the eighty-eighth key, ch. 07

88th key cover image

the eighty-eighth key

part one

chapter seven

Harry Callahan’s return from Southeast Asia marked the beginning of a cold, dark and bitter period in his life, a time marked most of all by very personal loneliness. His mother was gone and his father slipped in and out of anger and depression; worst of all his father rarely visited these days, not even when he’d just returned from sea. Harry went by the house from time to time and every time he found the yard an overgrown mess. It still hurt to see the Everson house next door, too, and he dreaded making the trip out to his old home for that reason more than any other. He would fight past the memories, past the tattered For Sale sign to the front porch and peer in the glass, not quite knowing what he’d find inside beyond heartache and broken dreams. Some trips his father was home and he must have seen Harry over there and he’d come out and meet him in the yard and they’d be angry and depressed together before heading to a seafood shack down on the wharf. They’d drown all their misgivings in schooners of cold beer while talking about how there was nothing better in life than fresh, hot onion rings and a fresh bottle of ketchup. Nothing much mattered at that point; life seemed over and done with, just one more thing that had passed them by on the way to nowhere.

Harry slipped into all the routines on the street like he had never left the city. All the same problems were still out there, waiting, only now Callahan had a little less patience for what felt like petty bullshit calls at four in the morning. A few weeks after his return to the street he responded to yet another family disturbance, and when he went up to the door he was met at the door by a belligerent, knife wielding drunk. The man started cursing Callahan, and Harry simply tossed the man aside and walked into the apartment, found the man’s wife crumpled on the floor, her face a pulpy mass of bleeding contusions. Then the drunk was in the doorway, yelling at Callahan about his rights as a citizen and how he was ‘gonna sue your ass into the ground’ when Callahan turned around and looked at the man.

Who saw the look in Callahan’s eyes and stopped talking.

The drunk still had the same knife in hand when Callahan walked up to him, and Callahan unholstered his Smith & Wesson and beat the man’s face until it looked something like his wife’s, then he dragged the man out into the street and kicked him in the groin once before dragging the writhing form over to a huge commercial trash dumpster. Callahan picked up the man and tossed him inside, then went back and picked the woman off the floor and carried her to San Francisco General, leaving the three other responding officer slack-jawed by their patrol cars. 

He’d never said a word. Not one.

And pretty soon word got out, went around precinct houses and neighborhoods like a wild fire. 

Don’t fuck with Callahan.

When Harry worked a beat the word quickly got out: neighborhoods suddenly grew quiet. Anyone dumb enough to create a disturbance soon went to the School of Callahan; and so-called men stupid enough to beat-up on their wives or girlfriends soon met with the same fate as that first drunk.

And soon enough word spread throughout the detective division, too.

Deep Night shifts, the overnight shift that typically stretches from midnight to eight in the morning, tend to operate under rules all their own, at least they did out in the real world beyond the courts, judges and lawyers that defined the other side of the criminal justice equation in the 60s and 70s, and San Francisco tended to operate somewhere way beyond ‘nice and proper’ those days. And that was not taking into account cops like Callahan, who seemed to operate with huge chips on their shoulders – on their good days. 

Then one night while Callahan was out patrolling a residential neighborhood around four in the morning he passed a streetlight and saw a blanket in the shadows. He stopped and looked at it – until it moved, anyway – then he radioed in and stopped to check it out.

He found a little girl maybe five years old wrapped-up in a tattered, flea-infested blanket and he parted the rancid fabric, found the girl was naked, her body covered with bruises and what looked like little burn marks. Callahan had seen these burns before, and too many times to count by then; they were made by someone holding a burning cigarette up to the skin and pressing in just hard enough to broil the tissue underneath, but this little girl’s body was literally covered with them – even her eyelids.

Callahan picked-up the little girl, heedless of the fleas and other crawling things all over the blanket, then he cupped the girls face and whispered to her: “Can you hear me? Just move your eyes if you can.”

“It hurts,” the girl said, her voice a faint trembling remnant of someone long past gone.

“My name is Harry, and I’m a police officer. What’s your name?”

“Susan,” came the withered, brittle reply.

“Well Susan, you’re going to be okay now. We’re going to take care of you, but first I need you to show me where you live. Can you do that for me?”

She pointed to a house across the street.

“The one with the blue roof?” he asked.


“Who did this to you? Do you know?”

She nodded her head. “Todd did it. He’s my mommy’s boyfriend.” She seemed to tremble a little more, then she held up her head. “Are you Officer Callahan?” she asked.

“I sure am, Honey.”

She smiled as she drifted off, as back-up units pulled up behind his patrol car.

“Get an ambulance,” Callahan growled, handing off the little girl to another officer as he started across the street…

…right about the time a new homicide detective named Carl Stanton pulled up on the scene. He had heard all the stories about Callahan and knew the score, so when he’d heard the call come out he knew Callahan had found something, so he raced to the scene. Still, he kept to the shadows and watched…

…as Callahan crossed the street, walked up the stoop and politely knocked on the door.

Stanton saw the shotgun barrel, but not before Callahan – who grabbed the end of the barrel as he kicked the door in, and in one continuous motion slammed the butt of the shotgun into his would-be-assailants face. Stanton ran up to the porch and got there just in time to see Callahan stick the end of the barrel in a man’s mouth – then pull the trigger.

There was a muffled ‘woompf’, and about all Carl Stanton saw was a pink mist in the air, then a scorched piece of carpet where the man’s head had been. Stanton walked into the house, then went room-to-room until he found a woman’s body in the little bathroom, her battered body a bloody mess, curled up and lifeless in the dingy bathtub.

As a detective who had ‘on-viewed’ the incident, Stanton was the senior officer on-scene so it was his call now, his report to make, so he walked over to Callahan and took the Winchester pump from him and laid it across a chair…then he looked into Callahan’s eyes…

…and saw tears behind a veil of rage…

A sergeant walked in, saw Harry then the detective. “You got this, Carl?”

Stanton nodded. “Call Dell, would you. And get a CSU headed this way.”


But then Callahan turned and walked from the little house, then across the street to the little girl. He took her and held her close until the ambulance came, then he got in back with her and rode with her to the hospital, holding her close all the way. Only after she’d been checked-in and turned over to the docs did he return to the scene, but by that point Dell Delgetti and Frank Bullitt had already come and gone.

Stanton turned his report over to Bullitt, who read it over then carried it upstairs to the captain in command, Sam Bennett.

Bennett read the report, then looked up at Bullitt. “So, he’s the real deal?”

“I think so, yeah.”

“Well, keep an eye on him. He’s supposed to take the sergeant’s exam next month, so if he does good on that you go ahead and start the background check. Keep me posted, Frank.”


Callahan aced the exam and reported to Academy for another round of classwork, then was back out on the street a month later. Still, he soon found that supervisory work left him feeling cold and more than a little useless. He started jumping calls, backing up rookies on hot disturbances whenever he could, but by then Bullitt had picked up all the signs. Callahan had probably seen too much in ‘Nam, and probably done too much over there to ever fully recover, and he told Captain Bennett as much after he reached that conclusion.

“Have you read his jacket, Frank? Because I don’t think it’s that simple. Yeah, there’s something burning the kid up inside, but I’m not sure it happened over there.”

Bullitt nodded. “So, you want me to sit down with him?”

Bennett thought for a minute, then shook his head. “Pick him up and bring him over for hot dogs. This Saturday, after the game.”

“Got it.”


When Callahan got up that morning he knew something deep inside had changed; sometime in the night – with Cat snuggled-in tight – before the tears came – when he’d been awash in the ebb and flow of hot-fingered guilt. Smokey bile from the Caravelle crept into his consciousness when echoes of his Looney-Junes tried to push everything else away, leaving the present on very uncertain ground. He listened to her breathing not really sure whose breath he heard – until memory returned as vast and clear as the green sheet pulled over June’s face.

He tried to fight it…that feeling of anomie he felt when thoughts of seeing her in the hospital basement that last time. That always pushed everything else aside. Standing their between the only two fathers he’d ever really known, his and June’s, he’d felt like an intruder, someone who’d stolen away the best years of all their lives and tried to keep everything for himself…

…and that hadn’t worked out so well, had it?

Their last summer together had grown in his mind ever since into something beyond the mythical, into something more like an Arcadian landscape by one of the Hudson River painters that June gravitated to when they went to museums. But by then everything had been twisted and turned in on itself, blasted into something beyond the merely symbolic a year later, but maybe that was because everything seemed to fall apart on a crisp November morning when three bullets rang out from a school book depository in Dallas, just as the president’s motorcade passed alongside Dealey Plaza. They heard about it in the library and June fell into his arms, sobbing along with a few others who suddenly felt adrift in a world they no longer recognized.

But all that mythical stuff was a world away now, one that this Cat knew nothing about, and despite his sudden reawakening he sat in the darkness coming to the realization that he knew less than nothing about this girl. How could you love someone you didn’t even know? What alien substance had invaded his mind and turned off his ability to think? Was that, in the end, what love was? Hormonally induced moral incapacitation?

And just then he’d looked at little sandalwood-scented candles scattered around her tiny room, at all the amber shadows moving to a stilled heartbeat far, far away from this time and space. She would never leave, he knew then; she would follow him wherever he went…no matter how far away he tried to run. There would be no coming to terms with June’s past. She wouldn’t let that happen now.

When Cat woke she lay in bed looking at this stranger, and her feelings could not have been more different. She saw a kind-hearted man, strong enough to carry her into a lifetime of happiness, and she loved the feeling inside when she looked at him. It was a soft thing that glowed, something at once new and familiar, like this round-eye had discovered the secret way to her happy place, and that was enough for her. 

So when he talked of things like love and marriage she knew what he said was true because, she told him, she felt those things too.

So he told her he would come visit her soon, as soon as he could, and she believed him.

And two weeks later he came back to her, though he seemed to possess a very different soul that time. He seemed tired, maybe even more than tired. Like he had seen things no human being should ever see, and when he went away that time he promised to come back and she was happy he said the words but still not quite so sure what those words really meant.

Yet when he came back a month later his spirit was bright and full of laughter, maybe because that other round-eye, the crazy doctor, was with him. They all went out to dinner together and she helped them see some of the things around her city that were still beautiful and clean. They spent a day walking through markets and eating local treats from open stall vendors, and Harry took pictures of her…dozens of pictures, which somehow made her happier than she had ever felt before. No one had ever shown such interest or thought her important enough to photograph, and suddenly being regarded as such left her feeling dizzily exotic, beyond the merely special she had felt before.

Before Harry left that time he said he might be coming back very soon, that he might be returning home to America much sooner than expected, and that there were things he needed to tell her. How he planned to take her to America, how they would make a life together in San Francisco, and what mattered  was how his words shattered her expectations of the future, left her feeling once again more than merely special. She felt like she was the center of someone’s universe again, like there was a molten mass of hot stars gathering in her breast, and after he left that time wild dreams filled her sleep. Dreams of an unknown land, dreams of an impossible future. He wrote down things he said she should have, gave her papers she could show people, and then he was gone.


Only this time he did not come back.


Harry sat for the detectives exam after his return from Israel and, not unexpectedly, he scored top marks once again. He would once again return to the Academy and begin coursework in Methods and Procedure if, that is, he decided to take the position offered.

He wasn’t so sure he would.

He liked working patrol, and in a way it was all he’d ever aspired to. Captain Briggs had tried to recruit him to join Traffic Division, but that meant working on motorcycles and writing tickets all day, and the idea bored him just thinking about it. What, he wondered, was so bad about wanting to stay in patrol?

Maybe Bullitt had some idea of the doubts nipping at Callahan’s heels, because he dropped by more than once – with Cathy – and she asked him to play the piano before they asked him out to dinner. Frank hoped it was a soft-sell, too; he didn’t want to come across as desperate but Homicide had recently experienced a lot of  trouble getting quality personnel into the division. For whatever reason, Captain Bennett seemed to think Callahan would be a good fit, but after going over Stanton’s report, Bullitt now had serious misgivings.

A few weeks after the exam Callahan responded to a medical welfare concern down in the warehouse district adjacent to the waterfront east of Fisherman’s Wharf. A group of dockworkers arriving for their morning shift had heard screaming in the roach-motel next door and called it in; Callahan was first on scene and he talked to the men and soon had an idea where to look. He called-in the information and ran into the hotel next door…

There was no one behind the filthy desk, nothing visible at all except some rancid smelling fried chicken on a desk behind the counter, then he heard another scream, a woman’s scream, and he bolted up the stairs two at a time. He heard an old man telling the girl to not move, and to ‘shut up or else’ – then Callahan kicked-in the door and burst inside what looked like a makeshift hospital room.

The girl on the bed had her feet up in makeshift stirrups and the old man looked up, surprise on his face, as the blood drained from Callahan’s face. 

He saw a young girl in the process of having an abortion, some sort of squalid looking instrument inserted in her vagina, and in a small bedroom off this sitting room Callahan saw two more girls curled up in fetal positions, moaning in fever-soaked agony.

“Get out of here, you fucking moron,” the abortionist cried, “before I call your supervisor!”

“Whatever you’re doing,” Callahan sighed, his voice now a deadly coiling hiss, “stop it right now. Clean her up, and do it quickly.”

“Fuck off, you imbecile!”

Callahan unholstered his Smith & Wesson and walked up to the man, shoving the end of the barrel into his right ear so forcefully it began to bleed. “Do it now, while you still can.”

“Go to hell!”

Moving with a preternatural calm, Callahan holstered his weapon and the man smiled, then Callahan asked the man his name.

“Barton, and the chief is a friend of mine, so you’d better watch your ass.”

Callahan’s eyes flickered when he heard the name, then he grabbed the man by the nape of the neck and by the waistband of his trousers, lifted him from the floor and ran with him towards the room’s only window, an ancient, double hung wooden unit that had seen better days fifty years earlier.

Then he tossed the man through the glass, head first.

People down at street level looked up at the sound of shattering glass and saw a middle-aged man crashing through a shattered fifth-floor window and screaming as he tumbled through the air, landing in a pulpy heap atop an old green VW Beetle. Callahan came out of the hotel a minute or so later and walked over to his patrol car and talked on the radio, then he walked over to the bleeding ruins to feel for a pulse. A moment later he stood, satisfied, and did his best to make sure no one saw his grin.

Delgetti and Bullitt were the first detectives on scene, and by then Frank knew the score, knew about Callahan’s girlfriend’s abortion during their senior year of high school. He could guess how Callahan felt generally, and what must’ve coursed through his mind’s eye when he opened the door and found that butcher at work.

He took Callahan to his car and they sat inside. Bullitt saw Harry’s hands up close then, the bruised finger-tips, the ragged tremble of shock setting in.

“So Harry, the way I see it you might get a clever defense attorney to get you to plead temporary insanity, and who knows…that might work…”

Harry’s eyes flickered as he came back to reality.

“The other option is simpler. Are you listening?”

Callahan nodded. “Yeah.”

“So, you heard a woman scream and kicked in the door. Right?”


“And that’s when the man ran and jumped out the window, right?”


“Listen to me Callahan. That’s when the bastard made a run for it. He must’ve forgotten he was up on a high floor. Got it?”

Harry turned and looked at Frank, only now Delgetti and Stanton were huddled there in the doorway, listening.

“Actually, Frank,” Delgetti chirped, “I was about five feet behind Callahan, and that’s exactly what happened. Right Harry? About five steps behind you, all the way up the stairs.”

“You got that, Callahan?” Bullitt added. “Five steps, all the way up.”

Callahan looked at Bullitt, then at Dell and Carl. “He’s the one, Frank. He’s the one who did it.”

“Did what, Harry?” Callahan’s face was ghostly now, his eyes a blank canvas.

“He’s the one who killed June.”

Bullitt turned to Delgetti when he heard that. “Bring his car in; I’m taking him to Bennett’s office for now. We’ll let internal affairs have at him when he’s settled down.”

“They’re not gonna like it, Frank.”

“Fuck ‘em.”

Callahan finished his stint at the Academy three months later. As usual, top in his class.


By the time school resumed their senior year, Harry and June had entered a strange, twilit place of cascading emotion, at times more a kaleidoscopic swirl than the steady monotone of drumbeats on the sidelines that mark most last years at school. Maybe because they had never really tried to fit in, they were comfortable being just two more outsiders looking in, and who knows, maybe they got a little lost in that crowd, too.

So, yeah, they kept to themselves, and that really wasn’t too big a deal because, by then, most of their classmates thought of them like they were already an old married couple. There was no “Harry,” nor was there a “June,” there was “Harry and June,” a singular noun. They didn’t show up at school dances because there was no such thing as flirting around the edges of the heart of the matter in their little corner of the universe; they were already far, far away from that pulsing pool of frantic teenaged hormones.

No, Harry and June were on most Friday nights – together – grabbing a slice at Bruno’s before stalking the night with their Nikons, or heading into the city to go to the library if there was an assignment due at school. Whatever it was, it was a couple’e exercise.

But the images they made?

If you’d been there, been able to watch the progression from noble beginner to advanced amateur over the preceding decade you might have seen the changes for yourself, but the term avant-guard comes to mind. Surreal juxtapositions of still life and vibrant decay, or even the dead and the dying. Sometimes very morbid things found their way into the images they made, and who knows why? Like, yeah, some things happen for a reason.

Don’t they, Harry?

Like when June noticed her period was late. But her mother was gone so who could she talk to?

To Imogen Callahan?

For most people, being on the outside looking in is a very lonely place. For June Everson, being on the outside meant being chained to Harry Callahan night and day, locked inside the ebb and flow of his own tortured struggle with his mother, and to their own god-forsaken music.


Funny how little things like music bind people to time and a word.

The word in the Caravelle Bar after Tet began the slow burn into memory was, however, clear enough. Cat had been on her own slow burn too, until one day a familiar face walked in…the crazy round-eye doctor who always had blood on his hands.

Except this time his hands were clean. So was his uniform. Cat was seeing the writing on the wall all over again, even before he made it to his usual table, before he ordered his Canadian Club on the rocks and began that slow fade into the zone. 

He saw her and smiled, and she saw it was real, something she could hold onto.

“I’ve got a note from Harry,” he said as she sat down beside him, ignoring looks from the bartender and her manager.

She nodded once, her eyes glazed in fear. “So?”

“It’s not what you think, Cat,” he said as he handed the paper to her; he watched her while she turned the paper over and over in her hand, then it hit him: She Couldn’t Read. So she hadn’t read one thing Harry had sent. But…how could she? How arrogant to assume… 

“His handwriting is tough. Could I read it for you?”

She shrugged, then passed the pages back to Parish.

“Something bad happened up here and I’ve been sent home,” the crucial part began, “and they didn’t give me time to come to Saigon…” Parish stopped reading, because Cat had stopped him right there and asked ‘what did Harry do?’

Parish grimaced, tried to look away.

“What did he do!?” she insisted, her voice frantic and stern at the same time.

“Harry was sent to pick up a platoon that was taking fire, or maybe they were. Nobody knows, really.When he got there he saw a bunch of women and children lined up against a wall, and he watched as they were gunned-down. He saw the kids that did it, then he set his helicopter down and went to them. He shot one of them, a lieutenant. They would’ve killed him but he was their ride home, ya know? Anyway, when he got back to Phu Bai he reported the whole thing, and pretty soon some of the troops decided they wanted to kill him. They sent him home instead.”

Cat nodded. It sounded just like something he’d do.

“Anyway, he wanted me to get this to you, tell you to go to the embassy and give them the papers he left with you.”

“I have tried this already, with the papers and without, it does not matter. They will not let me go to America.”

Parish shook his head. “I was afraid of that.”

“Why? It is not your affair; do not be so concerned with me. I always survive.”

Parish rolled the ice around in his empty glass, watched as patterns formed and broke apart and wondered if life was as simple as that. Random molecules coming together in a sea of like-minded molecules giving rise to more and more patterns in the chaos. Nothing more than that. No meaning, no purpose, just fragments of ice in the bottom of a glass…meeting in the night until the motion pushed them on their way again.


“I talked to someone over at student health services,” Mrs Callahan said. “Call this number if you decide you want to go that way.”

That way.

That way?

If you were rich, she’d heard, you could go to Sweden. They did it in a hospital and there was no one waiting to tell you that you were going to Hell. You flew home in a couple of days and no one would be the wiser.

But not here. Not even here.

She had saved-up enough to get it done. She made the call, got the address and when Harry came by the next morning she told him she didn’t feel well and wasn’t going to school. She rode across the Bay Bridge in silence, in a dirty old Metro bus, and she found the address without too much trouble…a run-down looking hotel not far from the Western Pacific train station.

There were four other girls upstairs already, and the old man took her money and stuffed it in a bag, then told her to undress and put on a bathrobe. She watched him do one girl, then another. He came to her and she lay back, her head on a rumpled pillow, while he put her feet up in makeshift stirrups.

She felt something cold and hard slip inside, then a pinching sensation – and that was it. He was done and he moved on to the next girl. Not a half-hour later he was finished and he told the girls to lay there until they felt better, and by then it would be okay to go home.

But the pinching sensation never really went away.

The pinch turned into a slow burn, then the burn felt like it was spreading. First down her legs, then throughout her pelvic region before it began to arc up her spine. Maybe five hours later she felt like she was burning up inside so she turned on her side – but that hurt even more.

It was dark when she woke up and she had to pee, and when she stood she took one step and passed out.

She woke up on the floor sometime in the very early morning and made it to the bathroom; one of the other girls was passed out on the floor, her skin now blotchy and red, her body rolling in sweat. When June looked in the mirror she saw her face looked the same, red and blotchy, and saw the sweat on her brow.

“You’ll know when to go home,” she remembered the man saying, so she ran cool water from the tap and wiped her face, then helped the girl on the floor to one of the beds before she passed out again.

The sun was up but most of the other girls were gone now, only the girl from the floor remained. She went to her and tried to wake her, but the girl didn’t move now, and her body was cold. Ice cold.

Because she was dead.

There was a phone in the room and she called her house but no one answered, so she called Harry.

She told him where she was and what had happened, then she passed out again.

She knew she was being moved but that was all. She opened her eyes a while later and saw she was in Harry’s father’s station wagon and they were crossing the Bay Bridge now and headed into the city. She tried to talk, tried to tell Harry why she’d done what she’d done, and he whispered how much he loved her.

“I feel so cold,” she said, and those were the last words she spoke.


Callahan was standing on top of the Bank of America building looking down at a dead woman floating in the Holiday Inn swimming pool a few blocks away, when he felt the spent cartridge underfoot. He bent down and, using a ball point pen, picked it up and looked it over. A 30-06, and he could smell it had only recently been fired, even the extractor marks looked fresh, maybe not even an hour old, then he looked up and saw a note attached to an aerial.

“Jesus,” he said as he read Scorpio’s ransom note.

He called for a crime scene unit to work the top of the building, then waited for their arrival before he went downtown to finish his reports. An hour later he was on the cable car lost in thought.

He stopped off at the corner market and picked up some eggs and English muffins for the morning, as well as a copy of the late afternoon edition of the Chronicle and a few other things, then he walked to his building. The air was heavy, and he guessed more storms were brewing out past the gate, then he saw the homeless lady that had moved into Avi’s little shack under the fire escape and he shook his head. He knocked on the ‘roof’ of the shelter and the old woman poked her head out.

“Yes? Oh. Hi, Harry.”

He smiled, then handed her a couple of candles and a couple of cans of chicken-noodle soup – her favorite… “Smells like rain. Sure you’re okay out here?”

“Where else can I go?”

“I can get you to a shelter tonight.”

“No thanks, Harry. Too dangerous.”

“Well, okay. I’ll check with you in the morning.”

She nodded as he walked off, then disappeared into her own little piece of the world.

Callahan walked upstairs and put his groceries away, then he went over to the little grand and began playing…a ragtime improv that soon drifted through layers of Bach and Bacharach, then the flicker of lightning and the rumble of closing thunder brought him back.

He walked to the window, saw the Golden Gate had already disappeared behind the storm and he looked down at the street and thought about the woman sheltered under the fire escape.

“Maybe I should cook her some dinner,” he said to the walls as he walked over to the TV and switched it on. Walter Cronkite was talking in hurried tones about a new war just breaking out and Harry sat and looked at the screen. There was a map behind ‘the most trusted man in America,’ a map of Israel, and the anchor was talking about a two-pronged attack that had been launched against Israel earlier that day. Egyptians had crossed the Suez in force and armored columns were advancing across the Sinai virtually unopposed, while Syrian forces had swept down from the Golan and were marching towards Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv.

He thought about Avi and his mother, both probably sitting in the living room and listening as Phantoms scrambled overhead and raced to meet the threat, and he wondered how many more wars that piano would bare silent witness to. 

Another hammer of lightning and thunder ripped through the evening, and he walked to the kitchen.

He made a big salad, big enough for two, and he thought about the woman huddled down there in the darkness, alone and probably scared, as he put on two steaks.


And so, here ends part one of our little story about the life and times of Harry Callahan. Part two waits just ahead, just coming into view. Just beyond those storms on the horizon. Yeah, and somewhere out there maybe you’ll find the eighty-eighth key, too…


© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and thanks for reading…

the eighty-eighth key, ch 06

88th key cover image

the eighty-eighth key

part one

chapter six

Life was like riding his bike home from school, even in high school. Or running home, because running always felt good. Getting home felt good, most of the time, anyway. At least after all the chores were done there was an hour on the piano, because that always felt best.

Beyond that, even.

There was color in music, explosions in new chords that felt like silvery shivers when he found them. Like shining a flashlight in a dark corner and finding a shiny new puppy, something alive and bright with sudden possibilities. His mother had shown him Chopin and Debussy, but then he had found Gershwin on his own. 

So many explosions, so much color!

And ever since fourth grade, when the Eversons moved in next door, there was June. The other constant in his life.

She was an odd flower, too; from those first moments steeped in light and color. Not music. No, the first time he saw her she was on the front porch of her father’s house, standing behind an easel, lost in the moment with a paint brush in her hand. She was looking at a hummingbird, fascinated by the bird’s motionless grace as it supped from flowers growing up one of the columns supporting the front of the house, her huge blue eyes visible from across the yard.

It was the middle of summer, deep within all those other middle-moments before school started, when the sun was high in the sky, the breeze coming in from the bay fresh and cool, the memories still so sharp now that they hurt.

He stood inside that moment lost in her eyes, lost in time even then, watching her. That first moment together never went away.

Sun-glints in her red hair, a wave of freckles on her nose and just under her eyes; but those eyes! He stepped into the light, stepped closer to the moment and he saw her look his way…

“What are you looking at?” she always asked, even now.

“The hummingbird,” he lied.

“It’s amazing,” she said, suddenly her voice a faint whisper. “I’ve never seen green like this…it shimmers in the light…”

He walked ever so slowly to the porch and came up to her, and even then the movement felt so natural. He was drawn to her like a tidal surge, and it was as simple as that; what was so strange was her tacit acceptance of him even then, but how can you deny the tides?

They belonged together, and everyone could see that, even from the beginning. Even her father knew that, despite his misgivings.

Soon enough she heard his playing in the afternoon and came to the door, peeked inside – looking for the source of all this new color, color she couldn’t quite see yet. Within days she was on the inside looking out for the first time in her life, standing behind him lost in an otherworldly trance as she watched his fingers dance in all these strange new colors.

From the first she was fascinated by his hands, by his fingers, and soon enough she would stand there, sketchbook in hand as she studied his every sinew. When school started that autumn they walked there and back home together, even had the same teacher so they were hardly ever apart, and even there she would watch his hands as he doodled on paper; there were even times when she drew those errant currents, too, recording those moves for some hidden future purpose.

But she loved birds and flowers most of all, then Harry’s hands, and in time she loved to sit and listen as he played – then she would disappear for hours, usually for the rest of the day, and what she did in those hidden moments was a mystery.

Harry’s feelings for June went through diurnal phases that seemed keyed to the way his mother reacted to June’s presence; on some days his mother doted over June and so Harry almost detested the sight of her, while on others his mother seemed loath at the sight of June. Of course, on those days Harry doted over June.

Still, over the years these diurnal swings took a toll, on Harry certainly, but also on both June and his mother, yet no one seemed to understand where and when these deeper fault lines within the triptych emerged. Perhaps it was in Harry’s music or something within June’s painting, but no one, absolutely no one seemed to understand the true nature of the music Imogen Callahan created when storms approached, when lightning danced overhead and as thunder rolled across the bay. When the music that filled the Callahan house danced and rolled into the deeper registers, as memory and experience carried them all towards the eighty-eighth key…


Callahan was bunked-out in the bowels of the ship, waiting for the Huey to be rearmed and refueled so they could make the flight back to – somewhere? Phu Bai was still closed, though Danang was reportedly open now, though word had filtered-down overnight that C-Med had been overrun at one point and the facility retaken at great cost after an intense firefight that had lasted hours. Parish was beside himself too, seemingly desperate to get back to his work, and Callahan was surprised by this obtuse transformation.

But by early morning it was time to round up anyone headed back to the beach, so Callahan made his way to the hanger deck and did his walk-around in very strange company indeed. Down below the flight deck now, his Huey was surrounded by Phantoms and Corsairs, and crews were loading huge bombs on ordnance racks on a line of A-6 Intruders. Then his Huey was hauled to one of the massive elevators for the ride up to the flight deck, then to a spot just aft of the island – the tail rotor hanging out over the churning sea maybe forty feet below.

Parish was up there already, so were the medics and Don McCall – though he wouldn’t be flying today – as well as a bunch of Army types that needed to be repatriated to their units ashore. Everyone clambered in and a crew chief came out and gave Callahan the hand signals he’d need to get off the ship, then signaled engine start as he walked off. A few minutes later Kilo Bravo -6 was headed for the beach and deep into the heart of the Tet Offensive…


The Jetstar taxied to a secure spot on a ramp dedicated to small jet parking and after the engines spooled-down Avi led Harry down to a waiting staff car; they left the airport and drove into the sleeping city, the streets now almost devoid of traffic. A few minutes later they came to a small cluster of new houses located behind a formidable stone wall, and a soldier opened the iron gate guarding a vast interior courtyard. Callahan looked at the security detail surrounding the homes and shook his head, then remembered this was Israel, not Miami Beach – though the climate was similar enough.

Avi led him to a house deep within the cluster and up to a brightly lighted entry courtyard almost overgrown with miniature palm trees, and another sentry opened the door – from the inside! – greeting Avi deferentially before eyeing Callahan with frank suspicion.

“Is she up,” Avi whispered to the sentry.

“Yessir, and she seems quite agitated.” 

Avi nodded then turned to Callahan: “Follow me.”

And Avi turned, led him back out to the main courtyard and across a walkway to another, smaller bungalow. Again, a sentry opened the door from inside and Avi led the way into the living room. And Frank Bullitt and his girlfriend Cathy were sitting there, looking more than a little put out…so Avi and the guard quietly retreated.

Bullitt stood when Harry walked into the room, then walked over to him: “You okay?”

“Yeah. Have a nice flight?”

“You mean aside from worrying about you? Were you on that little jet?”

Callahan nodded. “Saw yours being pushed back as we took off. How long have you been here?”

“‘Bout an hour. Called Bennett when we got here and he’s frantic, already lodged some kind of complaint with the Israeli embassy in D.C. Someone from our embassy is on the way out here right now, but as far as anyone knows you were abducted by persons unknown.”

Callahan shook his head. “Swell,” he said, settling into one of the comfortable room’s overstuffed aqua-colored leather chairs.

“Someone told us Nixon stayed in this place when he visited last year,” Cathy said from the sofa. “Harry, what did you get mixed-up in?”

“My mom,” Callahan sighed. “My mom leads another life, or something like that.”

“Like what?” Bullitt asked.

“Well, she’s married to something like the minister for scientific security, and I guess when she’s not busy having psychotic breaks she designs hydrogen bombs.”

Bullitt looked at him now, his lips bunched-up in a deep scowl and his brow deeply furrowed, then his face split into that wide grin of his. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”


“Minister of Scientific Security?”

“He thinks Egypt and Syria are planning an attack. He’s trying to convince their government to get ready.”

“And what about you? Why do they want you here right now?”

“Well, that’s the fun part, Frank. Seems they lost a bomb, and they want me to find it.”

“A bomb?” Cathy asked, her eyes wide. “You mean…”

“Yeah,” Bullitt smirked, “our Harry is full of all kinds of interesting surprises these days.”

Callahan shook his head then stood and walked over to a vast wall of sliding glass doors; he looked to the southwest, to Orion settling over the western horizon, then to the east – where rosy fingered Dawn was just beginning to show-off her handiwork.

The morning calm was shattered as a flight of Phantoms took off from a nearby air base, and he watched them climb almost vertically before all four turned to the northeast, their dual afterburners trailing in the night sky like the eyes of angry dragons. He felt Bullitt by his side a moment later, then Cathy joined them as they all looked up into the fading night.

“When’s this war of theirs supposed to start?” she asked.

“Soon,” Harry said with a sigh.

“Swell,” Frank Bullitt growled. “That’s just fucking swell.”


“Kilo Bravo -6, Phu Bai reports now open. Expedite return and pick up supplies for C-Med.”

“-6 received.”

“What’s up?” Parish asked.

“Gotta pick up supplies before we head up-valley. Doubt we’ll be on the ground five minutes.” Parish nodded his head but he seemed agitated. Real agitated. “What’s wrong?” Callahan asked.

Parish turned away, the looked back. “I gotta girl up there. Lives in a village maybe a mile away. She came round, asked if she could do little things, ya know? Like our laundry, shit like that. Would’ve been fine but she’s a looker and, ya know, I was horny and one thing led to another.”

“Don’t tell me. You asked her to marry you.”

Parish looked way, shook his head.

“You’re a fuckin’ hypocrite, you fucking asshole.”


“But, why?”

“Misery loves company, I guess.”


“Yeah, man. I love the hell out of her but that’s just it. Can’t take her stateside, ya know? So this can only end one way, and I don’t like the way it’s gonna play out, ya know? I just don’t dig unhappy endings, ya know?”

“What do you mean you can’t take her home? Why not?”

“Against the rules, man. No fuckin’ way the Man would let something good come out of this fucked up war, ya know?”

“There’s gotta be a way. You’ll find it, so don’t sweat it. Besides…”

“Besides what, man?”

“If it’s meant to be, it will be.”

“Ya know, Callahan, I didn’t take you for a religious nut-job.”

And years later it hit Callahan exactly what he’d said, and he’d wondered at the time and ever since if he’d really meant it. He’d dreamt of his Looney-Junes the night before, and it had felt in his sleep as if she’d never passed on, that they’d had the baby and settled down in their own house overlooking the bay and life had played out the way he’d always hoped it would…the way he’d thought it was meant to…

And so, the logical conclusion was that had never really been meant to be, right? That she’d gone to that fucking butcher over in Oakland and he’d simply killed her out of neglect, so that was meant to be, too. Meant to be? How could something so right be so swiftly snuffed out, erased from life’s ledger so completely? That just didn’t make sense, and the whole notion that her death was a part of somebody’s plan left him cold, left him not wanting to know a god like that.

But now he understood what was eating Parish.

They were on the ground at Phu Bai for maybe a half hour, on a hold while the Air Force pounded the area between C-Med and Hué City, mainly because Callahan didn’t feel like flying around the area looking for a safe route. Better to wait it out and fly there direct and, besides, the longer wait gave them more time to load supplies.

When they did get off the ground they did so in a flight of six Hueys, and they flew direct in line-formation, and with a dozen Cobra gunships escorting. Callahan’s was the last Huey to land and unload on the little pad and Parish said his goodbyes this time, shaking Harry’s hand before he jumped out and ran towards surgery.

“Kilo Bravo -6, RTB and expedite.”

“-6, RTB.”

Most Return To Base calls were rare, and in the middle of a resupply even more so, and so inwardly Callahan just knew he’d done something wrong.

Though of course he couldn’t have been more wrong.


By the time junior high rolled around everyone knew Callahan and that weird red-haired girl had done it. They had to have, right? Because they were together all the time, sometimes night and day. Her old man was a freak, too, playing with doves all the time, or pigeons, or whatever…! And all she did was paint stuff. Too weird…

But everyone couldn’t have been more wrong.

By the time Callahan was fourteen the whole contrapuntal thing with June and his mom had gotten a little out of hand. When Mrs C said she liked June Harry hated suddenly still the girl next door and he stopped seeing her after school, and when Mrs C told Harry the girl was trouble all of sudden he couldn’t get enough of her. The really odd thing was his music, because it seemed to ebb and flow on these tides, with Harry boldly experimenting when his mother castigated him for associating with the girl and his expressing complete disinterest in music when his mother seemed to adore her. Perhaps the greater point lost here is the net effect this evolving tug-of-war had on the little red-haired girl next door, because she never knew from one day to the next what Harry’s feeling for her really were.

But sometime in high school her father gave her a Nikon, a real honest to god Nikon F, the real pro model with the brick-like Photomic finder, and June’s artistic interests turned on a dime as she flew off on this new tangent with unbelievable passion. JFK had barely been in office a year but all of a sudden photography was the new thing, and magazines like Life and National Geographic became the new focus of her artistic interests. Even so, she still loved to watch Harry’s hands on the keyboard, and she would fire off a roll then disappear, dash to her basement and develop her latest studies. Harry grew fascinated with this stuff too and asked his dad to check on Nikon prices during his next trip to Japan; he came back a few months later with an identical Nikon, and several new lenses as well.

And these new pieces of glass fascinated June, expanded her view of the world like nothing Harry could imagine. They walked the waterfront taking pictures of mollusks when the tides were out, and on Saturday nights they took the streetcar into the city and went to coffeeshops, photographing folk singers into the wee hours. She wanted to go to an airshow over in Oakland once, and Harry saw a helicopter in action for the first time, even talked to an Army recruiter about it, then they stood in open-mouthed wonder when the Blue Angels performed overhead. They walked past the train station and up to Jack London Square, and they’d called her dad that day because the finally realized how far away from home they’d roamed.

And they learned about life that way, through the lens, one picture at a time. They’d walk up to strangers and ask to take their picture. They went to art galleries and museums, taking pictures of everything then rushing home to develop what they’d found – and then they’d relive the day while they reviewed each other’s work. 

And this idyllic bliss would go on until Harry’s mom experienced another psychotic break and Harry ricocheted off her emotional walls again.

After a really bad one June sat on her front porch crying like a broken angel, and when Harry saw her sitting there, all of a sudden he figured everything out and he ran over to her, held her and promised he’d never let her go and that nothing like this would ever happen again.

But the damage was by then real and lasting; June knew the only way she could break free of the cycle was to break free of Harry, and she tried more than once to follow through with her decision and make a break for it. Yet somehow she never could.

She thought about her dad mostly, during those times when she questioned her resolve, thought about him sitting in the backyard with his doves all alone.

Ever since her mother passed, since his wife died, she couldn’t help thinking that the worst thing you could do was walk away from your destiny, and if she knew one thing at all in this world it was that Harry Callahan was her’s.


“You Callahan?” the three-star general stated more than asked.


“Assigned to a RAM team out of Bamburg in ’65?” using the common abbreviation for the Radiation Assessment and Monitoring squadron he’d been assigned to when he was stationed in Germany.


“Well Callahan, we’ve got a Broken Arrow over in Laos or Cambodia and we’ve got to get it out. There are only two Wizard-equipped Hueys over here, and only one qualified pilot. You. When can you be ready to go?”

“As soon as you show me the bird, sir, and any reconnaissance there is.”

“It’s on the ramp at Danang,” a full-bird colonel said as he handed over an envelope full of the latest recon imagery. “An EH-1H prototype, we were using it for a project we’re working on and it happens to be Wizard-equipped. You ever flown the -H?”

“No sir, but if it’s a Huey I can fly it.”

“We know you can, son,” the general said. “I know you’re reserves, so I tell you what. If you do this for us how’d you like to go home early?”

“Not very much, sir. The fight’s here. I’m needed here.”

The officers in the room looked at one another, then nodded. He had passed their last test, the most important test of all.

The general stood and held out his right hand and Callahan took it. “Good luck, son.”

“Yessir.” Callahan saluted and executed a crisp ‘about-face,’ then stepped out of the room and waited in the ante-room at ‘parade-rest,’ as he’d been forewarned. The colonel came out a moment later, said “Follow me” to Callahan as he strode from the room. They rode out to the flight line and the colonel passed Callahan off to a  Air Force captain in a light gray flight-suit; the captain looked at Callahan’s blood-splattered helmet and gear and shook his head before walking over to an OV-10, pointing to the back seat. “Been in one of these before?” the captain asked.

“No sir.”

“Ever trained in an ejection seat before?”

“No sir.”

“See that yellow thing over your head? If I say ‘eject-eject’ you pull that fucker hard and keep your arms and legs in tight. Got it?”

“Yessir.” Callahan said as he topped the little ladder and climbed into the aft cockpit; a chief helped him strap in and got his intercom plugged into the system, then pointed out the ejection seat strap again.

After the side-opening canopy slammed shut the turbines started spooling-up, then he heard the captain through the intercom: “If it gets busy I’d appreciate a little help on the radios.”

“Got it.”

The OV-10 felt like sitting in a fish bowl, the tips of the propellors a spinning blur about a foot away on the other side of the canopy. The whole thing felt exposed and unsafe, and Callahan felt himself tensing up as the captain taxied out to the active. He’d seen these aircraft before, the huge flaps providing incredible lift and an absurdly short take-off roll, but he’d never expected to fly in one…

“Ya know,” the captain began, “the prototype for this thing was put together in a guy’s garage. Homebuilt. Kinda weird, ya know?” the captain added as he turned onto the runway.


“Yeah, get a load of this…” The captain held the brakes and ran up the engines to full take off power, then…

…Callahan felt the brakes release and about a second later they were nose up, climbing at 80 knots…

“Holy shit!” screamed Callahan, laughing in spite of himself. “I got to get me one of these!”

The captain grinned. “You shoulda joined the air farce, man. Most people I do that to puke their guts out.”

“Damn, that’s better than sex…”

“Now, you wanna see what this thing can really do…?”

“Fuck yeah!”


The -H model looked like any other Huey, only this one was painted black – flat black, and all the glass looked pinkish-amber; some kind of material to keep radiation or EMP from getting to the electronics onboard, or so another Air Force captain said. This captain would be pilot in command, while Callahan would fly left seat and work the Wizard. “We’re going to head over to Phu Bai and refuel there, pick up the insertion team. When we find the thing we’ll drop them off and wait for the Jolly Greens, and we’ll have OV-10s overhead to call in air-support. Any questions?”

“No sir.”

“You trained on this in Germany?”


“Okay man, enough with the yessir no sir crap. Let’s go.”

While they were at Phu Bai, Parish walked by just as all the team gathered for pictures, and with another general and his colonels front and center he slipped into the photograph, stood next to Callahan – flashing a ‘peace sign’ with two upraised fingers just for good measure – before he skipped off to the flight line. Callahan saw Don McCall walk by and flashed him a thumbs-up; McCall grinned and walked out to a Huey and flew off towards C-Med.

‘Life goes on…’ he thought, with or without you…and all of a sudden he was in the back of his dad’s station wagon, holding his Looney-Junes as they sped across the Bay Bridge on their way to the hospital.


He couldn’t sleep with the sun coming up so he sat and watched the day unfold, listened as more Israeli jets took off and flew to the north, but there was nothing out of the ordinary on the television or radio so he relaxed. Bullitt and Cathy had trudged off to their bedroom in a deep funk, leaving Harry to deal with the flaks from the State Department and to figure out what they were supposed to do today.

Then the front door opened and Avi walked in. He looked exasperated.

“She has not slept in days so I had a doctor come, and he’s given her something to help her sleep. If you wouldn’t mind, we’d like you to take a look at one of our helicopters today.”

Harry nodded, and he now had a clear understanding of why he’d really been brought here. As he got out of the chair and slipped on his jacket, he glared at Avi as he walked to the entry. There were a couple of official looking Chevrolets out front, engines running and with soldiers behind the wheels, and Avi led them to one and motioned Harry to get in.

“You coming with me?” Harry asked.

“Of course.”

The base was, strangely enough, only a few miles away, and he saw a long line of ten Hueys baking under the fierce morning sun – yet they drove past these and on towards a small hanger attached to the base security facility. The cars pulled up there and police-types opened Harry’s door and escorted him into the security building. He was finger-printed and given an ID badge, then escorted into the hanger.

And there it was, a pristine -H model sitting under blazing overhead lights, the very same pinkish-amber glass – and the specialized antenna farm just above the cockpit. This one was painted a dark slate gray, though Israeli Air Force markings were conspicuously absent from her. Harry was introduced to the ship’s crew and got up to speed on what they did – and did not – know about the Wizard and it’s operation, then they gathered round and asked questions for an hour or so…and that was it for the day.

“Keep the badge for next time,” Avi said as they walked out to the cars.

“Whose helicopter is that?” he asked.

Avi shrugged. “We got it used. I’m not sure from who.”

“Looks brand new,” Callahan added. “Did the Air Force give it to you?”

Avi shrugged, grinning from ear to ear.


“Your mother is up. We should go have dinner now.”

Callahan looked at his wrist, saw the day had slipped away as their little convoy pulled into the compound and stopped in front of Avi’s house. They walked to the door but Avi stopped short. “Are you ready for this, Harald?”

“I wish I knew.”

Avi nodded. Well Daniel, into the lion’s den we go.”

“Right.” Harry took a deep breath and followed Avi into the house and there she was, sitting on a sofa, watching and waiting. She too seemed nervous, uncomfortably so, then Harry noticed a piano located off the main room and he froze. It was a Bösendorfer Grand, deepest ebony and lit from above, and he felt her eyes on him and knew she was watching his reaction. He looked at her and she pointed to the piano.

“Go to her, Harald.”

And so he did. 

For as long as he could remember he had wanted to see one of these legendary instruments, yet he had always understood playing one, let alone owning one, would be forever out of reach.

And now?

He went to the bench and pulled it out just so, then gently moved to the keys. He looked at the shine, felt the cool smoothness and shook his head, then he felt her coming up from behind, then putting her hands on his shoulders.

“She has been silent too long, you must bring her back to life for us.” Avi said as he walked up to them, and for a moment Harry didn’t know if Avi was talking about the piano or his mother. “I found her after the war, in the basement of our old home. I bought her and had her taken to Vienna where they resurrected her, and now she is home again.”

He felt her fingers running through his hair and closed his eyes, thought of the times she had done just this very thing when his legs were not yet long enough for his feet to reach the pedals. She had sat beside him all those years ago and played with him as she passed on all that she knew, and now she sat beside him – again – and looked expectantly at him.

“What would you like to hear, Mom?”

She leaned her head on his shoulder and whispered “Gershwin, The Second Prelude. Slowly, please.”

He closed his eyes and tried to remember all the times he’d played this for June, and for his mother, then he nodded and resumed this ever so personal journey through time and memory.

When he was finished, and when he had come back to them, he looked up and saw Bullitt and Cathy were there now and he seemed surprised…

“When did you get here?” he asked them.

“About an hour ago,” Bullitt said. “That was incredible, Harry. I had no idea.”

“How long have I been playing?”

Bullitt looked at his watch. “We came in when you were starting Rhapsody in Blue…”

“Then you ran through West Side Story,” Cathy added, “nonstop. I’ve never heard anything so beautiful in my life, Harry.” Her eyes were glistening….

“My Harald always had the gift, more than I ever hoped.”

Avi beamed, glad the reunion he’d orchestrated was going so well. “Should we have some dinner? Harald, you must be exhausted now?”

He ran his fingers over the keys gently and shook his head. “I felt like I was a million miles away, Mom, like I was in another time, another place…”

“I know, my son, my love. I know.”

And indeed he did know, because when Cathy mentioned West Side Story it all came back to him. The suite, Bernstein’s retelling of Romeo and Juliet, had been June’s favorite and she’d begged him – begged him! – to play it on her birthdays and now all he could think about was the road that had taken him to their music tonight, of all nights. 

He looked at his mother and knew she understood, knew that was why she had wiped away tears when he finished the piece.

He stood and helped her up, then they walked together and she led him to the dining room.


The OV-10s took off first and criss-crossed the way ahead; unbeknownst to Callahan several B-52s loitered near the Cambodia/Laos border – waiting for the call to pulverize anyone attempting to interfere with the operation, yet because almost all hostile forces were supposedly engaged in the south the odds were considered good they wouldn’t be needed. Leaving the Hué area on a heading of 300 degrees, the estimated area they were looking for was between 190 and 210 miles distant.

Assuming the warhead’s casing had been breeched Callahan figured particulate signatures would begin to register in about an hour; if the warhead was intact they might fly right over the thing and not get a significant reading, so someone’s very bad luck was going to play a big role in this outcome.

“Flight, CAP, we’re picking up fire control radars and some airborne signatures now.”

Callahan groaned. “Migs?” he asked the captain. Everyone was chewing gum by that point, and the rate of lip-smacking suddenly picking up speed.

“Yup. It would be too good to be true if Charlie was clueless about this, but if they do know anything, and I do mean anything about this it could get real hot, real fast. How long until that thing picks up something?”

“Best case…twenty minutes.”

“We havin’ fun yet, Harry?”

Callahan turned, saw Parish sitting behind the captain’s seat and just about swallowed his gum. “What are you doing here, meathead?”

“Heard y’all was goin’ to a dance and, well, ya know, I don’t want to miss out on the fun.”

“Who the hell are you?” the captain said, clearly pissed off now.

“General Eisenhower asked me to tag along,” Parish said, now grinning like a madman. “He thought you could use a proctologist along for the ride today.”

“He’s a doc,” Callahan interjected. “Works out at C-Med, and there’s a rumor he actually knows what he’s doing.”

“Well doc,” the captain hissed, “guess what? You ain’t supposed to be here and odds are when we get back you’ll be headed to straight to Leavenworth Kansas for a little proctological exam of your own, so sit down, keep your eyes closed and your fuckin’ mouth shut. Got it?”

One of the Phantoms overhead chimed-in: “Flight, looks like four Mig-17s inbound at low level, maybe two more groups forming up north of here.”

“We’re blown,” the captain said as he pushed the Huey down to the treetops.

“Trace reading,” Callahan whispered.


“Okay, good trace, come left to 2-9-4 degrees then swing your heading plus or minus ten degrees.”

“Got it.”

“Good trace, more to the right. Make your course 290. Wind carries the particles and they cling to the trees. I think we’re getting a better ratio down here in the weeds.”

“You say so.”

“Bingo, detection levels now! We should be within five miles.”

The captain got on the radio: “All units, this is Achilles. We are a go, standby insertion. Keep the Migs out of here and Baker element, go ahead and put the Jolly Greens on alert status.”

“Strong signal now,” Callahan stated. “Go into a hover and swing plus or minus twenty degrees.”

“Got it.”



“Migs!” one of the door gunners screamed before he let loose an extended volley. Callahan turned and saw Parish with an M-16 firing at something out the door – down in the trees? – just before their Huey took fire from the ground.

“Flight, Achilles, we got Charlie on the ground, in-force. Call in the BUFFs.” He turned to Callahan. “Got anything?”

“Straight ahead. Go!” He looked up from the Wizard and saw two Migs and a Phantom in a wide turn, the Migs turning back to line up on the Huey. Something leapt from the Phantom’s wings and one of the Migs disappeared in a fireball, but the second one was lining up to make its run on them. He turned to see what was going on in back and saw Parish tending to a wounded door gunner, then their Huey leapt up abruptly, then nosed down to the weeds – building speed and darting through the treetops – and the Mig disappeared.

“Charlie’s fucking everywhere,” the captain said.

“We’re almost on top of the signal,” Callahan said, then: “There it is!” he said, pointing through the windshield. He saw a semi-intact B-57, the fuselage recognizable but the wings a tangled mess, and the whole area was crawling with troops.

The captain reefed the Huey into a tight climbing turn and made the call: “Flight, Achilles, we’re blown. Case Red, I repeat, Case Red. RTB expedite, repeat RTB expedite.”

Callahan watched as the OV-10s circling overhead lined up and began firing white phosphorous marker rounds on the downed aircraft, and moments later the jungle erupted in flames, an area of several square miles literally covered in napalm as 24 B-52s dropped their loads on the wrecked B-57.

“Well, that’s that,” the captain sighed.

“What, we’re just going to leave it there?”

The captain shook his head. “No, but our part of the OP is over now. An assessment team will go in and check it out, but that’s not your job. Let’s get you back to work.”

Callahan saw Parish in back sewing up a gunner’s leg – tough work in a helicopter – and he motioned to the captain, had him take a look. “Get him out of here as soon as we land, and tell him to keep his mouth shut…” 


Callahan shook his head, pushed his Ray-Bans up then pinched the bridge of his nose, rubbed his eyes then looked out at the desert as the gray Israeli -H model swept to the northeast until it had reached the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee; they were now hugging the eastern shoreline about fifty feet above the water. He was flying the Huey and scanning the Wizard while the Israeli captain watched and asked questions; a radio operator in back was in contact with their base…

“So, what kind aircraft was involved,” Callahan asked.

“An A-4H, fairly new airframe, no combat so no major repairs.”

“The pilot?”

The captain took a deep breath. “Experienced,” was all he said.

“Any chance he’d defect?”


“So, we’re on his last track now? Where’d you lose contact?”

“About two more miles.”


“Low. Very low. What you may not realize is how close we are to both Jordan and to Syria. We are also flying alongside the Golan Heights. Operations in this area are severely restricted, essentially to wartime.”

“So, your pilot was getting very close to that area?”

The captain nodded. “Too close.”

The Wizard chirped and Callahan looked at the trace, then he throttled back and put the nose up, let the collective slip a little and the Huey softened into a hover. He leveled off then yawed left and right a few times, watching the Wizard react, then he put the nose down and added power, followed the trace again – this time a little more to the north. “How far to the border?” he asked.

“Which one?”

Callahan shook his head again. “On this heading.”

“Syria is ahead, about 31 miles. Lebanon that way,” he added, pointing to their ten o’clock, “maybe 20 miles. If you fail to stay out over the water here we will be violating the DMZ.”

Callahan looked at the shoreline now perhaps 200 yards away and he sighed. “Complicated,” was all he said.

“Even more so at 500 knots. No room to fuck-up.”

The Wizard chirped twice then an amber light flickered and Callahan dropped into another Hover, swung the compass and watched the array of flickering lights, then he lowered the nose and turned hard to the left.

“What are you doing!?” the captain cried, clearly alarmed.

“Following the trace.”

The captain pulled out his aeronautical chart and studied it a moment, then spoke: “We’ll be okay as long as you keep south of 320 degrees.”

“320,” Harry repeated, then the Wizard lit up like a Christmas tree and he pulled back hard and climbed into a steep banking turn, then he slowly leveled off, settling into a hover just above the water’s surface. “How deep is it here?”

“Here? I don’t know, why?”

Callahan flew along at a sedate walking speed while he fiddled with his Ray-Bans, then he looked at the captain. “Because, there’s your missing Skyhawk,” Harry said, pointing to an area of lighter color in the lake. “Take some bearings, then let’s get out of here before we stir up trouble.”


Avi was waiting for them as Harry brought the Huey into the pattern at the air base, and he followed the captains directions and settled down near the security-hanger and shut the engine down. Ground crews rushed up and security personnel weren’t far behind, and everyone seemed to hover around Harry like he was a long lost friend, shaking his hand and slapping him on the back as he climbed down from the right seat and onto the tarmac. Avi was in that group and he came up to Harry and hugged him…

“I knew you could do it! I just knew it!” the old man said, beaming from ear to ear, and Harry felt the warmth of the moment, the genuine emotional acceptance of these people gathered all around, and he smiled and shrugged his shoulders in a modest kind of “Aw, shucks” gesture before the old man led him off to a waiting sedan.

“Really remarkable, Harry. I’m speechless. We’ve been looking for five weeks, and it took you, what? An hour? Maybe two? Just remarkable.”

“I don’t get it, Avi. You had the Wizard…?”

“Well, no, we didn’t. We had to, well, we had to borrow this aircraft, and we could only do that under the strictest conditions. One was that we could only use an America trained pilot, and the other is that we return the aircraft as soon as we are done with it. Well, we are…”

“Ah, and now you are done with me too, is that about right?”

“Yes and no, Harald. Militarily your work is done here, but you are free to stay as long as you like.”

“What do you mean, free to stay?”

“Your mother needs you, and obviously Israel needs you too. You have a home here, waiting. Always.”

“I see.”

Avi sat in silence the rest of the drive, and they all went out to dinner that night, down to a waterfront restaurant in Tel Aviv, but nothing was said about the days operation, nothing at all. After the group returned to the compound Harry sat up with his mother and they talked through the night, about music in the main, but about his father and life in California and his work for the department…

“You love it, then? This work?”

“I do, yes, but I miss… Well, I miss flying too. After Vietnam I never thought I’d say that, but Mom, I’m a cop. I know that must sound strange to you…”

“No, not at all, Harald. I can see it in your eyes. You seem very comfortable in your skin, like you are doing what you should be doing with your life. I only wish…”

Then her voice trailed off, her eyes glazed and her body tensed…

“Mom? What is it?”

“I keep thinking about our little June and what might have been. I would like to know that you are not the last of me, Harald. I would like to know that we will carry on. I would like to know that one day you will fall in love with your music again. You create such magic when you play. You must know that?”

“That piano in there,” he said, pointing to the Bösendorfer, “is magic, Mom.”

“Then take it!”

“What? No way, Mom. That’s yours…”

“I can no longer play, Harald. When I left, well, everything left me. I cannot even remember the notes now, and even the simplest chords are beyond me…”

Harry laughed a little, then shook his head. “I can’t begin to imagine that that is even remotely true. Come on, let’s go…”

“No, Harald, I can’t.”

“Mom, when you sat with me the night before I could feel it in you. The music is still all there, just waiting to come out again, right where you left it…”


But Harry stood and held out his hand, and she took it, and in that moment one of the greatest transformations in the history of music took place…

…but let’s not get ahead of our little story, okay?


(c) 2020 | adrian leverkühn | abw


[oh, just an aside, but sprinkled through this story you might run across little traces of song lyrics here and there; for instance a sentence a few chapters ago about Armstrong and Aldrin walking on the moon mentioned a bright spot in the nighttime, a line from Three Dog Night’s Out in the Country. This piece was from 1970, so contemporaneous to the story, though not all are. Good luck finding them…!]

p.s. check out this video of Bernstein’s West Side Story, and check out the shoes! What a riot!

the eighty-eighth key, chapter 5

88th key cover image

the eighty-eighth key

part one

chapter five

The various outcomes of the so-called Tet Offensive of January 1968 will be debated by historians for as long as students gather to talk about that pivotal year in America. What had been an at-best tepid anti-war movement in America blossomed after Tet into the raging inferno of anti-establishment riots that soon shredded American society – and lasted over three years. North Vietnam’s coordinated assaults on more than one hundred US bases, as well as command and control facilities throughout Vietnam, terrified the military and galvanized the anti-war movement into taking increasingly bold acts of civil-disobedience, and in the aftermath LBJ decided not to seek reelection. Like the forks on a bolt of lightning, repercussions spread throughout American society after that and, indeed, around the world. You can think of RFKs assassination as just one of those forks, and the gunning down of protestors at Kent State University another, but it takes very careful study indeed to follow all the trails to their unhappy conclusions. Looking back on those times now, most people still around might see Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s walk on the moon as the only bright spot in the night worth remembering.

On the third day of the Tet Offensive military planners gathered at the Pentagon gave the go ahead to activate a desperate plan to decapitate the North’s leadership with a very limited strike on a small enclave northwest of Hanoi. Operation Headless Horseman would be carried out by a very specially modified Martin B-57G, one that had been modified to fly in the so-called ‘night intruder’ role, and it would carry a very small, very low-yield tactical nuclear device to it’s intended target: a leadership compound about fifty miles from Hanoi. Reconnaissance aircraft and radio intercepts were being used to closely monitor political movements, and the mission’s timing was considered crucial to it’s success.

The aircraft took off from Danang and turned to the west and then, once out of Vietnamese airspace, to the north. The intended track would see the aircraft make it’s attack run from the northwest and hopefully surprise the North’s formidable air defenses, but before that could happen LBJ recalled the flight. While en route back to Danang the aircraft encountered a SAM battery and sustained heavy damage, and before the aircraft could make it back to Vietnamese airspace it went down.


Picture if you will a shallow valley, tree-lined for the most part, and along the valley floor a a small river running through swampy low brush. To the west a more rugged landscape of foothills giving way to serious coastal mountains, while to the southeast lay the city of Hué. Located in a clearing on the valley floor was a small facility that looked somewhat like an old fort from the days of Cowboys and Indians, and in this fort were stationed several US Army Green Berets and a few hundred infantrymen from the South Vietnamese Army. These troops were positioned to guard a forward medical facility operated by the US Army, and this little fortification went by the name of C-Med. C-Med was one of the facilities targeted during the Tet Offensive because the doctors and medics stationed there were located very close to North Vietnam, and as a result serious casualties from the DMZ were often carried to C-Med to be stabilized. Many of the wounded had to be treated on the spot and then transported, usually to Danang but sometimes to an aircraft carrier offshore, though many never left C-Med alive. Surgeons plucked out of their residencies landed at C-Med if they were considered troublemakers or rebels, because C-Med was routinely attacked by Charlie – as the Viet Cong operating in the region were derisively called, though the origins of the name remain obscure. As a result many physicians based at C-Med were either killed or went out of their minds due to the unrelenting workload.

And this unrelenting workload was the norm before the Tet Offensive began, and long after.


Harry Callahan’s first operational assignment after arriving at Phu Bai on 28 January 1968, was to fly a Medevac up to C-Med. Onboard with the medics was Robert Parish, MD, a talented young surgeon from Coos Bay, Oregon who literally despised anything in green, most notably army green. And most especially army officers wearing their peculiar varieties of green, and whom he variously regarded as festering turds or rattlesnakes, depending on the current state of his inebriation – to which he dated to his arrival in Vietnam. Parish had quickly been, as you might expect, posted to C-Med.

And as luck would have it he just managed to hop a ride with Callahan – after failing to get arrested for calling a colonel a douche-bag, well, a fucking douche-bug, to the man’s face. He had called the colonel such things, and more, because the colonel had had the temerity to relieve Parish of a just-opened bottle of Johnny Walker Red – at eight in the morning.

And “Fingers still smell like Cat?” was the first thing Parish said to Callahan; Harry replied by dropping the collective and plastering Parish to the Huey’s ceiling. “I take that to be a resounding yes,” Parish sighed as he pulled a flask of Bacardi 151 from his flak jacket and took a long pull. “Want some more, Callahan? Or is that best you got?”

Callahan dropped the collective and Parish barely grabbed a seatback in time to avoid the worst impact as he slammed into the floor. Parish decided to drink in silence after that, though he looked past the door gunners at the passing treetops now just a few meters away. C-Med came into view above the trees a few minutes later, and Callahan circled the base once before coming in for a hard touchdown. The medics pushed Parish out the door and ran with him to one of the bunkers by the pad; the medics returned with several kids on stretchers and hung IV bottles on overhead trees while the door gunners lashed the stretchers down, then one of the medics told Harry to get airborne as quickly as possible – or words to that effect – but by then Harry Callahan had completely forgotten about Doug Parish, MD.

He made three more flights to C-Med that first day on the flight line, and one more around midnight. Parish had his fingers in some kid’s neck almost the entire trip to Danang, and he disappeared into an ambulance without saying so much as one ‘fuck you’ the entire trip.

And yet, when Callahan woke up and made his first flight back out to C-Med the next morning, there was Parish waiting on the flight line, waiting to catch a ride back out to the trenches.

“Hey Callahan,” Parish called out as Harry walked out to his Huey, “eaten any good Cats lately?”

Harry stopped and felt for the 45 strapped to his hip; he pulled it out and walked over to Parish – whose eyes went wide when Callahan unholstered the Colt. “You know what punk? How’d you like to eat some of this?”

“You headed up the valley?” Parish said, quickly changing the subject as he sized up Callahan once again.

“Yeah, Meathead, I am.”

“Mind if I grab a ride with you?”

“Well yes, Meathead, as a matter of fact I do.”

“Okay, Callahan, you win. No more jokes.”

“Get in,” Harry said before he turned and walked out to his flutterbug, though Callahan ignored him as he and his co-pilot went through the pre-start checklist.

After they lifted-off Parish slid up close to the ‘pit, his eyes scanning the countryside beyond the Huey, looking at all the foot traffic as the passed Hué City. “Never seen so many people out here, Callahan. You hear anything this morning?”

“No? Why?”

“I dunno, man. My nut sack is itching, and it usually only does that when Charlie is up to no fuckin’ good…”

“Your nut sack…?” Callahan had just started to say when a volley of small arms fire slammed into the left side of the Huey, raking it from the cockpit to the tail. He heard one of the medics scream and his co-pilot slumped over the controls. Parish got the pilot out of his harness and dragged him back onto the floor while the other medic helped; the door gunners leaned out and began shooting at anything that moved. Callahan put the Huey down in the weeds, racing between trees for C-Med. He knew the approach well enough now to slide in hard on his first attempt, which just happened to be when mortar rounds began landing inside the perimeter. A small herd of ambulatory wounded jumped in the back of the Huey and the gunners screamed “Go-go-go!” in unison; Harry lifted off and decided to head back to Phu Bai by another route – but it was the same everywhere he tried. Streams of ‘farmers’ carrying AK-47s and RPGs lined all the roads and trails leading to Hué City, and many took potshots at the Huey so Callahan had his hands full all the way back to base.

Parish went with the wounded medic while orderlies carried away the dead co-pilot; another hosed blood from the interior of the Huey while Callahan looked over the damage to the ‘bug with his crew chief. No engine damage, no rotor damage, so Callahan was good to go as soon as he could round up another co-pilot.

Parish got back to the flight line just as Callahan and a new pilot, a green kid from West Texas named Don McCall, walked out to the messed-up Huey.

“That don’t look too swift,” McCall sighed – bug-eyed – after looking at the fifty or so bullet holes sprayed down the left side of the aircraft – many through the co-pilot’s door. 

“Pretty fucked-up morning all around,” Parish said as he walked up to Callahan. “Can you get me up to C-Med without all the bullshit this time?”

“How’s the kid,” Harry asked, referring to the medic wounded earlier.

“Well, he won’t be beatin’ off with his right hand for a while,” Parish said, jerking the air with his right hand, “but other than that he’ll be fine.”

“Jesus H Christ, Parish. Where’d you grow up? In a goddamn whorehouse?”

Parish grinned as he climbed back into the Huey, and he sat and watched as Callahan and the new kid worked the checklist and got the ‘bug back in the air – only now he observed there was literally almost no one out on the trails leading into Hué City. Even the normal ebb and flow of farmers was nowhere to be seen, and Parish started scratching between his legs the closer they got to C-Med.

The assault there had suddenly stopped too, just like somebody had decided to turn off a spigot and stop the flow of water. Parish hopped out of the flutterbug and ran off to surgery while Callahan help unload dozens of crates of supplies for the hospital, then the medics loaded several more body bags into the main cabin. Harry looked at the black bags like they were an accusation, but of what, and against who? Only a week in-country and he’d picked up on enough talk to have his doubts about what was going on over here.

He turned around and looked at this buzzing hive of activity, Vietnamese and Americans working side-by-side, but what were they fighting for? To keep the South free? If that was so, why did the northerners fight with such passion to unify their country? Why did the locals around the base look at all the round eyes with so much suspicion in their own? No, things just weren’t adding up.

But in truth, about all Harry thought about was a girl down in Saigon, and now, after just a few days away he positively ached to see her, and to hold her again.

But like walking inside a giant trap, the coiled spring of the Tet Offensive had gathered around Harry Callahan and his little Cat, and was now just a few hours from slamming shut.


The Jetstar came in from the northwest and flew parallel to the coast for a few minutes and Harry saw the lights of a large city about ten miles away, the low skyline reflecting off still water. “That’s Tel Aviv,” Avi proclaimed – and somewhat proudly, Callahan thought. “Your mother is down there in that sea of light.”

Harry turned and looked out the little square window, if only because for the past ten hours he had thought of little else. 

The jet had left San Francisco and flown to Toronto, then Iceland and on to Zurich, refueling at each stop while Avi and Harry stepped outside to briefly stretch their legs before the final leg to Israel. Callahan’s interrogation had abruptly ended as quickly as it began and the old man had turned to focus on his pile of papers, first studying one then annotating others, and the little he said to Harry revealed just how serious the information was. Avi was preparing the country, his country, for war, because all the numbers and information inside these reports concerned troop readiness levels in Egypt and Syria, and seeing the concrete reality of those preparation had focused all Callahan’s attention on his mother.

Because suddenly another Arab-Israeli war wasn’t just a distant hypothetical exercise; his mother was down there somewhere in those lights, and now the idea was more than troubling. Harry found himself looking at the old man from time to time, studying his attentiveness and the way his hands moved as he wrote, and he realized quite without understanding the how or the why of it that he was beginning to respect Avi. He was, after all, his mother’s husband. Her first husband.

And she had chosen this man over his father. “And me,” he added.

“And you, what?” the old man asked, looking up quietly.

“Sorry. I was just thinking about something.”

“And what were you thinking?”

Harry turned from the window and looked at Avi. “That she chose you over my father. And me.”

Avi nodded and looked Harry in the eye. “Perhaps it feels that way to you now, but you haven’t seen how much she thinks of you both. I have. Every day. Never question her love for you, Harry, or for your father. Her love is bigger than that, more encompassing, so please do not diminish what you find here.”

“What does she do with her days?”

“She is back in the lab many days, and she still teaches when she can.”

“When she can? Is she ill?”

Avi looked away, took off his reading glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose, then he rubbed the corners of his eyes. Harry saw they were rimmed with scarlet now, and that the old man was indeed very tired. “Your mother’s illness is complicated, Harald. It is emotional, an emotional calamity, and I feel it has grown worse since she arrived.”


“Yes. She stopped playing the piano after she left California, and with the outlet no longer available she has internalized all her anguish. All her suffering. Her demons, if you will, only now her demons come out at night, and they come for her.”

“Why, Avi?” Harry asked. “Why did she stop?”

“Because, Harry, without you she can not see beyond the demons. She can no longer see the notes or the music.”

“Without me?” Harry said, surprised. “I don’t understand, Avi.”

“Neither do I, my friend. Neither do I, but you’ll see soon enough.”


Everything happened after darkness fell, and after midnight further south, around Saigon.

Callahan was in his hooch trying to sleep but the incessant song of Hueys coming and going made it almost impossible. Someone was just outside the tent smoking manure, or something that smelled pretty much like burning manure, when he thought he heard thunder off over the mountains to the west – and he turned inward on himself and groaned. He hated flying instruments at low level, really hated it, but the wounded never stopped coming into C-Med, and those needs were real, not to say extreme. When the Hueys stopped flying people died – it was as simple as that – and thunder meant rain, didn’t it…? 

Simple as that.

“That ain’t thunder,” someone outside the tent said – and then it was suddenly noon. 

“Fuck!” someone screamed, and the sound of that man’s fear struck Callahan as the most agonizingly real thing he’d ever heard in his life. Harry was lacing up his boots before he was upright, checking to see if a round was chambered in his 45 while he stood and reached for his flak jacket – then…

Gunfire. Close. A few shots from a 45, a longer burst from a couple of -16s, then the whomping of AK rounds whiffling through the canvas just overhead. He knelt and ran outside to see dozens of flares overhead and someone was shouting “we got Charlie in the wire!” – which meant Viet Cong were inside the base perimeter – and just then mortar rounds started falling near the parked helicopters. And the fuel bowsers…

He ran for his ship, saw McCall just ahead running in his underwear and unlaced boots…

“Get a ship up now,” Callahan said as he sprinted by. “Don’t wait…just do it…!”

Callahan got to the first Huey on the line and pulled the battery umbilical free on his way to the cockpit, and he started waking the beast up by feel until he got the overhead lights on. Engine start, wake up the radios, check frequencies, call in to the tower, chaos everywhere and he sees three guys up ahead firing into the darkness then dozens of return muzzle flashes off in some trees only a hundred yards away. Power good now, torque in the green so add collective and counter with rudder. Keep the nose down, down you stupid fucker, no lights, no lights, a little more power…watch the fucking torque…push it over some more…that’s it…that’s it…watch your airspeed…pull up…keep it just above the tents…better call in…

“Kilo Bravo Six, airborne,” Callahan said on guard.

“-Six, C-Med calling in with major casualties.”

“-Six is buster,” Callahan replied, telling the tower he was en route.

“-Six, this is McCall, I’m on your six with two gunners.”

“Good news, kid, you take lead and lay down some fire when I go for the pad.”

“Roger,” McCall said, and already Callahan was starting to like this kid.

They flew on in the dark, no anti-collision lights on – but there was so much fire in the sky none were needed…

He saw McCall’s Huey slip ahead by passing right and even though they were just over the treetops he could see several more explosions and heavy fires raging at C-Med – and they were still more than five miles out. Small arms fire peppered the Huey as they got close, and he made out a few trees he had used for landmarks earlier in the day as he lined up for the medical pad, then he heard McCall on the radio talking to controllers on the ground and requesting vectors…

Too fucking hot…too hot…nose up Meathead, get your goddamn nose up…c’mon man, gotta bleed some speed…

He was about twenty feet off the ground when an RPG slammed into the Huey somewhere aft and the flutterbug lurched sideways, yawed hard right and he countered with the pedals – but nothing happened. ‘Tail gone,’ he muttered as he rolled hard left stick.

The Huey hit hard and skidded through some thick brush; he saw a fat white snake roll up the windshield and disappear aft, then heard McCall on the radio. “-Six, off to your right! Beat feet!”

Callahan saw McCall about fifty feet away, the right-side door standing wide open, so he pushed his way out of the wrecked Huey and through the brush, diving into McCall’s ‘bug and hanging on tight as they climbed out of the swampy undergrowth by the river. He kept seeing that fat snake every time he closed his eyes…

“Thanks,” Callahan said.

“Roger that,” McCall said, now pointing to the center of the camp. “Pad right there.”

But Callahan wasn’t plugged into the intercom and couldn’t hear over the symphony the door gunners were playing right then. He fumbled on the floor in the dark, felt another helmet and pulled it on, checked the circuit and spoke. “You got it?” Callahan asked.

“Man, I’d rather you take it. I’m seeing spots.”

“Spots? You hit?”

“Not sure. Maybe…” and with that McCall slumped into the left side door.

Callahan got his hands and feet on the controls as he felt his way towards the pad; the door gunners were firing almost straight down into the weeds as he flared and he watched an Arvin with an M-16 bayonetting someone about ten feet away. He felt bodies being tossed in back then heard the gunners yelling “Go-go-go!” even as he throttled up and hit the collective. 

Okay…nose down and let’s not get our ass shot off this time…torque in the green…

He screamed: “Gunners, dead ahead!” as he pulled up hard on the collective, running the torque deep into the red, and he knew the gunners were leaning out and shooting down into the weeds again as he slammed the nose down and eased back on the throttle. “Any medics onboard?!” he yelled.

“I don’t know,” Doug Parish said, his grinning face about a foot from Callahan’s. “Do I count.”

“Co-pilot’s hit,” he managed to say as he turned and looked for Hué City on the horizon.

It wasn’t hard to find. Fire covered about half the horizon from down in the treetops and amber coils of smoke drifted skyward, framed by massive new explosions every few minutes. Chatter on guard was non-stop now, forward controllers vectoring in some A-6 Intruders inbound from Dixie Station and the tower at Phu Bai telling anyone still on the frequency that the base was closed until further notice.

“Better head for Danang,” Parish said. “We got some bad stuff back here.”

“McCall?” Harry asked.

“Got some plasma running; he’ll be okay.”

“What the fuck is going on down there?” Callahan said as he scanned the panel.

“You been asleep or somethin’? This shit’s been goin’ on for a few hours.”


“Far as we could tell just about everywhere. Danang, Saigon, you name it.”

Callahan hoped he remembered Danang’s guard and dialed it in, made the call. “This is Kilo Bravo Six, Dan Guard over?”

“-Six, go ahead.”

“Inbound from C-Med, base closed, we’ve got three, three, and four.”

“Roger -Six, we’re closed, standby for vectors to Dixie Station, and can you copy TACAN?”

“-Six go ahead.”

“Okay -Six. One-zero-five degrees, TACAN channel two-four.”

“Got it. Thanks.”

“We’ll let ‘em know you’re inbound, -Six.”

“Understood, out.” He dialed in the frequency and looked as the DME came to life, then checked their fuel state, doing the math in his head and shaking his head.

“You know something, Callahan? I don’t like it when pilots start shaking their head, if you know what I mean?”

“We’re gonna be sucking fumes about the time we got there.”

“Where’s there?”

“Dixie Station? Been there?”

“The fuckin’ carrier! No fuckin’ way, man. There ain’t no chicas out there. What’s wrong with Danang?”


“Fuck. This ain’t lookin’ good, amigo. I hear there are sharks out there, ya know?”

“Yeah, well, there’s a shitload of goddamn snakes down there too, doc. You got a preference?”

“Yeah, as a matter of fact I do. A warm hooch and no one shooting at me – for at least 12 hours…”

“Amen to that, brother,” Callahan heard someone say, but all Harry could think about in that crystalline moment was his Looney-Junes – dying in his arms.

(c) 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw

a little addition here

the eighty-eighth key

part one

a minor addition to chapter four


(note: when chapter four posts at Lit it will include this extended passage, and rather than call it chapter five here just read it as if it was attached to the last post. I hope you are all doing well under the current trying circumstances; I’m beyond paranoid at this point and am in almost total isolation as I wait for surgery in mid-April. Anyway, please take care of yourself, and as always, thanks for dropping by.)


He turned in the light, reached out and touched her skin once again. Something about her felt utterly impossible to describe, like a sunrise too beautiful for words. He ran his finger down her spine and he felt her tremble as his fingers paused in the small of her back. He played a delicate sonata there, felt the coiled spring inside her winding tight – once again – and he leaned close to whisper all that he felt in her ear.

“I love you, Looney-Junes.”

“And I love you too, my dirty little Harry. Oh, I love you too.”

They came together in the moonlight, holding tight on the a little beach just north of Half Moon Bay, and they did so a million times that impossible summer. After their junior year, before what would be their last year together. Forever, as it turned out. Before their senior year.

They talked and dreamed on that beach all through that improbably probable night, talk just before and forever after, yet Harry always knew something magical happened in that dancing moonlight. He felt it deep inside, like whatever happened had been orchestrated by something as mysterious as the tide, like the moon’s constant tugging on the earth had pulled their bodies into the same orbit.

Yes, Harry remembered thinking, she was what love was supposed to feel like. Something like closer than forever, closer even to believing, something leftover from the beginning, a feeling like starlight – remnants of their coming together, their union, an explosion that would carry them beyond the light.

His Looney-Junes, his little red-headed soul-mate. Eyes so green and freckles all the hell over the place, breasts a little on the small side but he didn’t care because she was his playmate of the mouth. And oh how they played along the frontiers of the things they knew before they crossed over into the promised land, playing in a forbidden field of dreams – while all their explorations carried an ever so slightly real risk that something – well, you know – biological might happen.

And just before Christmas of their senior year it did. 

When his Looney-Junes announced her period was a little late.

“How late?” Harry asked and her answer of two to three months didn’t sound like too much to be worried about, or was it? The thing was, neither Harry nor June had the slightest idea. “Maybe you should talk to your mom?”

“Are you crazy!”

“Okay, what about your doctor?”

“Yeah, maybe…”

And she did. And time was running out because Looney-Junes was beginning to show. And Harry was beginning to think about doing what all little boys think about when shit like this goes down, namely buying a ring and asking the love of his life to join him on the journey of a lifetime.

But the thing is, Looney-Junes wasn’t having any of it. Not the ring thing, not the whole having a baby thing, not one fucking little bit of it.

Because, you see, Looney-Junes decided that the best way out involved going over to Oakland and letting an old man with a coat-hanger do his thing, and this was the best way out of their little inconvenience. So one January day that’s exactly what she did, and presto! Faster than you can say septic shock she got sicker than a dog and a week later passed from this life onto the next.

And now Harry Callahan was sitting in the candlelight, looking at an angel’s skin and trying with all his might not to think about those moon-dappled nights on their little beach just north of Half Moon Bay. Playing little sonatas on the small of this strangers back, wanting with all the fiber of his being for everything to be just like it was almost ten years before and knowing that everything right and good with life had simply washed away on an errant tide and nothing would ever be right again.

Her name was An Linh – though everyone called her Cat.

As in Catherine, because her father had worked deep inside the French bureaucratic machinery in Saigon. And though he had been killed years and years before, she still liked the Cat affectation. Men looked at her a little differently, and sometimes men paid her a little more, too. Her other name meant something like peaceful soul, yet Cat’s was anything but. Some of the other girls working the Caravelle considered Cat’s a little too mercenary, perhaps a little too cold and dark, but maybe that was because not very many knew her well enough to make that kind of subtle distinction.

Cat liked men and she genuinely liked to fuck, but she had grown tired of the usual John Wayne macho types that came into the bar looking for a fight night after night.

But this Harry Callahan was different. Really very different.

He made love to her tenderly, too tenderly, she knew, but all-in-all the experience had been, even from her perspective, something special. But perhaps ‘peaceful’ was the word she found herself rolling around in her mind. Yes, peaceful, like the ceiling fan overhead…like a quiet, soothing breeze.

And she found herself amused and aroused by the way he touched her after. Again, everything was so gentle, so out of character with this man-child. She tried to get him to talk but met with a wall that left her high and dry and nowhere to go, so she retreated a bit, coaxed him in ways she knew best and took him again.

Yet now there were tears?

“What is it?” she asked. “Have I done something wrong?”

And so her words broke through and all Callahan’s emotional reserves gave out, and with that collapse everything came out in a rush. All of it. Ten years of anguish, a lifetime of confusion, the burdens of unacknowledged guilt. He buried his face in her hair and cried for hours, told her all about his Looney-Junes, and by the time morning came two things were more than clear: a little Vietnamese prostitute named An Lihn was deeply in love with Harry Callahan, and Harry Callahan – still with no sense of irony in his heart – knew he had finally found his real, lasting, once in a lifetime soul mate.

He left the next morning on a wave of promises to come back as soon as possible. He declared his love, the love he had held onto so tightly for close to ten years, love for his little Cat, to this peaceful spirit, and he cried as he told her he wanted to make this woman his wife. And oddly enough this jaded woman believed what she saw in this ‘round-eyes’ heart and soul, and she took him at his word. She believed in what she saw, and in what she too felt inside.

Yet neither knew of the forces gathering around Saigon, or around DaNang or Hué City. It was just days before the Army of North Vietnam would begin their Tet Offensive. Just days before the fulcrum of History would begin to push such things beyond the reach of mortal hands.

Callahan made it to the transfer to the airport for the flight up to Hué, or more properly to Phu Bai, and as he stumbled down the crowded aisle to find an open seat in the C-47 as his thoughts ranged over the past twelve hours, hours each as long as a lifetime, hours deep inside the impossible warmth of ‘peaceful spirit,’ until he sat on a canvas mesh bench not far from the cockpit.

And then he saw Parish across the center aisle – staring at him, trying to make out the contours of Callahan’s night – then Parish leaned back and grinned. What Callahan knew was a knowing grin, a true ‘shit-eating’ grin, because he knew what was on his own face. 

Callahan posted a ‘thumbs-up’ for all to see, and Parish nodded, smiled for all the world to see.

“Hot-damn!” Parish added. “‘Bout time, mother-fucker. Hope you didn’t act like a stupid hick and ask her to get married…”

Callahan leaned back and smiled as the Dakota rumbled down the runway, still awash in the warmth of the night just passed, and dreaming of all the nights yet to come.


the eighty-eighth key – chapter 4

88th key cover image

the eighty-eighth key

part one

chapter four


A silver Mercedes 300D pulled up outside his building promptly at eight the next Friday morning, and the back right door swung open as the sedan stopped. The driver jumped out and took Callahan’s suitcase, put it in the boot then shut the door as Harry settled in. To his surprise he saw a man in the back seat with him, a middle-aged man with an attache case shackled to his left wrist.

“Diplomatic pouch,” the seat-mate said while patting the leather case. “You’ll be flying with me today. Here’s your passport.”

Callahan took the green booklet and opened it, saw his name and date of birth inside before he realized it was a US passport. “Is this legit?”

“Oh, yes,” the courier said, adding, “it came in last night from DC. Cutting it a little too fine, I think, but don’t quote me on that….”

Harry put the passport in his coat pocket beside his wallet and looked on as the Mercedes swung out into traffic, making its way through the city for the one-o-one and, he assumed, out to SFO. The driver and his front seat companion – who looked like a commando of some sort – said not one word all the way to the airport, though the commando-type got out at the main terminal entrance and swept the scene before letting anyone out of the sedan.

Callahan and the courier walked inside and straight up to the red and white TWA counter, and the courier handed a pre-printed slip of paper to the smiling agent standing there. She looked up once and smiled at Harry, printed-out two tickets and, with a black grease pencil, marked two boarding passes as well. She took Callahan’s grip and put a baggage tag on the handle and Harry looked at the airport codes and made a quick mental note of them before his bag disappeared down the rolling conveyor. New York Kennedy, Geneva, Tel Aviv would be the ones most likely used, Bullitt had told him as they went over all the possibilities for commercial transport from San Francisco International to Israel, and that was indeed what had been printed on his bag just now.

They walked to the departures concourse and then straight out to TWA’s Ambassador’s Club; the courier showed their IDs and boarding passes and he then escorted Callahan to a table that had a great view overlooking the the tarmac below. Callahan took a seat as a hostess came over to see if they wanted coffee or juice, and moments later Harry tried not to look as Bullitt and a very attractive woman came in and presented their papers to the girl at the check-in desk. They went to the far side of the room and sat; the courier managed to not smile.

A half hour later the Israeli commando came in and walked directly to their table, the look in his eyes all-business.

“The aircraft is secure. Let’s go.”

The courier stood and beckoned Callahan to follow; the three of them walked out a side door and downstairs to another waiting car, this time a nondescript Ford sedan, and, after Callahan got in, the car sped off across the ramp towards the air cargo facilities on the north side of the airport. The courier was no longer with them, and the only aircraft visible was a small jet parked far from any others, a Lockheed Jetstar.

As the sedan pulled up to the Lockheed the airstair opened and Callahan saw a hostess standing in the doorway; the stairs performed a fascinating mechanical dance on their way to the concrete as the Ford stopped; the commando got out and opened his door.

“We’ve advised your police inspector that we have made alternate travel arrangement s for you,” the commando said, barely grinning.

“Swell.” Callahan looked the jet over quickly – he vaguely remembered this was the same type of jet Pussy Galore had flown in Goldfinger – only this one was almost solid white and with little decorative ornamentation or other markings. There was a small Star of David on the tail, and registration numbers on the outer engines, but no other identifiers he could make out as he made his way up the airstairs.

“Good morning,” the rather stunning hostess said as he stepped inside, “could I take your coat?”

Callahan slipped out of his jacket and handed it over to the girl, then he turned to walk aft – and there was the old man from the hovel behind his apartment. Only now the man was busily engaged pouring over stacks of papers.

“Well, well,” Callahan said as he walked up to the old man, “hi – Dad.”

“Hello, Harry. Sit down, would you? Do you need coffee? Tea? I’ll be with you in a moment,” and at that the old man sighed, then stood and walked forward to the cockpit. A moment later the engines on the right side of the aircraft began starting, then those on the left. His ears popped once, then again, and a blast of chilled air suddenly hissed out of the overhead vents. Callahan reached up and twisted his shut just as the old man returned to his seat.

“So, where are we going?” Callahan mused out loud. “Blofeld’s mountaintop hideaway, perhaps?”

“Blofeld?” the old man asked, his uncomprehending eyes rimmed with fatigue.

“Never mind. So, I take it we’re not off to see the sights in Jerusalem?”

“Jerusalem? Ah, no, not at all. Tel Aviv first, to visit with your mother for a few days, then we have a small request to make of you.”

“Of me? Really? Do tell…”

The old man shuffled through a few open file folders on his tray table, then stopped at the one he was looking for. “Yes, it concerns your time in Vietnam, as a matter of fact. We have some people who would like to talk to you about what transpired on the tenth of February, 1968.”

Fingers of icy-cold dread ran down Callahan’s spine, though he did his best to appear momentarily confused. “February sixty-eight? I was stationed outside of Hué then, if I remember correctly. Flying medevacs in and out of C-med, I think.”

“Well yes, that much we know. Yet we’d like to talk to you about events surrounding the eighth through the tenth, before you returned to Phu Bai.”

“I’m sorry, but I…”

The old man held up his right hand. “Please, stop,” he said as he took a photograph from one of the folders spread out on his lap; he tossed an 8×10 black and white photograph to Callahan and tried not at all to suppress his smile.

And there it was, all of it; an unwelcome memory brought to life once again for his lasting amusement. Callahan standing by the open doors of black Huey – along with all the other members of the insertion team, including Jim Parish. The thick, low clouds off to the west, blanketing the mountains to the west of Hué city, the electronics ‘package’ mounted over the cockpit, the support troops gathered beside the second ‘slick’…all of it right there, a nightmare he couldn’t forget…if only because it seemed no one was going to let him.

Callahan had no idea the photograph even existed, but now he thought how it ended up here on this jet had to be a story for the ages.

He heard the engines spooling up, then turned his head and looked out the little square window just as the jet started down the runway. He craned his head a little and looked at the terminal, saw the TWA 707 just pushing back from the gate, and while he hoped more than anything else in the world that Frank Bullitt was onboard that airliner, all he could see in his mind’s eye was Jim Parish sitting in the bar at the Caravelle, still sitting there with oozing blood all over his hands. 


“So,” Parish said as Callahan looked over his orders, “off to Phu Bai?”

“Looks that way,” Callahan sighed as he looked after the indescribably gorgeous cocktail waitress.

“Cute enough for you?” Parish added. 

Callahan shook his head as he slipped back into the present, though he felt his pulse hammering when the girl turned and looked at him. “Man, she is something else.”

“How long’s it been since you had any?” Parish said through a sleepy grin.

“High school,” Callahan said, shaking his head.

“High school? What the fuck!” Parish howled. “What’s wrong with you, man? Did it fall off, or are you one of those goddamn closet faggots?”

Callahan turned and glared at Parish, the look on his face apparently enough to shut the guy up. “Bad experience,” was all he said.

“So? Did you have to go and join a monastic order? Fucking high school! No fucking way!”

“I just don’t think it’s all that goddamn important anymore, ya know?”

“Not important? Man, I got a news flash for you, but gettin’ laid is about the only thing in this fucking fucked-up universe that is important. A few weeks out in the bush you’ll fucking understand; dipping your wick is the last great thing in the entire fucking universe, the best fucking thing God ever created. Jesus! Not important…? That’s fucked up, man.”

Callahan looked at Parish, at the nonstop trickle of blood pooling on the floor under his chair, only now he saw the man’s face growing noticeably more pale. “You know, you’re going to bleed to death if you don’t get that under control.”

“What? It’s just a knick, don’t worry about it…”

“You seen the blood down there on the floor?”

Parish bent over to take a look – and promptly passed out, falling to the floor in a ragged heap.

“Fuck,” Callahan sighed, standing and signaling the heavenly waitress – who came over immediately, the look of honest concern clear in her eyes.

“Could you call for an Army ambulance, or something like that?”

“Yes, yes,” the angel said as Callahan looked her in the eye, the sight taking his breath away once again. He watched as she hurried away to speak to the bartender, who picked up a telephone and started talking in hushed, ragged barks. Harry knelt and felt for a carotid pulse, found it and did a ten-second count, finding a rate of 120 beats per minute, then he noticed the waitress standing beside him once again…

“Do you have any clean towels,” he asked, and as he heard her walking away he found himself wondering what her name was…

Parish moaned and his eyes fluttered open… “What the fuck happened?” he asked Harry.

“You’ve lost too much blood, bucko. Ambulance on the way.”

“You know how to take a pulse?”

“120 about a minute ago.”

Parish nodded, tried to sit up on an elbow but thought better of it. “Get me some water.”

“With or without whiskey,” Callahan smirked.

“Straight up, partner.”

They heard an ambulance approach and Army medics were soon by Callahan’s side, loading Parish on a stretcher and carrying him out of the hotel bar, Harry walking alongside. “Can I do anything for you?” Callahan asked before they slid Parish inside the ambulance. 

“Yeah, one thing. And it’s important, so listen up.”

“Okay,” Harry said, leaning close.

“Go get your skinny white ass laid.”

Callahan’s lips scrunched up as his eyes watered, then he nodded to Parish as the doors slammed shut. He looked-on as the old Ford disappeared into the late afternoon traffic, then he fished his orders out of his pocket and looked at them once again. ‘Take first available transport,’ they said, and he wondered what to do for a moment…until he saw the waitress once again, that is. Then he knew exactly what he wanted to do. More than anything else in the world, as a matter of fact.


He watched the Jetstar turn to the northeast over the bay, and moments later Oakland then Walnut Creek slipped-by far below. He wondered what to say next, how to avoid this most unwanted line of questioning. “You know,” Callahan said to the oblique reflection in his window, “I don’t even know your name.”

The old man steepled his fingers. “Avi. You may call me Avi, Harry.”

“So, Avi the Danish Physicist. Is that about right – Dad?”

“Nuclear physicist, if that helps you in the present circumstance. Like your mother, Harry. Just like your mother. And please don’t turn my words around, try to use them against me. And I do not appreciate sarcasm.”

“And you work for the Israelis now, is that it? Gave up teaching, I guess?”

“Oh no, I am still a teacher, Harry. I teach anyone who will listen, because I believe I have something very important to pass along.”

“And that would be…? What, that the bomb is bad?”

The old man smiled a little as he took a handkerchief from his shirt pocket and proceeded to clean his eyeglasses. “I suppose so, when you get right down to it, but no, what I have to teach is a little more circumspect. My adopted home is surrounded by men who would love to do nothing more or less than kill every Jew left in the world.” The old man paused, let the words hang in the air apparent before he continued. “I think it would be immensely useful if you would, under present circumstances, try to recall that your mother numbers among that group of people, and that many of those very men live less than one hundred miles from where she lives right now. Do you understand that, Harald.”

“She can move back to California tomorrow. As a matter of fact that would suit me just fine, Avi.”

“Would it indeed? You seem to have forgotten there are many people in your country, even in the great state of California, that share these same views. That would love nothing more than to see all Jews everywhere driven back to the camps, driven into the ovens and the gas chambers, or simply worked to death. Would that do you, Harry?”

Callahan shook his head. “You don’t really believe that, do you?”

“I know what I know, and I also know that I will not waste my time or yours trying to convince you of things so obviously self-evident. Suffice to say, you might open your eyes to organizations like your Klan, or even the John Birch Society. Hatred takes many forms, Harry. Some less obvious than others.”

“And what has all this got to do with me?”

“It is of those men that surround Israel that I want to speak. Men like Sadat and Assad. You know these names?”

“Of course.”

“So, this is a good thing. Well, it seems that these two men have decided to wipe Israel off the face of the earth one more time. Perhaps as soon as next summer, but there is great uncertainty about that right now.”

“And you would know this how?”

The old man shrugged, smiled as he put his glasses back on. “People talk, Harry. I wish I could tell you who.”

“I see.”

The old man seemed to turn inward on himself for a moment, then he spoke with a more direct, a more urgent tone in his voice. “Alright, Harry. King Hussein for one, and one of Sadat’s sons. They are telling us these things. Now do you understand?”

Callahan leaned forward, put his elbows on his knees then rested his chin in the cups of his hands. “And which of these characters has a bomb?” Callahan asked.

“No one does, not yet anyway, though Assad keeps asking his Soviet puppeteers for one. Of Sadat’s aspirations we are less sure.”

Callahan looked out the window again, looked at the spine of the High Sierra as it drifted by in the distance. “So, why do you need me?”

“Your training, Harry. What else?”

“There are lots of helicopter pilots out there, Avi. You don’t need one more.”

“Lots of pilots? True enough,” the old man said as he rummaged through one of his file folders, then he settled on another photograph and tossed it onto the tray table.

Callahan caught a glimpse as the image slid across the table, as well as the other photograph of the insertion team, and right then he knew there was nothing left to hide. The old man knew everything, had proof of it all – in black and white and on glossy 8×10 sheets of paper. Someone on the inside, he knew – but that hardly mattered now.

“What is it you call this black box? The Wizard? Isn’t that about so?”

Callahan shrugged. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Avi.”

The old man smiled again, picked up the photograph and studied it for a moment. “It’s quite ingenious, really, but of course I designed it, so modesty prevents me from saying so.”

Callahan looked at the image, then into the old man’s eyes – and it was then he remembered where the black box’s nickname came from: the designer, who had by the early 60s developed quite a reputation in the community. “So, you’re the Wizard?”

“So it would seem, Harry. So it would seem.”

“Why do you need me?”

“Because Harry, you are the only pilot in all the world who has used the unit under operational conditions.”

Callahan shrugged, appeared to draw a blank.

“Harry, don’t be coy. The eighth of February? You remember, though I’m sure you would like to forget those days.”

Callahan turned and looked at Nevada’s high desert outside, now miles below and fading into something like a forgotten memory. 

“But you haven’t forgotten them, have you? No sane man could. The world came very close, did it not? And you did well. Very well indeed.”

“You seem to know everything there is to know, Avi, so why don’t you tell me what you really want.”

“I want you to spend some time with your mother, Harry. And when you’re through we would like you to go look for something?”


“Yes, well, it seems one of our bombs is missing…and we’d like you to find it for us.”


© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw

the eighty-eighth key, chapter 3

88th key cover image

the eighty-eighth key

part one

chapter three


Callahan hopped off the cable car and began the uphill slog to his apartment, stopping at the corner market for a few things before heading up to make breakfast. He picked up a copy of the Chronicle at the register, shook his head at the headlines before making his way to the steps up to his flat, but he stopped before he made it to the entry to his building.

There was a metal fire escape attached to the side of his building, a rickety old metal affair loosely attacked to the brick siding, and under the last flight were some dumpsters and a few parking spaces, but something caught his eye that morning. There under the stairs was a carefully arranged assortment of wooden pallets and plastic tarps, and as to his eye there didn’t appear to be anything random about the arrangement, he walked over to take a closer look.

He knelt and parted the blue plastic tarp and peered inside what was, for all intents and purposes, a very small living space. Three pallets made up the floor while several more made up the walls and ceiling, the whole affair sealed by one large plastic tarp. There was a mattress of sorts inside, and several bookshelves framed into two of the walls. There were more than a few books on these shelves, too; books on particle physics and ethics, and several by someone named Søren Kierkegaard. Though it was dim inside the structure he could see that two candles were burning away, and in the shadows he could just make out the crossed legs of a man sitting with his back up against the wall.

“Yes?” the man said, “can I help you?”

“Do you live here, sir?” Callahan asked.

“Why yes, I do.”

“Could you step outside, sir?”

“Why should I? Are you a police officer?”

“Yessir, I am.”

“I see.” The man sighed and put down his book, slipped on a pair of loafers and crawled towards the opening, and only then could Callahan see that the man was indeed quite old. The man stumbled a little as he tried to stand and Callahan caught him, helped him out into the early morning light, and the two regarded one another awkwardly for a moment before speaking.

“Ah, you are the policeman who lives in the building,” the old man said. “I’ve seen you come and go a few times, I think.”

“I don’t recall seeing you around here before,” Callahan said. “When did you set up camp?”

“Camp? Ah, well, I lived across the street for a while, before the owner of the store chased me off. I’ve been here a few days.”


“Why? What do you mean, why?”

“Why are you living out here? Don’t you have anyplace you can go, someone you can bunk out with?”

“Well, no, and as to the why of such things that is simple enough to explain. I lost my job and as a result I lost my home, but I have my most important books and they keep me company enough.”

“Where did you work?”

“Down the bay there, in Palo Alto” the old man said, nodding with his head towards the South Bay.

“Where? At Stanford? What did you teach?”

“Quantum mechanics.”

Callahan felt a cold chill run down his spine as he looked into the man’s eyes. “My mother worked at Berkeley. She taught physics.” Their eyes locked and the man’s never once wavered, though Callahan felt a softness in the old man’s eyes he hadn’t picked up before – only just then his face seemed to tilt quizzically. Suddenly Harry felt the old man was hiding something and that he was trying not to smile. “Are you hungry?” Harry asked.

“I suppose so, but I must tell you I have very little money.”

“Follow me,” Harry said as he turned and made his way to the door to his building. Every bit of training he’d ever had told him this was exactly the wrong thing to do, yet his every instinct told him this was something he had to do. 

He took out his key and opened the door, held it open and let the old man pass into the foyer, then Callahan walked up the stairs and unlocked the door to his apartment. He followed the old man inside and put away his groceries, then put a skillet on the burner. “Bacon and eggs okay with you?”

“Just an egg,” the old man said. “Well, maybe two.”

“Go ahead and take a seat; this won’t take a minute.”

Callahan watched as the old man walked over to his bookcase and scanned the few books on the shelves; the old man scowled once and just ever-so-slightly shook his head, then he turned and sat on the Callahan’s tattered second-hand sofa – settling in and looking around the room.

“You aren’t much of a reader,” the old man observed. “Strange, don’t you think?”

“Strange? Why so?”

“Well, your mother was a teacher? I would think…”

“I’m not really like my mother,” Callahan said.

“And your father? What does he do?”

“He’s a ship’s captain. Freighters between here and Japan.”

“And he doesn’t read?”

“Not very much,” Callahan said – perhaps a little too defensively. He tended their breakfast, turned their eggs and buttered toast that popped-up out of the little toaster, then carried breakfast to the old coffee table in front of the sofa.

“You live simply,” the old man said. “Thank you for this,” he added as he took the plate Harry offered.

They ate in silence, then Callahan took their plates to the sink. He washed then dried them before putting them in the draining rack next to the sink, then he turned and looked at the old man, and again…he felt that fleeting impression of a smile…

“You know my mother, don’t you?”

“I do,” the old man sighed.

“How? How do you know her?”

“She was my wife. Before the war. Before all the other things that happened, before she forgot how to live. How to smile.”

The words hit like a gut-punch, and Callahan turned away trying to catch his breath, while the emerging cascade of burning realization and dizzying implication left him rolling in uncertainty, unsure of his footing on this earth. 

“This wasn’t an accident, was it?” Callahan said. “This meeting, I mean? I would have seen you, even across the street.”

The old man indeed smiled just a little, then looked out the window down to the street below. “Perhaps. Perhaps not. Once upon a time we were very good at hiding from policemen, your mother and I. But no, I set up my little ruse yesterday.”

“You didn’t teach at Stanford, then?”

“Oh, yes, that much is very true. When I found out your mother was alive, we worked to bring her here.”


“Those of us already in the States, with the help of the Rockefeller Foundation. We resettled academics where we could. Many out here in California, though a few chose to go home. And a few, like me, decided on Israel.”

And now the room began to spin out of control, and Callahan sat quickly as waves of heat washed down his face. “Israel?”

“Yes, Israel. She is, after all, my wife.”

“Does my father about know any of this?”

The old man nodded: “All of it, Harry. He knows everything.”

“You know my name?”

“Of course. I’m not your father, but in a way I feel you are a part of me, too.”

“Why are you here? Why did you come now?”

“A message from your mother. She wants you to know she is happy, and she wants you to start on your music again.”

“That’s it? She couldn’t write?”

“There are many pieces to this puzzle, Harry. You must be patient. Many things will become clear in time.” The old man sighed, continued his survey of the street below. “I must go now, but the books below, in the shelter? They are yours now. I brought them for you. Thank you for breakfast,” the man said as he walked to the door.

Who was out the door in a flash and moving down the stairs before Callahan realized what was happening. He got out of his chair and followed the old man out onto the street, and he just saw the old man slide into the back seat of a waiting sedan double-parked in front of his building. As the car’s door slammed-shut Callahan dashed forward to get a better look at the car as it sped away…

…and all Callahan saw was the rear license plate.

…a diplomatic plate.

He committed the number to memory as the car disappeared, then turned and went to the little shelter the old man had been sitting in. Crawling inside, he found the books neatly stacked and inside one of Kierkegaard’s works a sealed letter. In the sole physics text he found a picture of the old man taped to the cover page, and this he assumed was indicative of authorship. He looked around, wondered if he should get fingerprints off the items, yet in the end he decided to leave the little hovel intact. He then gathered the books and carried them up to his flat, placed them on his little bookcase…all but the Kierkegaard tome with the letter inserted. 

He went to the sofa and opened the letter, looked at his mother’s florid cursive script and read her mea culpa, then his eyes opened wide at the last paragraph…

“…Harald, I would enjoy nothing more than for you to visit with us next month. Actually, it is vital for us all that you do. If you would call the number penciled on the envelop and ask for Mr Shektor; he will take care of the arrangements. And please, tell your father nothing of this. Love -…”

He looked at those last few words, then the trailing word ‘Love’ all on its own. Not ‘Love, Mother,’ or even ‘Love, Imogen,’ but the simple, single word. Alone, as if bathed in guilt and left to dry under a harsh middle eastern sun, he wondered what exactly this was all about.

A visit? Yet ‘vital for us all’? What on earth could that mean?

He looked at the phone number on the envelop, the anonymous scrawl just barely legible, and without really knowing why he carefully dialed the number, waiting impatiently for the rotary dial to wind and unwind with each number. Then a woman answered…

“Yes?” the disembodied voice said.

“Mr Shektor, please.”

“One moment.”

A brief pause, several clicking noises in the interval, then…

A man’s voice, the pronunciation forced, the middle eastern accent thick yet oddly familiar: “Mr Callahan?”


“A car will pick you next Friday, in front of your residence at eight in the morning. You will be away for ten days, and you will need clothing for warm weather.”

“Look, I don’t have a passport…”

“One will be provided, Mr Callahan. And look for a delivery within the next hour, so stay at home for the time being. Oh, this number will not work in the future, so do not call again.”

And with that, the line went dead.

“Swell,” Callahan sighed. He went to the window and scanned the street below, looking for who knew what but nonetheless feeling like he was being watched. He called dispatch and asked one of the girls to run the diplomatic license plate’s number, and it came back as registered to the Israeli Consulate’s motor pool. No surprises there, he groaned as he watched a large delivery truck pull up in front of his building. A man emerged and a moment later he heard a knock on his door.

“This the Callahan place?” the uniformed driver asked, his accent also thick with the same dense middle eastern lilt.


“Gonna be a bitch getting that thing up these stairs. Where you want us to put it?”

“Put what?”

The guy looked amused on hearing that. “Your new piano, Mr Callahan. A gift, I guess you’d call it, from some new friends of yours.”


He sat in the still of the fading light, looking at the massive thing taking up most of his living space. ‘Is this a joke,’ he thought once again – and who knows, maybe he said as much out loud? ‘What do they want in return…?’ kept running around in his mind, so much so he wasn’t too startled when he heard another unexpected knock on the door. He slid off the sofa and walked to the door.

Brown tweed sport coat, slate colored turtleneck, dark flannel slacks – and white Adidas tennis shoes – peregrine eyes, hands in pockets. 

He looked familiar, maybe he’d seen him at a recent homicide? Then he saw the badge clipped on the belt, and the familiar bulge under the shoulder.

“Callahan, right? Mind if I come in?”

“No. Come on in.”

The man walked in, saw the piano in the middle of the room and shuddered to a stop; he turned and looked at Harry – a razor-sharp grin spreading from ear to ear.

“You play?” the man asked.

“Yeah, but not so much the past couple of years.”

“Decided to take it up again, huh?”

“No, not really. Look, I hate to be an asshole, but do I know you?”

The man shrugged, then stepped forward with his hand extended. “Bullitt. Frank Bullitt. Homicide.”

Callahan took Bullitt’s hand. “Something I can help you with, Inspector?”

“Yeah, for one thing, you can tell me about this fuckin’ piano…”

So Harry told him. About his mother leaving for Israel, her wartime experience and how she came to America. He talked and talked, about all the things he had never known about her past, and about the encyclopedia of secrets his parents had maintained almost his whole life. Then the old man in the alley, and all of the day’s other bizarre events…

And at first Bullitt listened with the same sharp grin on his face…until Callahan mentioned the sedan with the diplomatic plates, as well as the none-too-subtle gift his ‘new friends’ had planted in his living room earlier that day…but by then Bullitt’s eyes had turned cold and hard, like a bird-of-prey in a lance-like descent, zeroing-in on its prey.

Bullitt was, however, on a mission this evening. Captain Bennett wanted to know more about Callahan too, and had asked Frank to scope him out, follow him around for a few days while Internal Affairs did a preliminary background check on Callahan. If everything passed muster Bennett wanted to talk to Callahan about taking the upcoming civil service exam for CID, the Criminal Investigations Division. Because the word on the street was simple enough: Callahan had an eye for detail and got things done – one way or another. Even Briggs over in Internal Affairs liked Callahan, and Briggs didn’t like anyone.

But this? Israeli spooks trying to compromise an SFPD street sergeant? That just didn’t make any sense at all…or did it? There were just too many holes in the story so far.

“So, you called the number?” Bullitt asked.

“Yeah. They want to pick me up next Friday, 0800, down on the street,” Callahan said, nodding with his head to the street below.

“Pick you up and take you where?”

“Israel, I think. Said they’d provide a passport.”

“And you agreed?”

“Nope. Told me then hung up.”



“So, how’re you gonna play it?”

“I don’t know. Ask for the time off, I reckon.”

“Had dinner?”

The sudden change that came over Bullitt’s face startled Callahan; it was like the detective had performed some kind of rapid calculus, come to a decision and had decided to act – all in the blink of an eye…

“No, not yet.”

“Could I use your phone?”

Callahan pointed to the kitchen counter and Bullitt walked over, dialed a number then spoke in rapid, hushed tones before hanging up and turning back to Harry: “Right. Let’s go.”

Bullitt had parked about a block away; he was driving an old Porsche 356c Speedster, kind of a pale canary yellow color, and the top was down. 

“Remind me not to ask how much money you make,” Callahan smirked as he eyed the deep burgundy leather interior. He crawled into the passenger’s seat, his eyes about even with the top of the windshield.

“It’s my wife’s,” Bullitt added unnecessarily.

“She a doc?” Or a lawyer?”

“Architect. Pretty good one, too. She’s up north, working on a house at Sea Ranch, left me this thing. Needs some work, though,” Bullitt added as he started the car and peeled out into traffic. “You ever met Captain Bennett?”

“The Homicide commander? No way; little over my pay-grade.”

Bullitt looked at Callahan and laughed, shaking his head a little as he turned towards the Marina District. “You like hot dogs?”

“Not particularly.”

“Well, we’re going to Bennett’s and he’s cooking hot dogs out back. If you want some friendly career advice, tell him they’re the best goddamn hot dogs you’ve ever had in your life.” Bullitt turned from Columbus onto Bay at a sedate seventy miles per, his eagle’s eyes scanning the way ahead as street lights winked on.

“I’m just curious, but do you know there’s, like, a speed limit around here?”

“Fuck ‘em.”

Callahan nodded. “Is that what you tell ‘em when they pull you over?”

“Fuck that. Who bothers stopping?”

“Swell,” Callahan muttered…

The little Porsche pulled up – relatively unscathed – in front of a two story house a few blocks up from the marina, and Callahan could smell seared meat wafting all around the neighborhood…like backyard Bar-B-Qs were aflame behind each and every house. Bullitt led the way around to the side of the house, opened a small gate while keeping an eye out for something, or someone, holding the gate open for Callahan and slamming it shut just as a small wooly mastodon came ambling around from the backyard.

“Gretchen!” Bullitt howled, and the dog screeched to a halt then got down on her front legs – her butt pointing skyward and her tail flailing like a whipsaw – just before Bullitt pounced on her. The Great Dane pinned him effortlessly then proceeded to relentlessly lick Bullitt’s face – until Captain Bennett rounded the house…

“Gretchen! Come!” came the thunderous command, and the pup paused for a moment, then slinked away into the shadows. “Frank, you know I’m trying to break her of that! Why do you keep teasing her!”

“I can’t help it, Captain. She gives great tongue.”

Bennett shook his head and turned for the smoking grill in the backyard. “Callahan? Beer’s in the cooler; make yourself comfortable.”

Frank led the way to the cooler and pulled out two Anchor Steams, picked up the opener and popped both caps off, handing one to Callahan before walking off into the far reaches of the yard. Harry turned, saw two teenagers throwing a football and turned to follow.

“Callahan?” Bennett called out as Harry passed. “Got a minute?”


“No yessir-no sir stuff in the backyard, okay? Watch the fire while I go check on some stuff in the kitchen.”


Bennett walked to the house, shaking his head ever so slightly as he went, and Harry turned to the grill – something called a Hasty-Bake – and he saw seven large t-bones pushed back from the flames, cooking ever-so-slowly. He took the spatula and pressed gently on two of them, felt the softness and judged they still had a few minutes to go, so he took a long pull on his beer, watching Bullitt and the two kids back in the shadows as they tossed the ball. One of the boys, Harry saw, was a helluva passer.

“He starts at Oregon next fall,” Bennett said as he came back to the grill. “We’re proud as hell, of course. Did you play?”

“Baseball and track. Too skinny for football.”

“How’re the steaks?”

“‘Bout medium rare. Those two are, anyway.”

“Better pull ‘em, then. Beverly can’t stand a tough steak.”

Callahan pulled two, checked the rest and decided to let them rest off the flame for a minute and pulled them all off, though he didn’t notice how Bennett watched him while he did these simple things, and so had no idea that his every word and deed were being studiously scrutinized.

“Come and get it!” Bennett yelled to the footballers, then he turned to Callahan again. “Get ‘em on that platter and carry ‘em over, if you don’t mind?”

“Not at all, sir.” Callahan missed the approving nod, and the knowing look Bennett and Bullitt exchanged.

Dinner was polite chit-chat, what the boys wanted to study, what Bennett’s daughter was going to wear to a school dance next week – and Callahan did his best to keep engaged. The kids cleared after dinner while Mrs Bennett supervised, leaving the three cops alone in the backyard.

“Anyone need coffee,” Captain Bennett asked, his demeanor suddenly one hundred percent on-duty cop.

“Be good,” Bullitt answered.

“Yessir,” Callahan chimed-in.

“Beverly? Make it three!” Bennett turned to Callahan, his eyes hard and all business now. “Callahan? We have three slots open in CID, and your name has come to my attention. You interested?”

“In CID? Yessir, very much.”

“Civil Service Exam coming up pretty quick. Got enough time to study?”

Callahan looked at Bullitt’s razor sharp expression, then nodded. “I think so, sir.”

“Now, what’s all this shit about Israel – and their consulate?”

Callahan told him, leaving nothing out.

“So,” Bennett sighed, “Friday morning? You’re gonna go, I take it?”

“If I can get the time off, yessir.”

Bennett leaned back in his chair, steepled his hands over his belly then sighed. “Okay, as of right now you’re working for me. You’ve got the time off, but go into work tomorrow night as usual, don’t alter any routines, don’t do anything out of the ordinary. Get off work, go home and study for the exam. Do exactly what the Israelis have told you to do, and don’t tell anyone a word about what you’re up to. Frank’ll drop by a couple of times at work, when you’re on the street; other than that you just keep to the routine. Got that?”

“Yessir. Understood.”

“Now, I’ve been going through your jacket and there’s a big hole starting late in ’68. You’re Army Reserves, right? What was that all about? Vietnam?”


“Your file was pulled last year, and as best I can tell the CIA pulled it. About fifty pages heavily redacted. I tried to find out what that’s all about and got nowhere. Now, mind you I’m a colonel in the reserves and still work DIA from time to time, and they still won’t let me in on it. I don’t suppose you’d care to tell me what that was all about?”

“Not really, sir.”

Bennett smiled, looked at Bullitt and nodded.

“Alright, Harry,” Bullitt said quietly, why don’t you start at the beginning again, and tell us what’s really going on here…”

Callahan looked down into his coffee, looked at the reflections gathering there, swirling in a black cadence all their own…

“Nothing much to tell,” Callahan whispered.

“Good,” Bennett said gently. “Then this won’t take too long.”


(c) 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw

(a simply revised version of chapters 1 and 2 was recently posted at Lit, and chapter 4 should post here soon. thanks for dropping by…)