The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 32

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Part IV

Chapter 32

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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…]

Come Alive (28)

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A long one today so fetch some tea. And just because it matters more and more…

Chapter 28

The shaking grew violent and everything around him began spinning, then feeling nausea and vertigo coming on he closed his eyes, reaching out with his hands to let his senses reassert some semblance of control, until he felt Pinky’s huge, rough hand on his arm. And only then did he open his eyes and look up at her.

She was working rapidly now and had just finished wrapping a new tape around his arm, but he could see concern in her eyes now – for the first time – and suddenly he felt scared. She leaned back then and he knew she was reaching out – but for who?

A shimmering blue sphere appeared, then a green one, but before their appearance really had a chance to register in his mind they were gone, replaced seconds later by first dozens, then literally hundreds of golden bubble-like spheres that quickly drifted down onto the bed, in milliseconds completely covering both Clyde and Taggart. He tried to keep his eyes open but they burned now, like his eyes had filled with soapy water, then it became hard to breathe. He felt the inward panic of looming suffocation and reached out with his hand…

Pinky took it, but then he felt a hot pinch on his forearm, just like the pain of an injection – and then he remembered the Old Man’s gentle laughter. He struggled to hold onto consciousness but he felt everything falling beyond and within a white hot veil, and the last thing he was aware of was swallowing hard and, for some reason, of wanting to cry.

+++++

When Tracy came into Henry’s stateroom she found him lifeless on his bed and began CPR, then she remembered he had an auto-defib unit on the wall in his head and dashed for it. She opened the unit and attached the leads then fired the unit…

+++++

He opened his eyes, tried to make sense of his surroundings.

Everything looked and felt so familiar, impossibly so, and he pinched his eyes and shook his head, trying to knock the spinning cobwebs from his mind.

“It’s my old bedroom,” he said, “and I’m back on the island.” He sat up and felt the cool breeze coming in off the Pacific and realized he’d slept with his window open again, but then he saw his physics homework on the desk and groaned in defeat. 

“Damn, I forgot…I didn’t finish it,” he said as he walked over and looked at a problem on the conservation of linear momentum that had stumped him for hours the night before. He looked at his alarm clock and sighed, then picked up his textbooks and the rest of his homework and put them in his book bag – before he realized he hadn’t showered and went off to his bathroom. He stood under the hot water trying to wash the remnants of the dream from his mind, something about his grandson living on a distant planet, and he laughed at the absurdity of the images that came to mind.

He dried off and dressed, then remembered they had a game that afternoon and that he was supposed to wear his practice jersey to classes today. ‘The pep-rally, Dufus! Remember?’ he said to himself for the umpteenth time. He shook off the ritual pre-game jitters that always came for him while he dressed for school on game days, then he heard his mother in the kitchen and his father down the hall in their bathroom, an ancient electric razor mowing the stubble on the old man’s face again. He picked up his book bag and headed downstairs, lingering scents of hot pancakes and crisp bacon pushing aside all his worries about botched homework and the teams’ rivalry with Huntington Beach High. 

“Hi, Mom,” he said as he bounced into her kitchen.

“Good morning, Bright-eyes. How’d you sleep?”

“Oh, you know, up-tight – as always.”

She put a plate of pancakes down on the table in front of him and he smiled as his dad came in and sat at the head of the table.

“Have a rough night, Sport?” his father said.

He shrugged.

“I could hear you tossing and turning all night, at least until I finally dropped off.”

“Sorry, Pops. Big day today?”

“No, nothing out of the ordinary. Finish that problem?”

He shook his head. “No, but I got Benson for study hall this morning. I’ll get it before class.”

“Well, okay, but you know the deal…bad report card and you stay home for Christmas.”

“I know, I know,” Henry sighed.

“Speaking of,” his mother interrupted. “Did you go ahead with the airline reservations yesterday?”

“I did indeed, and reservations at the Crillon, too.”

Which caused her to smile as she set a platter of scrambled eggs and bacon on the table. Henry waited for his father to take some, then he put some on his mother’s plate before he finished off the rest.

“Got your books ready?” his father asked as he stood and put on his jacket.

“Yessir.”

“We picking up Claire?”

“Yes, if that’s not a problem?”

“Well, it hasn’t been for the last ten years, so let’s get going…”

He kissed his mom and headed for the door, then he turned around: “You coming to the game tonight?”

“You know it!” she said enthusiastically. “I hear scouts from SC and Berkeley are going to be there tonight!”

He rolled his eyes as another wave of acid roiled his gut. “Thanks. I needed that.”

“I’ll see you there!” she said, blowing his father a kiss as they walked out the door.

It was just a few blocks to Claire’s house, but true-to-form Edith was out there waiting with her sister and he groaned. His father pulled up in front of their house on Via Barcelona and Claire hopped in and slid across the back seat, making room for her sister but keeping a wall of books between them – as a barricade. Henry turned around and looked at Claire, at her beauty – and as it always did – it took his breath away.

She’d started to look more and more like Olivia de Havilland this year – which wasn’t so surprising as the actress was some kind of second aunt once removed, or something like that – and like de Havilland Claire was as brainy as she was beautiful. She’d taken the full SATs her sophomore year and aced them – a  solid 1600 – and already Princeton and Yale had sent offers her way, so things were looking up on her end. 

But his score hadn’t even been close. With 1480 on his first try he might make it into Berkeley or USC, but his first choice, Stanford, would probably remain out of reach – and no one had to remind him that the Ivy Leagues would sneer at his 3.8 GPA. But football might make the difference, or so his father liked to say, and though there was some truth to the notion it left a bitter trace in his mind.

“I’ve got to hit study hall this morning,” he said to Claire – doing his level best to ignore Edith. “I just kept messing up the order of operations and the results don’t look right.”

“Oh? Let me take a look,” Claire said, and after he dug the papers out of his bag he handed them over. She scanned his work and smiled. “Nope, you got it.”

“What?”

“You’ve just to erase what you have there now and put what you had originally, then you’re there.”

“Always go with your first answer, Hank,” his dad admonished. “And don’t forget this little lesson when you retake your SATs.”

He took the homework back and looked at what he’d erased. “So, the answer is 93.7?”

She nodded. “Just don’t forget to put FPS down. You know how Benson loves to zing you for little goofs like that.”

“And they do on the SATs, right Hank?” his father added, nailing him one more time before they got to school.

He opened her door and helped her out, taking both their book bags, then he went to the front door and leaned in. “You going to be there this afternoon?” Henry asked his father.

“I might miss the first quarter, but I’ll try to be there for the kickoff. Coach say anymore about letting you have a go at fullback?”

Henry nodded. “I memorized all the runs, so I’m ready.”

“Well, son, this would be a good night to strut your stuff. I’ll seeya there.”

“Okay, Dad. Later.”

He took Claire’s hand and they walked in and put books in their lockers, Henry still doing his best to ignore Edith, then the first bell rang and they headed off to their classes.

+++++

Henry stood by the window, Claire’s hand in his, looking at the TWA 707 waiting for them out there on the ramp, the huge Trans World maintenance hanger just across the north-south taxiway framing their view. He turned and looked around for his father – and couldn’t find him in the crowd – until he spotted him coming out of the head and walking over to Claire’s father. 

Then the gate agents called their flight and boarded the first class cabin first, so their parents waved then boarded the aircraft. When coach was called Henry made sure Edith went first, then hand-in-hand he and Claire walked out the Jetway and up to the forward boarding door, and he smiled at the stewardesses as they stepped into the cabin. Their parents were in the last row of first class, and the three of them were in the bulkhead seat literally right behind his mom and dad. Boarding didn’t take long and soon enough the doors were closed and the engines on the left wing began spooling up.

Edith had been pestering him for days about taking the window seat and he’d gladly given it up so long as she promised to keep to herself during the flight, and Claire had, thankfully, taken the middle seat – so a flight in relative peace was a real possibility. Still, no sooner had The Pest taken her seat did the nonstop blather start…

“All I can see is engines,” she snorted.

“Good reason to close the shade and go to sleep,” Henry snarled.

“I’m not sleepy!” The Pest screeched, her whining chant easily drowning out the Pratt & Whitney turbofans idling on the other side of the thin layers of metal fuselage.

“Why am I not surprised?” Henry growled, but Claire gently squeezed his hand, in effect asking him to lay off and to not be so mean to her little sister.

He tapped her fingers with his, letting her know “message received” – and while he rarely thought about such things he marveled at how fundamentally attuned they were to each other.

“I don’t like this,” Edith wailed.

“What don’t you like?” Claire asked.

“The window. I don’t want to sit here.”

“Where do you want to sit?” Henry asked.

“Your seat. Now!”

As they hadn’t started their pushback yet, Henry opened his seatbelt and stood, then he helped Edith into the seat before switching, one of the stewardesses immediately getting on the PA and asking him to take his seat – which caused more than a little grumbling from the first class section. 

“I can’t get this thingy fastened,” Edith cried, her hands flailing about now, and Henry leaned over Claire and just managed to get her strapped in as the jet began pushing back.

“Anything else, Edith?” he growled.

“I want a Pepsi!”

“Edith, they serve Coke on TWA, not Pepsi,” Claire sighed.

“I want a Pepsi!”

“Well,” Claire added, “I hope you brought one with you.” And with that Claire took her little airline pillow and placed it on Henry’s shoulder, then she leaned into him, placing her head on the pillow with a deep sigh.

“You sleepy?” he asked.

“Yeah, I have been all day.”

“Want to skip dinner?”

“I don’t know. Depends on what they have, I guess.”

“Okay. go ahead and rest. I’ll wake you when they come around.”

“You know what I like. Just get me something easy to handle.”

The brakes squealed loudly every time the jet stopped, which was often as they were in a long line of aircraft waiting to take off, but then their turn came and he looked out the window as the Boeing turned onto the runway. The engines ran up a little then cut back to idle for a second, then they began to roar as the pilot applied full takeoff power – and Claire squeezed his hand again, only this time…hard.

Then the rush down the pavement and they were in the air, flying over a bunch of abandoned streets then the beach, and a minute later the jet made a smooth turn to the right, to the northeast, and steadied up on the new heading as they climbed high into the fading light of day. Claire soon eased up on his hand, and a few minutes later he heard her breathing deeply, apparently sound asleep. She twitched a couple of times, then came a violent spasm of some kind, and that one worried him, enough so that he went forward and asked his mother about it.

+++++

Seven in the morning on Christmas Eve found them at the Gare Saint-Lazare waiting for the train to Le Havre and Henry had wrapped himself around Claire, trying to ward off the penetrating dampness of this cold December morning. His father had gone for coffee, leaving his mother to sit there beside them, and he could feel a gently rising tension in his mother’s presence beside her, too.

His mother was, of course, an internist, so she had picked up on all the signs even before Claire had. The wayward wince here and there. Sitting in a chair at dinner and grimacing. Then she and Claire had disappeared yesterday afternoon…with no warning at all…just gone. And when they’d come back from – wherever – his mother had put Claire to bed and told him to let her sleep, and he knew better than to challenge his mom when something like this was afoot.

Yet Claire had insisted on joining their traditional excursion to Honfleur, because, she’d said, that making it to the Christmas Eve service at the little chapel off the harbor was something she had to do this trip. And then she’d told him it was important.

“Important? What do you mean?”

“I can’t explain it, Hank. It’s something I feel, maybe like a shadow that shouldn’t be there? Or maybe I’m standing in a shadow? Sorry…I just can’t put a finger on it.”

“That’s okay, baby. You don’t have to explain yourself to me.” Now she was by his side trying to stay warm, and each time she trembled he held her a little closer. And each time he felt her slipping farther and farther away.

Their train pulled up to the platform – apparently direct from the yard and freshly cleaned – and when the doors slid open he helped her into a window seat and slipped his jacket over her shoulders…

…and all the while Edith stood back watching his every move…

Because she knew something important had happened. Important…and bad.

+++++

She knelt in the chapel after the service concluded and he remained there by her side, not at all sure what was going on but certain of his place in their evolving little universe. She was praying, her head down and her eyes closed, and he looked at her – suddenly feeling more than a little amused. Claire had always said she was an agnostic, yet the few times she’d spoken about religion he’d kind of figured out she was really more an atheist. God was, she’d always maintained, the real villain in this movie – and she wasn’t going to let Him get away with shit. “If there’s a God,” she’d told him more than once, “me and Him are going to have a few choice words when I get up there.”

Presupposing things like heaven and hell exist, he’d always wanted to add – yet he never did. He couldn’t. He loved her too much to rock the boat. Hell, he knew he loved her too much, period. His love for her was all consuming, so much so that the idea of her heading off to some Ivy League college was becoming a source of real angst.

She finished her prayer – at least he assumed that’s what she’d been doing – but then she took his hand in hers and turned to look in his eyes.

“I want you to bring me here next year, okay Hank?”

“Yeah, sure,” he’d said then – not knowing what was going down and what the next year was going to bring to all their lives. 

“No, I mean it, Hank. You’ve got to promise me.”

“Okay Claire, I promise.”

She’d stood then, but before they left she’d walked up to a wooden sculpture of the crucifixion behind the little alter and there she’d simply looked up at the man there and stared into the gaping maw of his sacrifice. He’d stood behind her a little and it hit him then…the meaning of his promise to her…and then he felt his world bending and twisting out of shape for the last time in his life…

+++++

But the year passed.

And the next thing he knew he was in the very same chapel, only this time with a small urn in his hands – instead of Claire’s hand. She’d told him what to do, what she wanted, and all he could do was agree with her because she’d become a pure force of nature the last few months of her life.

She’d written to the parish priest about her wishes and he was ready for her, and for him, and after their traditional Christmas Eve service Henry had waited for the chapel to clear, then the priest had joined him.

“Are you ready?” the priest said as their families gathered ’round Henry.

“I think so, yes.”

+++++

“Hank, I want you to take me down to the point, to the Jardin des Personnalités. Take me to the sea by the point and spread my ashes out there.”

“Okay.”

“Not on the rocks. I want you to take me out into the sea…”

“But, Claire…why?”

She’d looked at him for the longest time, then put her hand on the side of his face. “Because if I’m in the sea then I’ll always be close to you.”

+++++

It was December and the water was ice-cold, so of course he’d brought along a shorty wet-suit and had changed in a public restroom near the park, and only then did he and the priest and both his families walk out to the point.

The priest said a few things then took out a piece of paper and when he spoke now he addressed all of them in turn…

“Claire sent me a letter before she left us,” the priest began, “and though addressed to me there are things said that need to be shared, so if you will excuse me I will try to convey to you what she passed along to me…”

Henry hadn’t known this was coming and suddenly felt very unsure of himself, and he felt his eyes filling with tears…

“She told me that Henry will be an explorer, a very lonely explorer, and that all of you must accept that about him…

“Edith, she wanted me to tell you that you should try to respect what Henry meant to your sister…

“And Henry, while you should be prepared for anything, please remember that her love for you will always by with you, and that she will be there to protect you when you need her most…”

“What?”

“That is what she told me, Henry. You should go now, take her now and let her rest…”

+++++

He carried her – and the little urn that held her now – out into the sea, and as water filled the space between his skin and the neoprene it warmed a little, at least enough to make this whole thing a little less jarring, or so he thought. Stones underfoot fell away sharply and a gentle current tugged at him, pulling him away from land, but he had always been a good swimmer so he didn’t think too much about it. Holding the urn just out of the water he side-stroked away from the rocks, keeping his eyes fixed on the lights of Le Havre a couple of miles across the river, until a few minutes later he was well away from shore.

“I’m afraid I don’t know what to say right now, Claire,” he said after he stopped swimming and began treading along with the current. “I feel empty inside, like my life without you has no meaning anymore. Is that wrong of me?”

He struggled to remove the top from the urn and then held it high over his head, then he began shaking her ashes into the sea. He could hardly see now, his eyes filling with tears too long repressed, but then he saw her remains floating on the inky surface and he moved his hands through the chalky stillness until she finally began to drift away from him. 

He held his hand up in the moonlight and saw remnants of her on his skin and overcome by the sight of her like this he spread her ashes across his forehead and then through his hair, all the while crying and wanting nothing more than to just let go and drift out to sea with her…

+++++

“Can you see him? I’ve lost sight of him,” his mother said to Claire’s father.

“I think I see him, but I’m not sure anymore. He’s got to be a half mile out there now, maybe more.”

Edith was standing there, close to the edge of the water, and she understood exactly what was going on. “He wants to stay with her,” she whispered.

“What?”Henry’s mother said. “What did you say, Edith?”

“He wants to stay with her. He’s not coming back…” Edith said, but right then she threw off her coat and dove into the river, and she began swimming in the direction she’d last seen Henry…

“Claire!” Edith’s father called out, then he realized his mistake and called out Edith’s name, but that mistake had played out hundreds of times before and it was a part of who the little girl was. “Come back here!”

She was on the swim team and the water didn’t bother her in the least, at least not for a few minutes, but when she felt the first ragged waves of hypothermia settling in the muscles of her thighs she stopped swimming and turned around, looking at her parents waving at her from the shore.

She pushed up, tried to see any sign of Henry on the sparkling, moon-dappled water, but when she saw nothing out there she turned back to the comfort of all the knowns in her life…

+++++

The wetsuit provided all the buoyancy he needed, so the only real danger now was hypothermia, yet laying out there in the sea his core still felt reasonably warm. With his head half submerged the cool water was lapping against his eardrums, but his eyes were commanding all his attention now.

Almost due south and now quite high in the sky, Orion was hanging around up there, drawing his bow and getting ready to let slip his arrow once again. He forgot who or what the archer was aiming at, then realized even that really didn’t matter anymore…

He had to be three miles out now and the current was pushing him with real force – and still he just didn’t care anymore. He watched as a freighter, surrounded by a covey of tugs, began pushing back from a wharf and turned for the breakwater, and while he – on one level, at least – knew what was going on, all that now felt like it belonged to another life, one he’d abandoned…

Then the water suddenly grew warm, startlingly warm, and he reached down with his feet half expecting to feel a sandbar or some other shallow formation – and then a shiny black face slipped from beneath the surface of the sea. It was an orca, he saw. A very young male – and they were looking at one another, each taking a measure of the other.

But when water splashed into his eyes just then, Henry saw Claire in the darkness and tears came to him once again.

Then the young male came close and brushed against him and instinct took hold.

Henry hugged the orca, his face against the side of the orca’s face, and then he cried and cried –

– until he heard a gentle clicking coming from the sea –

– then a moaning sound from deep within the orca –

– and he felt the protective embrace of the orca’s pectoral, almost as if the young male was shielding him from something…

“Thanks, buddy,” Henry said, pushing back a little so he could look into the orca’s eye, but now the clicking sound was a fierce presence now, coming from everywhere – and he turned and was stunned to see several orcas staring at him, all of them very quiet as he floated there in the young male’s embrace.

Then Claire’s words from the priest came to him. “‘My love will be there to protect you…’” he said to the young male, then he pointed to Honfleur. “Would you mind taking me over there?”

The male seemed to nod once and gently presented his dorsal fin, and when the two of them took off for the shoreline the rest of the pod followed…

+++++

March. Spring break. High school graduation less than three months off.

Friends from the football team are heading up to Mammoth for a week. Hotel rooms reserved, hot tubs and Boone’s Farm Apple Wine all lined up, and they want me to go up with them. Two station wagons all lined up and packed, ready to go. Skis waxed, new boots fitted because, ‘Hey mom, my feet are still growing, ya know?’

Through the smog to Claremont then up to the high desert before getting on 395, then the long slog to Lone Pone and Bishop before the final sprint into Mammoth Lakes and then to find the hotel. And while he’s unpacking the Ford another wagon pulls into the lot and there are a bunch of girls from Newport Beach inside. And when he realizes one of them is Edith he feels betrayed, then like running into the forest behind the hotel…

His friends get him up early because there’s been a dump overnight and everyone wants to make first tracks on the Cornice Run off the upper gondola. They dash to the base lodge and grab something hot for breakfast then pick up their lift tickets and head for the gondola. Edith gets into the gondola just ahead of his and he wonders how she’s been managing to hide herself so well…

She is waiting for him in the midway station and gets into the next gondola with him.

He turns away from her when she sits next to him.

“You can’t hide from me forever, Hank.”

“I can try,” he snarled. “What are you doing here, Pest?”

“I just wanted to talk, you know?”

“Talk? About what?”

“Claire.”

“What? Why me?”

“Mom and dad won’t talk about her anymore, not even a little bit, but there are so many things I want to talk about, to know about, and so many things about her I feel are already slipping away, but Hank, you know all the answers. You’re carrying all that stuff around inside your head and I need to talk with you about all those things…”

She didn’t leave his side after that, and one day he saw a picture someone had taken of the two of them over at the Bay Club and he’d had a hard time understanding the picture was taken with Edith, not Claire. Even some of his best friends told him it was hard to tell the sisters apart now, and though it was a little spooky everyone seemed to understand. Maybe, they said, this was the way things were supposed to be now, ya know?

+++++

Berkeley. He was in the jocks dorm because he was on a half ride scholarship, playing middle linebacker his freshman year, and even though he was just a freshman he was varsity so the older guys left him pretty much alone and didn’t beat him up too much.

His dad called, wanted to know about Christmas that year.

“I don’t think I can do it, Dad.”

“I understand, but I had to ask.”

“You and mom should go. Don’t let me stop you guys having fun.”

“You going to do something with Edith?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. I was thinking about Park City.”

“Yeah? Look, I’ve done some work for the Bass brothers, so why don’t you let me see if I can swing a deal up at Snowbird…”

+++++

She flew up to SFO and they drove across to Salt Lake City together – and just like that a family tradition disappeared, never to be rekindled. But the Cliff Lodge was something else…a modest skyscraper hewn of concrete, glass, and steel perched on a small rise at the bottom of the mountain. And everything about the place was magnificent.

She was a good skier, too. Better than Claire, not quite as good as he was but good enough to be fun. She loved him and reminded him of that several times a day, and while nights together had been tough at first they were really great now.

And then…Christmas Eve.

His first ever away from his parents. His first with Edith, with Claire’s shadow never really far away.

Sitting in the elegant dining room at the Cliff Lodge, the fireplace roaring and a heavy snow falling beyond curtains of tinted glass. A roast goose with all the trimmings, holding hands and all kinds of talk about the life they planned to share in some kind of golden future stretching out ahead. All of a sudden everything was serious and yet she felt so right. Echoes are like that, right?

Yet when they made love now they were creating something all their own. Claire wasn’t a part of this new thing.

Was she? Or would she really never leave him?

+++++

He flew down for a weekend a few weeks later, in late January. Something was different. She was distant. Aloof. He took her to The Crab Cooker for lunch on Saturday and she wouldn’t even look him in the eye. Walking back to her car after lunch he reached for her hand and she pulled away.

He didn’t push. He didn’t even ask any questions. And when she stopped calling he stopped too because it hurt too much when he thought about it. The funny thing about it? He was losing Claire all over again and he didn’t even know what the fuck was going down.

He dated a few girls later that year but when those fizzled his studies seemed to take precedence and that was that. He began to hate Berkeley, thought about transferring to SC or Stanford then spring training came around and some kid put a helmet to his knee and then football became a sore sort of memory, too.

His knee was still in a brace when the Mazatlan race started, but his dad surrendered the wheel and let him take it. He steered almost the whole trip and Bandit did pretty good, taking third in class – which wasn’t bad for a heavy boat like a Swan. The crew, a bunch of his father’s friends who made-up the same ragtag crew every summer, went out busting down bottles of tequila their first night down there and it was the first time he’d ever seen his father get seriously drunk. Then his father got even more drunk the next night and fucked some kind of Mexican hooker, and Henry looked away and looked away until he couldn’t even look at his father anymore…

+++++

He’d been working for a startup that was developing a so-called digital darkroom, mainly taking slides and negatives and scanning them so deeper manipulations could take place in their software. The owner of the company had just bought a sailboat he planned to keep on Lake Union and he wanted to know if Henry could help bring the boat from Vancouver, BC back down to the lake.

“I hear you’ve done some real sailing,” Dean Collins said.

“Real sailing? What’s that?”

“Overnight, stuff like that. You know, real stuff.”

Henry had scowled at that bit of obtuse circumlocution and hoped Dean was kidding.

“Thing is, I got this new boat but I think it’s too big for me.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. You ever heard of Swans?”

Henry had nodded, curious now because if there was one thing he knew it was that newbies shouldn’t try to cut their teeth on boats like Swans. “Yeah, I’ve heard of ‘em. What did you pick up?”

“A sixty-five footer,” Collins said, now intently watching Henry for some kind of reaction.

“You bought a Swan 65? And you don’t know how to sail?”

“Oh, I can sail. Lasers, Hobie Cats, that stuff. I mean…I did once at summer camp…”

“Uh-huh.”

“So, you think you can handle a Swan?”

“Let’s see, is this an S&S version, or Frers, new or used?”

“New, the latest and greatest, the 651.”

“You gonna campaign it, or what?” Henry asked, now seriously entertaining the idea that his friend and the owner of this company was a total idiot.

“No, no. I just wanted something to watch fireworks from. You know, something that grabs peoples’ attention and keeps it.”

“Oh? Well, I reckon a 651 ought to do that reasonably well. I guess you’re talking about the fireworks on Lake Union, right?”

“Yeah, right.”

“So…you’re probably not thinking about taking it out on the Sound very much?”

“Man, I don’t know about that. Not yet, anyway. Say, have you done any racing?”

“A little.”

“Like what?”

“Five PORCs and three transpacs.”

“PORCs? What’s that?”

“Pacific Ocean Racing Conference. Races down the Pacific coast, like LA down to Mexico, things like that.”

“No shit? How many of those have you done?”

Taggart shrugged. “I don’t know. Thirty I guess, maybe a few more than that.”

“And three transpacs?”

“Yup.”

“So…you’re coming with me, right?”

“Yeah, I reckon I probably better, because if I don’t you’ll probably sink a reef or something. Anyone else coming?”

“Yeah, my dad.”

“Oh, I take it he’s a sailor?”

“Nope. Never been.”

“Uh-huh. What’s he do?”

“Retired air force, but he works for Boeing these days, in some kind of special projects division.”

+++++

The Swan was tied off at a broker’s dock near the airport, and Dean introduced Henry to General Rupert Collins in the broker’s office, before they went down to check out the boat. The Swan had been ordered by a banker from Hong Kong who wanted to keep it here in Vancouver, but the banker had vapor locked and dropped dead a month before delivery. The Swan had just been delivered, riding on the deck of a large ocean going freighter all the way from Finland, and Dean had negotiated a better than good price and now owned one of the best ocean racing sailboats in the world. That he wanted to use for watching fireworks on a lake in the middle of downtown Seattle, presumably so he could impress a few girls, or boys, or whatever it was that floated his boat. So to speak.

Henry and the General walked down to the dock admiring the gleaming navy blue hull as they approached her.

“Dean tells me you’ve done some sailing?”

“A little, yes. Mainly racing.”

“Didn’t that broker say this is a racing boat. Is that about the size of things?”

“Yessir. These are among the best, and by that I mean the toughest long distance racing boats in the world. Two of ‘em have won the Whitbread.”

“Whitbread? What’s that?”

“A round the world race. Lots of national teams with crews drawn from special forces.”

“You mean, like Rangers and SEALs?”

“British SAS is more to the point, but yeah. The race is grueling, and people die.”

“And these boats win?”

“Yessir.”

“And my boy wants to use this thing as a goddam party barge?”

“Yessir.”

“Isn’t there a race from around here to Hawaii?”

“Yessir, the Vic-Maui, and then there’s the Swiftsure Series.”

“What’s that, the Vic-Maui?”

“Victoria, BC to Lahaina, Maui. It’s a little longer than the LA-Diamond Head transpac and the routing is notoriously fickle because of shifting weather patterns, but I hear it’s a fun race.”

“Okay. What about this boat? Would it be competitive?”

“Uh, if you don’t mind me asking, sir, what are you driving at?”

“Well, to my mind this is kind of like buying a Kentucky Derby race horse and then using it to plow fields, and that ain’t gonna happen on my watch, Mr. Taggart. So my question to you is this? You want to help me campaign this tub, or do I go back up to that office and tell that suede-shoe hot-shot ‘no deal.’

“Sir? I thought this was supposed to be Dean’s boat.”

“Piffle. That boy ain’t earned a dime in his life. And by the way, this will end up being my purchase, just like that company you’re working for was my purchase. I’m just hoping that jackass doesn’t fuck things up again, and that maybe, just maybe he makes some money this time.”

“I see.”

“So? What’ll it be?”

+++++

Two days later. Tied off along the outer mole at the port in Friday Harbor, a de Havilland Beaver on floats idling nearby, probably getting ready to leave for Seattle, but who knew, right?

Dean shut-in down below in his ‘owners cabin’ – lost inside a never-ending pout. And because daddy had taken over everything to do with his new toy he’d decided the first thing he was going to do when he got back to Seattle was fire Taggart. 

The General and Henry were in town picking up an inflatable boat and an outboard, because it would be a pain to have to rely on marinas for overnight stops and inflatables were like station wagons for boats. You couldn’t have one without the other, Henry said – and by this point, after two days of Dean’s nonstop bullshit, when Henry spoke the General listened.

They picked up an Avon and a British Seagull motor and the store told them they’d deliver it dockside later that afternoon, so Henry and Rupert went off in search of breakfast because, naturally enough, there still wasn’t any real food on board. After Dean went off in search of groceries in Vancouver he returned with a few bags of potato chips and a case of Coke, so their trip south had been a quest to find restaurants with docks – and enough draft to accommodate the Swan’s deep racing keel. Hence…the inflatable boat had become an overnight priority.

“Henry, I don’t know what I’m going to do with that boy of mine…”

“He seems like a challenge.”

“You shoulda gone to work for State. Don’t you ever say what you feel?”

Henry shook his head. “It’s a nasty habit I’m trying to quit, sir.”

That was good for a chuckle. “So, this whole digital darkroom shit? Is there anything to it, or am I sinking his mother’s money in another bottomless pit?”

So Taggart had given the General a rundown on the transformation about to transform the photographic industry, and the role software would play in the shift. Henry had to backtrack more than once, too, and get Rupert up to speed on the whole special effects revolution shaking up the motion picture biz down in LA, but by the time he’d wrapped up his lecture the General was a fascinated convert.

“I’ve read your CV, by the way. What are you doing working for someone like my son?”

“He’s actually kind of a good kid, sir, he just never grew up and now he’s paying the price. People like him because he’s been easy to take advantage of, at least so far he has been…”

“And then you came along. Yeah, I saw that too.”

“Yeah? Well, when we were at Stanford I got to know him, and probably better than most people ever will. He’s actually kind of brilliant, but he’s a misfit too. Anyway, when I heard what he was running up against up here I wanted to get involved before he lost his shirt.”

“Why’s that?”

“Well, the reason was simple enough really. Greed. There’s going to be a shitload of money made in this area and I wouldn’t mind being in on the haul. The best way for me to do that right now is to see to it that Dean gets this thing off the ground and then running at full speed…”

“And then what, Henry?”

“In this biz the best thing that can happen to someone in Dean’s position is to build up your company and make the operation so attractive that one of the big fish just has to swim by and snap you up, buy you out…”

“And that’s your aim with Dean?”

“Kind of, sir. Like I said, I really don’t want to see him get hurt, but at the same time it’s a good opportunity for me. This is my area, and I have some ideas I want to work with. I have the freedom to do that where I am right now…then…who knows. I’d like to move back to LA at some point, but I’m not in a rush.”

They made it back to the Swan in time to meet the delivery crew, and after they got the Avon inflated and the motor mounted Henry took Dean and the General out for a spin around the little harbor. Dean was still pouting but the fresh air appeared to help some…

The next night they anchored out not far from Oak Harbor, and now fully provisioned Henry whipped up a spicy clam chowder and served it up in little bowls made from sourdough bread. After that Dean and the General retired for the evening, leaving Henry to clean up his mess and generally tidy up the deck before hitting the sack himself…

And a few hours later the General sat up in bed, confused. He’d heard splashing nearby and some other noises that just made no sense to him, so he got up and walked forward to fetch Henry…

…but Henry wasn’t in his cabin, so he went aft to his son’s…

…but no, Dean was asleep…then he heard more splashing…but coming from outside…

He went back to his cabin and dressed then went topsides, but Henry wasn’t out here either.

Then he heard more splashing, and laughter too. 

He turned and looked behind the boat and finally saw that Henry was out there – but he was surrounded by several killer whales – and when he realized that they all appeared to be playing with each other he stiffened a little, until he noticed the gathering of little gold spheres hovering about a hundred feet above the water…then he dashed below to grab his Nikon…where he ran into something even more outrageous.

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

Sorry, I just had to…

Come Alive (27.5)

Come alive image twilight lg

Chapter 27.5

((Maybe listen while you read?))

The Old Man cradled Clyde’s head in his hands and then looked into the old pup’s eyes. “Your pain will be at an end soon enough, old friend.” He put a finger on the forehead right between Clyde’s eyes, then he rubbed in small concentric circles… “Why don’t you take a rest now,” he added, as he gently rubbed the spot. Clyde put his head down and was soon snoring away.

“Who are you?” Henry asked, feeling a little paranoid.

“Oh, probably not who you think I am, Henry.”

“Well then, it’s certainly reassuring to know that you know what I’m thinking.”

Which made the Old Man laugh, but now he didn’t take his eyes off Taggart. “I have been watching you for a few months now, trying to come to an understanding of the relationship you have with the Others. Tell me about the one you call Pinky?”

“Go fuck yourself.”

And this only made the Old Man laugh harder, and this time he laughed so hard his eyes began to water, then he coughed a few times before he settled down again. 

“Are you human?” Taggart asked. “Because, frankly, I’ve never seen one of the Others laugh so hard they pissed their pants.”

The Old Man stopped laughing and looked down…

“Gotcha,” Taggart said, grinning.

And this time the Old Man did piss his pants.

+++++

“Yes, of course I’m human,” the Old Man said.

“But…”

“I know what Pinky told you, but I am not from another world…”

“Well hell, Paco, you sure ain’t from this one, so just what the hell you are?”

“You could think of me as a time traveler, sort of, but that wouldn’t really be accurate, either. But Henry…”

“…is not really interested, Old Man. So why don’t you just tell me where you’re from?”

“Originally?”

“Yes dammit, originally.”

“Oh, I grew up on a small farm. At least what you would have called a farm, but all that is unimportant now.”

“A farmer, huh? So, let me guess…you know your way around with a tractor, right?”

“A tractor?” the Old Man asked, clearly confused.

“So, you’re full of shit…and that’s okay, I get it. Yeah, well, so tell me, what do you want with me?”

“When the time comes I need you to trust me. I’ll need you to come with me, and to not ask any questions.”

“Man-oh-man, but you really are full of it…”

“Henry, it’s important or I wouldn’t ask, so until then you’ll just have to trust me.”

“Okay…but…tell me just one thing,” Henry sighed, grinning. “Why should I?”

The Old Man smiled. “Well, Clyde trusts me. Will that do?”

Henry shook his head. “No, sorry…but I don’t think that’s gonna cut it, Slick.”

The Old Man nodded and reached into an interior pocket and produced a leather wallet, then he pulled what looked like a hollow glass container – not quite the size and shape of a deck of cards – from inside the wallet, and this he handed to Taggart.

“What’s this?”

“A photograph. Hold it by the sides, and place your right thumb here,” the Old Man said, pointing to a spot on the side of the container.

Henry took the glass and held it as indicated; he felt the gentlest electric shock – more like a static discharge – when he placed his thumb on the side of the container, then a dazzling high resolution image appeared on the glass surface. He saw an older woman, a middle aged woman, and a young boy standing on a beach. “Okay. Nice family photo. What about it…?”

“Look close, Henry.”

Taggart looked at the old woman and his heart froze. She was in her late sixties, maybe even a little older, but it was Britt. He could see the nervous kindness in her eyes and she still had the same smile, and now he looked up at the Old Man with wonder in his eyes. “Is it…Britt?”

The Old Man nodded. “It is indeed, and the other woman is Britt’s daughter, the firstborn twin.”

Henry fought back an urge to cry. “And who’s the boy?”

“That would be Britt’s grandson, who just so happens to be, well, me.”

“What?” Henry said, though he’d heard everything his great-grandson just said.

“You can pinch to zoom in or out if you like, kind of like the original phones did.”

Henry pinched the image and he examined Britt’s face, then he zoomed in closer – until her eyes took up the entire display. It was her…no doubt about it…and now he didn’t know what to say.

“Zoom out if you want to see the farm.”

Henry zoomed out and wanted to scream when he saw the image. There was the sandy road, the white house in the distance – and overhead…the ringed blue planet – and then Henry’s hand began to shake.

The Old Man reached out and took the glass container and slipped it back in its protective wallet, then he put it back inside his loden cape.

Henry’s hands began twitching, then shaking violently, and the Old Man took Henry’s hand and examined the skin where he’d felt the static discharge – then it seemed to Henry that the Old Man smiled for a moment…just before he disappeared again…

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

The Eighty-eighth Key (58.5)

88th key cover image

Can quiet be consequential? Of course it can, when the music matters.

Chapter 58.5

Ida watched Todd and Lloyd while they worked together – side by side, you might say – and she saw the contours of a real working relationship developing. Lloyd, because he was still genuinely impressed by Todd Bright and all his billowing fame; and Todd, because Lloyd was a better musician than anyone he’d ever known, and he knew the kid had an immense future waiting just ahead. A future he wanted to be a part of, to watch unfold.

But something else was going on, too, she saw. Something Ida was powerless to stop.

Since the incident at the bridge Todd had stepped up and taken on a more positive role when he was around Lloyd, and the boy was soaking up all the attention. DD had even mentioned it to Ida, and while she readily acknowledged what was happening she had no workable solution to offer – other than to separate the two and hope for the best…

Yet Ida saw something else in this budding relationship, one that troubled her even more. 

When Todd spoke about Harry it was almost always a glowing diatribe of some sort or another, a reflection, Ida thought, of Todd’s growing infatuation with Harry Callahan. And yet when Todd first learned that Callahan was still, nominally, at least, a detective with the San Francisco PD, he’d been impressed and depressed at the same time. He grew deeply paranoid for a while, until he remembered that Harry was basically a cool cat, but then came the news of the ambush at the Golden Gate Bridge and Harry’s tenuous hold on life. And in that cascade of troubling events something changed within the musician.

He’d always been a polyamorous sort, though all his relationships had been, generally speaking, of the heterosexual variety. And while he’d never had homosexual, or even bisexual affairs, he’d found himself attracted to Callahan. Now, on finding that Callahan was some kind of legendary homicide cop and that he’d flown helicopters over in ‘Nam, he found his feelings for Harry intensifying. And these new feelings were as confusing as they were troublesome.

Because he’d never thought of himself as gay. He’d never been attracted to men, not in a physical sense, anyway. But there was a very real connection now, something he felt on a visceral level, and the feeling was as uncomfortable as it was undeniable. Maybe, Todd thought, I need a father, or a brother in my life now. Maybe this is what I’m feeling?

And now Lloyd was foundering. His real mother long dead, his de facto mother gone for just weeks now, and suddenly his father’s life was almost at an end. Todd had Ida drive them into the city, to the hospital, so Lloyd could see his dad – but that hadn’t gone as expected.

Lloyd had grown pale and started shaking violently when he first saw his father in that bed; hooked up to a ventilator as row upon row of blinking monitors kept track of Harry’s faltering grip on life, the boy had fallen to his knees and begun crying, until nurses were called and a physician summoned. Ida called DD and a few hours later she and the doc arrived, and everyone gathered around the boy and buoyed him up before the drive back out to the cliffs, yet Lloyd had sat and stared off into nothingness through the entire drive.

And then he didn’t speak for days.

But then he walked over to the studio one afternoon and, finding it empty, he began working on a song about what felt like the meaninglessness of life – his life. About despair and letting go. About falling and falling until there was nothing left beyond the emptiness he felt. No words. Just music in the darkness.

He started on an acoustic guitar, a Martin D-45S his father had locked away in a climate controlled storeroom, but he found the experience limiting. He went to the Yamaha and stared at the keys before he started, then he easily found only the most melancholy chords, and he began piecing together the chapters of the song he had found in his mind.

He looked up once and saw Todd sitting in shadows well away from the piano, staring at him.

“What are you doing here?” Lloyd asked. “I though you were headed back to Seattle.”

“Thought I’d stay here for a while. Do you mind? I mean, will it bother you if I do?”

Lloyd shook his head. “Do what you want, man. I don’t care.”

“What are you working on?”

“I have no idea,” the boy said.

“It’s powerful. I’ve never heard anything like it.”

Lloyd shrugged.

“It kind of feels like grief. Is that where you’re going with it?”

Again, Lloyd shrugged – but Todd came over and sat beside the boy. “Play that last section again, would you?”

And Lloyd did.

“Are you thinking instrumental, or could I work up some lyrics?”

“I haven’t thought this through that much, Todd. I got sick of staring at the ceiling, ya know? I’m just searching for phrases inside tones, trying to work out the puzzle.”

“We need to get this down on paper, Lloyd. We can’t lose this, whatever we do.”

And so they worked. For days. Then a week passed, and then another.

So when the foundering boy reached out for a life preserver his hands found a willing substitute for his father. And yet this substitute was dealing with unwanted feelings of his own, for the boy’s father, feelings that were certain to impact the boy when and if they became known.

Everything was inevitable now, every moment ahead scripted by actions unseen and unheard.

Until, it seemed, this new little world was destined to fall away in clouds of dust.

+++++

Deep in the coldest part of the morning paramedics came into Harry Callahan’s room and loaded him onto a gurney. Everything hurt as they lifted his sheets and moved him across, his right arm most of all, yet most concerning to Callahan – suddenly his legs felt like they were on fire. Even so, Callahan felt real concern…for another, less apparent reason. The department was paying the bills, he had just been told, and someone downtown had decided it was time to move Callahan to a rehab hospital, one supposedly dedicated to advanced orthopedic care and better able to handle Callahan’s more problematic injuries. The trouble, Callahan knew, was that not one of his physicians or nurses had been advised of the move until a few hours before these paramedics arrived, and while it appeared that department bean counters had taken over his care, the first thing that popped into Callahan’s mind was more paranoid.

No…this smacked of a hastily planned attempt to take him out, to finish the job the snipers at the bridge had started. And he had no way of communicating with anyone…not a soul…and that was the most nerve-wracking realization of the whole thing.

Rolling down the long corridor to the elevator, the jerking ride down to the ground level, then being pushed through the emergency room to a waiting ambulance. A private ambulance, he saw, not a fire department ambulance – and that was odd.

His gurney was lifted into the box, then the rear doors slammed shut and were locked – and a moment later he felt the truck ease out into traffic, probably making for the Bayshore…

But from there?

Where?

+++++

DD and the doc put Lloyd to bed, then Ida and Didi began packing Lloyd’s clothing, then they moved to Harry’s room and did the same, while the doc went to the piano and looked out over the patio where they’d all spent so many evenings together. He looked down on the stone terrace and wanted to weep, if only because Callahan had done nothing to deserve losing all he’d built.

“Never again,” he sighed. “This is the end of an era. A changing of the guard. What comes next for him – and that poor kid?”

Three sedans arrived a little before midnight and Lloyd was carried out to one of the cars, his head resting on Ida’s lap during the drive back into the city.

+++++

Callahan relaxed when he saw the ambulance turning into the air cargo facilities at SFO, but no Jetstar waited on the ramps this time. A mechanized cargo loader lifted Callahan’s gurney into what looked like an old El Al 707-320c, only this particular unit had the QC mod, the so-called Quick Change modification that allowed for rapid conversion between passenger and freighter configurations. Once aboard, Callahan was transferred to a more substantial gurney and strapped down for the flight, but at least his head was level with the windows so he could see outside…

And a few minutes later the rest of his so-called family arrived…

A sleepy-eyed Lloyd came up the air stairs and did a double take when he saw his father already there, and Ida followed a moment later, carrying a couple of small, but apparently very heavy bags as she huffed up the stairs and into the cabin. DD and the doc followed, and then Callahan saw another series of cars pull up on the ramp below, followed by a half dozen FBI agents, each with a gun drawn, that came running up the stairs.

+++++

Yet the agents turned and watched traffic down on the ramp, their pistols fanning outward.

Until another sedan approached.

Didi and Colonel Goodman got out of this car and walked up the air stairs, and the aircraft’s flight engineer closed the door and armed the escape slide before he went into the cockpit. The engines began spooling up and the Mossad agents stripped off their FBI windbreakers and walked aft to take their seats. A minute later the 707 taxied to the runway and took off, heading for Toronto.

+++++

“Dad? What’s going on?” Lloyd asked his father about an hour later.

Harry was in extreme pain and the morphine was barely cutting it now; his skin was waxy and pale and the nausea was coming back again. A medic of some kind was standing over him again, injecting something into his IV, then wiping his forehead with a cool washcloth.

Then Didi was standing by Lloyd and Harry looked at her. “Maybe you’d better have a little talk with my boy now. I’m not sure I can just yet.”

+++++

“What do you mean I’m not going to be an American anymore?” Lloyd cried. “What if I don’t want to live in Switzerland?”

“In that case,” Colonel Goodman sighed, “you’d be most welcome in Israel.”

“Israel?” the boy muttered, his eyes full of questions.

“Yes,” the colonel added, “but tonight is not a good night to think of such things. First we get you back to the house in Davos, and do you know what? I hear there is still snow on the mountains there, so perhaps we can go skiing once we get you settled? How would you like that?”

“My music!” Lloyd shouted angrily. “What about my music?”

Didi fielded this question: “We are building a new studio at the house, but this one will be even better. And guess who’s coming in two weeks?”

“Todd? Is Todd coming?”

And when Didi nodded the boy flew into her arms.

The colonel watched the story in her eyes unfold, and then and there he knew any sort of happy ending would prove elusive. ‘The boy has asked not a single question about his father. Not one,’ he thought as he scowled at the reflections he saw in the aircraft’s window. ‘What would I do with such a creature? Spare the rod and spoil the child?’

Harry woke briefly when the old Boeing touched down in Toronto to refuel, but by the time they took off for Zurich he was already asleep again.

© 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 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 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 (27.4)

Come Alive image 3

Images…ghosts…what matters most? Music, perhaps?

Chapter 27.4

Five dark gray Land Rovers waited in the shadows beside a hanger at Le Bourget’s Jetex Flight Support Center, monitoring air traffic control and tower communications on their radios. The teams gathered there were watching, and waiting, for a Beech Baron inbound from Bergen via Köln. When the Baron radioed and checked in with Approach Control, Captain Mike Lacy made a hand signal and all the drivers started their engines, while team members in the rear of each Rover readied their weapons.

Lacy went over the plan again over his COMMs circuit: wait for the aircraft to taxi in and cut engines, then move in and cut off the exits with two units while the remaining team members surrounded the Baron. Take all the occupants into custody then move them to HQ Military Intelligence, and from there to interrogation centers around Europe. Simple. Quick and clean, and as the airport was almost entirely closed these days there was little reason to suspect witnesses might call the media with any concerning reports.

“Baron 23Bravo, RNAV approach for Runway 07 approved. Wind 09 degrees at 10, gusts to 15, altimeter 29.91, visibility one mile and we have a lite rain falling, contact tower 119.3.”

“23Bravo, RNAV 07 and nineteen point three.”

“Is that her voice?” one of the French policemen asked.

“Hard to tell,” Lacy replied. “I think so…”

“23Bravo, we have the localizer.”

“23 received, clear to land.”

“23 clear to land.”

Lacy brought a pair of Steiner binoculars to his eyes and scanned the skies west of the airport – until he spotted landing lights coming out of the clouds. “Okay,” he said. “Got ‘em.”

The Baron landed without incident and began the long taxi to the Jetex facility, Lacy not taking his eyes off the aircraft as it turned into the ramp area. When he heard the engines shutting down he shouted “Move!” into his hand radio and all five Rovers started for the Baron.

After Lacy’s teams surrounded the Beechcraft, men in black fatigues carrying assault rifles approached the little airplane, shouting instructions to the occupants…

“Get out of the aircraft! Keep your hands where we can see them!”

The door over the right wing opened and a female exited the aircraft; she seemed genuinely confused and more than a little upset as she walked down and jumped off the trailing edge of the wing.

“Everyone else! Out! Now!” one of the policemen shouted.

“There’s no one else on board,” the pilot said, trying not to smile and give up the game too soon.

“What?” Lacy screamed. “Where are they? What did you do with them?”

+++++

An old Mitsubishi MU-2G – U.S. registered and owned by a tech company in Seattle – landed at the Aérodrome de Toussus-le-Noble a few minutes after the Baron touched-down at Le Bourget. Anton and Sophie led Rolf and Dina to a waiting car, a new E-class Mercedes, for the ride to their first planned ‘safe house’ – a hotel suite near Orly airport. They would stay there until Tracy sent the ‘all clear’ signal, and then the group would move to a hotel right by the marina.

Henry was going on the assumption that Mike and the people from McLean were going to interfere with his Christmas plans, yet he still couldn’t figure out why they’d try again – beyond simple spite. It just made no sense…not now, when the game was played. Obviously they’d long-since figured out the files taken from his laptop were bogus dead-end traps that sent them off to a bunch of Thai lady-boy sites, and while he’d have loved to see the expressions on their faces when they realized they’d been had, he’d had to assume that they were now genuinely pissed off at him. Pissed off and ready for some real-time payback.

So Henry was sitting in the cockpit at midnight when Lacy and a handful of goons from Central Casting came through the marina gates. There was no pussy-footing around this time, either; no, they walked straight to the rear of the boat and were getting ready to jump across when Henry flipped a switch and turned on all the courtesy lights on the platform.

Lacy knew the way and led his men up and into the cockpit – where they shuddered to a stop…

“What the fuck is that?” Lacy asked, pointing to the shimmering translucent orb hovering beside Henry. One of the goons drew a Sig and pointed it at the orb.

“I wouldn’t do that,” Henry said. “This one is kind of unpredictable.”

“This one what, Taggart?”

“Mike, honestly, I have no idea. It showed up a few days ago and now it never really seems to be too far away.”

“It’s not Winky, or one of…”

“Pinky says it’s not. In fact, she told me these pricks are mean as hell…”

“And you’ve got one sitting on you now?”

“Seems that way. So, I take it your friends in Virginia weren’t properly amused?”

“You could say that, yeah. By the way, you’re looking pretty damn good for someone about to kick the bucket.”

Henry held up his arm and showed off Pinky’s magic tape. “A gift. To fight off something these idiots did to me and the pup.”

“Did? What did they do to you?”

“Some kind of genetic attack. This thing is Pinky’s remedy. I feel pretty good, too.”

Lacy nodded. “Okay, so where are Anton and Dina?”

“Safe.”

Lacy shook his head. “No, they’re not, and I wish you hadn’t interfered tonight. We were trying to protect them…”

Henry smiled. “Try again, sport.”

Lacy frowned. “Look, there’s a group in Switzerland trying to get at them…”

“Okay. If you say so.”

“Henry, you’ve got to give me something.”

“Or else they’re going to have your head on a pike, right?”

“Something like that,” Lacy said, looking down and slowly shaking his head.

“Leave us alone til the 26th and I’ll see what I can do.”

Mike looked at Taggart, trying to get a read on the offer, then he nodded. “Okay. We’ll lay off for four more days, then you’re going to give me what I need. Is that the offer, Henry?”

“I’ll let your team have enough information to find a solution.”

Mike leaned forward and offered his right hand, and Henry took it. “You’re welcome to drop by on Christmas morning if you like, Mike,” Henry added.

Mike nodded. “I’ll think about it.”

“Rolf would like it, I think you know.”

There came a faraway look in Lacy’s eyes, and then the faintest hint of a smile. “Yeah. I’d like that, too.”

“Well, we’ll set a place for you. Come by around ten. We’re going to open presents then.”

“Presents?”

“Yes, presents.”

“Should I bring something?”

“Hey, Mike…it’s Christmas. Ya do what you got to do.”

The companionway hatch slid open and Tracy came up carrying four glasses of cognac on a tray. She placed this on the cockpit table then went back down the steps and disappeared.

The two goons put down their carbines and took a snifter, and Mike handed Henry one before raising his glass. “Well,” Mike said, “Merry Christmas, Henry.”

“Merry Christmas, Mike.”

The translucent orb shimmered brightly then blinked out of existence – again.

“And you really have no idea…”

“None. Seems to be harmless enough, so far at least.”

“But isn’t this the one that did the genetic attack?”

“It is.”

“That doesn’t really strike me as harmless, Henry.”

Taggart smiled. “Things are seldom what they seem these days, Mike.”

+++++

He watched the men walk out the marina gates then knocked on the companionway hatch. Tracy and Clyde came up a moment later and Henry hooked up the leash and took the pup out for a strafing run, then they retired to his cabin. Tracy went to Karma to talk with her mother so Henry showered and then slipped under the covers…hoping she wouldn’t be too long.

…and then the orb reappeared…

It shimmered once again, brightly this time, and in the next instant the Old Man in the Cape was standing at the foot of his bed. Clyde looked up, his tail started brushing the blanket covering the bed and he seemed to smile – then the Old Man sat on the edge of the bed and Clyde came to him…

“Hello again, old friend,” the Old Man said to the dog. “You’re looking well enough this evening.” Clyde licked the Old Man’s hand, then the Old Man rubbed the top of Clyde’s head – and Henry recognized the bond. “He was always such a good friend,” the Old Man said to Henry. “I was gratified to learn you had taken such good care of him.”

“Gratified?”

“Yes.”

“So you attack us both with some kind of genetic…”

“Is that what they told you?”

“What do you mean?” Henry said, surprised.

“That was no attack, Henry. It was preparation. For what comes next.”

“Preparation? Next?”

“Yes, Henry. For your death.”

© 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 (27.3)

Another short walk today, a few chance encounters along the way to think about music matters.

Chapter 27.3

“Schwarzwald?” Taggart whispered, but then he looked up at Edith again. “Quantum mechanics? Yeah, I had her for Quantum Mechanics, and I remember she was into QTT – in a big way. She was a weird one, too, but I don’t think I had any idea she was into music.”

“QTT?

“Hmm? Oh, yeah, quantum time travel. She was always coming up with weird stuff about that crap.”

“I see. So you heard the music somewhere else, but even so it’s strange you’d be playing that music in your mind.”

“Strange? How so?”

“The subject matter, I suppose. The work is supposed to be about her experiences in the Theresienstadt ghetto during the war…”

“Ghetto? I thought it was a concentration camp?”

Edith nodded. “I suppose it was, but anyway, her music grates on my nerves. I heard it up at the Hollywood Bowl years ago, right after von Karajan released his retrospective of her works.”

Taggart pulled up the music app on his phone and found the von Karajan set and downloaded it – just as another image popped up in Messages. Anton had moved into one of the Baron’s rear seats, allowing Rolf to sit right seat while Sophie handled the flying chores solo, and Henry watched a short video clip of their takeoff, with Rolf’s hands on the yoke – following through on Sophie’s movements – and Henry could see the interest in the boy’s excited movements and he smiled.

“Sounds like an airplane,” Edith said as she watched him watching Anton’s video.

“Anton and Rolf. They’re leaving Norway now.”

“So…six hours ’til they get back?”

“Thereabouts, yeah. They’re taking a longer route to stay over land, so they’ll need to refuel again. But the plane needs to be back by midnight, one way or another.”

“Oh? Why’s that? Don’t tell me…it turns into a pumpkin…?”

He smiled.“Not quite. Some local air freight operation uses it a few nights a week, something like that. Anton is building up hours with them, too, so I guess he needs to stay on good terms with them.”

That kind of talk bored Edith quickly, and he could tell she was going to change subjects and he grinned. ‘Some things never change,’ he sighed.

“Your skin looks better today, Henry.”

“Yeah, the platelets must’ve kicked in. As a matter of fact I feel pretty good, too.”

“Can I get you something to eat? Some tea, perhaps?”

He looked at his watch and shook his head. “Let’s wait ’til Tracy gets back; maybe we can head out and grab a PBJ somewhere…”

Edith shook her head. “Only you would come to Paris and get worked up over a peanut butter sandwich…”

+++++

They helped him out to the salon and when he saw a little Christmas tree on the chart table he stopped and smiled. “Nice job,” he said as he nodded his approval to Edith. “Looks like we need more presents under there, or Christmas morning could be a bust.”

“You want to hang stockings too, Henry?” Edith said, grinning.

“Sure, why not. Think you could handle that?”

“I bet I could.”

He looked at his watch again, mindful of Rolf and Dina’s arrival, then to Tracy. “Where to?”

“How ‘bout the Irish place again?”

He nodded. “And maybe I can hold down my food tonight. Anyway, it’s worth a try…”

“Maybe,” Edith snarled, “we could talk about something other than flying saucers!”

“That sounds like a plan,” Tracy added.

“Speaking of,” Edith crabbed as she started up the companionway. “Anyone heard from that Navy jackass?”

“Mike? No, I haven’t,” Henry said as he started up behind Edith, and when he got to the cockpit he helped Clyde up the last few steps then leashed him up. “You feel up to this, buddy?”

His tail wagged and he ‘woofed’ once, so that was that.

“You gonna try some snails tonight?” Henry added as they walked off the boat.

That was good for a barely detectable grade-A fart.

“Right. A simple no would have done it.”

It was a little after three in the afternoon and the sky was gray, the clouds low and thick, and  sunset was only about an hour away – yet the little park around the marina looked different now. Almost sinister, and when he saw the hair on Clyde’s neck standing on end a shiver ran down Henry’s spine.

“Does something feel – different – to any of you,” Tracy asked, looking up through the trees at low-scudding clouds and bare limbs dancing on a stiffening breeze, “or is it just me?”

Clyde growled, deep and low, and his chest stiffened as he positioned himself protectively in front of the women. Henry remembered Clyde had the same tape around his arm and immediately understood, but even so Clyde’s reaction was as priceless as it was troubling.

“I feel it too,” Edith whispered. 

“Do you think we should go back to the boat?” Tracy asked, now looking at Clyde.

Henry shook his head. “Come on, y’all…it ain’t Halloween so let’s get a move on.”

A light snow started to fall, then thunder rolled over the city.

And then it hit him. 

“Do you hear any cars out there?” Henry asked Tracy, and then they stopped and looked at one another.

“No, I don’t.”

She took his hand and they walked to the marina gates and all the while the snow started coming down harder and harder, so no one noticed the completely translucent sphere following them up there among the treetops.

And yet there was already enough snow on the old cobbles to deaden the sound, and with traffic not yet fully back to normal it was enough to provide another layer of strangeness to this evening’s elusive feel. Henry hailed a taxi and they rode to the pub in silence, the snow melting on their clothes in the heated Mercedes – yet even that felt odd.

There was something comforting about the old pub, however. Ancient and comforting.

The ceiling really did look as though it had been crafted of heavy timbers hundreds of years ago, and even the stone walls seemed to possess a kind of quiet nobility in their resolute strength. But, he realized, this was a sacred space for reasons far more personal. This was where he and his parents had always come on their first night in Paris, so he halfway expected them to materialize out of the stonework and join them for a pint.

But no, he sighed, that’s not the way the world works.

Then an invisible sphere slipped through the stone and settled near the ceiling between two ancient beams, the translucent eye within focused on Henry’s table.

+++++

They had just finished their first course when Captain Lacy walked in. With two decidedly unfriendly looking types by his side. They went to the bar and ordered beer, leaving Henry to wonder – once again – what Mike really wanted from him.

Yet…a few minutes later Lacy and his entourage walked back out into the snow.

“Now that was odd,” Edith said as she watched the door close behind the men.

“No, not really. He was just sending a little message our way.”

“A message?” Tracy asked.

“Yeah. My guess is he’s on his way to Le Bourget – to intercept Anton and throw a wrench into some of our best laid plans.”

“He wouldn’t dare,” Edith hissed.

“Oh yes, he would. As a matter of fact, Edith, I’m counting on it.”

“What?” Tracy sighed. “Oh no, Henry, what have you done now?”

Henry finished his last snail – Clyde looking his way with barely concealed contempt, which Henry felt odd…considering some of the things the pup did to himself. “Could you hand me the bread please. I want to soak up some of this garlic…”

“Hank?”

“Yeah, babe…”

“They say when you look at someone for the first time, within maybe a second or so you can tell a lot about a person, maybe even everything important. Whether they’re a good person, for instance, or maybe a bad one.”

“Okay? And your point is…?”

“When you looked at that guy, Mike, what went through your mind?”

“Well, things were a little weird that day, Tracy, but he seemed like a decent guy. Competent, and decent.”

“And now?”

“I think he believes in what he’s doing.”

“So…still a decent guy? Interesting.”

“Interesting?”

“Yeah, because…you know…doesn’t that kind of make you the bad guy in this equation?”

“He might think so.”

“But…what about you? You don’t?”

“Me? I’ve been going round and round, Tracy, caught up in something with no way to get off the ride.”

“And did he put you there? Stuck on the ride, I mean?”

“No, not exactly him. But Tracy, there are a lot of Mikes out there, and a lot of ‘em are convinced they know right from wrong.”

“Is that why you left?” Edith said.

“Left? What do you mean?”

“The states, your home, California,” Edith added.

“No, not at all. I wanted to make this trip. Here, to Paris. I always kinda thought that was what dad wanted to do, the two of us, together.”

“So…why not with…someone like me. A wife, someone important to you?”

Henry looked away, then he looked up at the ceiling. At a shimmer hiding within a shadow, and quickly he turned away, tried to compose himself. “What did you say?”

“Why did you head out alone?” Edith repeated.

“Oh, I don’t know really. Maybe somewhere along the way I stopped trusting people, and the more people I met the more people I distrusted.”

“So,” a suddenly very subdued Tracy asked – while still managing to look him in the eye, “what’s changed?”

“Nothing,” Taggart said. “And everything.”

Then Clyde looked up at the ceiling and started to growl.

+++++

There was about a foot of snow out on the sidewalk in front of the pub and the streets were now just about deserted. It was, he know, a long walk back to the marina – too long. And Edith was, of course, wearing her goddam five inch spikes. He looked down the street and saw a taxi pulling away from the George V and brought his fingers to his mouth and let loose an ear shattering whistle…

“Jesus H Christ, Henry!” Edith screeched. “You still do that louder than anyone on earth…”

Seconds later the taxi pulled up to the curb and the driver rolled down his window. “Où veux-tu aller?”

“The marina at the Bastille.”

“Too close. You can walk.”

Henry fished out his wallet, pulled out a banknote and handed it to the driver – who jumped out from behind the wheel and ran around to open the door for Edith. Henry settled in the front seat beside the driver and looked out the window, somewhat ashamed of his fellow man but not at all surprised.

“That reminded me of your father, Henry,” Edith said as she climbed out of the back seat after they reached the marina gates. “He’d have been proud of you.”

Henry smiled as he hooked up Clyde’s leash. “Somehow I doubt that. I think he’d have beat that man senseless.”

“Not your father. He was a gentleman.”

“He could be, but I feel certain you’d have changed your tune had you seen him in action down in Mexico.”

Clyde barked twice and pulled at his leash, so Henry took off after him and they bounded into the little park together…yet about halfway to his favorite bush Clyde shuddered to a stop and began growling again.

And this time Henry had no problem seeing the trouble. A man was standing beyond the gates,  positioned to watch them arrive, and even now he remained in the shadows – watching Henry.

Henry changed directions and started for the Seine; Clyde readily came along, his tail hanging low – yet when Henry and Clyde made it to the part of the marina nearest the entry from the Seine he was shocked to find the man standing beside a tree just ahead.

An Old Man in a Cape stepped into the walkway, blocking the way ahead, and Henry’s eye was drawn to the cane in the man’s hand. Varnished wood with silver filigree running the length of the cane, and Henry thought the glinting silver looked a little like lightning.

“It is a dangerous night to be out,” the Old Man said, his voice gentle, almost kindly. “Why do so many people follow you?”

“Oh? Who’s following me?”

The Old Man shrugged. “I have no idea. Are you saying you don’t either?”

Clyde was following both men now with his eyes, his tail wagging from time to time, then the Old Man stepped close and bent to rub Clyde’s head.

“Hello, old friend,” the Old Man began. “I told you we would see each other again soon.”

Clyde barked once then licked the Old Man’s hand.

Henry felt the universe shift underfoot: “Wait a second…you know this dog?”

“Of course I do, Henry. We decided on Bergen, because, well, you seemed so lonely at the time.”

“What…?”

“You should go below now,” the Old Man added. “The weather is about to get truly awful…”

And with that the Old Man tapped his cane on the pavement and deep thunder rolled over the city, then he pointed his cane at a cloud and lightning arced into the Seine – sending a column of hissing steam high into the air above the river.

But when Henry recovered he turned back to the man and found he was nowhere to be seen; Clyde was, however, looking up at him now, a kind, almost sympathetic look in his eyes.

“So…you were in on this too?” Henry asked. “I have to tell you, I didn’t see that one coming…”

Clyde came over and stood on hind legs and Henry bent over to meet him; when the pup’s hands were on his shoulders Henry lifted him up and Clyde rested his face on Henry’s shoulder, and he carried his old friend back to Time Bandits, rubbing his head all the way…

© 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 oh, here’s another little piece to consider.

Come Alive (27.2)

Short and to the point. Are you sitting comfortably

Chapter 27.2

Henry felt his phone vibrate on his lap and picked it up; he looked at the text and read through it quickly, then looked up at Tracy. “Take my credit card, see what you can find for him. You know, something he’ll remember twenty years from now. And maybe a scarf from Hermes for your mother.”

“Really? Mom?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, there’s a Bulgari Store over by the Arc, but Hank, are you really sure you want me to do this?”

Henry crossed his arms over his lap and sighed. “Take a taxi, Tracy, and stay off the Metro, for god’s sake. And call me if you have any questions.”

“Okay. I’ll be gone a while, so…”

“And I’ll be here when you get back.”

She smiled and left him looking at his phone again. It was from Rolf; he and Dina were at the airport in Bergen waiting at the general aviation terminal by the heliport. “Do you know when Anton will get here?” read Rolf’s latest and more than nervous text.

“Should be in the next half hour or so,” he replied, then he went into contacts and found the information for the team’s old Beta site and called Dr. Collins again.

“Henry, that you already?”

“Yessir.”

“Had a visitor yet?”

“Come and gone, sir. And thank you. They’ve been hard to reach lately.”

“Yeah, well, they’re pulling out faster than a Texan down in Boy’s Town. Can’t say I blame ‘em, really.”

“Understood, sir.”

“If you’re around Christmas morning, give me a call. If not, I’ll see you when I see you.”

Henry sighed and his eyes watered a little. “Yessir. Goodbye.”

“Goodbye, Henry.”

He put the phone down just as a new text chirped, so he picked it up and looked at the screen again. Anton had written: “Enter pattern, have 5 Bars, on ground ten minutes.”

“Got it,” he replied, and then he sent the information on to Rolf – who instantly shot back a happy face emoji.

“What a world this has turned into,” he said to himself – just as Edith popped her head in the door to his stateroom. “So, there she is, Miss America,” Henry crooned.

And she smiled this time. “She reminds you of Claire, doesn’t she?”

He shook his head. “No, not really. You’ll always have that market cornered, Edith.”

“But…you love her, don’t you?”

“You could say that.”

“She told me everything, you know. About that company in McLean, all of it.”

Henry nodded. “She told me. Yesterday.”

“So you two cleared the air?”

“Yes, I think so. Well, I hope so, anyway.”

Edith came in and sat on the edge of his bed, then she took a deep breath. “That’s why I came, you know? I wanted to make sure she wasn’t going to do anything that could really hurt you.”

“I figured that might have something to do with it. Your heart was always in the right place, Edith.”

“But, yes, I know, sometimes my head wasn’t.”

“Maybe so,” he sighed.

“If I ask you an important question will you give me a straight answer?”

He grinned. “Don’t take roundings on me, Edith. Just say what you came to say.”

“Okay,” she said as she turned away for a moment. “One thing has bothered me, Henry, but I need to know…”

“Did I ever really love you?”

“Yes.”

“Of course I did, Edith. How could I not? You saved my life – once upon a time – and none of this could have happened without you and me and the time we had.”

“So…why Tracy?”

He’d known this question was coming and he still wasn’t sure how to answer it…so he just dove in and said what he needed to say: “Let’s just call it a gift, Edith, and let it go at that.”

“Let it go,” she whispered. “I never really thought things between us could be so easy.”

“Oh? You know, for a year or so I thought everything came pretty easy between us.”

“There isn’t a day goes by, Henry, when I don’t think of all that.”

“What’s your favorite memory?” he asked.

“You and me and that week up at Snowbird. The Cliff Lodge, skiing Chip’s Run off the gondola.”

“The roast goose in the restaurant. Looking out that wall of glass at the falling snow – and that amazing dinner.”

“That lingonberry sauce?” she added. “You remember that too, don’t you?”

“How could anyone forget?” he smiled. “But…you were perfect.”

“We were perfect, Henry.”

He nodded. “Yes, maybe we were.” While it lasted, he didn’t need to say. “Funny. I wanted it to last forever.”

“I was a fool,” she said, looking away.

“We are what we are, Edith. We can’t fight it – no one can.”

“What? Being manipulative and a scheming backstabber?”

He smiled. “Thanks for not making me say that.”

“Everyone knew that about me, Henry, even then. Everyone but you, that is.”

“Maybe because I put you up on the same pedestal I’d put Claire on.”

“And I loved it up there. You made me feel like…oh, I don’t know, like royalty, like some kind of princess no one but you could have.”

“Me. The dumb jock. The linebacker…”

“I used to love watching you play, Henry. You owned that field.”

“I weighed a hundred and twelve pounds yesterday, Edith.”

“I know. Thank you for letting me stay.”

His phone chirped and an image of Anton and Rolf standing on the wing of a Beech Baron as a light snow fell on the airport in Bergen filled his screen. “Hey, look at you!” he wrote.

“This is SO AWESOME!” Rolf replied. “Thanks!”

“Enjoy the flight!”

“Is that Anton?” Edith asked, looking at Henry as he entered another text.

“Yes, they made it. Only an hour late, too.”

“Tell me about Dina?”

“She was my oncologist in Norway, and she was also a more than competent sailor.”

“Then – a match made in heaven?”

“No, not really. A marriage of inconvenience more than anything else.”

“Really? And are you sure she doesn’t still love you?”

“Dina? She hates my guts, Edith. You’ll see,” he said, then he started humming again…

“Why would you say that?”

“Because I bring out the worst in some people, Edith. And Dina is one of them.”

“I’ll believe that when I see it. And why do you keep humming that dreadful piece of music?”

He shook his head. “Man, I don’t know. I keep hearing the same thing over and over again, and I can’t remember where I’ve heard it.”

“Such a depressing piece. I can’t believe you’d remember that one, of all the music out there.”

“Do you know what it is?”

“Of course I do. You mean…you don’t?”

“No, I have no idea. Tell me, please.”

“It’s called the Theresienstadt Concerto, or Schwarzwald’s Third Piano Concerto. She was a Dane, I think. Imogen Schwarzwald, I seem to recall. She was a physicist and taught at Berkeley about the same time you were there. Funny you haven’t made the connection…”

© 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 (27.1)

Come alive nav stat im small

A few more words to soothe the savage beast.

Chapter 27.1

Henry was sitting up on his berth, resting on a pile of pillows behind his back and neck and trying to ignore his iPhone. New text messages were coming in left and right and he knew he should read them all – but while a few were supportive more than one had been annoying. Friends from high school, a roommate from college, people he’d worked with…somehow word had slipped out that he was on the way out and people he hadn’t heard from in years suddenly had his email and text addresses.

Then an email came in from an address he wasn’t expecting, one he hadn’t seen in years, the ex-head of the team he had consulted for at Boeing: “Henry? Can you give me a call?”

No number, no other identifier, so Dr. Collins must be using the same number he’d always used. He went into Contacts and found the listing, then hit send.

“Henry? That you?”

“Yessir. What can I do for you today?”

“What the hell is S.V. Time Bandits?”

“Sir?”

“That’s what came up on my screen. I mean really, Henry…Time Bandits?”

“The name of my boat, Dr. Collins.”

“So, you steal the name of my favorite movie and use it for your boat? That figures.”

“I thought you’d like it.”

“Didn’t your dad have a boat with a name like that?”

“Yessir. Just Bandit, though.”

“Oh yeah, I remember. He was a stock broker, wasn’t he?”

“No sir. Lawyer.”

“Piffle…that’s almost as bad. Your mother was a physician though, if I recall correctly.”

“Yessir.”

“Well, that must be where you got your brains.”

“You’re probably right about that, sir.”

“Henry, I heard some troubling news last night. You aren’t doing well, I understand.”

“I’ve been better, sir.”

“I can imagine. I’ve also heard some weenie waggers from the Naval War College are after you. That true?”

“Yessir, but they’re pretty harmless, really. At least so far.”

“I just need to know, Henry. You haven’t told anyone, right?”

“No sir. I’ve left all kinds of decoys out there, but nothing substantive.”

“So we don’t have anything to worry about on our end?”

“Just one thing, sir. I had a visitor a couple of nights ago. A sphere, but not from the Hyperion Group.”

“Describe it.”

“About a foot in diameter, translucent and reflective at the same time, and with some kind of electrical activity just visible inside.”

“What about an eye? See anything like that?”

“Sir? You know about this one?”

“I take it that means yes.”

“Yessir. And they seem to have the ability…”

“To index our brains. Access our memories. That was our impression, too.”

“What about Dink? What does he know about them?”

“Vicious. That’s how he described them.”

“Great. Lockheed did that one, right? So, anyone know why they’re picking on me?”

“We’re not sure.”

“Would you like me to call if they show up again?”

“No, we’ve got that covered now. You just take care, Henry. Oh, mine is in the pancreas, so I’ll be seeing you soon enough.”

“Sorry to hear that, sir. And before I forget, and I think they drew blood while they were here.”

“What? Are you sure?”

“Pretty sure, yes. Both me and my dog. The puncture was pretty crude and both are showing signs of infection.” 

He heard the old man breathing hard, then talking to someone in the background, then: “Henry, call me in an hour at the Beta number.”

“Yessir,” Taggart said, but by then the line had already gone dead.

“What was that all about?” Tracy said, coming into his stateroom and carrying a cup of tea.

“Another condolence call.”

“Ah. Have you heard anything from Anton?” she asked as she passed over the cup.

“They had to sit out some weather in Copenhagen. Heavy ice over southern Norway, but they’re up again and due to arrive at Bergen in about an hour.”

“How’s the tea?”

“Is that the cardamom?”

“Yup.”

“Man, I love this stuff.”

She smiled. “You want to try to eat something today?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Mom wants to put up a Christmas tree…”

“Of course she does.”

“On the foredeck.”

“No, that’s not gonna happen. A little one will fit on the chart table, just make sure she doesn’t scratch the wood with some kind of bullshit stand.”

She nodded. “Okay. Now the big question…what do you want for Christmas?”

He chuckled at that. “Oh, right,” he grinned, “well, let me think. Actually, I’ve been a pretty bad boy this year so maybe you ought to bring me a few lumps of coal…”

She laughed. “Ya know, I just knew you were going to ask for a Bulgari chronograph.”

“And my guess is Anton planted that seed, right?”

“How’d you know?”

“Russians have a thing for Bulgari. Maybe you’d better run out and see if there’s one around here. That would blow his mind.”

“Seriously?”

“Why not? I ain’t taking any of it with me, Tracy, and seeing the look in his eyes will be worth the price of admission.”

“You’re a lunatic, Hank.”

“Thanks. I do try.”

“I suppose you have stuff for everyone else?”

He nodded – and a split second later a pink sphere winked into existence over his bed…

Tracy screamed and jumped away from the orb.

“It’s okay, Tracy, I know this one.”

“That’s what you said last time…”

“Would you, uh, close the door on your way out?”

“What?”

“This is going to be personal, kiddo.”

Tracy seemed a little offended, but she backed out of his stateroom, closing the door as she went, and as soon as the latch clicked Pinky materialized on the bed. She reached out and rubbed Clyde’s head, but her eyes never left his.

“Let me see the wound,” she said, and he held out his arm. The area just around the puncture was bright red now and raised a little, and after she felt his skin she produced a little bag and took out some tape and wrapped it around the area. “Where is the one on Clyde?”

Henry felt for it then held it out for her to examine. “Right here,” he added.

She taped that wound, too. “It will take several hours for this to work, but you will feel very good for several days before the effect wears off.”

He nodded. “How’s the doc?”

She shook her head. “Not well, but he is still, what do you call it? Sharp? As a tack?”

“Yup. This other group? Are they going to cause any problems?”

“Not for you, Henry.”

“But the rest of the group?”

“You are the first they have tried to hurt. I doubt you will be the last.”

“What was it?” Henry asked, looking at his arm.

“More than likely a genetic weapon that is, we assume, supposed to bring on rapid onset dementia.”

“How sweet. I wonder why they hit Clyde with that stuff?”

“They have no idea what dogs are capable of, so I would assume they were just being thorough.”

“What do they look like?”

“Like grayish-brown lizard-people, only about a foot tall. And oh yes, and they shit out their mouthes.”

“Say what?”

“Yes, so don’t ever get into a shouting match with one of them.”

Taggart nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Henry, I must warn you. You are going to feel very good for two, maybe three days, but then the bottom will fall out. Do you understand?”

He nodded again.

“Now, one last question. When you first saw them, where was their sphere?”

“Underwater, just off the back of the boat? Like an eye…”

She shook her head and stood semi-erect. “Damn. I must go now, but I will be back tonight, after everyone has gone to sleep” – and then in the blink of an eye she was gone.

He took a sip of tea and called out for Tracy; the door opened instantly – so she had been listening to everything they said.

“Do you think Anton could make me an omelet?” he asked.

“Sure? Anything in it?”

“Gruyere and mushrooms?”

That caused an eyebrow to arch. “You sure?”

“Yup. And when you head out to look for that thing for Anton, see if you can rustle up some Viagra while you’re at it…”

“What?”

“You got wax in your ears, girl?”

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

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 58.4

88th key cover image

And yes, here’s a little something to think about while you read.

Chapter 58.4

When DD and the doc came back to Callahan’s room the next evening they both looked nervous, and once they were in the room and the door was closed behind them she came close and handed Harry a steno pad with some notes already scribbled down:

“Dell and Carl have bugged out,” the first item read. “Didi says the colonel will get in touch as soon as he thinks it’s safe to do so,” stated the second. “There’s something hinky with the a-chief…he’s hiding something,” the third item on the list said.

Callahan mimed ‘pencil’ and DD handed over her usual gold Cross pen.

“What about Lloyd and Todd?” Harry wrote.

DD nodded and started to speak. “That girl from the shop moved out to your house and she’s taking care of Lloyd now. Actually, Harry, she’s been a godsend. Lloyd likes her and she really seems to care about what’s happening to him right now, so that was a good call.”

“And what about Todd?”

“I got him a room up at the inn. Ida lets him into the studio and she doesn’t let Lloyd stay in there with him unless she’s there too.”

Harry nodded. “Above and beyond the call, in other words?”

“I’d sure say so,” the doc said.

“She’s a keeper, Harry,” DD added.

Callahan turned to the notepad and began writing again. “Get Didi in here, maybe dressed as a nurse or something. I need to know what the colonel’s afraid of.”

He passed the pad over and DD read it then nodded. “Can do,” she said.

“You two are the best,” Harry felt he had to say. “Thanks.”

“Anything we can bring you? A burger and fries, or maybe a dominatrix?” the doc smirked.

“No thanks. I’m trying to quit.”

Everyone laughed, even the FBI agents downtown monitoring the bugs in Callahan’s room.

+++++

Todd Bright was slouched on a sofa just outside of the studio’s lone isolation room, barely conscious and with a syringe still halfway in his arm, when Ida and Lloyd came in one afternoon. Lloyd saw him first and ran to him, while Ida had been around musicians long enough to know exactly what to do.

“Do you know where a first aid kit is, Lloyd?”

“Yeah, I’ll get it.”

She removed the syringe from Todd’s arm and put some pressure on the bleed, then she moved his legs up on the sofa and put a couple of cushions under his feet. When Lloyd brought in the medical supplies she took out what she needed and dressed Todd’s arm, then she took the boy back to the house on the cliffs.

“Was that heroin?” he asked.

She shook her head and shrugged. “I don’t know for sure, but yes, probably.”

“Damn.”

“I know. Now, why don’t you work on your homework. I’ve got to call DD and let her know.”

“Do you have to?”

“Yes, Lloyd, I do. The doc will need to come by and check on him this evening.”

Lloyd nodded. “I wonder why he uses that stuff?”

Again the girl shook her head. “Sometimes there is no reason, Lloyd. Sometimes it’s just a mistake that gets out of control, but for some people existence is a very painful thing. Heroin is a kind of painkiller, if I understand the use correctly.”

“You don’t mean pain like a broken bone, do you?”

“No. More like a kind of pain that comes, well, from existential angst.”

“What’s that?”

“I think some people get to where they believe they should have never been born, that their lives are a series of unfolding mistakes that they have no control over, and to escape feelings of hopelessness they retreat into a world such drugs promise. The real problem, Lloyd, is that heroin is a very false promise…because it can never really fix the underlying pain – it only makes life worse.”

“Then why do it?”

“Because some people are desperate, and false promises find a ready home in the hearts of such people.”

“But he’s such a genius, Ida. How can someone like that feel hopeless?”

“I don’t know, Lloyd. I really don’t know.”

+++++

Callahan leaned back and stared at the wires and pulleys supporting his arm. He tried to flex his fingers and though they felt stiff they at least still seemed functional. Yet his arm was probably a total wreck, and that meant two things. First, his time with the department would soon be at an end. His gun arm had to be one hundred percent, period, as anything less than that would simply be suicidal. Second, regaining any kind of real proficiency on the piano would take time.

But…why now? It had been almost ten years since the Escobar-vigilante nonsense wound-down, and after Frank’s passing the team had effectively dropped all pretense of going after them. So…why would they try to take him out now?

“Or did they?”

The Israelis wouldn’t do anything to him, period, so why were the department and the FBI trying to push that idea off on him? A diversion, yeah, sure…but – why?

A knock on the door. A ‘candy-striper’ pushing a cart loaded with magazines came into the room and walked over to his bed.

“This does not look so comfortable, Mr Callahan,” Didi said, grinning. “Could I interest you in a magazine today?” she added, handing him a dog-eared copy of Field and Stream.

Callahan opened the magazine to a typed page of notes – from the colonel.

“First things. Get well. Plan to move to Davos as soon as you are able. You are definitely no longer safe in the United States. Your enemy is in Washington, D.C.”

Harry reread that first paragraph and tried to digest this harsh new reality before he continued.

“We have looked at the possibility that your friends might be behind this, some kind of embezzlement angle, but we have found nothing to support that thesis. Further, your friends in the department are clear.

“When the time for your release from hospital comes, I recommend that we get you out of the country that day. If you choose to stay, I am afraid there is little we can do to protect you now as we dismantled the operation years ago. Let Didi know what you want to do. – G”

“May I borrow your pencil?” he said to Didi.

“Of course.”

He started to write, then he paused and looked out the window – thinking about his life in the city and all that had happened here over the years – then he continued writing:

“Set it up. Look into Swiss citizenship for both Lloyd and myself. See about getting a recording studio set up somewhere in the village, or at the house if possible. Get out to the house on the cliffs and talk to the girl there, name is Ida, and see about having her make the trip with us. Work with DD to handle the logistics. Would appreciate it if you can move back with us.”

He handed the note to Didi and she scanned it quickly then looked him in the eye and nodded. “Good afternoon, sir. I hope you feel better soon,” she said on her way out the door.

“Yes. Goodbye,” he said – long after she had left the room.

© 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 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 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 (26.4)

Searching but not finding…afraid to say…that music matters.

Chapter 26.4

Of course Edith did not get on her flight back to the City of the Angels. Really, how could she?

“I just can’t do it,” she said. “Not without my daughter!”

Mike insisted. Anton pleaded. All to no avail. The ride back into the city was hellish.

So when Henry heard those same five inch spikes clopping across his immaculate teak decks to the companionway ladder he smiled at Tracy. “See. I told you she wouldn’t be that easy to get rid of.”

“Funny. I never thought of my mother in quite those terms.”

“What? You mean…like a tick burrowed-in up to her neck?”

“Thanks so much for planting that image in my mind…”

“Hey. I try,” he managed to get out – just as Edith came marching in. ‘Like Santa Ana into San Antonio,’ Henry smirked, relishing her inevitable defeat.

“Henry Taggart! What are you doing with my daughter down here!?”

“I just finished cornholing her, Edith. You’re next.”

“You’re a goddam filthy beast, Henry! Now, Tra-Tra-cy, ba-ba-back to the bo-boat!”

Clyde raised his head and looked at Edith, then he shook his head and walked to the galley – but not before he raised a leg and dropped another silent-but-deadly fart.

+++++

“That woman like some kind Hell-Bitch,” Anton muttered after Edith and Tracy returned to Karma. “Genry? You fuck this woman? Really?”

“Hey,” Henry sighed, shrugging, “we all make mistakes.”

“Can’t believe she Tracy mothers.”

“That’s Tracy’s mother, Anton.”

“Ah.”

“Where’s Sophie? She afraid to come around anymore?”

“No, no, she work this week. Fly DC-10 Paris-Leipzig-Tehran.”

“Interesting girl. Does she think she has that job lined up for you?”

“Yes, but need DC-10 or MD-11 type rating.”

“Where can you do that?”

“Frankfurt is closest.”

“And what about the Baron? Is that still a go?”

“Yes. For the twenty-first.”

Henry nodded. “Well, see if you can sign up for the next class – unless you’ve decided you want to stay here and cook full time…!”

“Genry? Maybe can do both? As long as boat in Paris, maybe?”

“Fine with me, Anton, but Rolf will be her new owner soon.”

“He too young, Genry. Boy need father.”

Henry looked up from his “homework” at the chart table and sighed. “I know. That’s my biggest regret, Anton.”

“Your father must been good guy, Genry. You good father to boy. He need you.”

“Thanks.”

“Remember Honfleur? Chapel there? Something we suppose see?”

Henry nodded. “Yes. On Christmas Eve.”

“We go still?”

“We go still.”

+++++

“Mike, I know I’ve asked you before, but what are your plans?”

“I haven’t made any, Henry.”

“I can’t believe someone like you would be at such loose ends.”

“It’s been a confusing couple of months.”

“Confusing?”

“Yeah. I for one can’t believe you’re simply going to close your eyes and just die. It doesn’t fit, and the whole thing is keeping me up nights.”

“My death is…keeping you up?”

“That’s just it, Henry. You ain’t gonna die, are you? You and Pinky, you two have got something all worked out.”

Henry smiled. “You really think that?”

“I do. I’ve seen poker players with the same look you got these days, so I’m not buyin’ this whole death thing you got going.”

“So, let me see…death is something to be afraid of, right? So it can’t possibly be happening to me? Is that it? Because somehow I’m not gonna let it happen? Right?”

“You’re goddam right it is. Closing your eyes with nothing ahead? What could be worse?”

“Well, whatever else death might be, Mike, it is certainly a part of life. Human life, in this case. And no, Pinky and I have not planned some scheme to cheat my way out of it.”

“Yeah. Whatever.”

“Which leaves me to ask the question again, Mike. What about you? You mentioned before something about wanting to stay aboard and help Rolf. You still feel that way?”

“You really leaving all this to him?” Mike said, indicating the boat and shaking his head.

“Yup. Really.”

“Seems kind of irresponsible to me, Henry. He’s barely a teenager.”

“Yeah, I get that, yet it kinda seems to me that there are a bunch of fifty year old thieves running around out there, too. And sometimes, Mike, you can just tell who they are.”

“Can you, indeed.”

Henry smiled. “Yeah. Something in the eyes, ya know? Kind of like poker players, if you get my drift…”

“I see.”

“So, Mike, where will you be off to? Back to the states, maybe? I hear San Antonio is pretty nice…”

+++++

Henry crawled out of bed in the middle of the night and went to the head; when he looked in the mirror he could see that his briefs were spotted with blood and he scowled. Then he noticed the whites of his eyes were a little more yellow-orange now, and he nodded at the face in the mirror.

“Well Slim, it looks like liver and kidney failure, so what is it now? December nineteenth?”

He shook his head then changed his underwear, breaking out in a sweat after bending over to get his feet in the holes. 

“Well, ain’t this fun…?”

Holding onto the walls he made it back into bed without waking Tracy or Clyde, or so he thought. He turned and saw Tracy looking at him, then she reached out and took his hand.

“Was that blood I saw?” she whispered.

And he nodded as gently as he could. “My eyes are beginning to look like the Great Pumpkin, too,” he added, his voice trembling a little.

She sighed and squeezed his hand. “Is the weather looking good for Anton’s flight?”

“He thinks so. Anyway, they’re still taking off tomorrow at midnight.”

“Good.”

“So? That bad, huh?”

“You might make it to Christmas, Henry, but it’s going to be close.”

“Might?”

“I think we should go in first thing and see about getting some more platelets.”

“Yippee skippee.”

“Is everything settled with your lawyers?”

“Yes, and Rolf knows where everything is. Now, what about your mother? Is she still giving you grief?”

“No, not really,” she said evasively – which made him grin.

“So, she’s accepted the fact I’m checking out of this masquerade?”

She grinned. “Masquerade? Now that’s not a word I was expecting.”

“Sorry.” ‘But if I’m sorry, why do I feel like smiling?’

“But yeah, I think she’d like to mend a few fences, if you know what I mean?”

“We’ll see.” ‘Oh, this is getting fun now…’

“Okay,” she whispered knowingly.

“Milos is coming with some kind of stretched van early in the morning on Christmas Eve. He’ll take us up to Honfleur and bring us back.”

“So, you decided not to take the train?”

“They aren’t back to running a full schedule yet – and I don’t want to get stuck out there in the boonies. And I’m not sure Clyde could handle a day on the rails.”

“Anton told me what you’re doing for him, and I think it’s great…”

“Yeah. Classes start in early January. He should be rated by April.”

“And what about this kid?”

“Rolf? What about him?”

“He can’t live here on the boat in the middle of Paris by himself.”

“Really? Why not?”

“Henry, you wouldn’t?”

“You’re right, but we’ll see. Things have a way of working out.”

“Is that why Mike left?”

“Probably.”

“I never trusted that guy. He gave me the creeps.”

“Creeps? Is that a technical psychiatric term?”

“Yes. Very much so.”

“I haven’t heard that one in years, Kiddo. Leave it to a shrink…”

“What do you think he’s going to do?”

“Oh, I have a feeling he’s still working for them, one way or another, and I doubt I’ve seen the last of him.”

“Them?”

“Oh, you know, the people who still think I can fly that contraption.”

“Can’t you?”

He sighed, looked away. “It doesn’t matter now, Tracy, does it?”

“Is there some kind of secret to doing it?”

He looked at her again, ready to get this over with. “And…who’s asking this time, Tracy, because it sure isn’t you…”

“What do you mean, Henry?”

“I means I’ve done my homework, Tracy. It means that an almost unheard of private security firm in McLean, Virginia bought your boat four months ago, and that they transported it to LeHavre about a month before all the fun started in Amsterdam. And that means our meeting in Honfleur wasn’t an accident, and that someone did a really deep background check on me to even know you might have a way to turn me and pull me in.”

She sat up and switched on a light, never taking her eyes off him. 

“You see, Tracy, I have people looking after me, too.”

“And our meeting up like that was a little too convenient, right?”

“Yup.”

“I told them it was a bad plan, but they were pretty sure Captain Lacy wasn’t going to come through so they were desperate for a backup.”

“Well, at least they got that one right.”

“So? What do you want me to do? Leave?”

“Leave? Now? Why on earth would I do that to you?”

“Well, I can think of a few reasons.”

His eyes were like lasers now, white-hot and focused: “I think you and I should have a long talk tomorrow. Before you do anything else stupid.”

But she couldn’t meet his eyes now and looked away. “You know, when they contacted me they gave a dossier to read up on, including all the stuff they had on my mom and Aunt Claire. And I thought I had you dialed in, Henry. That I knew where you were coming from…”

“Did you really?”

“Yeah, I did. Then I met you and realized how completely off-base their information was.”

“Kinda makes you wonder, don’t it?”

“No, not really. At least…not anymore. Ya see, Hank, I made up my mind a few weeks go and there’s not a goddam thing anyone can do to change it now.”

© 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 (26.3)

Ooh…it really makes me wonder.

If only because music matters.

Chapter 26.3

Henry thought the sphere might be translucent, but no…the surface was almost mirror-like, though he could make out his stateroom – as well as Tracy and himself standing there – inside the fisheye-distortion of the orb. And yet standing there he saw something else inside the orb, flickering pulses of sparkling light that almost looked like a thunderstorm was raging inside the sphere. Just beyond the surface reflection Henry was sure he could see the latent image of an eye, and that also bothered him. Yet the orb remained stationary; he reached out pushed on the surface of the orb and all he felt was immutable force permeating his little stateroom. Tracy, however, was still down on the floor, shaking in absolute terror.

He moved to the edge of the bed and sat next to Clyde, put his hand on the pup’s head and scratched behind his ears – and the sphere seemed to moved just a little, almost like something inside was following Henry’e movements, tracking his motion around the room.

“Are you okay?” he asked Tracy.

“Physically, yeah. Nothing’s happened yet that puking wouldn’t take care of.”

“When did you notice this thing?”

“When you went forward…it just appeared in the doorway out of nowhere.”

He nodded, then laid down next to Clyde, who opened his eyes – fractionally – for a moment before he closed them again, then Henry put his face next to the pup’s – until they were nose-to-nose.

“I love you, good boy,” he whispered. “Just be easy and get warm, okay?”

“Henry? Are you going to sleep?”

“Probably. Yeah, make that definitely. I think I’ve just run out of steam.”

“But…there’s…”

But Henry’s eyes had closed and he felt himself drifting off…

And immediately he felt the same presence in his mind, and even in this drifting state he was aware that whatever was guiding the orb was indexing his memories once again – as if ‘they’ were searching for something…

+++++

Tracy heard her mother coming down the companionway steps and stood. Not knowing what else to do about the orb, she draped her fleece jacket over the shimmering globe and moved to intercept Edith before she made it all the way into Henry’s stateroom. 

But…she was too late.

Edith walked in and saw Henry crashed on the berth, then her eyes went to the jacket hanging in mid-air by the door to the head – yet she apparently didn’t think anything of it as she went and sat down next to the berth and put her feet up on the comforter.

Then she looked at the jacket again.

“You know, is it just me or is there something weird about that jacket?”

“It’s just you, Mom.”

“Oh. Okay. What’s with Henry?”

“Exhausted, I think.”

“I thought I heard some kind of commotion in the water and I find you in here with wet hair and your clothes soaking wet…”

“Clyde fell in the water, Mom. No big deal.”

“Oh. Now…what about all that malarkey at dinner…?”

“Malarkey?”

“Aliens and spaceships, Tracy. Don’t play coy with me right now, either. I’m not in the mood.”

“I really wasn’t paying too much attention, mother.”

“Don’t give me that BS. I saw you, watched how you responded to that navy guy, and it seemed pretty obvious to me that you didn’t think it was just crazy talk.”

“Okay.”

“But the thing is, Tracy, it is nuts, pure and simple. And I don’t want you hanging around all this crap anymore. I’ve made reservations for us to return to LA tomorrow evening, so you need to go over to that floating hovel of yours and pack your duffel, or whatever it is you carry around these days.”

“Why mother…are you annoyed I’m not packing in Gucci saddlebags?” Tracy said, moving over to her jacket.

“Don’t take that tone with me, Tracy. I was prepared to find all kinds of goings on when I got here, but not aliens. I would have thought with you being a mental health professional that you would be trying to get Henry into a mental hospital…”

Tracy reached out and pulled her jacket from the orb, revealing the sphere hovering there.

Edith seemed unimpressed. “And just what the hell is that supposed to be?”

“I’m not sure, mother, but it just might be an alien.”

“Bullshit, Tracy,” Edith said, standing up and walking over to the orb. “What is it?!”

“Henry said he’d never seen this one before.”

Edith put her hand on the sphere and when nothing happened she pushed it once, then a second time – but much harder this time. When it didn’t budge she turned and looked at Tracy, her eyes wide now – as she was beginning to realize that something was seriously wrong with this picture.

“Tracy? What is this thing?”

“Mother? I do not know.”

Edith backed out of the stateroom and Tracy heard her running up the companionway seconds later, followed by Anton and Mike coming down right after Edith jumped to the dock at a dead sprint. Anton was the first to arrive in Henry’s stateroom, and he just about ran into the orb as he shuddered to a halt.

“What in fuck is this?” he screeched. “Not Pinky, I think.”

Then Mike stumbled in and stopped dead in his tracks when he spied the orb. “What’s this? A new one?”

Tracy shrugged and Mike leaned over and shook Henry.

Who didn’t budge.

Tracy went to Henry’s side and opened an eyelid, then she peered first at one pupil and then the other. “Fixed pinpoints,” she sighed. “We need to get him to the hospital.”

And with that the orb moved across the stateroom until it was hovering squarely over Henry’s face – pushing Tracy out of the way as it moved across the room – the meaning of the orb’s shift in position abundantly clear to her.

“Well, excuse the fuck out of me,” she sighed.

Mike leaned in and tried to push the orb away, and when that achieved nothing Anton joined in and they both pushed. Still nothing happened…and Mike shrugged then sat down next to Henry.

But just then Mike felt something inside his head – just before he fell asleep.

Within seconds both Anton and Tracy fluttered down and dropped off into a disturbed sleep, but by that point three more spheres had joined the first, each positioned over the face of a human.

And then a very small humanoid figure appeared on the bed, and the tiny creature walked over to Clyde and stuck a probe into a vein in the pup’s forearm. A moment later the creature walked over to Henry and did the same thing, then it – and the four spheres – simply disappeared.

+++++

Tracy opened her eyes only to find the noon-day sun streaming through the overhead hatch and the room spinning around uncontrollably, and then she realized she was having the worst headache she’d ever had in her life. The deep ache started in her forehead and darted behind her eyes, but then she felt little pinpricks that seemed rooted in her mid-brain and that seemed to be sending little electrical jolts down her spine…

“I think I’m going to be sick,” Mike said, trying to sit up, then rubbing his forehead.

“Who want breakfast?” Anton said, his cast iron aviator’s stomach carrying the day. Mike groaned and ran for the head off the foreword cabin…

…leaving Tracy to turn her attention to Henry.

She rubbed his forehead gently, then with a little more pressure, until he stirred a little before opening an eye. He moved his head a little then rubbed at his eyes. “Cripes, what the hell hit me?”

“Headache?” she asked.

“Bad.”

“Me too.”

“Where’s that thing?”

“It was gone when we woke up, and that was about ten minutes ago.”

He scratched at his forearm and then looked at the spot where the venous probe had entered. “Feels like an insect bite,” he muttered, then he looked at Tracy again. “Did you say ‘we’?”

“Yup. Mike and Anton were here when I woke up, and they’d been out too. My mother was here for a while but she left before all the fun started. Which reminds me, she thinks she’s got me on a plane out of here tonight…”

“Sounds like I missed out on all the fun.”

“Fun? Not really fun, at least not after she realized the sphere was in here with us.”

“See, now that sounds like a lot of fun to me.”

“You need a humor transplant, Henry.”

“Reckon you’re right.”

“Well, I’d better go check on mom. Be back in a flash…”

Henry nodded then turned his attention to Clyde, who was breathing gently but otherwise unresponsive. “Hey buddy? You ready for some fresh salmon?”

One eye opened and his tail beat the bed a couple of times.

Then Clyde bent down and began chewing at a spot on his forearm and Henry leaned over to take a look. He saw the same ‘insect bite’ he’d seen on his own arm, so he went to his first air kit and got some topical antibiotic ointment and applied some to both their arms, then he popped two Tylenol before he walked up to the galley.

Anton was poaching eggs and making a fresh hollandaise for Henry’s favorite smoked salmon eggs Benedict, and as Anton had already diced up a cup of salmon for Clyde, Henry carried the bowl back to his berth while making all his usual breakfast noises. Clyde sat up and ate a little, but then he slowly laid his head down and closed his eyes – leaving Henry feeling more than a little concerned.

Henry watched the pup breathe for a while then sighed; he went to the galley to help with the English muffins and set the table, then he texted Tracy and told her to come over for breakfast.

“Should I bring the fire-breathing dragon-lady?” Tracy replied.

“Sure. We could all use some fun this morning,” he added, then he turned to Anton. “You’re beginning to like cooking a little too much, Anton. You going to sign up for a cooking school?”

“Not bad idea, Genry, but like flying too much.”

“No reason you can’t do both. If you start flying private jets that skill could be a bonus. Something to think about, anyway.”

“I never like before. Now it is new, so kinda fun.”

Edith came clopping down the companionway in five-inch heels and Henry just shook his head because he knew she knew better. So, she was just egging him on, trying to get a rise out of him…which was par for her course. Tracy followed her mom down the steps and when she caught Henry’s eye she saw he was trying his best not to let it bother him. Not too much, anyway.

“So,” Henry began, firing the first salvo of the morning, “I hear you’re headed back to LA tonight. Too chilly here for you?”

“Yes, and I need Tracy at home so she’s coming with me.”

“Is she? Well, how nice for you.”

“How nice? Why on earth would you say that?”

“Don’t you just hate traveling alone?” Henry replied.

“I haven’t given the matter much thought. By the way, Henry, you look like crap this morning.”

“Well, I haven’t had my morning dose of post-menopausal horse shit yet, so cut me some slack.”

Edith’s face turned deep crimson. “My, my, Henry. I had no idea you’d matured into such a misogynist troglodyte. I must say, you wear it very well.”

“Thanks, Edith. I knew you’d appreciate the labor involved.”

“Can I fix plate for you, Miss Edith?” Anton asked.

“Just some toast if you please, young man,” she said – though a little too obsequiously. It was as if, Henry thought, she was trying to highlight her take on the division of labor on board – in order to fill Tracy with doubt.

“Miss Tracy? You?”

“I’ll have two please, Anton. Did you roast potatoes this morning?”

“I know you like, so yes, of course. You want lots?”

She nodded gleefully and Anton smiled as he passed a plate to her.

Soon everyone was gathered at the table busily ignoring what had transpired in the aft cabin overnight. Everyone, that is, except Edith.

“So, what did your aliens want last night, Henry?”

Anton looked at the ceiling and started humming the Russian national anthem.

“You know, I have no idea,” Henry said – but only after slowly cutting some salmon and constructing the perfect bite. “You know, Anton, your Hollandaise is getting better and better.”

“I’ll say!” Tracy added, causing Anton to grin again. “And your potatoes are phenomenal!”

“Tracy!” Edith interrupted. “You really need to pack your duffel. I want to head out to the airport on the early side.”

“Mom, I told you. I’m not going back with you, so let’s just drop it.”

“We are not going to drop it, young lady! You’re flying home with me tonight!”

“Mother? Drop it now, please.”

“Tracy,” Edith wailed, her voice almost a scream now, “how dare you take that tone with me!”

“Edith?” Henry said gently. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like some estrogen to go with that toast?”

Her face turned beet red and she started to stutter: “H-h-hen-hen-ry Tag-tag-gert, if you m-men-mention men-meno-menopause or est-estrogen just one-one more time I’m go-go-going to cut your fu-fu-fucking balls off-off…”

And on hearing that Henry turned to Mike and slapped the table with both hands: “Your Honor,” he concluded sardonically, “the Prosecution rests.”

Two hours later Edith followed Mike and Anton to the taxi stand outside the marina gates and they rode out to de Gaulle with her – to make sure she actually got on the airplane, because Tracy had asked – leaving Henry and Tracy alone on the boat for the first time in days.

“I feel like a teenager again,” she said, smiling at him as he curled up on the bed next to Clyde. “Maybe we should run away now, just for fun.”

“I’m sorry about your mother. I had no idea she’d be so…”

“Deranged?”

“I was thinking unpredictable. But deranged works, too.”

“She didn’t get what she wanted.”

“C’est la vie, darlin’…” Henry sighed. “That’s the same song she’s been playin’ for years, but even so I was kinda surprised she hasn’t moved on yet.”

“She was always like that?”

“Only when she wanted something she knew she couldn’t have.”

Tracy nodded. “It’s the old definition of crazy. Do the same thing over and over and somehow expect different results each time you try.”

“I reckon that’s her.”

“Hank? That thing last night? You really don’t know who or what it was?”

“No clue. My best guess is it has something to do with one of the other groups, and now for some reason they think I’m a threat.”

“Why? Because you might be able to fly one of their ships?”

“I don’t know why they’d think that…”

“Unless someone told them,” Tracy said, smiling innocently. “Maybe to throw them off the scent?”

What a strange thing to say? – he remembered thinking at the time. Strange…as in…Tracy suddenly seemed to understand more than she should have, at least given the limited information he’d passed along to her so far.

“Clyde? You ready to go outside?” he asked gently.

The old boy raised his head and farted.

Henry took one sniff and ran for the leash…

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