to do now?”

“What’s going on at the department?”

“Same ole same ole, but it doesn’t feel the same with Sam gone.”

“Nothin’ feels the same, Frank.”

“I know,” Bullitt sighed. “Anyway, Dell made lieutenant, so I just lost him.”

“When’s the next captains’ test?”

“December,” Bullitt replied, matter-of-factly.

“You going for it?”

“Yeah. Sam thinks I should.”

“I do too. It’s time. The division needs someone like you.”

“We could use you too, Harry.”

Callahan looked down, then nodded. “I kind of figured I’d put in my time, put in my twenty, anyway.”

Frank looked at Lloyd. “What are you going to do, sir?”

“I was eligible for retirement last year, Frank. I’m just not sure I’m ready to retire to my back yard yet.”

“Uh, Dad…we don’t have a back yard.”

“Goddammit, Harry, you know what I mean.”

Frank shook his head. “So, you going to keep at it a few more years?”

“Ya know, I’ve been wanting to go back to Scotland, visit relatives while I can still get around easily…”

“You’ve never mentioned that before, Dad…”

“And I’ve never told you I have hemorrhoids, either. So what?”

“I’d like to go with you, that’s all. That’s a part of me I know nothing about.”

“Are your folks still alive, Lloyd?” Frank asked.

“Goodness, no. They both passed during the war. I’ve got a sister in Glascow, though. I’d love to see her again.”

“I have an aunt? And I know nothing about her?”

“Aye, that you do, laddie,” Lloyd said…only now speaking in a thick brogue. “You’ll no doubt be awantin’ to meet her too, I reckon.”

“So, when are we goin’, Dad?”

“Well, she wants to come visit here. That may happen first.”

“Oh.”

“Anyway, I’m shipping out in a month. I’ll be gone through the new year, but we can talk about it when I get back.”

They arrived at the clam-shack and grabbed a table out on the wood deck overlooking the water; the tide was out and the briny shore was strong-smelling after a few hours in the sun. The last of the afternoon sun was slanting through houses and trees across the street, and a waitress clicked on patio heaters as the deck fell into shadow.

“Almost too cold for a beer,” Lloyd said.

“Never thought I’d hear you say that, Dad,” Harry said as their waitress walked up to the table.

“What’ll it be tonight, fellas?”

“I’m starting with an Irish coffee, Stella. The boys will be taking a pitcher of Anchor Steam, if I’m not mistaken. Then let’s have some fried clams. Any scallops tonight?”

“Yup, and fresh, too.”

“I’ll have a plate of broiled scallops then, Stella.”

“Me too,” Bullitt said.

“Better make it three,” Harry added.

“Slaw and fries?”

“Yup,” Lloyd said, just as Stella dropped her pencil. He bent to pick it up just before she did, and the sniper’s round slammed into her left shoulder before the sound hit the patio, spraying Frank and Harry with blood and bits of flying bone fragments. Everyone on the patio dove for cover…

…Everyone but Bullitt…

…who sprinted from the deck, his 45 drawn…

“You carrying, son?” Lloyd asked as he cradled Stella in his arms.

“Nope. I’ll get an ambulance headed this way…”

“You do that, boy,” Lloyd whispered, then he turned his attention to the wounded girl. “You hang on now, you hear? Help’s on the way, so you just hang on…”

He looked into her eyes, saw the stark terror lurking in her eyes, then came the fast, ragged breaths, the bloody foam from her mouth and nose…

“It’s alright now, lassie,” he whispered as he took the girl’s hands  in his own. “That warmth you’re feelin’? That’s God’s open arms cradlin’ you, cradlin’ you in his love. There’s nothin’ to be afraid of now, lassie. You’re going home now…”

She squeezed his hands once, tried to speak one more time – then she was gone.

Lloyd Callahan held her until the paramedics arrived, and when Harry found his father he was still sitting on the patio deck, his face awash in tears, his bloody hands shaking uncontrollably…

Frank had a patrolman drive them up to the house, and the two of them wrestled Lloyd into a hot shower before they got him into bed. Harry poured his old man a Scotch and made him drink a few sips, then he went out to the front porch.

Frank was waiting for him.

“Witnesses say it was a black Sedan de Ville, only plate information is the last three: 274.”

“It’s Threlkis,” Harry snarled.

“This isn’t over yet, Harry. Not by a long shot.”

“You got my paperwork ready?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, I’ll be in first thing in the morning.”

“Could I make a suggestion?”

“Sure.”

“Get your dad outta here. Ireland might be far enough away, but I doubt it.”

Harry nodded, and after Bullitt left he went inside and called Didi…

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[and a last word or two on sources: I typically don’t post all a story’s acknowledgments until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need until work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances (a little virus, not to mention a certain situation in Washington, D.C. springing first to mind…) so waiting to mention sources might not be the best way to proceed. To begin, the primary source material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two seminal Hollywood ‘cop’ films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of the screenplay for The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s brilliant screenplay. Steve McQueen’s grin was never trade-marked, though perhaps it should have been. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’/vigilante storyline derives from characters and plot elements originally found in that rich screenplay, as does the Captain McKay character. The Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson. The Samantha Walker character derives from the Patricia Clarkson portrayal of the television reporter found in The Dead Pool, screenplay by Steve Sharon, story by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw.  I have to credit the Jim Parish, M.D., character first seen in the Vietnam segments to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – and as found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, a book worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever read (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only featuring a blazing sense of irony conjoined within a searing non-fiction narrative). Denton Cooley, M.D. founded the Texas Heart Institute, as mentioned. Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as a few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: no one mentioned in this tale should be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred, though I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…]

The Eighty-eighth Key (60.1)

88th key cover image

So, today marks a shift in the narrative arc. While Come Alive is not yet at an end, developments in both stories will start to come to light here, as we approach the 88th key. And a short snippet today, perhaps just enough for half a cup of cardamom tea.

So, ready for some music? Well, I am if you are, so let us begin again.

Chapter 60.1

Elizabeth Bullitt walked across Harvard Yard to the T Station, to the main entry just across from the Coop. She hopped on the Red Line towards Mass Gen, but got off at MIT; there she walked to the Physics Department in Maclaurin 4 and found the office she wanted, then she looked at her wristwatch and sighed. She stepped inside and found a few students already there, waiting – she assumed – for faculty office hours to begin, so she found an empty chair in the small anteroom and sat.

Almost two hours later the last legitimate student walked out of Dr. Deborah Eisenstadt’s office; when she heard the professor call out “Next!” she stood and walked inside, then stood before a completely disheveled desk, waiting to be acknowledged. 

The woman sitting there was tiny and seemed almost owl-like, with hot, inquisitive eyes magnified by eyeglasses as thick as a Coke bottle’s under a shock of unruly chestnut colored hair. Her lab coat was coated in chalk dust and her stockings were bunched in wrinkle lines around her ankles. The poor woman was, Liz could readily see, a total dweeb – and had no idea.

“You aren’t in my seminar,” the owl said. “Who are you, and what do you want?”

“My name is Elizabeth, and I’m an undergrad at Harvard studying music theory, and I wanted to speak with you about harmonics and quantum wave theory.”

The owl’s eyes blinked rapidly now. “Oh? And tell me, just how do such things apply to music theory?”

“They don’t, at least not directly.”

The owl shrugged. “Okay?”

“I’m more interested in harmonically induced states that might enable, well, ones ability to perceive time differently.”

The owl smiled dismissively. “Indeed. How so?”

“That’s what I wanted to ask you.”

“Well, such a thing is not possible…unless of course you are talking about the sort of metabolic dyschronia that accompanies drinking too much alcohol too quickly. As you go to Harvard, I am sure you are more than qualified to discuss such states of mind…”

Liz smiled back as dismissively. “Well, what if that’s not exactly the case. I mean, what if you could literally slip back in time, as an observer only, and that you could passively observe events in the past.”

“Again, not possible. If, and I mean if such travel was possible we could only journey to the future.”

Liz nodded. “Okay…but what if I told you that you could slip back in time, and do so with almost no expenditure of energy?”

“Then I would say you are wasting my time. You might also try reaching out to the psychiatric counseling available to you through your student health services…”

“Would you like me to show you how?”

The owl’s eyes began blinking rapidly again, but now she uttered not a word.

“All I need is a piano,” Liz added. “I can prove it to you.”

Eisenstadt stood and took off her lab coat, revealing an ancient cardigan coated with even more layers of chalk dust. “Come with me,” the Nobel Laureate in Physics sighed, as she took off for the Security office.

“I’d rather you not take me to the security guard, if you don’t mind,” Liz said.

“What makes you think I am doing that?”

“Call it a hunch, Dr. Eisenstadt. Look, I need you to trust me…because I need your help, and so do a couple of friends of mine.”

“Help? What do you mean by help?”

“Trust me, okay? Now, maybe you’d better come with me…”

+++++

The leather cup on Harry’s latest prosthesis chafed against the folds of skin on the stump of his thigh, and after only ten minutes of exercise the pain was so intense he needed to stop and pull the thing off. The technician examined Harry’s skin and made notes, then he and Ida helped Callahan back into bed. She wiped sweat from his forehead and got him a glass of ice water as he cried in frustration.

“What about my piano?” Harry asked her – again – a while later. “Any word from the moving company yet?”

“We have no room for such a thing here, Harry, and until we know how well you will be able to move around it is pointless to consider buying a house just yet.”

“It’s not pointless to me, Ida.”

“It is too soon, Harry,” she said, but she could see the pain in his eyes, almost like the pain of withdrawing from a powerful narcotic, and yet she’d never once considered that music could act like that on the brain.

“Well then, I’d like to return to California, back out to the house at Sea Ranch.”

“But I’ve already told you…”

“I know what you told me, but I’d like to speak to someone from the embassy about my passport. Now, Ida! Today!”

Ida stood, her anger on full display now, and walked out of Harry’s room.

She walked to a locked door, opened the lock to her “secret office” and went inside. She dialed Colonel Goodman’s number from memory.

+++++

They took a taxi to Kirkland House, her dorm, but once there she walked with Professor Eisenstadt to the music building. One of the piano rooms was vacant and they went inside.

“You’re serious, aren’t you?” Eisenstadt said. “I mean, you really think you can do this?”

“Why don’t you wait and tell me what you think after I show you,” Liz said as she sat at an old Steinway grand. She warmed up playing a few scales, then she turned to Eisenstadt. “Sit here beside me if you like, then I need you to clear your mind, so do whatever you need to do to get that done…”

“What do you recommend?”

“Deep breathing works for me,” Liz replied. “Then I’ll need you to think about someplace in the past you’d like to see. I’ll start playing a random piece of music, and when you’re really concentrating on that place I want you to place a hand on my shoulder – then relax.”

“That’s it? We’re going to think our way back to the past? No DeLorean required? No 88 miles per hour?”

“I’m not sure what does it, professor, but I am pretty sure the music has something to do with what happens next.”

“The music? Is there a certain piece you play?”

“Clear your mind, professor. Clear your mind, then think of a place, a time…while I start to play…”

Liz began a Chopin nocturne – until she felt Eisenstadt’s hand on her shoulder – then she drifted into Schwarzwald’s Fourth, into the critical Third Movement, and inside a shimmering instant they found they were hovering above a desk in a small office, looking down at a man as he worked in fading light on a series of equations…

“Dear God-in-heaven,” Eisenstadt whispered, “is it him? Is that really Einstein?”

“You don’t have to whisper, Professor. He can’t hear us.”

“Get me out of here, immediately!” Eisenstadt cried, so Elizabeth simply stopped playing – and in the next instant they were back inside the music room in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Eisenstadt backed away from Liz like she was a leper, blinking wildly now like some kind of trapped animal looking to escape a sudden trap.

“It’s alright,” Liz reassured the woman, “just breathe easy…”

“That was Imogen Schwarzwald, was it not? Her Fourth Piano Concerto?”

“Yes.”

“How did you come to know such an obscure piece of music?”

“My Godfather – is her son.”

“What?!”

“I grew up with him, professor. After my father passed away he taught me how to play, and you could say he shaped and guided me as a musician…”

“My grandfather,” Eisenstadt sighed, now more than mystified, “worked with Imogen when she was teaching in Copenhagen…”

“I know, Professor. And I think it was Schwarzwald who discovered this doorway, when she lived and studied in Denmark.”

Eisenstadt began pacing the small room, her eyes flashing like a semaphore beating out an SOS as she circled the floor in a manic frenzy. “This friend of yours, your godfather? Is it he who is in trouble?”

Elizabeth nodded. 

“Well then, I owe it to my grandfather to help Imogen’s boy. Tell me what has happened…and leave nothing out…”

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[but wait, there’s more…how about a word or two on sources: I typically don’t post all a story’s acknowledgments until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need before work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances (i.e., Covid-19 and me generally growing somewhat old) waiting to list said sources might not be the best way to proceed, and this listing will grow over time – until the story is complete. To begin, the ‘primary source’ material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two seminal Hollywood ‘cop’ films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of the screenplay for The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s brilliant screenplay. Steve McQueen’s grin was never trade-marked, though perhaps it should have been. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’/vigilante storyline derives from characters and plot elements originally found in that rich screenplay, as does the Captain McKay character. The Jennifer Spencer/Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson, original story by Earl Smith and Charles Pierce. The Samantha Walker television reporter is found in The Dead Pool, screenplay by Steve Sharon, story by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw. I have to credit the Jim Parish, M.D., character first seen in the Vietnam segments to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – and as found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, a book worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever read (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only featuring a blazing sense of irony conjoined within a searing non-fiction narrative). Denton Cooley, M.D. founded the Texas Heart Institute, as mentioned. Of course, James Clavell’s Shōgun forms a principle backdrop in later chapters. The teahouse and hotel of spires in Ch. 42 is a product of the imagination; so-sorry. The UH-1Y image used from Pt VI on taken by Jodson Graves. The snippets of lyrics from Lucy in the Sky are publicly available as ‘open-sourced.’ Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, the rest of this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing cinematic-historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as the few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared with these fictional characters? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: the central characters in this tale should not be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was, in other words, just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred. I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…and what a gift.]

Come Alive (33.2)

come alive im2 HR57 small

If only because the music leads the way.

Chapter 33.2

Rolf walked down the companionway steps, then he sort of screamed as he jumped back up into the cockpit. “Holy shit!” he cried out as he tried to gain his balance. “Someone has been here while we were away…”

“What?” Anton snarled as he dashed over to the companionway and disappeared below. 

“Ha!” they heard him say a moment later. “Amazing! Dina! Bring boy and come!”

When the rest of the group made it below everyone stood in the salon with their eyes and mouths wide open – because the little space had been turned into an advertisement for all the excesses of a commercialized Christmas. Merry strings of multicolored light were strung about everywhere, and now there were also literally dozens of presents under the little tree that Edith had set up on the salon table. Even the galley looked – and smelled – like a riot of Christmas-gone-wild…

Edith checked the oven and found a goose roasting away, and that took her right back to their Christmas in the Cliff Lodge at Snowbird – where she and Henry had grown so close on another Christmas Day, but then everything seemed to grind to a sudden stop when the sharp, clipped barks of a puppy wiped away every other sound inside the boat.

And then Rolf dashed to the aft cabin, to Henry’s old cabin, and he found an absolutely tiny Golden Retriever puppy bundled up on Henry’s bunk, ready and waiting to face his life ahead with a new best friend. Rolf saw the pup already had a little collar on, and that the pup’s name was, of course, Clyde.

“It little Clyde,” Anton exclaimed as he came up behind the boy, “like clone, maybe…?”

The pup sat up and made eye contact with Rolf and within seconds that first vital connection was made, then the boy picked up the pup and some serious face licking got underway…

“Anton?” he heard Dina call out. “You’d better come up here and see this.” She was back up in the cockpit, and he found her pointing at Henry’s left hand when he arrived – which was now almost frozen to the snow on the cockpit seat.

“What find, Dina?”

“Look at his hand,” she whispered.

“Oh yes, I see…he write something in snow. B-e-w-a-r-e. Beware? What this mean?”

But Dina turned and looked around at the fog, wondering who was out there watching them right now, before she turned back to Anton. “This isn’t right,” she sighed. “Something about this just reeks of being staged – for us, like it wasn’t supposed to happen this way…at least Henry didn’t plan it this way.”

“What happen not right? You know something not say?”

“No, Anton, it’s just a feeling…a hunch…but this is all wrong…I mean, who could do this? Who put out all those presents? Where did that dog come from?”

The aviator nodded, because in the end he understood what Dina was alluding to, and he knew that intuitions such as this often meant the difference between life and death. “What does this word mean, Dina?” he repeated, pointing at Henry’s last thoughts.

“It is a warning, Anton. Henry must’ve seen something, or someone, setting up all these things, and he must have wanted to warn us about them.”

Then Anton turned and looked at Henry for the longest time, yet he sighed just before he leaned over and brushed the writing in the snow away. He looked at Dina and grumbled about not worrying the boy, then without saying a word he walked down below into the warmth of this suddenly very questionable Christmas…

+++++

Anton had gathered all the ingredients to make a ‘memorial borscht’ and after he made it back down to the galley he started cleaning his vegetables and simmering his stock…until Dina came along and began making her breakfast pancakes.

“Need bigger boat,” Anton grumbled as he sliced beets. “Too many arms.”

Dina laughed and leaned her head onto Anton’s shoulder, and while his instinct was to tense up and pull away, he found he simply couldn’t – not today…today of all days. “I’m sorry,” she added, “but when I get depressed I want to cook, and the more people I have around me the more things I need to cook.”

“Me too,” Edith said as she pushed her way through the galley on her way to Henry’s cabin. “Would anyone mind if I start using Henry’s cabin now?” she sighed. “I’m SO crowded up front…!”

Anton turned and looked at Edith, his face turning red as his fury built toward a chain-reaction: “This boat boy’s now. He sleep there with new friend.”

“What?” Edith cried maliciously. “That’s ridiculous! There’s no way Henry Taggart gave this boat to a fifteen year old kid!”

“Yes. Way!” Anton growled. “I witness paper lawyer bring. I call lawyer tomorrow and they come.”

Dina turned to Edith, pure venom in her eyes now. “Don’t you dare spoil this day for Rolf. It will be hard enough as it is, so hold your tongue…”

“Or what, you old shrew,” Edith cackled. “So, you think Henry left all this to you, do you?”

“I have no idea what Henry did,” Dina sighed, “nor do I care.”

“I do,” Anton said, grinning at Edith. “You wait. You see, then go home.”

“Oh, I’ll wait alright,” Edith smiled. “And we’ll see what my lawyer has to say about all this…” she said as she waved her hands airily about, indicating that inside her little world Time Bandits was her property now, and there was not a thing anyone in the universe could do about this one simple fact of life.

Edith started to head aft – but Anton stuck out his arm and blocked her way. “You talk about these things around boy and you go to fish in river. Understand?”

There must’ve been something in his eyes, because after she turned and looked at Anton she apparently decided now was not the time to challenge him, or anyone else, for that matter. She really, she knew, had only one justification to be here, and that was because her daughter had been Henry’s last close friend.

Only – now Tracy was gone. And for how long was now anyones’ guess.

She turned and fled up the companionway steps – and promptly screamed before she started falling back down the stairs. She landed on the cabin sole, pointing at something in the cockpit while she continued to scream, and Anton knew this was no act now. He bounded up the stairs and he too came crashing back down the companionway, with Edith unable to get out of his way. He landed with a thud on top of her, and both cried out in deep pain.

Then Dina slipped up the steps and quietly looked into the cockpit, and though her first instinct was to scream she remained calm…

…with her eyes locked on two aliens. Short, whitish creatures right out of a Spielberg film, down to the huge black, almond shaped eyes – and one of them was drawing blood from a vein in Henry’s neck…

She felt Rolf coming up the steps and she pushed him back before she too inched her way back down into the salon, holding a single finger up to her lips as she shh-h’d him to silence, shaking her head in an undeniable ‘no’ motion as she gained the floor.

“What is it?” Rolf whispered.

But all she could do was shake her head and shrug. “We’ve never seen these kind before, Rolf, but they are not from here.”

“What are they doing?” Edith moaned, obviously in real pain now.

“Taking blood from Henry,” Dina whispered again, and Edith’s and Anton’s eyes went wide at that…

…then came a bright flash from the cockpit, followed by a deep thunderclap…

…and after regaining her composure Dina went back up the steps…

The creatures were gone, but so too were Henry and Clyde, and without knowing why she ran out on deck and up to the bow…

…and yes, the orca was gone, too.

“Just like none of this ever happened,” she sighed.

“Maybe we weren’t supposed to find Henry,” Rolf added as he came up to her side.

“Beware,” Anton said, looking around the marina as the sun came out. “Now know what Henry want us to watch for.”

“I’m very confused,” Edith sighed, holding her ribs and doing her best not to cry.

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

Oh, wait, just one more tune to get you through your day. Adios!

Come Alive (33.1)

Come Alive Sirens art

A few musical moments to wrap yourself in while you read. Go here first, then here, before you wrap up this snippet here. Happy trails…right…off you go!

Chapter 33.1

Dina and Edith were standing together just outside Saint-Catherine’s, both still hurt and both feeling a bit lost – and more than a little furious – as they stood there huddled against the snow – which seemed to be falling harder now – waiting for Anton, Tracy, and the boy, Rolf.

“I have never felt so humiliated in all my life,” Edith snarled. “And to think my sister thought so little of me!”

“Were you close? The two of you, I mean?” Dina asked.

Edith shook her head as she looked at the snow gathering at their feet. “I thought we were, at least once upon a time I did, maybe. Now…I’m not so sure.”

“Did she have any reason to think you’d do something mean to Henry, even then?”

“No,” Edith sighed. “I can’t think of anything I ever did or even said that might have made her think something like that.”

“Interesting,” Dina said, looking through falling snow back towards the old port.

“Why…interesting?”

“She was expressing a strong emotion, almost a warning to you, yet she wrote that before she passed away, and when you were both still little more than children.”

“Yes? So?” Edith said.

“I’m sorry, but you were not around Henry this summer. SO many strange things were happening, so much so that almost every time I turned around I felt like I was confronting some new manner of existential crisis. And always a supernatural existential crisis…”

“Supernatural?” Edith said, clearly not understanding what Dina was getting at. “What do you mean by that?”

“You’ve met Pinky, I take it? And you know all about that stuff?”

“No, I really don’t understand, not any of it,” Edith said, distracted now and looking at the time on her phone. “We’ve been out here fifteen minutes. Should we go back to the restaurant and wait for them there?”

“Perhaps,” Dina said reflexively, “but we have no idea where Henry is, do we? And yet I have a feeling that goddamn priest knows exactly where he is. I want to…”

And just then the door to the church flew open and a hot breeze billowed from the nave, then out of nowhere Anton and the boy were standing just inside the doors, surrounded by hot, swirling mists…

“Dear God!” Dina cried as she turned and looked at her grandson. “What has happened to you? Where have you been?”

Their clothes were in tatters, and both were soaking wet. Worse still, they both looked badly sunburned – yet both seemed almost ecstatically happy…

Then the priest appeared, and even his somber demeanor was gone now – replaced by a heavily sunburned smile as he stepped out of the church and into the snowy evening.

Then Edith pushed her way through the three travelers. “Where’s Tracy!” she cried when she realized her daughter was absent. “What have you done with my…”

“She will return when she is ready,” Father Martin admonished.

“Where is Henry!” Dina shouted. “We’ve been gone from him for almost an hour…”

Only now, on hearing these words, did the old priest look down, and he seemed to be at a loss for words for the first time this evening. Then, looking pensive and almost reluctant to start down this path again, he looked at Dina. “Follow me,” he said as he turned and started for the park.

No one had yet shoveled or cleared the snow from the walkway beside the quay that led out to the point, so the going was slow – and now Anton and Rolf were wearing shorts and polo shirts and were ill prepared to make such a walk. Dina took off her jacket and wrapped it around Rolf’s shoulders, and then without quite knowing why she walked over to Anton and put an arm around his waist. Anton seemed embarrassed, and a little surprised, too, as they continued walking through the suddenly heavy snowfall.

“Look!” Rolf said. “Those are tracks made by a wheelchair, there, in the snow!” – and with that the boy took off at a sprint into the dark, and the snow.

“I go with,” Anton said, breaking free of Dina and taking off after Rolf.

The two women and the priest quickened their pace, and it wasn’t long before they gained the point. The air was warmer here by the water, the snow not as heavy, but Henry’s empty wheelchair was covered in white powder. His footprints leading to the rocks and the water were still just visible, however, and Rolf was standing with Anton down on the rocks looking out into the sea. Dina thought they looked deflated, almost wilted from the knowledge that Henry had taken things into his own hands and moved on in the night, his actions an echo of Claire’s.

“He’s gone to be with her,” she asked the priest, “hasn’t he? To rejoin her in the sea?”

“I fear for his soul if he has, physician, for that would be a mortal sin.”

She turned back to the water, nodding in agreement and very afraid now. “I…I don’t understand why he did this,” she added. “Do you?”

“In truth, physician, I do not understand, but I am no longer of this life.”

“What!?” Edith cried. “What do you mean…no longer of this life?”

“Perhaps one day you will understand,” the priest said – as his body began to shimmer in blue light, “but for some reason I doubt that will ever happen…”

Edith almost screamed when the old priest vanished, and when Dina turned to see what the commotion was all about she caught the last vestiges of the man’s form before he had completely disappeared – and at that point Dina began to feel the kind of fear she had convinced herself, through a lifetime of study, she knew to be irrational…and without really knowing why she began to walk to the rocks where Anton and Rolf stood.

The water was, of course, inky black as she stood there at the water’s edge, but almost reflexively she knelt and placed several fingers in the brine. ‘Cold,’ she said to herself as she pulled her hand away. ‘Too cold to survive for more than a few minutes…’

She stood and turned to Rolf, then she shook her head.

And maybe the boy knew what she meant, but for whatever reason he turned and ran from the rocks and out into the night…

+++++

Milos drove slowly along the Route de Rouen, taking the group back to Paris and the marina as the last snow fell in the middle of the night. The police had been summoned; they had taken notes and a few photographs but as no foul play was suspected they had released everyone. They would, one of the inspectors told Dina, keep an eye out for bodies washing up along the shore, but that was about all they could do – other than inform the U.S. embassy.

Anton had followed Rolf’s errant footsteps through the snow and he’d found the boy not too far away, sitting on a park bench and now completely covered with snow, shivering uncontrollably. He had picked up the boy and carried him back to the Mercedes, whispering what words of comfort he could think of as he walked through the park, but he had to admit to himself that he too was feeling a little lost.

“What good friend Genry was,” he said to the boy at one point. “Much love. Always much love.”

He felt Rolf’s grip tighten, heard the muffled sounds of inconsolable loss. “I don’t understand,” the boy whispered. “Why did he do this?”

“I not know, but maybe he want us not to see his suffer, his suffering, at end. Very hard to watch, Rolf. Maybe Genry think of you when he do this.”

Milos had turned the heater to MAX and the heated seats too, and it didn’t take Rolf long to warm up and shed Dina’s coat, and after just a few more minutes on the open road the boy was fast asleep.

And then Dina and Edith turned to Anton, cold fury in their eyes.

“So,” Edith hissed, “Where is my daughter? And just where the hell did the three of you go!?”

But Anton simply turned away and looked at the passing snow covered landscape, saying not one word to Edith…

Then Dina turned and looked at Rolf, then at Anton. “Isn’t there anything you can tell us, Anton?” she implored.

Anton nodded as he sighed. “We see Eva, see Britt. Both learning Greek, both very happy. Many little ones to take care of.”

“Greek?” Dina muttered. “What on earth for?”

“They live Greek village, Aristotle, Socrates neighbors, teachers. Raising babies, grow wheat and go fish too. Very busy.”

“What are you talking about, Anton?” Edith sputtered. “Aristotle? Socrates? What kind of nonsense is this?”

But Anton turned away again, shrugging away Edith’s idiotic apostasy.

“So you will not tell me what has become of my daughter?” Edith cried. “What kind of depraved creature are you!?”

But then Anton put his arm protectively around the boy, and that was his only reply.

“Fog, very heavy, just ahead,” Milos said. “Probably form over Seine, so may be heavy.” He slowed a bit more as they passed CDG, the main airport, then to a crawl as they entered the city proper. “Yes, very heavy now. Will take long time.”

And indeed it did, with the fog so thick the last five miles of the drive took more than an hour, and when they finally pulled up to the gates at the little Arsenal marina it was almost four in the morning.

Christmas Morning, Rolf said to himself as he climbed sleepily out of his seat and stepped onto the slushy cobbled street. ‘Only this is not how I imagined Christmas this year, is it…?’

+++++

The fog was so dense and the snow deep enough that even walking from the marina gates to Time Bandits proved tedious. Anton led the way but none of them had lived there long enough to really know the ins-and-outs of all the various criss-crossing pathways, so it took another ten-or-so minutes to find their way back to Bandits’ stern. Still, visibility was so compromised no one could see more than a few feet ahead, so after Anton hopped across to the swim platform he stood there with his hand extended and helped Dina and Edith across. He even kept his hand out for Rolf – who gladly grabbed hold before making the meter hop over the frigid water to the dew-slick platform.

And then Dina screamed. A real pulse stopping scream worthy of a B-grade slasher-flick, and Anton rushed up to the cockpit – only to find both Dina and Edith pointing to a man in the cockpit sitting behind the steering wheel. Anton hopped to the cockpit, placing himself between this stranger and the women…

…then he leaned over and looked at the stranger…

… “Shit damn fucker of mother,” he muttered. “Genry! You scare me!”

But Henry didn’t respond. Neither did he move.

“What?” Dina cried. “Is it Henry?”

“Da,” Anton whispered as the pieces of the puzzle began slipping into place, “Genry here now.”

Edith made it to him first, Dina not a second behind, and she grabbed his wrist and started looking for a pulse – but found none. He was sitting up with Clyde in his lap, and as he’d lost so much weight he’d been able to zip his parka around them both…

…and she saw Clyde was gone, too…

Then she saw the pup’s urine on the cockpit sole, presumably because he’d lost muscle control after his brain shut down, and she fell behind her physicians’ cloak and began analyzing the scene…

Henry was cold, ice cold, and his skin was cobalt blue in places, his lips and nail beds, too, though rigor mortis had yet to set-in fully, so he hadn’t been here all that long…

Then Dina saw Rolf by her side – staring at Henry with mute shock written all over his face – and she jumped to stand between them, to cut him off from the sight, but it mattered not a bit now. Not in the slightest. The damage had been done and the sight could not be undone.

Rolf walked forward, forward to the bow pulpit, and Anton followed the boy – not yet knowing what to say, only knowing he’d have to say something.

Then Anton saw the boy stumble and fall to his knees, pointing at something in the water while he tried to scream – but apparently the boy simply could not.

Anton dashed to his side and with his eyes he followed Rolf’s pointed finger…

…until he saw the big male orca resting there in the water, the orca’s huge, white belly facing the sky now, his massive body just resting there, though now very, very still.

“He’s dead too, isn’t he?” Rolf whispered as he joined Anton at the bow.

Anton nodded his head, and though he wanted to turn away he found he couldn’t. “Yes. Breathe through hole top of head, remember? Uh, but look belly. Many scars, fresh blood. I think orca carry Genry and Clyde upriver, jump up lock chambers to get here…”

“Do you mean to tell me,” Edith said, now standing up on the bow with them, “that Henry knew this goddam fish?”

Rolf turned and looked at this strange, offensive woman with pure malice in his eyes. “He’s not a fish, he’s a mammal, and he was Henry’s friend…!”

“Henry’s friend?” she said dismissively, tossing in a derisive flick of the wrist just for good measure. “Really? Do tell?”

But when Anton turned and faced Edith she had the good sense to remain silent.

“You, people like you,” Anton growled, “not understand things bigger than self. But yes. Genry and this other soul good friend. And you, go, before join other fishes in goddam water.”

But Anton stormed off, stomping back to the cockpit – and to Dina, who was sitting beside Henry just now, holding his hand. When he drew near she looked up at Anton and he saw something he hadn’t really considered possible. She looked lost. Lost, and alone. ‘Why?’ he wondered. He had only picked up little bits and pieces of their story, but Henry hadn’t thought much of this woman’s love. Was this an act, he wondered. Was she here to grab some of Henry’s money – while she still could?

‘Better die broke than die with vultures,’ Anton said to himself as he took in the woman. ‘At least can be sure what vulture want.’

+++++

Rolf returned to the cockpit and sat beside Henry, and after a pause he leaned on Henry’s shoulder one more time – while he looked at this grandmother’s last gasp of affection playing out before his eyes. ‘She is so confused,’ he thought, ‘so full of anger. How can you live in the moment if yesterday is all you feel?’

+++++

“Did you find everything?” Frank said to his daughter.

Elizabeth Bullitt nodded. “It’s all there, right where she said it would be.”

“What about the dog?” Harry Callahan said.

“Yup. That too.”

“Well then,” Callahan added, “we’d better get out of here – before someone sees us.”

“No one will see you,” the one called Pinky said, “but if you are ready we can leave now.”

“I don’t want to take any chances,” Frank Bullitt said. “Not now…”

“Then we should go,” Pinky said, but she stood there for a moment longer, looking in the general direction of Time Bandits, and to her friend Henry Taggart. She and her kind had forgotten how to cry eons ago, so she was more than a little surprised when she felt tears rolling down her cheeks.

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

Come Alive (32)

Come Alive final chapters art

Into the fire, as they say, and into the light, if only because the music asks to take you there. Yes, you know this much is true, don’t you?

Chapter 32

Father Martin stood with Henry’s friends in the original, though much older nave, talking about the most unusual services he had presided over during his four decades as the parish priest at Saint-Catherine’s, and one thing became clear as he spoke: there had been something a little peculiar about Claire and the memorial she’d devised – once upon a time. And the event had taken on mythical proportions over time, because, he seemed to imply, many strange things had happened since.

It had been, at least in the beginning, hard to put a finger on exactly what it was about Claire that had seemed so unusual to him. An ethereal quality, he told them, that had captivated everyone she met. She had possessed, after all, a surreal beauty – beauty that had captivated everyone who saw her.

But then there was her sense of time, and of her place in it, that had struck him as wise beyond her years. And that had led the way, he wanted to say.

Then there was her last instructions, of sending her ashes to be spread at sea. 

“But perhaps not so unusual a request,” Father Martin said, though looking at Rolf as he thought of the eternal nature of the sea, “until you consider that this last wish was to be in the sea so that she could be with Henry. And, I think, to rest together – when his time came.”

Dina was wiping her eyes as Father Martin spoke now, realizing for the first time that she’d never really had a chance to be close to Henry, at least not in the way she’d wanted – the way any wife would want to be. There’d never been room in his heart she understood now, for anyone but this girl none of them had known. Well, all but Edith, yet she was a perilously narcissistic woman – even if she didn’t know her all that well.

“And one other aspect of the event, this spreading of her ashes at sea, has captured my imagination ever since. It was that Henry carry her out into the sea. That he placed her there – so she could wait for him there – for his return.”

“Do you mean to say,” Rolf asked, “that Henry swam out into the sea from here? With her ashes?”

“He did,” Father Martin replied. “And as it is now, he did so on a Christmas Eve many, many years ago.” The priest looked around the group, at their upturned faces and at their dawning comprehension, then his eyes rested on Edith’s. “You were here that night, were you not?”

But Edith only nodded.

“Claire wrote to me before she passed,” the priest continued. “She wrote in that letter that you are evil, that you would do evil things to Henry. I ask you now, before God…did you do such things?”

Again, Edith only nodded, though she began to cry openly now.

“Your heart is not pure,” Father Martin added, his voice full of pity. “Confess tonight before God or leave this place forever!”

Edith seemed thunderstruck, her eyes blinking uncontrollably as the import of the priest’s words ripped through her soul, but then she stood and walked out into the night.

“Dina Bauer?” the priest said now, his voice suddenly growing tired – as if worn down by decades of deceit and all the empty words of false penitence spoken by unbelievers professing their belief. “You professed Love before God when you had none in your heart. Why are you here in this place, if not to mock what is to happen tonight?”

“I found Love, Father. It took walking away from Henry to find it, but I know I will always love him, now and forever.”

“Truly?” the priest said. “That is not what I feel in your heart, physician, or in your soul. I feel Wrath borne of Greed, but no Love do I see or feel…so again I must ask…why are you here?”

“To be with Henry when he…”

“That will not be, physician. Such emptiness may never become truth.”

“Might I confess…?”

But the priest shook his head. “You are beyond the reach of such things, physician. Your grasp is for things beyond my understanding, so I must ask you to leave us now.”

“But I want to stay? Please…?”

Father Martin pointed at the door and gently spoke. “Leave us now. Perhaps you will rejoin us in the fullness of time, but tonight is only for the pure of heart – and so not for the likes of you.”

Furious at this rejection, Dina stormed down the nave and out into the night.

“The rest of you may stay,” Father Martin stated, “but I must warn you…there are things you will find in this night that you will not understand, and that you might not accept, so come with me only if you dare to seek the truth.”

“The truth?” Anton said, his voice full of natural suspicion. “What truth do you speak of? God’s truth?”

But the priest shook his head. “No, Anton. We will speak only of Henry’s truth tonight. And perhaps a pinch of Claire’s, as well,” he added, smiling impishly.

“What are you not telling us,” Tracy asked.

“You are Tracy, are you not? The physician of the mind?”

“I am.”

“And so, you are the door, our entry. Will you stand with us in this night?”

“I don’t understand. What are you talking about?”

“Yes or no, physician of the mind. Will you stand with us, and not work against us. Speak the truth or leave us.”

“Yes, of course I will stand with you.”

“Speak the truth, physician of the mind, for there is no turning back after you cross the threshold.”

Tracy looked at the priest again, not sure what he was or what he was warning her about, but she looked at Rolf and knew instinctively that she had to protect the boy. “I am with you,” she promised – as she reached for Rolf’s hand.

“Then follow me,” the priest said as he turned and walked towards a small chapel off the main nave. Once there he placed a fingertip on a serpent’s eye carved in wood, and a small closet opened. The priest reached inside and took out a walking staff, and Tracy gasped at the sheer beauty of the wood. Rosewood, she knew, shining with the glow of countless centuries of beeswax. And what was that she saw? Bolts of lightning made of inlaid silver?

Then the priest reached inside his closet and produced three more staffs, one each for Anton and Rolf, and then one last staff – for her – and this staff had more complex lightning bolts than the other two.

She took the staff when the priest offered it to her, and as soon as her skin touched the ancient wood she felt a mesmerizing tingle spread from her hand up her arm…

“What is this?” she asked. “What is happening to me?”

“You will need this for strength, physician of the mind. You will find things in the night ahead that might easily overcome you without such strength to aid you, so let go of your staff only at your peril.”

“You said something about a door, about crossing a threshold. What are you talking about?”

“I am speaking of the journey we must take tonight. It is a perilous journey, physician of the mind, and it is one which will require all your strength to complete.”

“A journey? What are you talking about?”

But the priest turned and walked away. To the organ beyond the altar, and there he stopped.

“Our journey begins here, so if you are unsure of yourself you may yet leave us.” The priest looked at Anton, then at Rolf, and he smiled when they nodded at him. “You, physician of the mind, are you ready?”

“Ready for what? A journey? Where? Where are you taking us?”

“We seek Henry, and we seek Claire…and their truth.”

“What?” Tracy cried. “What are you talking about!”

“Place your hands on me now!” the priest commanded, and when he felt their hands on his tunic he slammed his staff down with one hand while he played a chord on the organ. When the silver tip of the priest’s staff hit the ancient stone lightning erupted from the head of the staff and Tracy gasped when she realized the music and the lightning were becoming one…

“What is this?” she cried as lightning began crawling over her skin. “What’s happening to me?”

“This is the threshold, physician of the mind. We cross into the world of the Eighty-eighth Key, so hold your staff close, and do not let go of me…!”

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

Perhaps a little music to help you on your way?

Come Alive (31)

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A little music for the passage, the first one here

Chapter 31

Dina pushed him through the restaurant and out into the blue winter light, Clyde still walking along by his side. Shopkeepers were shoveling snow from cobbled walkways, windows were aglow with all sorts of enticements for last minute Christmas shoppers, and even a horse drawn carriage was out and about, an old man and his son offering rides around the old port.

Henry felt the sunset calling him, but then he closed his eyes to the phantasmagoria that beckoned. Images of his mother and father walking hand in hand just ahead, but then the eternal echo of Claire walking by his side down this same cobbled way. But now Dina was here with Tracy and somehow that seemed just about right. And there was Edith ahead of them all, leading their procession to Saint-Catherine’s – like a parade of lost souls.

He’d kept in touch with Father Martin over the years, if only because the old priest was his last remaining point of contact with Claire and her last wishes…her real wishes, not the laundered list of tattered ideas Edith had summoned once upon a time…and the old priest had agreed to talk to Rolf and Dina and Anton about the things that had gone on after Claire’s service. Edith and Tracy had, of course, wanted to bask in the reflected light of those faraway proceedings once again; that evening was a part of their family’s mythology now, wasn’t it, so why not?

In fact, he had been counting on that.

And now, gathered at the entrance to Saint-Catherine’s, the priest opened his arms and welcomed all of them to his sheltered domain – but Henry locked his chair’s wheels as he looked up at Dina. 

“Please,” Henry said, “go ahead. There are a few things I need to do now.”

“What?” Dina cried. “Certainly not! I’ll not leave you to stand out here in this dampness…”

“Dina, please go. I’ve a few last minute things to pick up for tomorrow morning…”

“Henry! There are already too many presents under that little tree…”

Henry smiled and nodded smartly. “Yup. It’s not a bad little tree after all, is it? Charlie Brown would be proud of us, I think.”

Dina shook her head. “You never grew up, did you, Henry?”

He looked her in the eye and nodded. “It’s been a struggle, but somehow I managed.”

“Managed, to…what?” she sighed, clearly exasperated with him…as she always seemed to be.

“Yes. Precisely. Now go! You might learn something tonight, so listen – with your heart if you can.”

He watched them go, this totally unexpected family he’d somehow acquired over the past few months, then he looked down at Clyde. “You want to stay with me?”

Oh, those eyes. Deep brown windows to the infinite. How he loved those eyes. 

“Well, okay then. Let’s be off – just like a herd of turtles!” He turned his chair and started off along the Quai des Passagers, right beside the canal that led to the Seine. Right where Time Bandits had been tied-off a few weeks ago, he told himself once again.

“That was in another life, wasn’t it, Old Boy…?”

He saw the girl from the restaurant again, only now she was standing almost exactly where his boat had been. And she was staring down into the water as he rolled up to her and stopped. And he watched her for a while, looked at her incongruous white ski parka and her preposterously purple socks.

Then she turned and knelt down – beside Clyde.

“Hello, Old Friend,” she said – and Clyde wagged his tail gently while he licked her outstretched fingers. “It’s good to see you again,” she added – unnecessarily.

“So…you know Clyde too?”

“In a way, yes,” the girl said. “May I walk with you?”

“Of course.”

She smiled, and looking hard now he couldn’t quite get a feel for the girl’s true age. Maybe twenty…or perhaps forty years old…he just couldn’t tell…

“My name is Henry,” he said, holding out his hand.

And she took it. “And my name is Elizabeth.”

He skin was soft and warm, invitingly so despite the penetrating damp air here by the Seine. “Elizabeth, would you mind too much pushing this contraption. My shoulders don’t feel up to the challenge this evening.”

“Be happy to, Henry.”

“So, pardon my asking, but are you from San Francisco, or Berkeley?”

She chuckled. “What gave me away?”

“Purple socks and Birkies. Dead giveaway…sorry.”

“I see,” she said as they began walking along the quay towards the point.

“So,” Henry continued, “I have to assume our meeting now is not a coincidence?”

She kept pushing his chair, but she’d missed a beat and he knew he had her now. Still, she said not a word…

And he let her. It was only, perhaps, a quarter mile to the point, and he was content to let her take her time, to come to her own point, he thought with a smile.

Clyde walked just ahead of his chair now, and he looked down at the trail of paw prints the pup was leaving in the slush and water. Then, without quite realizing what he was doing he leaned back and began to drift…

And then he was with Pinky.

“Why have you been avoiding me?” she said as she made contact with him.

“There isn’t all that much more to say, is there?”

“Goodbye might have been nice,” she said, and he could tell she had been genuinely hurt by his silence.

“Goodbye Pinky, my love.”

“Henry, you are in extreme danger. You must be very careful now.”

“Danger? Me? Are you serious?”

She looked at him and sighed. “There are worse things than death, Henry, and I fear you are about to discover one of those things.”

“I see. Care to give me any hints, or would you rather remain obscure and pedantic.”

“We can’t interfere now, Henry. We can only observe.”

“Ah, so obscure and pedantic it is. Thank you so very, very, very much,” he added – giving her his best John Cleese impersonation just for good measure.

“What was that all about?” Elizabeth said, jolting him back to the present.

“What was that? Oh, I think I was dropping off there for a second.”

“And you drop into a Monty Python accent when you fall asleep?”

“What was I saying?”

“You were thanking someone. Like ‘thank you so very very very much.’ It was kind of weird, really.”

“That was indeed Mr. Cleese, and doing his Robin Hood in Time Bandits.”

Time Bandits?

“Never mind.”

“I see. So, are you giving to the poor this Christmas, Mr. Taggart?”

“Doubtful, but sing a few bars and I’ll try to hum along.”

“Well then, maybe you’d like to give me a few million dollars…”

“No thanks, I’m trying to quit,” he said, but right now all he could think about was Pinky’s warning – and the fact that he’d not told this girl his last name was Taggart. “So, why have you come to me this night, of all nights?”

But she didn’t speak again, at least not until she’d pushed him all the way out to the point, and once there she pushed his wheelchair up to a park bench and she took a seat and caught her breath. 

“What an interesting place,” she sighed. “You’ve been here before, I take it?”

“Yes,” he said.

“So, a special place? Full of special meaning?”

“You could say that, yes.”

She reached into a coat pocket and pulled out a clear plastic device, exactly like the one the Old Man had used to show him pictures on. “Have you seen one of these before?” she said as she passed it over to him.

“Yes. A few days ago and Old Man used one just like it – to show me some photographs on.”

“And he asked you to hold the device? In a special way, perhaps?”

“That he did.”

“Show me,” she said, “exactly how you held it.”

“Why? What is this thing? I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“That’s because it hasn’t been invented…yet.”

He looked at her, tried to measure the strength of her character – and her words. “Okay. So what is it?”

“Think of it as something like a portable computer drive.”

He looked at the device again…about the size of a deck of cards…clear, transparent, with titanium on all the edges…and one resting place for his thumb. “He asked me to rest my thumb here,” he said, pointing to the thin metal pad.

“And when you did,” she said, “you felt something like an electric shock?”

“That’s right. What is this thing?”

“Mr. Taggart…I hate to tell you this, but you’ve been downloaded.”

“I’ve been…what?”

“This is a quantum drive, Mr. Taggart, and if you held onto the one the Old Man handed you for at least thirty seconds he now possesses every memory you’ve ever had, and everything you know he now knows, too.”

“No kidding. Well gee, ain’t that the bee’s knees?”

“And if you don’t mind, I need you to download onto this drive now,” she said, looking directly into his eyes.

“And why the hell would I do that?”

She smiled at him just then, and her eyes were twinkling with unexpected emotion. “Let’s just say you will because you want to save the universe – one more time.”

“One more time? You mean…I have before?”

She nodded as she positioned the drive in his hand. Then she pressed his thumb down on the corner plate and he winced at the shock – again – and he sat there in the silence as snow started to fall again, the light turning from blue to almost purple, the Seine a ribbon of blood tying past to whatever waited in the night. He closed his eyes and Pinky was there again.

“They have you now, Harry. Both of them have you, and there’s nothing I can do about it…” she said as she faded away into a purple haze of his making.

“Nothing you can do,” he repeated, his voice a fading whisper.

When he opened his eyes the girl was gone. Only Clyde remained now, and Henry looked at his friend one last time. “I can’t ask you to do this, Old Boy. If you come with me, it’s got to be your choice, because this is a one way trip.”

He pushed the blankets from his legs and stood, holding onto the armrests until his legs grew steady, then he walked down to the rocks and looked out into the night. He reached up to the stars and closed his eyes for a moment, then he walked down to the water, Clyde still by his side.

He walked out into the water, wondering for just a moment what it was going to feel like, then he realized he was crying. He started to swim, to swim for the lights on the far side of the sky, with his friend by his side.

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

And the second here, because the music matters.

Come Alive (30.6)

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Hah! Sorry, but the muse struck! Enjoy! And…oh yes, try this one.

Chapter 30.6

“Genry? I have question.”

“Okay, Anton…fire away.”

“War this summer? All this has something to do with war?”

Henry nodded. “I think so, Anton, but there’s no way to be sure. The word we have is that your government became convinced that somehow this mutation was released by us, maybe acting in league with the Pinks, so that somehow this outbreak was part of a plan. The Chinese, by the way, have at least three ARVs of their own now, and they’ve been working with their own teams of Pinks and Blues for almost twenty years so they got up to speed on the mutation almost as fast as we did.”

“The Chinese?” Anton asked. “I hear nothing about this.”

“That figures. The Chinese are good at keeping secrets, and while we think they are trying to build ships to head for another world, Pinky told me it won’t work. The mutation is already global, so they’d more than likely just spread the plague to another planet.”

Tracy looked at Henry and grinned. “You son of a bitch,” she sighed. “You’re going to die and then just take off to this happy place somewhere in the future…”

Henry shook his head. “Who knows, Tracy, maybe I could, but that’s not the plan.”

Dina sat up and shook herself awake then refocused her attention on Henry. “Wait. You say you could go, but you will not? What does this mean?”

“It means I’ve been there…”

“What?” Tracy cried. “How could…?”

“Each time I’ve died, or come close, the past few months I’ve been yanked from our present to some kind of future earth, supposedly fifteen million years in the future. The earth is no longer a part of our solar system; it’s in orbit around a gas giant and part of a new solar system.”

“What happened?” Rolf asked.

“I think the result was, or will be, part of a galactic collision of some sort. Earth was ripped from one orbit and stabilized in orbit around this new planet…and around a new star, too.”

“So,” Anton asked, puzzled, “Earth a moon in this new time?”

Henry nodded.

“And Genry? We can go this new time? All of us?”

“If you like. Yes.”

“But Genry? You not go?”

“No, I don’t think I will, Anton. I’ve lived my life and I have no regrets, and going to this new world might extend lifespans a little but there are no guarantees. About the only thing the Pinks hope to accomplish is to wipe out the effects of the mutation, and to therefore enable a reset of humanity, perhaps on a more sustainable course…but who knows…that part will be up to you, not me.”

“You said time travel to the past is impossible, right?” Tracy asked.

“That’s right,” Henry replied. “It has something to do with the Pauli Exclusion Principle and the same matter occupying different places at different times, but the short version is that if you went to the future and became mutation free and then tried to return to your original past you’d negate yourself.”

“But Henry,” Tracy said, “don’t you see a problem with that? Isn’t that exactly what you’ve been doing?”

“How so?” Henry sighed.

“When you’ve had these near death experiences you describe, haven’t you traveled to this future and then returned. If so, maybe this exclusion principle doesn’t work the way you’ve been told it works…”

Henry nodded. “Yes, the thought crossed my mind, but Tracy, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to die – and soon, and as far as I know there’s still no coming back from death.”

“That you know of,” she added.

“Well, I’m all ears, Tracy, so if you know something I don’t now is the time to speak up.”

But Tracy simply sat back and shook her head in defeat. “If anyone knows, Henry, it’s those friends of yours.”

Which made Henry smile. “They’re sentient beings, Tracy, not gods…and it’s not like they’ve ever claimed to be anything like that…”

Edith coughed gently and spoke up: “It’s kind of funny then, isn’t it, Henry, that they look so much like angels?”

“Angels?” Henry said, puzzled. “So, let me see, you know what angels look like because, of course, you’re an expert on them, right?”

“Or maybe,” Tracy added as Edith scowled, “they look like what we expect angels to look like because they’ve been messing around down here on earth for thousands of years and that maybe, from time-to-time, they do little things that could easily be mistaken as miracles from heaven.”

“And all it took after that,” Edith continued, “was for a Botticelli or Titian to come along and put it all down on canvas and voila! Instant angels, everywhere you look!”

“Okay,” Henry shrugged, “I get what you’re saying but I’m not sure I get the point.”

“Isn’t the point,” Rolf said, interrupting, “that maybe Pinky can do things she hasn’t told you she can…?”

A woman walked into the restaurant and was seated not far from Henry’s table, and she ordered escargot and duck, speaking reasonably good French, too, but even so Henry felt there was something peculiar about her. She was wearing a decent enough dress, yet she had been wearing a white ski parka when she came in the door, and then he saw she was wearing brown Birkenstocks – with purple socks, no less! – he realized she just had to be from California! And with those hairy legs she was from the Bay Area, probably Berkeley…

Then he turned back to the table and found everyone staring – at him.

“Sorry. I guess I drifted off for a moment.”

Tracy grinned. “Don’t bother. She’s not your type, Henry.”

“Hmm? What?”

“The hippie chick from Berkeley. She’s not your type.”

“Oh? What makes you say that?”

“The hairy legs, for one thing. The thick glasses, too…”

“Da,” Anton chuffed. “Look like librarian uses aspirin for birth control.”

“What?” cried everyone at the table.

“Sure,” Anton said, grinning. “Hold between knees. Work like charm.”

+++++

The Old Man and the Young Boy stood just outside the restaurant, looking at Henry and at the people sitting with him. The Old Man tapped his cane on the cobbles once and thunder rolled across the valley…

“I don’t know why,” the Old Man said as he looked at the woman sitting by herself, “but I wasn’t expecting to find her here.”

Lloyd Callahan shrugged and shook his head. “There’s no way she could have found out, is there?”

“I didn’t think so.”

Lloyd looked at Elizabeth Bullitt sitting at a table beyond Henry Taggart’s and he was suddenly overcome with love for her once again – until he remembered she had become his mortal enemy. “She has to have someone helping her…but who?”

+++++

Perhaps fifty meters away two men stood deep in shadow; both were watching the Old Man and the Young Boy.

“I don’t know why,” Harry Callahan said, “but I wasn’t expecting this. How could they have known she was going to be here?”

“It doesn’t matter, Harry,” Frank Bullitt said. “As long as they don’t interfere, the plan will still work…”

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

Come Alive (30.5)

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Short snippet, not even long enough for a cup of tea. Maybe not even long enough for what matters most

Chapter 30.5

“Rooster One, the target is now headed directly at your aircraft! Turn right and descend…now!”

“I have acquired target. Permission to arm and engage!”

“Rooster One, do not, repeat do not engage…”

+++++

“What is that, Henry? Radar?”

“Yup. And I think it’s an aircraft. Right speed and altitude, anyway.”

“Doesn’t this crate have any windows?”

Henry thought ‘window’ and the entire front of the cylinder seemed to turn transparent – and there about ten miles ahead they watched as a Russian fighter turned and headed right for them…

+++++

“Da. Standard doctrine, Genry.”

“Yeah? Well, for whatever reason the pilot never fired on us.”

“Wery unusual, Genry.”

Taggart nodded, but he looked away for a moment – as if collecting his thoughts. “It only took a few minutes to reach the coast. I mean the coast over British Columbia. Then we were at the base and landing, but by then we knew something was really wrong. My skin felt like it was being hit by a million pinpricks, and then Collins told me there was blood coming from my eyes…”

“What?” both Dina and Tracy said, the two physicians suddenly paying close attention.

Henry nodded. “There’d been some reactor damage, a radiation leak of some kind…I still don’t understand all the dynamics and elements involved…but Pinky and a bunch of her people met the ship and stopped us from getting out. They had some kind of containment structure and they got both of us inside the damn thing and before we knew what had happened we were back out at their base at L1. Pinky told us there was no real cure for the damage our cells had sustained, but that they could slow the progression of disease…”

“Oh, dear God,” Dina sighed. “So that is why nothing worked?”

“Yup,” Henry said, nodding. “But here’s the part you ain’t gonna like. Collins and I are now like mutated viruses, contagious in a way…”

“What?” Tracy cried. “And you knew this?”

Taggart nodded. “I knew. But it’s more complicated than you can imagine, Tracy.”

“Fuck you, Henry!” Dina screeched as she stood, now shaking a fist at Henry. “You did this to my girl! To both those girls! How dare you!”

“Unfortunately,” Henry sighed, “the damage had been done years before, after the Russians first moved the cylinder and gained entry. No one from Pinky’s team ascertained the extent of damage to the ship and all those Russian scientists were exposed. Soon after, pockets of a strange radiation sickness were detected in their far eastern provinces, and while they moved to contain it, the disease spread into North Korea and China, and that’s when Pinky and her people got seriously involved. The Greens with this project are geneticists and they’ve been trying to get a handle on this ever since that night, but for all intents and purposes their efforts will be too little, too late.”

“What do you mean,” Edith said, perplexed, “by too late?”

“It means, Edith, that climate change isn’t going to take us out, and neither is some kind of nuclear war. This mutation is going to do the job, but the Pinks and Greens – and especially the Blues – see this as their fault and they’re doing everything they can to come up with a way to save as many people as possible.”

Dina started to cry; Henry looked at her and nodded.

“That’s right, Dina. Britt and Eva were a part of the first experimental group to be treated, but it turned out the treatment causes an even more violent reaction among us. They’re gone – from here, but that doesn’t mean you won’t see them again. It only means that will depend on how you respond to treatment…to how all of you respond.”

“Gone? What do you mean by gone?” Rolf asked. “I thought you said they’re not dead?”

“They’re not dead the way you think of as dead, Rolf, they’re just no longer here. But no, that’s not right, either. They are here, on earth, only – not now.”

“What do you mean, not now?” Dina asked.

“Time travel not possible, Genry. I know little physics, but this much I do know.”

Taggart nodded. “Time travel into the past is not possible…yes, that much is true. Yet, it turns out there’s no limit to how far into the future we can go.”

“No way, Genry!” Anton snorted. “This is shit of bull!”

“No, Anton, sorry, but it’s not. There is, however, one little problem.”

“And what would that be, Hank?” Tracy sighed, suddenly pretty sure she really didn’t want to hear any more of this.

“Well, see…first you, uh, well – you have to die.”

Dina screamed – before she passed out, while the boy looked on – horrified, all his worst fears now completely realized.

“Hoo-boy,” Anton sighed as he looked around the table, “dis no good.”

+++++

© 2020-21 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

Come Alive (30.4)

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So, more short snippets for now, but here’s some music to soothe the savage beast.

Chapter 30.4

As it happened, a submarine dropped them off along a deserted stretch of coastline north of Vanino; they walked along a dirt road for a while, after they’d stowed their gear, until an old lorry came along and picked them up. Both Collins and Henry crawled into empty shipping crates for the next, most dangerous leg of their journey, bouncing along through the night on beds of flea infested hay, passing through several military checkpoints en route to Dzyomgi Airport.

“The last few miles of the trip,” Henry said, “was through marshy bogs.”

“Bogs? What is this word?” Rolf asked.

“Low lying land next to a river or lake, usually covered in shallow water,” Dina said in rapid fire Norwegian.

“Ah.”

Henry looked at Anton, not sure how he was going to take this next part of the tale. “The worst of it was a sewage treatment plant. Turned out they were dumping raw sewage into that marsh, and Rupert and I had been wading through the stuff for a couple of hours…”

“You must smelled good,” Anton said, sneering. “Probably helped. Dogs at air base couldn’t smell as you gets close.”

“Yeah,” Henry said, nodding, “Rupert mentioned that. Anyway, the craft was located on the east side of the airfield, in a pine forest not far from a tank farm…”

“A tank farm? What is this?” Rolf asked, and when Dina shrugged Henry filled in the blanks.

“An area where aviation fuel is stored, usually in large cylindrical tanks.”

“Oh, yes. I see. And it was then nighttime?”

Henry nodded. “Yes, the middle of the night. but the odd thing about it, at least when we looked back on the whole thing, was how easy it was. There were no guards, no patrols, just the ship – which also just happened to look kind of like one of those fuel storage tanks.”

“No guards?” Anton asked incredulously.

“No, not a soul.”

Anton shook his head. “Then they want you steal ship. It was trap.”

Henry looked down at his snails and smiled a little. “We were too slow, Anton. We didn’t figure that out until much later…until it was too late.”

+++++

“You know what, Taggart? You smell like shit.”

“I’m not the only one, Slick.”

Collins wrinkled his nose and dry-heaved.

“Don’t do that, Rupert. When they catch us we’ll be down on our knees barfing our heads off…”

“Henry, I think my skin is actually crawling…”

“That’s because it probably is.”

“You know, I bet James Bond never had to do this.”

Henry grinned. “I’ll have a shit martini, shaken, not stirred…”

“Shut the fuck up, Taggart. I mean it…”

A fighter was taxiing along a nearby taxiway, the jet’s landing lights suddenly illuminating half the airport – so both Taggart and Collins dove for cover, spitting and retching as the goo splattered their faces.

“There ain’t a shower with water hot enough…” Rupert said.

“I’m gonna take a fucking bath in Listerine,” Henry added.

They remained prone until the jet took off, then they stood and headed for the tank farm.

“Is that it?” Henry said, pointing to a monstrously huge cylinder just becoming visible through the pines.

Rupert looked at his compass and nodded. “Should be. Keep low and follow me.”

Henry was surprised the old man could move with such speed and agility, and he did his best to keep up with him as they darted between trees and thorny shrubs…then they were at the cylinder…

“You got any clue where the door is, Henry?”

And then Taggart had leaned back and cleared his mind for the first time in weeks…

+++++

Pinky saw the cylinder through Henry’s mind and for a moment she grew confused. What was he doing in Russia? How could he possibly know about that ship?

Then he was gone, and now very much afraid she reached out for Henry, because she had to warn him…

+++++

The entry opened and deep blue light flooded the ground under the steps that led inside the ship. “Good job, Taggart. Let’s get this road on the show…”

Henry darted inside and the first thing he realized was that this was a working ship designed for beings twice his height, yet as he reached out with his mind the way ahead lit up until moments later they were both in the cockpit.

And though much bigger, everything here looked very similar to what he had grown used to on Boeing’s ARV. He powered up the displays and began the power-up sequence to start the ship’s drive, but one whole panel started flashing blue – and blue was the color used for warnings that critical systems were in need of urgent attention.

“What’s that?” Rupert asked, pointing at the flashing blue annunciators.

“A warning light. Either the drive or the power plant needs attention – I think.”

“Needs attention? Does that mean something like a low oil light, or maybe like a headlight’s out? Henry, I need to know! Can we get this fucker off the ground or not?”

“Only one way to find out, Doc…”

+++++

Two colonels from the GRU were in the control tower; their teams had been keeping an eye on Collins and Taggart ever since they got out of the lorry and ‘disappeared’ into the swamp. Now they watched as the ship powered up and began rising slowly from the ground.

“Rooster One, the target is airborne. Repeat, target is airborne.”

Rooster One was the Sukhoi Su-27 that had just taken off; the pilot was now northeast of the airport, loitering at flight level 3-9-0. “Rooster One, understood. Have the target on radar.”

The colonel from Aviation Intelligence took the microphone from the controller. “Rooster One, you may close on target, but do not, repeat do not fire on that ship.”

“Rooster One understood.”

+++++

“Da! See, tell you this is so,” Anton bellowed, slapping the table. “They let go!”

Henry folded his hands over his lap, carelessly nodding at his snails. “Yes, that’s true enough, Anton, but that’s not the end of the story. In fact, it was just the beginning…”

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates…but don’t forget…the music matters.

Come Alive (30.3)

Come Alive image 3

Oh yeah…the music…can’t have words without music.

Chapter 30.3

He wasn’t hungry, not in the least, but he had to order something…didn’t he? So he slipped a zofran under his tongue and let it dissolve, then ordered his usual escargot and roast duck in lingonberry sauce while everyone looked on to see what he was going to do. They relaxed after that and Dina turned to Edith…

“So, you knew Henry what he was…”

“Yes, we grew up together.”

“You were close, I take it?”

“Once, for a year or so, after my sister passed.”

“Oh? I’m so sorry.”

“Her name was Claire,” Henry said, breaking the sudden tension hanging in the air. “We were together, from the beginning – I guess you could say.”

Dina looked at Edith. “You were her younger sister, then?”

“Yes, by a year.”

“And did she look somewhat like you?”

And again Henry broke into the stream of interrogatories. “They might have been twins, Dina. But an interesting aside, they’re related to Olivia De Havilland. What do you think? Can you see the resemblance?”

“Indeed I can,” Dina sighed, acknowledging this sort of defeat – again, as she had all her life. “You were a most lucky man, Henry.” 

Taggart shrugged. “We were in love. That’s all that mattered.”

“Indeed,” Dina whispered. “So tell me. Did you love my daughter, too?”

+++++

“I’m going with you, Henry,” Rupert Collins said. “This is a military op, and as far as I’m concerned it makes no sense for you to go alone.”

“And it makes no sense to risk both of us, does it? Not when I can do this by myself.”

“My mind’s made up, Henry, and that’s all there is to it. You have no idea what kind of risks you’re facing…”

“And you do?”

“No, but I am a trained fighter pilot, and I have to assume my experience might come in handy.”

“You assume? That’s kind of funny, Rupert. Considering.”

“Considering – what, Henry?”

“That I’ll be flying the damn thing, not you.”

“Low blow, Taggart. Even for you, that was a low one.”

Henry smiled. “I have to keep in practice, Doc.”

“Gee, thanks. I think.”

“Maybe we should stop off in Ensenada on the way back. I’ll take you to see the donkey show.”

“Ha! There he goes with the mythical donkey show again. Ain’t no such thing, and you know it.”

Henry shook his head. “Is that so, Mistra Know-it-all?”

“Yeah, I picked up the truth about that shit from some shuttle drivers who went down to Hussong’s. All they picked up was a hangover to go with their crabs.”

“Hussong’s? You kiddin’ me, right, white boy…?”

“That’s the place, Taggart.”

Henry snorted. “Man, they were off by about thirty clicks. The real deal goes down in at a moonshine palace out in the sticks…”

“So, you’re saying you’ve been there? You’ve actually seen this thing?”

“Man, if I’m lyin’ I’m dyin’…”

“And a girl goes down on a donkey?”

“Now, I made no mention of the genders involved, Rupert.”

“Oh…Henry, that’s just gross.”

“I got another one, something even grosser.”

“I’m not sure I want to hear this,” Collins sighed, leaning closer to Taggart.

“Yeah, well, I’m taking this genetics class at Berkeley and the prof was a real stoner, really way out there…”

“Sounds like just your type, Henry.”

“No way, man. She wore socks with her Birkenstocks, and I doubt she had ever shaved her legs. I mean not once, Rupert. Ever…”

“Stop! No, no more! I repent…say no more, please…!”

“Anyway, she’d been showing us these reproductive biology films…you know…stick Tab A in Slot B and yada-yada-yada, that kind of shit. So one day on comes this film from the bio department at UC San Diego…”

“That’s the one in La Jolla, right?”

“Right. So yeah, where was I? Oh yeah, this title comes up, says something like ‘the following was shot at the San Diego Zoo on such and such date and then we’re looking at a bull elephant, a real ornery looking old bastard, standing in his enclosure. So yeah, this chick comes in wearing nothing but a blue bikini and some boat shoes…”

“No fuckin’ way, Taggart! No! Way!”

“Well, wait for it, Doc. So yeah, anyway, she comes up to the camera and explains she’s Doctor So-and-so and that they’re going to collect a semen sample from said elephant to use in some sort of artificial insemination experiment…”

“Henry? You pulling my leg?”

“Nope. Anyway, Dr. Blue-bikini has obviously been working with this old dude because she taps on a concrete bollard looking thing and then he kind of rears up and puts his front hands on it. And about that time two guys come in wearing yellow Haz-mat suit looking get-ups, and they’re carrying a little trash can with some kind of sterile collection bag in it. Yeah, so you gotta keep in mind that this old guy had been an inmate at the zoo for years, hell, maybe more than a decade, so this guy had Blue Balls, with big Bs if you know what I mean. So the guys in the yellow suits take their positions up there by the old guy’s front legs and get their little trash can in place.”

“Oh dear Lord…”

“Yeah. No shit, Sherlock. So yup, and now, here goes Dr. Blue-bikini; she slips on a windbreaker and begins to tickle the old guy’s tally-whacker and Rupert, you ain’t never seen eyes like this old elephant’s. Wide open is an understatement and as she gets after it those eyes are rolling all the hell over the place. Then the drool starts.”

“Henry, maybe you better stop now…”

“No way, Doc. We’re in too deep to stop now.”

“Bastard.”

“So it takes two arms to encircle his thing, right? And there’s Dr. Blue-bikini giving it all she’s got…and all in the name of science, you understand. Then the old fart kinda rocks back onto his hind legs and does a Louis Armstrong imitation and his eyes are spinning like cherries in a slot machine right about the time he’s had about all he’s gonna take…”

“Oh no…”

“Oh yes, and ten years of dammed-up splooge, who knows, maybe more, launches from this guy’s willy and those poor bastards holding that dinky little trash can were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Rupert, it was more like a tsunami. Knocked ‘em off their feet and off they go, sliding for Hell and gone and out of camera, and their little trash can literally just disappeared within a flyin’ wall of goo. And then the old dude’s prick goes into recoil mode and about two or three gallons arcs back through the air and lands on Dr. Blue-bikini’s blue bikini, among other places.”

Collins’ eyes were wide open and rolling now, too.

“Then it’s like she assumes this classic pose, her hands are up and her fingers spread wide and you can tell she’s almost in a state of shock, and then the clip ends with some kind of admonishment about the dangers of hands-on science, some kind of shit like that…”

Collins was on the floor now.

“Yup. You earned that one, Rupert. Now tell me…how are we supposed to sneak into Russia and steal a fuckin’ Russian spaceship?”

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

Come Alive (30.2)

Come Alive image 3

Short snippets for the next week or so; hope you understand. The little bursts of music highlighted here are meant as guides, mainly to inform the mood as you read. I hope you follow along. Question. Have you ever heard of something in psychology being referred to as the p-factor? If not, try to wrap your head around something akin to Jung’s ‘collective unconscious’ and the cosmological concept of ‘dark matter’ and you’ll be on your way.

So, need some music to think about while you read Henry? Here are two worth a listen, here and here, because the music matters…

Chapter 30.2

He pressed his face to the glass, the cold on the icy pane almost shocking. Just as it had been a long time ago…once upon a time – when all his dreams looked like they might all come true one day.

And it was snowing out there beyond the glass, too, and that made the smile he felt coming on just a little bit sweeter.

Because it had been snowing the morning he and Claire last sat by a window just like this one, inside another train and bound for the same station they were headed to right now. Edith had been there that morning too, and wasn’t that so strange?

He turned to thoughts of Edith again, then he looked at her sitting across from Dina – and soon their eyes met. He tried to smile and her head nodded as she made the connection. She’d always been good at that, hadn’t she?

‘How very strange,’ he thought again. ‘In a few days she’ll still be here. She’ll still be breathing, still be feeling crisp air in her lungs. She might be on an airplane headed back to LA looking out a window kind of like this one, and her eyes will still see this world spread out below. But my eyes won’t, and isn’t that just the shit…?’

He turned away from the thought and faced his reflection in the glass, and suddenly his very existence felt as substantial as those features pinned behind a lepidopterist’s glass. ‘Turn out the lights and I’ll just disappear, won’t I?’

He looked down at his hands and the sight made his skin crawl. His flesh was yellow-gray now, his fingernails striated by deep grooves, and the discolored veins on the top of his hand seemed fragile, almost febrile. ‘I was a linebacker once upon a time,’ he reminded the reflection in the glass. ‘Kids on the other side of the line feared me. They feared these hands…and isn’t that just absurd?’

The train went over a switch and their carriage swayed to-and-fro before it settled down again, but just then he could caught a glimpse of the three spires of the cathedral in Rouen through time-streaked snow. He remembered how, one day, he and Claire had stared at the huge central spire above the transept – through a window just like this one, and she’d even said how odd it was to see her own reflection superimposed over the cathedral in the distance, Like maybe she was supposed to be there somehow, someday…just another butterfly in the collection.

She’d looked at him just then and kind of smiled. And he’d nodded as gently as he could, trying not to disturb the echoes pinned to the glass.

+++++

The impactor came out of Orion, out of the southeast sky and was now heading northwest across the Pacific. On its current trajectory it would make ‘landfall’ just north of Hokkaido and make its final plunge into the Arctic Ocean somewhere north of Svalbard.

The Pink had driven her ship hard and fast. It was a heavy lifter ill-suited to moving such a large mass, yet she’d made a rough landing on the craggy rock and was now using the ship’s drive to push the impactor down into the earth’s atmosphere. There, she thought, into the vast, empty forests west of Sakhalin…

She looked at the countdown timer and then at the ship’s central display, and she had just commanded the ship to decrease thrust when the impactor suddenly began to break apart beneath her ship…

+++++

The 2 July 1908 edition of the Sibir Newspaper quoted residents of the village of Karelinski as describing an odd event that had occurred just a few days previously. The sky had opened up, these peasants said, and a huge cylinder appeared up there in the dawn sky – just before first the sky turned to fire, and just before the forests around their village caught fire. One man described the cylinder as bluish-white and surrounded by lightning, and that the cylinder appeared to be driving something down into the earth. Then the noises came. At first like rocks tumbling in a landslide, these witnesses reported, but soon like an artillery barrage coming closer and closer, and they had listened in fear until one cataclysmic impact knocked everyone off their feet. That was before the forest began to fly through the air.

Almost fifty years passed before the cylinder was found, intact and at a depth of almost fifty feet in a small lake. It took almost a year to build a road in order to reach the site, then months to retrieve the cylinder and move it to the Dzyomgi Airport, located in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, in far eastern Siberia. Not one of the engineers at the Sukhoi factory knew what to think of the object, and only a few were willing to state that the surface of the cylinder was blinding white and appeared to be made out of some kind of unknown ceramic-like material. Not one scientist or engineer was willing to admit that the hardest drills and sharpest saws then known to Soviet science had produced not a single scratch on the cylinder’s smooth, matte surface.

The object was, however, huge. Fifty meters long and thirty meters in diameter, it nevertheless weighed nothing, apparently not even a kilogram. In fact, Sukhoi engineers had to tie the cylinder to the ground to keep it from floating away, and every physicist called to examine the cylinder claimed that this was a physical impossibility. The engineers nodded and sighed and walked away, the cylinder like forbidden fruit forever just out of reach.

Then one evening hundreds of people gathered around the original cylinder after several smaller cylinders appeared over the airport. Then one by one these new arrivals landed at the airport – right next to the original cylinder salvaged from Lake Cheko. The gathering looked on in wonder as several very tall humanoids exited these smaller craft and then entered the large cylinder, only to exit the craft a few minutes later – only now carrying the shattered body of one of their own – another being who had, apparently, been trapped inside for many, many years.

Without saying as much as a word to the assembled onlookers, the creatures boarded their smaller cylinders and left Soviet airspace, yet when the engineers turned to the huge cylinder – still strapped down where it had been for months – they found the doorway these creatures had deployed to gain entrance to the interior was still wide open, only now the interior of the craft was brightly lighted – as if these unknown creatures were inviting them inside, perhaps to come in and take a look around.

+++++

Milos picked up Henry’s group outside of the railway station in LeHavre, then he drove them to Honfleur, parking his Mercedes van by the park – the same little park adjacent to the quay where Time Bandits had tied off just a few weeks before, and which was the very same park Henry had taken Claire’s ashes before taking her to the Seine. Dina and Rolf set up Henry’s wheelchair and helped him get settled, putting a scarf around his neck and a blanket over his legs to ward off the snowy chill, then the group walked off to the restaurant overlooking the old port where he had first seen Tracy – just a month or so ago, wasn’t it…?

Henry’s head swiveled like an owls, his bright eyes taking everything in – as if, Edith thought, these new memories might sustain him through the looming darkness. The sight of him looking around like this frightened Edith as nothing ever had before, until she realized that not even Claire’s death had threatened such a rupture. Henry was too close to the moment and so much more fragile looking now, and walking by the old port it had hit her, and hard: ‘Henry is going to die. Soon.’ She tried to come to terms with the words in her mind and soon realized she couldn’t, and with this jarring realization she understood that after Henry passed she would finally, and irretrievably, come undone.

+++++

“The Air Force people in the Pentagon have referred to this as Operation Tantalus – for obvious reasons,” Dr. Collins told Henry. “Apparently when the passageway opened, a series of tests unfolded as well. No one passed and the cylinder closed up shop a few days later, and there it’s sat for the last sixty years. The word we have is Khrushchev was so pissed at the engineers out there he had about half of them shot.”

“And it’s not been airborne since, what, 1908?” Henry sighed. “Wasn’t that around the time of the Tunguska Event?”

“If those old Russian news accounts are to be believed, yes.”

“So, what makes you think it’s still flightworthy?”

Collins shrugged. “Just a hunch on my part, Henry. Again, those witnesses all said the Pinks left it open to the engineers out there, and for whatever reason they went in and screwed the pooch.”

“So…your supposition is that you think, because it belongs to the Pinks, I will be able to fly the damn thing?”

Collins nodded. “Yeah,” the old man said as he grinned.

Henry nodded, then took a deep breath. “Okay, so let me see if I have this right: you think that somehow you can smuggle my fat ass onto the grounds of the most secretive Russian aircraft manufacturing facility in the dead of night, and that – again, somehow – I can just waltz right up to this fucking thing and steal it?”

“You can’t steal it, Henry, because it ain’t theirs.”

“Yeah? Boy, I’d sure like to listen in on that discussion when you bring that up.”

“SecState thinks she can handle it.”

Taggart chuckled at that one. “Okay…so tell me this? Does she think she can help me talk my way out of there if I can’t get the goddam thing to work?”

Collins looked down. “If that happens we’ll have to make a trade.”

“A trade? Like for what? My ass – for a couple of refrigerators?”

“Look Henry, it’s like I told you up front. If you decide not to do this, I understand.”

“You…understand? What I’d like to know is what kind of bargain have you struck with the boys back in Virginia? What have you promised them…hmm?”

Collins turned and walked over to the window on the far wall of his little office, and Henry could feel the old man’s shoulders sagging under an impossible load…

“Okay, Rupert…don’t tell me. We get to live. Is that it?”

Collins turned and looked at Taggart, but then he nodded. “Yeah, that’s pretty much it, Henry. We pull this off and we get more time…”

“Rupert, how many times do I have to tell you? I’m the only one who can fly their ship. They ain’t gonna put a bullet in the back of my head, okay?”

“I wish it was that simple, Henry. I really do.”

“Why isn’t it that simple, Rupert?”

Collins steepled his fingers and pushed inward, then he looked up at the ceiling. “I’m not sure I can explain the mindset, Henry, but if these guys aren’t in control of everything there is about this thing they’d rather the whole thing just went away…”

“So…because I’m the only one who can fly the thing…”

“Exactly. Our ship is of no real use to them, but maybe this cylinder in Siberia won’t be hard wired for you, and only you. If it isn’t…”

“If it isn’t, then I’m toast. Is that what you’re telling me?”

“Pretty much. Yeah.”

“Rupert, I recall you saying once that you had a plan. Was that just bullshit?” 

Collins walked over to his desk and opened a locked file cabinet, then took out a large manilla envelope and handed it to Taggart. “Have a seat,” the retired Air Force General said. “Look this over and tell me what you think.”

A half hour later Henry Taggart looked up at Collins, then he shook his head slowly. “Rupert, this is insane; brilliant, but totally insane. It might work – Hell, it probably will work – but you know as well as I do that they’ll be after us until the day we die.” 

“May we be in heaven,” Collins whispered, “a half-hour before the devil knows we’re dead.”

Taggart shuddered, because now it was apparent no one had considered what the Russians might do if someone stole their little alien artifact.

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.