the eighty-eighth key, ch. 13


the eighty-eighth key

part ii

chapter 13

Avi Rosenthal slipped quietly through the shadows, moving with deliberate slowness from one pool of inky darkness to the next – and while he looked ahead his senses told him to slow down and look in his wake. The same urgent intuition that now informed his every move told him he was being followed – again – as he moved to the meeting place. But by whom?

Rumors were the most valuable currency these days, and Avi traded in them day and night, passing along what he knew or had learned to members of the Danish underground. And though Avi was a physicist and so far from being some kind of secret agent, he had out of necessity learned some of the basic elements of fieldcraft…like:

How to spot a tail on the fly or how to set up a last-minute dead-drop…

Or to use reflections in windows to spot surveillance assets moving in from the rear…

And most important of all, how to evade a tail silently, efficiently, and – if needs be – ruthlessly…

And because Avi Rosenthal had demonstrated more than once that he had mastered all these skills, the underground resistance had taken to using him to convey information to and from various cells around the city, and they soon learned to rely on his own peculiar sources of information to know what the Nazis were planning.

Because, or so it seemed, many Germans working at the University really didn’t care for Hitler and his more extreme objectives, and many of these men and women were working with the University’s own physicists. But now the word coming down was that the Nazi leadership in Berlin was set to abandon the idea of Denmark being a ‘protectorate’ – and stage a full military occupation of the country. It was becoming too dangerous for German troops to assemble or move around within the country or while on their way to Norway – because of recent efforts by the Danish resistance.

Of even more importance, there was mounting evidence that the Germans intended to simply take all of the faculty from the Physics Department to work at a weapons development site within Germany proper, and once Avi had confirmed this rumor had originated from multiple sources within the Danish-German Uranverein, he had signaled that an urgent meeting with the heads of the local underground was needed.

He fell deeper into the shadows and waited several minutes, watching for his followers…because he just knew they were out there…

…because he felt something, a dank warning in the heavy, seaside air…

…over there, down on the water, a reflection that didn’t belong…movement that shouldn’t be there…

He stepped into the light and made his way home, only now he knew he was blown. Whoever was following him was good, and suddenly he felt he needed to run. But for his plan to work he first had to convince Imogen – and her father, Aaron – that it was time to make good their escape to Sweden.

Assuming there was still time.

When his street was just in view he heard two cars racing in his direction; he saw them as they turned up his street and skidded to a stop in front of his house. Troops ran to his door and kicked it down, then more men in leather jackets walked in, and this confused him. Had he been betrayed from within?

He was cut off now and knew it. Exposed as a traitor to the provisional government, he would truly be persona non grata…but worse still, his true place in the government might be exposed, and that would be a disaster. 

No, he thought, it was time to disappear. Now. Tonight.

He felt a hand reach out from the darkness – and he tried to resist as a hand slipped over his mouth – then he shook his head as a black hood was pulled down over his head. Worse still, he then felt a burning pinch on his arm – and slowly felt himself falling off a cliff into an impenetrable darkness…as if the world had given way underfoot.


“Well Harry, I think because I have some experience with this kind of stuff.”

“But having him declared dead?” Callahan mused aloud. “What about his wife and kids? How can you keep them from spilling the beans?”

“By not telling them,” Bullitt said, shrugging away the pain he knew it would cause to people he cared deeply about. 

“What?” Callahan yelled. “You’ve got to be kidding! How could you…”

“Because their reactions will be critical to selling the story to whoever was behind the attack.” Frank looked at Harry, then to Dell and Stan for support – but only Stan nodded his head. “We’ve got to sell it to them before we can sell it to reporters. We have to assume everything concerning Sam’s family will be watched, and closely, so any fuck-up on the front side will only cause the whole thing to fall apart. After the funeral and any other public appearances we can tell them the truth.”

“What does Sam have to say about all this?” Harry asked, shaking his head slowly as he looked from the floor up to Bullitt.

“It was his idea,” Frank sighed as he watched Callahan brighten. “We ran it by Stacy, too, and she agrees.”

“Okay,” Harry added, suddenly less outraged.

“You’re going to pick her up tonight at SFO, Harry. Here’s the flight information.”

Callahan took the paper and scanned it, then looked at Frank again. “And…? What am I missing?”

“We think they’re going to try and take you out tonight. Right after you pick her up.”

“You think? What the hell does that mean?”

“The patrolman who gave you up at the Perryman scene? We’ve been running a tap on his phone for a few hours. Seems he’s been a very busy boy, too. You’d never know he was one of Briggs’ first recruits, would you…”

“How the hell do you know that?”

“Because Briggs was a compulsive son-of-a-bitch,” Delgetti smirked as he held up a bunch of copied pages. “We found a safe in his office and, well, I’ll be damned if we didn’t find it standing wide open this afternoon. Right, Carl?”

“Right,” Stanton said, grinning. “Wide as a hooker’s crack…”

“So, you’re running taps on all of them? How…?”

“How’d we get a judge to approve so many wiretaps?” Frank replied. “Easy, Harry. All we had to explain to him was that this group is behind the murder of one of their own and, well, presto and alakazam! Our wish was granted…”

“Jesus,” Callahan whispered. “And they plan on taking me out?”

“Yes. You and Stacy.”

“But why? She’s FBI. Won’t that trigger a federal investigation?”

Bullitt shrugged. “It seems they’re counting on that happening, but as for the reason why? Well, so far I have no idea.”

“And I assume you have a plan that doesn’t involve me getting killed?”

“Well no, Harry. We expect you to die in a huge explosion on the 101, just as you cross into the City.”

“Probably around one this morning,” Delgetti added, grinning.

“Swell,” Callahan muttered. “Anything else I should know?”

“Yeah. We think Bressler might be in on it. Or not. So we’re sending him with you, just to see if he tips his hand.”

“Al!?” Harry cried. “No fuckin’ way!”

“Well, we have to be sure,” Frank said.

“Where’re you taking Sam?” he asked.

“You don’t need to know that, Harry.”

Callahan nodded, then looked at his watch. “Where’s Al?”

“Waiting for you at division. You two go get some dinner then head out to the airport. Park in the police lot, right next to a red SFFD van. You got the unit number, Dell?”


“Got that, Harry? The parking lot should be empty at that time of night, but make sure you park on either side of that van. Got that?”


Good. And try not to get killed before you get out there, okay?

Harry shook his head in apparent disgust, then made his way out to the hospital parking lot…just as a swarm of television news crews descended on the hospital’s front entrance. He stopped and looked on as, a minute later, Frank Bullitt came out and announced the death of Captain Sam Bennett.


The Eli Rosenthal Music Company had been selling sheet music from their original location near the university for almost fifty years when, in 1940, German forces moved into Copenhagen, and as the Danish government had negotiated a strict “hands-off” policy regarding Denmark’s Jewish population, the store remained open. And almost defiantly so, because after the first few waves of intimidation left the store in a shambles, Eli’s was a dispirited – if angry – soul. Yet even so, the music store remained open, in no small part because in addition to their normal clientele seeking sheet music, Eli and Saul had managed to secure a steady supply of new phonograph recordings by way of Amsterdam. German officers stationed in Copenhagen were the main market for these rare items, and soon enough the intimidation efforts ceased for good.

And after this new hands-off policy became an established fact, members of the resistance began using the store’s basement as an after-hours assembly point. This necessitated a secret entrance be fashioned under the old brick floor, and that an escape tunnel be constructed that led to a nearby drainage pipe. This outlet fed rainwater into the main harbor…so even before Avi Rosenthal was fully conscious he smelled dank seawater and knew exactly where he was.

So he relaxed…just a little…as the drug wore off. He felt helpful arms hoisting his dead weight into the basement, then another wave of relief as the familiar contours of the basement came into sharp relief. In dimmest candlelight, he could just make out his brother Saul, and was that Aaron Schwarzwald sitting on a packing crate?

He moved his arm and it stiffened. “Why the shot?” he asked Saul.

And Saul looked surprised, but then his brother shrugged.

“What does that mean?”

Saul tried to grasp what had just happened, and what it meant. “I suspect the Gestapo are onto you.”

Avi looked away, tried to read the tone in his brother’s voice before he looked his brother in the eye again. “And who else?”

“As you suspected. Someone in the faculty has betrayed you.”

“So? What do I do now?”

“We identify the traitor and isolate him, then we will move as many as we can to Sweden. The Americans are going to help. This is confirmed.”

“The Rockefeller people?”

“Yes. Bohr’s contacts proved useful after all. And Roosevelt has offered citizenship to anyone who will relocate.”

“What of our efforts in Palestine?”

“Still too many unknowns.”

“I’m going there.”

“Avi…it is too soon. Too dangerous. And the British will prevent this. You know this…”

“Fuck the British. We must return home, Saul. Even you know this much is true.”

Saul nodded. “For you, perhaps, it will become home. Denmark is my home. Father’s too.”

Avi turned to Aaron Schwarzwald: “And you, Aaron?”

“Imogen has decided on Sweden, at least until the war is over. Unless Heisenberg…”

“But what is your choice, Aaron?”

“I will not leave the university. No matter the circumstance. I owe them that much?”

“You owe them your life?” Avi asked incredulously.

“Yes, Avi, I suppose I do. Perhaps you are too young to understand, but yes, I do.”

“Will Imogen leave without you?”

Aaron shook his head. “The Torah forbids this. She will either stay with me or – with her husband.”

All eyes turned to Avi Rosenthal, who now spoke solemnly: “Yes, of course. Then it must be so. Saul, how soon can this be arranged.”

“My, you are a romantic,” Avi’s brother sighed, his heart sinking. “Do you think you might at least ask Imogen if she consents to this madness?”


“Yes, madness. Who else but a madwoman would consent to marry a scrawny little fish like you…?”

“She will marry you, Avi,” Aaron sighed. “But you must ask her first – so that I may give consent. That is the law.”

Saul nodded. “Do as he says, Avi, but she must consent to this, above all else.”

“We’ve got to be quick about it, Saul,” Avi said quietly, looking down at the old brick floor again. “She told me Heisenberg wrote about Leipzig again – and that she must leave here voluntarily. She thinks the implications in his last letter were clear; if she is taken to Germany against her will she will be beyond our grasp forever.”

“The camps we keep hearing about in Poland?” Saul added hesitantly. “The Americans think the latest reports are true. The use of gas, all of it…”

“So why hasn’t Roosevelt said anything?” Aaron cried. 

“Churchill,” Saul replied. “The British think the issue might divert Roosevelt’s attention to the eastern front, and leave Britain exposed again. This is of course what Stalin wants, but remember that Churchill is playing for Britain’s survival.”

“Why is it that the British always seem to be behind our pain. First Palestine, and now this…”

“I don’t know, Avi. I really don’t,” Saul shrugged. “But perhaps things are not so simple as they seem.”

“And yet, brother, perhaps they are.”

Aaron spoke again, now with more authority in his voice. “Stop this, both of you. Your fighting will get us nowhere, as it always has. We must focus on the present, and what happens next. Nothing else matters.”

Saul nodded, but his heart was heavy now. He now suspected he knew who had betrayed them all, if only because no one from the resistance had injected Avi with anything. And now that Avi was suspected, he tried not to think about the inevitable: should he kill him? Or should he leave him like a tethered goat, bait for the lions? Yet even so, now his most pressing concern was Imogen. 

True enough, when he last met with Werner Heisenberg, the physicist had promised to keep Imogen safe, but there were obvious limits to that pledge. Heisenberg could not betray his true convictions without destroying everything he had done to delay the German effort, and while Werner might be able to protect Imogen if she remained within his immediate sphere of influence, what would become of her if his protection faltered?

No, his options were limited now, and he knew it. If he could not convince her to flee to Sweden, he would have to follow her into Germany.

But he would have to kill his brother first.

(c) 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | thanks for dropping by…

[note: I typically don’t post all a story’s acknowledgements until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need until the work is finalized. Yet with the current circumstances that might not be the best way to proceed, and I’d hate to have this story stop ‘unexpectedly’ without some mention of these sources. Of course, the source material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two Hollywood films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s screenplay. John Milius penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’ storyline derives from characters in that screenplay. Most of the other figures in this little romp derive from characters developed in the works cited above, but as always this story is otherwise a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing historical timeline, using the established characters referenced above.]

the eighty-eighth key, ch. 12


the eighty-eighth key

part ii

chapter 12

In April 1975, the U.S. led effort to prevent the unification of Vietnam under communist rule had come completely off-the-rails; in South Vietnam, and particularly around the capital city of Saigon, North Vietnamese forces had moved into place, ready for the final push to consolidate the country – and to expel the remnants of American influence from the South. One part of the American response to these developments was to identify key South Vietnamese citizens who had helped the U.S. effort, and to offer these people a new life in the United States.

Another element of this effort focused on the many orphanages located in the South, because many of the children in these facilities were of mixed parentage. To put it more bluntly, many of these children had American fathers and Vietnamese mothers, and the operant question here applies to the simple statistical outcomes mandated by Mendelian genetics. In other words, many of these children did not look like typical Vietnamese kids, so the concern arose that these children might be systematically abused, or perhaps even killed. 

And so began Operation Babylift; an unparalleled effort to bring all these kids to the United States, so that they could, it was hoped, be adopted. 

Of particular relevance to our little story, Major Jim Parish, MD, United States Army Medical Corps, was one of the prime movers behind this effort…but we would be derelict in our duties if we failed to mention that he got by with a little help from his friends.

And at about the same time that Sam Bennett was being gunned down, the last Air Force C-141 was taking off from Saigon, bound for Oakland, California, where Red Cross volunteers were standing by to re-home the last 189 orphans from a country that, rather suddenly, no longer existed.


Callahan and Bressler cleared the murder scene a little after seven that evening, and Callahan drove straight to the UCSF Medical Center – where Bennett had been taken – and now they were walking through a maze or dimly lit corridors in the basement…

…to the Medical Examiner’s facility.

Bullitt, Dell and Carl were waiting for them by the main door, and they looked agitated.

Frank looked at his wristwatch and cleared his throat when Callahan walked up, but he grinned a little – which Harry though a little callous.

“What happened to Perryman?” he asked.

Callahan pulled out his notepad and rechecked his facts. “Looks like a 38 pressed up against the base of the skull, no exit wound so probably a wad-cutter. The Buck knife is worn smooth, like it’s been on a Sam Browne for years. He’d been in the water for about three hours, but that figure is suspect as the water temperature is highly variable in that part of the bay. Tourists reported the body, so no connection there. One of the cops working the line was acting a little hinky…”

“How so?”

“I dunno, Frank. It was like he was announcing our presence as we walked out the pier…”

Bullitt nodded his head. “Makes sense. Meant they were waiting to spring the trap on Sam. Waiting for you to get on scene, probably so you couldn’t respond in time.”


“Yeah, this was a well-planned and executed ambush. Dell? Why don’t you and Carl take Bressler back to division. Harry and I will be along in a little bit.”

“Right,” Dell said, and Al shrugged before he walked off with Delgetti and Stanton.

“You ready for this?” Frank asked.

“Yeah, let’s get it over with,” Harry sighed.

Frank led the way, through the sterile ante-room to a long corridor packed with small offices, then to the huge, brightly lighted exam room that Harry suspected had been the last place his Looney-Junes had been before being moved to the Stottlemeyer Funeral Home. His hands began to shake a little as his thoughts drifted to June, but as suddenly his jumbled mind’s eye reached out for memories of Bennett puttering around the grill, working on steaks and hot-dogs…

Two autopsies were underway as they passed through clinging veils of otherworldly stench, yet still Bullitt led the way to another long hallway, then through a series of mechanical rooms filled with heating and air conditioning equipment, then finally to a small door in what looked like an almost abandoned part of the hospital. Frank opened this door and motioned for Callahan to go inside.

Captain Bennett was sitting behind a desk, eating a bowl of chicken noodle soup with his left hand…his right arm in a sling…and soup was dribbling down onto his hospital gown.

“Hi, Harry,” Bennett said, his face hiding behind a careworn, very dark mask. “How’s it hangin’.”

And for only the second time in his life, Harry Callahan really didn’t know what to say.

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

[note: I typically don’t post all a story’s acknowledgements until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need until the work is finalized. Yet with the current circumstances that might not be the best way to proceed, and I’d hate to have this story stop ‘unexpectedly’ without some mention of these sources. Of course, the source material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two Hollywood films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s screenplay. John Milius penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’ storyline derives from characters in that screenplay. Most of the other figures in this little romp derive from characters developed in the works cited above, but as always this story is otherwise a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing historical timeline, using the established characters referenced above.]

Goin’ to the dogs, pt.2

Going dogs 2

I’ve pretty much decided to stop with all the anti-Trump blather – being more than certain I’ve had a belly full of this tripe for the past three years – so I am fairly confident you are too. Ditto with all the talk about the virus. But…

…one unexpected twist among all these unwanted turns concerns our canine betters, to wit: that animal shelters and municipal pounds all around the country (the world too?) are emptying out as people scramble to find a companion to share this confounding isolation with.

Well, over the years we’ve always kept the prices on our litters well below the national average for Springers, but this time around we decided to cut them even further due to current events – so anyone really wanting a pup with good bloodlines could easily afford it. We listed our litter on Sunday afternoon, and about two hours later they were all sold.

This is something new in our experience, too. I’ve been doing this for twenty years and have never experienced anything like this explosion…people literally pouring out their souls, recounting tales of growing up with Springers but never being able to afford the thousand dollars (and sometimes much higher) prices charged these days for a Springer. Three school teachers are in this group, a notoriously underpaid profession in the States, and this is the first time they’ve ever seen pups at a price they could afford. One is driving halfway across the country to pick up her new best friend.

What a story that would make.

So, I feel good about this experience, though I really, really hurt letting a pup go after caring for him for two months. When they first open their eyes, when they connect with you and lick your chin and you hold them while you feed them…an unbelievably strong bond forms, a very maternal/paternal kind of thing that has to be experienced to be believed. It is a fire that warms the soul.

So, Erica and I have been able to pass along some happiness in these dark times, and there really is nothing in the world quite like the love you find in a good dog’s eyes. And for some reason, I wanted to share this with you, my extended family of readers and friends.

So…as always, thanks for dropping by.

the eighty-eighth key, ch. 11


the eighty-eighth key

part 2

chapter 11

Nights were hardest now. The dark uncertainty of morning – and what might come, like shades of gray marching across her ceiling, because even Copenhagen’s wharves lay quiet now – whether by day or night. The constant stream of rumors from the south, of Germany and Austria on the march once again, had unsettled even her father – and nothing ever unsettled her father. The situation had hardly been, since last August, just another paranoid fantasy, and such uncertainty as the German invasion of Poland couldn’t be explained away as the distorted fetish of a pathological curiosity. Because what was happening was real enough to feel now, as if that dark cloud was standing just outside her door at night – like an evil spirit listening to her breathe – even if all the bad things were still happening hundreds of miles away.

Even if Imogen Schwarzwald was twenty-one years old, even if she was old enough to know better, she still felt – on her bad nights, anyway – like monsters were indeed just outside her door, or lurking in the deepest shadows under her bed.

Her father was still teaching surgery from time to time, but since the accident, since he’d lost the use of his right arm, he was seeing patients at the house – in his study.

He had begun a correspondence with two professors – one in Vienna, the other in Zurich – some years ago, then he had formally attended lectures in psychiatry before sitting for the relevant examinations…and so now he was a practicing psychiatrist.

Of course, she had seen the undercurrent of concern in his eyes – his concern for her, and for Denmark. He had felt helpless, just as she too had begun to feel increasingly helpless.

Like that last day on her father’s boat…

…when he had asked her to help stay the main halyard while he tried to free the gaff, and how she had seen the man in the cape as he walked up to her. How he had summoned another storm with his cane, how she had grown afraid and let go of the halyard, and now all that remained was her memory of the gaff roaring down the mast, crushing her father’s arm…

And in the aftermath, with his career suddenly in ruins, all he had concerned himself with was his daughter’s hallucinations, and how he might go about understanding them. He had taken her to Freud, had stayed in Vienna for a month while the old sage listened to her, trying to understand the pathogenesis of her visions…but then Freud had grown more concerned about the internal conflict music had created within Imogen’s psyche, and how her divided loyalties – and how her maternal and paternal worlds were pulling her apart – had created her split personality.

And in the years since the accident Aaron Schwarzwald had been working hard to bridge the schism that, perhaps, he had helped create.

Only now there were other forces gathering in the darkness. Forces real enough though not yet fully realized. More talk of war. The dubious diplomatic rapprochement between Hitler and Stalin, the Sudetenland crisis and Chamberlain’s startling retreat, rumors of German troops massing along the Polish border – all these weighed on Aaron, as they did everyone he knew at the University Hospital. It was just about all everyone talked about…

But what was happening just to the south, in Germany? Because now this was the oppressive question on everyone’s mind: Would the Germans take Denmark by force? And who would stop them if they chose to?

But day after day Aaron knew the show must go on. He had to be strong, also had to carry the weight of Imogen’s illusions on his shoulders – for her sake, for the sake of all the castles they had built on the shifting sands of her impenetrable visions.

Yet the more Aaron studied Freud the more convinced he became that something much deeper was rotting away inside the heart of European civilization. The human psyche was but a mirror held up to society-at-large, and as he read and reread Civilization and Its Discontents he became more and more concerned with the idea that an individual’s death-wish might well be seen as the collective reflection of society, as well. So day after day he saw events to the south for what they were – the death rattles of a civilization bent on tearing itself apart. 

So he began thinking, and planning, for the impossible…


The nightmares came soon enough, not long after his return from Vietnam, and for years they hardly ever left him just to be…

…first came the night-flights to C-Med, his Huey taking fire as skids slammed hard into the red clay earth, the ping-whiz-ping sound of bullets as they sliced through the ship’s thin aluminum skin, then all the sudden screams, the overwhelming odor of coppery hemoglobin as blood showered everyone and everything, but always over the back of his neck, yet it seemed that the omnipresent blood trickling down his spine was what woke him – always – out of a cold sweat…

…then the times mortar rounds landed within the wire, when he could see VC running for his Huey, more than a few with RPGs on their shoulders, taking aim at – him, and always looking him right in his eyes…

…and during the worst nights, and after the most violent nightmares, he would wake up in the pre-dawn hours covered in sweat, because the worst nights were drenched in a litany of screams…the dying screams of men suddenly aware of their mortality and the coming of that final light…

…but worst of all was the fat, white snake that rolled up his crashing Hueys windshield. These nightmares were alive with snakes, fat white snakes with red eyes and enormous, glistening fangs.

Yet also by this time, Callahan was really getting into the routine of detective work, and had been for almost two years. He spent his first six months with Bullitt, then the next year and a half with older veterans of the division, and only then did he gain the coveted ‘Inspector’ shield. Stacy Bennett visited her brother like clockwork, too – at least every Thanksgiving and Christmas – but soon enough, while he considered her his best friend, it became clear they would ever be more than that. They simply had too much in common, and they soon realized that filling their precious time away from the street with even more police talk was stifling in the extreme.

Then the department very nearly imploded in the aftermath of the Briggs/vigilante motorcycle cops affair. The problem for Callahan was simpler still: there were many, perhaps too many, cops on the force who sympathized with Briggs – and most of these officers began to react to Callahan differently after his role in bringing the squad down. Of course the senior administration supported Callahan, as did Bullitt and most of the team in homicide, but it was the rank-and-file patrolmen on the beat that seemed to most resent Callahan’s role in the affair, and pretty soon their resentment began to boil over in dangerously unpredictable ways.

Like when Callahan would check out on the scene of a bad disturbance and call for backup. When backup-units failed to show up after fifteen minutes, and time after time…well, everyone knew the score…

Then he came in one night and found a swastika painted on his locker door, and not long after that a patrolmen passing Harry in a precinct corridor called him a ‘Jew-boy’ just loud enough for everyone to hear…

…but then Callahan had spun around and slammed the patrolman into a wall, his elbow pressed hard against the man’s neck…

“What did you call me, you stupid mother-fucker?” Callahan hissed, his mouth almost touching the man’s ear.

“I called you a Jew-boy, you fuckin’ kike.”

At which point Callahan hauled the officer to the nearest watch-commander’s office and turned him in. He also filled out a formal complaint about shift officers failing to provide timely back-up.

And yes, these actions created even more problems for Callahan.

Still, while the team at Homicide stuck by him one hundred percent, the net-effect was to isolate Callahan from cops-on-the-beat more than was considered safe, and Callahan gradually became more and more a loner.

Which bothered him not at all. In fact, he considered himself more free to act on his own, which he now thought was a very good thing.

The irony behind all this wasn’t lost on friends like Bullitt and Sam Bennett, because they knew – and could relate to – Callahan’s basic antipathy to the legal system. Bennett knew that under just slightly different circumstances Callahan might easily have been recruited and become a part of Briggs’ death squad. The most important thing, Bennett now understood, was that such squads might form and re-form within the SFPD at any time, and the implications for the legal system were enormous. Enormously dangerous, that is.

Also, Bennett had to consider the likelihood that more of Briggs’ vigilantes were still out there, that although the head of the snake was gone the organism might yet be quite dangerous. If this was true, how could he root out the remnants of the organization?

Yet he had to consider one last thing: politics. The country had just, the summer before, looked on as the President of the United States resigned in disgrace; now Gerald Ford was trying to piece together a political miracle with the help of big money in Southern California. Ronald Reagan was finishing his second term as governor, and he too had his eye on the White House, and now it looked like a Jesuit novitiate-turned-Berkeley classics student named Jerry Brown might be the next governor. And still the war in Vietnam ground on, still chewing up young lives and billions of dollars year after year – while the anti-war movement still raged just across the bay, at U. C. Berkeley.

The last thing the City of San Francisco needed was for its police force to become a haven for right-wing death squads – at the exact time all these other violent national movements were gathering steam and headed for political combat.

No, Bennett knew he had to act, and soon. To save the department from anarchy, certainly, but also to hold back a long simmering war from breaking out between conservatives and liberals all over Northern California. And, Bennett now understood, even to keep these so-called death squads from spreading to other departments all around the country.

It was time, he knew, for another ‘hot dog’ party in the back yard, so he got on the phone and called Stacy in Boston, asked her to come out for a long weekend, then he called Frank and his team, told them to keep Saturday night free.

But all that was before all Hell broke loose.


She woke early on an April morning, alarmed by – yet curious about – a strange sound she’d never heard before, something in the sky. She ran to the window and looked up into the pre-dawn sky, saw small aircraft, swarms of them, had filled the sky overhead, then she looked over the red tile roofs to the city’s wharves – and what she saw took her breath away…

…Ships, German ships, were just tying-up at the wharves and unloading troops, and as the first hints of sun bathed the seafront, gunfire erupted…then came the screams…

…and moments later she heard her father bounding up the stairs, then bursting into her room…

“Come, Imogen. We must go to the basement,” he whispered. “The Germans have come.”

“Yes, Papa, I know. I can see them forming-up on the New Square…”

“Where?” he whispered as he came to her window.

“There. See the statue? Just to the left, in the shadows,” and now she too whispered.

“You have such good eyes, my daughter.”

She nodded, then pointed towards the old fort: “I heard shooting over there, too…”

“By the barracks?”


“But we are neutrals! Why would the Germans attack us?”

“This is not like Warsaw, Papa. The airplanes are not dropping bombs.”

“Not yet, you mean!”

“Avi does not thing they will, Papa.” She watched as he slowly nodded his head, but she could tell he still didn’t really trust her new friend. He never would, she realized, yet for some reason the thought made her smile.

“And what else has Avi told you?”

“If we do not resist, this will be a peaceful occupation, we will become what the Germans call a ‘protectorate.’”

He scowled. “Protecting us from whom, I wonder?”

“The British.”

Aaron laughed. “Of course. Our biggest trading partner, our ancestral ally.”

“What Avi heard, well, the Germans just want unimpeded access to Norway. That is their objective.”

“And tell me, daughter; just how does this Avi know of such things.”

“His brother works in the Foreign Ministry.”

“And why didn’t you tell me of this sooner?”

“I only just found out, Papa. And I did not think it so important at the time.”

“And has this Avi heard what the Germans will do to us Jews?”

“No, Papa. But you are a surgeon…they will not harm us.”

“I was a surgeon, daughter. And I am not so sure they will tolerate a degenerate like me.”

“A degenerate, Papa?”

“A psychiatrist.”

“So, go to the Dean of the Medical School. Have him reinstate you to the surgical faculty.”

“I am still a surgical professor, Daughter.”

“Then we must have a sign on the house that states this, Father. Just like on the Ketterling’s house.”

He nodded his head. “Yes, I will make it so.”

“Do not be afraid, Papa. We will find a way through this, only we must learn to think like…”

“Like what? A German?”

“No, Papa. I was going to say that I think we must remember how to think like Jews again.”


She was standing on her porch facing the sunrise when the rumbling began, and a moment later she felt Avi by her side again.

“Has it started?” she asked.

“Yes. The Syrians moved on the Heights a few hours ago. Sadat has a bridgehead across the Suez, too.”

“What are the Russians doing?” she asked. Then the rumbling increased in intensity until the ground shook and the air itself seemed to wilt, then the pitch changed as the Phantoms rotated and arced into the pink sky. She watched as the first echelon of four jets angled into a steep right turn, then she saw four more jets – these heavily laden with racks of bombs – flying just above the treetops. These smaller jets turned to the north, then the Phantoms turned to trail them – only at a much greater altitude. “Are those the Skyhawks?”


“Are they…”

“No, not yet. But if it gets bad they will carry them.”

“I cannot imagine so much history wiped from the surface of the earth.”

“It will not come to that,” Avi said.

“How can you be so certain?”

He chuckled as he turned and kissed his wife on the forehead. “Because, my dear Imogen, Dr Kissinger would never dare allow such a thing.”

“I thought you liked him?”

“I despise him, but I do trust him. He is a man of his word.”

“And this Nixon? What do you think of him?”

“He is smart, Imy, but I would never trust him if the Russians become involved. He would willingly sacrifice us.”

“Will they? Will the Russians help Syria?”

He shrugged as he sighed – as a second echelon of Phantoms leapt into the sky and turned towards the southwest. “I doubt it. Word is Sadat wants to keep them out of Egypt, that he wants to approach the Americans. If so, then the Soviets will do everything in their power to protect the Syrians. They want access to those naval bases. That is their long term goal. And that is what the Americans want to prevent most of all.”

“Doesn’t Assad know he’s being used?”

Avi shrugged again. “It is in his interest to string the Russians along. Anything to get to us.”

“Will we ever be safe?”

“I cannot believe God has allowed us to come home, only to be burned away from this life and forgotten. No, this I could never believe…” 

“This is not like before, is it? I mean…”

“No, you are correct, it is nothing like 1940. There will never be peaceful coexistence here, so this is our last stand. We survive here, or we perish.”

She shuddered as heavy artillery began firing from concealed positions to the east of the city and he held her close until he felt her tears come.

“I’m not sure I can survive this again, Avi.”

“You won’t have to, my love. We are much stronger than they realize. Stronger even than the Russians realize, thanks to you.”

He felt the burning tension come for her once again, saw her face turn bright red before she turned and walked away – into the house. He turned and watched her walk to the piano – and she stopped there for a moment, reached out as if to make a connection – but she hesitated, seemed to lose her way as she tried to speak.

Even from a distance he knew what she was trying to say.

She was praying that God would bring her son back to her.

He watched her as she fell in on herself, so he went to her and helped her to the bedroom, then he called for her physician.

An hour later the telephone rang and he reached out, but he hesitated for a moment before answering.

Though he didn’t see her listening from their bedroom door.

“Yes, speaking,” she heard him say. 

“Where?” And now she heard a sudden panic in his voice, then a long pause as he listened.

“Call the PM, tell her that I concur. If she agrees, load the first warhead.”


“Hey Al,” Callahan said as he saw Al Bressler seated outside Captain Bennett’s office, “long time no see.”

“So, you two characters know each other?” Bennett said through his open door.

“We were roommates during academy,” Bressler said.

“For CID, or basic?” Bennett asked.

“Basic,” Callahan added. “Al only graduated because he was so good at reading my answers on the final exam.”

“Fuck you, fart face.”

“Coming from the king of farts, I’ll take that as a compliment.”

Bennett was staring at them, his arms crossed over his chest, chewing on the stump of a cigar between his scowling lips. “You through yet? Can we get started?”

“Sorry, Captain,” Callahan said.

“Get your sorry butts in here,” Bennett growled. “And Harry, shut the door.”

Callahan always felt his world lurch sideways when he heard this tone in Bennett’s voice, but what the devil was Bressler doing here? That really stumped him.

“Harry, as you know, Al has been working narcotics for the past year or so, but Captain McKay wants him to spend a few months over here with us. Frank is tied up with something for the next month, so I’d like you to take him for a while, show him the ropes.”


“That wasn’t a request, Callahan.”


“Oh yeah, before I forget – bring him along to the weenie roast tomorrow night. And, uh, I hear Stacy will dropping by, so why don’t you try using deodorant for once in your life.”

“Stacy? Really?”

“Yeah, really. Drop by around 1830. Now – y’all get your smelly asses out of here.”


“And close the goddam door!”

“Yessir,” Callahan repeated, deliberately not closing the door as they left the office.

“Uh, where to…” Bressler asked.

“Follow me, dick-face,” Harry barked as he walked off to the division’s working office. 

The office was huge, with a dozen desks in the main room and smaller offices arrayed around three sides of the larger space. The walls were pale cream colored and old oak paneling covered the walls and trimmed the doors and windows – and everything in sight was covered in a decades-old film of oily cigarette smoke. They walked over to Callahan’s desk – in the main work room – and he pointed to a chair…

“Pull it up. We’ll work here.”

“Don’t rate an office yet? Why Harry, I’m surprised at you!”

Harry shook his head. “Lieutenants only, Al. Sorry to disappoint you.”

“You should come over to narco…we all got rooms of our own.”

“So…that explains why you look like you just crawled out from under a rock?”

Bressler laughed. “No…I’ve been working nights for a year. This is the first time I’ve seen the sun since ’73.”

“Smells like it, too.”

“Okay, Harry, okay…I get it. Could we just move on from the bad ole days and get with the program…?”

“Oh? There’s a program? Do tell.”

“I need a better handle on how to do a quick forensic homicide exam that’ll hold up in court…”


“Because it’s become harder and harder to trust the homicide dicks in my division. McKay thinks someone there is purposefully queering our exams to hamper our investigations.”

“Why not just go to the Academy? Go through the homicide course?”

“Well, that’s the hard part, Harry. Bennett and McKay think…”

Bullitt and Delgetti walked into the office just then and Al stopped talking.

“Frank!” Harry said as Bullitt walked up to his desk. “Where’ve you been?”

“Oh, Bennett has me working on some internal affairs shit,” Bullitt said as he looked at Bressler. “Who’s this?”

“My roommate from Basic. Working narco, been assigned to ride with me for a while.”

Bullitt nodded as he walked off to his little cubby, Delgetti with him.

“That’s Bullitt?”

“Yup. Second in command here, and as good as you’ve heard.”

Bressler nodded. “I sure hope so,” he sighed…leaving Harry with a few questions he thought he’d better not ask yet. “So, what are you working on?”

“Me? I’m clear right now, but I’m the on-call inspector tonight. Had dinner?” Callahan asked as he looked at his watch. “We probably have an hour before the real fun starts.”

“We better get to it, then. Still do choir practice, or do you know a good place to grab a quick burger?”

“Been to Tony’s?”

“That drive in over the tunnel?”


“I’ve heard about it, but never been. Any good?”

“Decent burgers, so-so fries, but they’re fast.”

“Sounds like a weener.”

The intercom crackled…‘Inspector 71, are you up there?’


‘Looks like a floater down by Pier 39.’

“Show me en route.”

“So,” Al sighed, “no burger, right?”

“Yup. ou get used to it.”

They made it down to the waterfront in just a few minutes – despite heavy afternoon traffic – and Callahan saw a huge crowd gathered around patrol cars and an ambulance so he parked as close as possible before taking his ‘suitcase’ from the trunk of the Ford.

“You carry everything in that?” Bressler asked.

“All I need. If it ain’t in here, I call for a CSU,” Harry said as they walked out the pier. Gulls were crying overhead and the walkway still smelled like briny rot; the responding patrolmen had already strung ‘crime scene’ tape across the way ahead, so Callahan flashed his badge as they approached.

“Looks like a bad one, Inspector Callahan,” the patrolman standing watch announced loudly, and Callahan felt the hair on his neck stand-on-end even as he nodded and ducked under the tape.

Another patrolman was waiting further along, leaning on the old timber railing and staring down into the inky water as he and Bressler walked up. Callahan looked down, saw a middle aged man face down in the water, the back of his skull blown away, as well as a loitering Harbor Patrol launch puttering around in lazy circles – probably keeping the gulls from a much-anticipated feast.

Callahan caught the eye of the boat’s driver and pointed to a rickety old timber ladder that led straight down to the water; the driver nodded and headed that way as Callahan made his way down, Bressler not far behind, and he hopped aboard the launch – then holding onto the ladder as Al timed his jump with a passing swell.

“You touch anything?” Callahan asked as he surveyed the scene, and the driver – also a police officer – shook his head.

“No sir, but I just got here.”

“See anything on the way in?”

“No sir.”

Callahan nodded as the launch crabbed sideways over to the body, then he leaned over and turned the body face up.


“What is it?” Bressler asked.

“Take a look.”

Al sidled across the rocking launch and bent over…

“Fuck. Is that…?”

“Judge Perryman. Yup.” Then Callahan saw a Buck knife had been left in the judge’s chest. “Does that look like a calling card to you, Al?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, every patrolman in the city carries a Buck knife on their Sam Browne, right? And Judge Perryman? In the back pocket of half the mobsters and drug dealers in the city…”

“Ouch. I see what you mean…”

Callahan turned to the driver. “Need your radio, and switch to city primary.”


“Inspector 71,” he said into the mic.

“71, go ahead.”

“Need a full CSU my location, as well as divers. Notify 710, advise he is needed this location code two S, that’s S for Sam.”

“71 at 17:22 hours.”

“710, show me en route,” Captain Bennett said over the primary.

“710 at 17:23 hours.”

Bressler tugged at Callahan’s sleeve, then pointed to the crowd gathered on the pier…and Callahan groaned…

“Al, better go up and get everyone the fuck off this pier,” Callahan said as he motioned the launch’s driver back to the ladder. “And no reporters! Better have one of the guys up there call for more backup to work crowd control.”


Then, over the radio…

“710, 33 – shots fired…” Bennett screamed. “Chestnut at Grant…I’m…taking fire…repeat…I’m…”

Callahan grabbed the radio and began shouting…

“Inspector 71 to all units…respond Code 3, but be advised this is a possible ambush situation, repeat, possible ambush. Dispatch, notify SWAT now!”

“71 at 17:25 hours. SWAT notified and en route.”

“Al? Be careful. I mean it. Something’s not right, so be fuckin’ careful.”

Bressler nodded and grinned before he jumped to the ladder, then Harry turned to the driver. “Let’s take a quick look around…”

But in his mind’s eye he felt the Huey lurch sideways before it slammed into the marshy waters of the boggy creek behind C-Med, and as always the fat white snake rolled up the windshield before it disappeared into the darkness…

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

[note: I typically don’t post all a story’s acknowledgements until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need until the work is finalized. Yet with the current circumstances that might not be the best way to proceed, and I’d hate to have this story stop ‘unexpectedly’ without some mention of these sources. Of course, the source material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two Hollywood films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s screenplay. John Milius penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’ storyline derives from characters in that screenplay. Most of the other figures in this little romp derive from characters developed in the works cited above, but as always this story is otherwise a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing historical timeline, using the established characters referenced above.]

Goin’ to the dogs, pt 1


Just about my best friend in the world these days is Jim, and that’s him (above), one of the pups from a litter we had two years ago this month.

We had a surprise in January when we found his parents enjoying a post-coital cigarette, and so in addition to working on various stories these days I am also up to my elbows in puppy-poop as we get this current batch ready to go and out the door.

People tend to express dismay when we tell them about the food we feed our pups when it’s time to wean them from their mother’s milk, so I wanted to pass it along to you, see if you agree – that we are bonkers when it comes to our Springers…

Anyway, at about 3 to 3.5 weeks we gradually introduce goats milk to the little ones, then over the course of a few days we add honey, wheat germ and whole milk yogurt to the mix as we pull the mother slowly away. After a week to ten days of that we begin to add in our own adult formula dried meal, only we run it through a grinder and add the resulting powder to the milk mixture, gradually decreasing the size of the grind until – at around six weeks – they’re eating our standard dry ‘kibble.’ We’ve had good luck with this over the years.

One of the reasons why we’ve turned away from commercial pet food products concerns the declining quality in these products as reported by various consumer watchdogs. The most troubling such reports, which came out in a few mainstream media outlets last year, concerns the use of so-called ‘roadkill’ and animals from shelters that have been euthanized in many of these commercially available pet food products. The latter, involving euthanized animal by-products, came to light when the chemicals used to ‘put-down’ dogs and cats at municipal animal pounds was found in several brands of canned dog food sold at, well, yeah, Wal*Mart. I’d be the first to point out this was a surprise to that retailer and they pulled the products in question, but there’s absolutely no indication that the practice has changed. Kind of Soylent Green for dogs, except those chemicals were making dogs sick as hell.

If there can even be considered a ‘good side’ to the current pandemic it’s that animal shelters around the U.S. have apparently seen record numbers of adoptions as people realize what we’ve known for years: there’s simply no finer companion than a good pup. More than a few of the pups we’ve placed over the years have become cherished friends for their humans, and one of the greatest joys we have is hearing from this extended family, getting photos of our pups as they make their way through life.

So, enough of this. Just taking a break from puppy duty, and from Harry Callahan, but it’s time to get back to it.

Later…and thanks for dropping by.

the eighty-eighth key, chapter 10


the eighty-eighth key

part 2

chapter 10

She was sitting on the sand enjoying a perfect afternoon at the beach with her father, sifting fine white sand between her toes, watching the way the grains fell and wondering why. Why one grain fell this way and another that way – and what might cause such disparity in action and reaction? Was it gravity, or was there an unseen coefficient of friction at play? Then she looked up as a small breaking wave rippled and came to the beach – and the same question darted through her mind…if each wave is essentially the same, why does each individual wave look and, sometimes, behave differently too?

‘There’s something happening here, something happening beyond…’ she said to herself – but she stopped, lost in a sudden thought, lost in ‘the beyond…’ of the moment.

“But how can things happen in such chaos,” she said next, and so loudly it startled her father.

“What things, daughter?”

“I was looking at the waves, father. Each one is different, though often only in very subtle ways, yet the conditions here are almost uniform. So, why aren’t they identically shaped?”

“Well, are the conditions really identical – even ‘almost’ so? No, really, think about it. Are there sudden shifts in wind direction or strength, even very small shifts, or are there even harder to detect shifts in air pressure? And let’s not even mention the same possible variables happening underwater.” He looked at his daughter, at this little human being by his side, and while he felt a not so modest pride at the workings of her mind, he often observed a strange duality at play.

One moment, just like this one, where Imogen was caught up in the physical world all around them, – engaged with deciphering the inner-workings of nature – he felt little intermezzos within these inner passages…a sudden stillness, then an equally sudden irrational outburst of energy. What was happening, he wondered, within these thoughts?

He felt one coming-on again, right now, and he watched her face, saw manifest curiosity give way to startled fear, and he held out his hand in front of her face and waved it up and down, watching the pupils of her eyes for signs of constriction – but he saw nothing. Inexplicably – nothing. ‘How is this even possible?’ he asked himself as she twitched just then, and suddenly it was as if she was warding off blows from an unseen assailant. 

He grabbed her and held her close, now very much afraid he just might understand what was happening…

“What is it, Imogen? What is happening to you right now?”

She moaned as he hid her face in her father’s robe, then she pushed herself closer – into the scent of the clean fabric and the faraway places she went when she could smell his skin. Her arms wrapped tightly around his waist, pulling herself closer and closer, still trying to escape the grasping fingers of the man in the black cape…

But his cane was out now, and the caped man was conducting a symphony…a symphony in the clouds…as if the storms he summoned were orchestras in and of themselves.

But then she was trying to feel for little variations in wind speed and direction, even the smallest changes in air pressure, yet as the raging storm gathered around her she felt herself smile at the power he summoned…


Parish was standing at attention, his eyes level and focused dead-ahead, trying not to move a muscle as the colonel read through his personnel file.

“I don’t get it, captain,” the colonel said. He was reputed to be a fine general surgeon – and a career military officer – but suddenly Parish was aware he respected this physician for the choice he’d made. “You’re due to head home in less than a month…and you want to re-enlist?”


The old man read a few notes from the file, shook his head more than once, then looked up at Parish again. “I said ‘at-ease,’ doctor. Now, would you sit your ass down and tell me what’s really going on here? Is it a girl?”

Parish sat, tried to gather his well-rehearsed thoughts once again before he began…

“No, sir. I’m not needed at home, Colonel. I don’t need to join a country club and I don’t need the big house. I do need to get back out to the men. I am needed out there…and it’s where I belong…”

“So, you got yourself wounded and now – all-of-a-sudden – you’ve had your ‘Come to Jesus moment’ and want to get back to the trenches. Is that it? Because looking over this file I see a fine surgeon masking as a world-class fuck-up. What happens when this little epiphany of yours fades away? You think the Medical Corps needs a screw-up in the ranks?”

Parish looked down, studied his hands before he spoke again: “I think it’s something more than that, Colonel, but I’m not sure I could even get it into words right now. Anyway, I want to make this official. I want to make this my home, and I want to make taking care of these guys my life’s work. Maybe I don’t really understand where all this is coming from, but I do understand the choice I’ve got to make is right here staring me in the face. And I feel comfortable about it, about the choice I’ve made.”

The colonel nodded, then pulled out a sheaf of carbon-copied papers and handed them over to Parish. “Read ‘em over, Captain. Take your own sweet time about it, too. Maybe a week…or hell, I dunno, a month…then sign ‘em if that’s what you really want to do. But this is a big decision, son, maybe the biggest you’ll ever make. So…you be sure you know what you’re doing before you sign. Okay?”

Parish read through the pack of documents right then and there, then he took one of the black ball-point-pens from the colonel’s desk and began signing his name…in triplicate, and on all the forms. When he was finished he looked up, looked into the colonel’s eyes and he thought he saw recognition in the old surgeon’s eyes. He saw the ribbons on his chest then, too, at least a dozen Korean campaign ribbons, and in that moment Parish felt the old man knew the score. He’d been there once himself, hadn’t he?

When he walked out of the building and into the heavy Hawaiian air he looked up at the flag and felt a gut-punch of pride, because now he knew exactly where he belonged. And why.

But first, he had to scoot over to personnel and see about getting back to C-Med.


“So, tell me about your mother. What’s going on with her?”

Callahan looked at Stacy Bennett, then down at her plate. “I see you liked the abalone. It’s supposed to be the best in the city.”

She smiled her approval but he could see by the look in her eyes the deflection wasn’t going to work.

He sighed while he rolled some linguini on his fork, but then put it down and looked her in the eye.  “It’s kinda hard to tell from one report to the next. Not being there, not seeing what she’s working on, well…it’s like flying blind…”

“Is she still working on the nuclear stuff?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know…she’s not really stable enough right now – but who knows? I think she works on her music, but I’m not really sure.”

“Works? You mean, she writes music?”

“Yeah, and she’s actually really good, or so I’ve heard. Her first piece was well received, and she was seven years old!” He shook his head as he thought about what he really knew about her, then he sighed. “She wrote at least two more works in the 40s, during the German occupation of Denmark. Very political stuff, supposedly got her in a lot of trouble.”

“What kind of trouble?”

“The concentration camp kind. After they took her to work on some kind of weapons project, and she refused to cooperate. But a lot of people worked behind the scenes to keep her safe.”

Stacy shivered. “How could you ever be safe in a concentration camp.”

Callahan shook his head. “I don’t know. And it’s like a forbidden topic. Avi…he’s kinda like my step-dad…he doesn’t even want me to bring it up. He’s terrified, as a matter of fact, but I think I understand why.”

“You’ve never heard any of her music?”

“No, I haven’t. No recordings were made, and I’ve never heard of printed scores being available commercially, so they’re probably lost works.”

“Have you ever checked? Isn’t there a good dealer here in the city you could check with?”

Harry thought for a moment, then his eyes brightened: “Yeah, there’s Rosenthal’s, an old place over by the park. They have a reputation, I guess, for more popular works, but their staff knows just about everything there is to know about composers.”

“Funny you’ve never asked, don’t you think?”

“Funny? No, not really. I grew up with her stuff, she played all the time when I was growing up, and, well, she was my teacher. I think I’ve already heard all her compositions, just fragments though, one at a time.”

“You want to go? See if they have any information?”

“Where? To Rosenthal’s?”

Stacy nodded and smiled. “It might be fun. Besides, I love watching you play. You have sexy fingers.”

Callahan looked at her, then down at his fingers. “Sexy – fingers?”

“Um-hmm. And I do know from where I speak, Inspector Callahan.”

They hailed a taxi and rode from Fisherman’s Wharf up to the park; they got out by the aquarium, walked on wooded trails between museums and among all the sun-seekers across to the ancient music store and stepped inside.

“It looks like a record store,” Stacy said as she took in the rows and rows of scores. “I never knew such a place exists!”

“It’s more like a museum than a music store, I think. Scores are arranged by genre, and then alphabetically within each genre, but once you get into it you’ll see that genres are almost always a chronological listing. You can just about place each of the genre in here alongside a particular period in history, so once you know someone’s…”

“And where would your mother be? What genre, I mean?”

“That’s the question, I guess. I have no idea.”

“Then we ask,” Stacy said, making her way to a counter.

There was a wizened old man standing there, very short and straight and ancient looking – with a plain black yarmulke covering the back part of his head – and he looked up at Stacy as she approached.

“How may I help you, young lady?”

She smiled, took a deep breath: “A Danish composer from the pre-war era. Imogen…”

“Imogen Schwarzwald?”

“Yes. My friend here, that’s his mother…”

The old man’s head turned slowly, his owlish eyes now fixed on Harry Callahan, his demeanor suddenly steely cold. “Ah, and you are Imogen’s son?”

“Yes, I am,” Callahan said as he got to the counter, “but I thought you knew that. We used to come here a lot, the two of us.”

“I remember.” His eyes narrowed, his face flushed.

“Were any of her works published,” Stacy asked, now looking at the exchange between Harry and the old man with some concern of her own.

The old man turned to Stacy and smiled. “The First and Third concertos we have from time to time, the Second is almost never available.”

“Do you currently have any in stock?” she asked, now clearly perplexed at the interplay going on.

The old man looked at her then shrugged, turned and walked back to a musty office near the rear of the store.

“What is it with that guy,” she whispered. “He looks like some kind of wizard…”

Callahan crossed his arms over his chest and sighed as he watched the old man rummaging around in the office, then he rumbled: “I have no idea. We used to get along, at least we did when my mom was with me. A friend, a girlfriend and I used to come up here almost every weekend…”

And then it hit…and Harry wondered if that was it. If word about June’s death had reached even this quiet little enclave, and if the stain would follow him around forever. Then he saw the old man returning, and he was carrying a very large manilla envelope with him.

When the old man got to the counter he handed the envelope over to Harry, then gave Harry a dismissive flip of the hand. “That’s all I got for you, Mister Harry Callahan. Go now, and please, you don’t come back no time.”

Harry took the envelope but stood his ground, opened the flap and pulled out the contents…

…and Stacy watched the old man. His lips began to tremble, his eyes watered, then he turned away…as if he couldn’t stand to watch what was unfolding any longer…

Callahan looked at the six bound scores with something akin to awe in his eyes, then he noticed an envelope tucked inside the last bound volume and slid it free. He opened this one and pulled out a typed letter, and he slowly began to read through the first page.

By the time he was into the second page his hands were shaking, and by the fourth he was openly weeping – his breath coming in gaping sobs as his mind tried to grasp the meaning behind the images the words conjured. Stacy took the pages and began reading – but she stopped somewhere on the second page and put the letter down on the counter.

The old man looked at them then put the pages back into the envelope, and he did so almost reverentially, Stacy thought, before he gently taped it shut. Before he looked up at Harry.

“You want I should keep this Harry,” the old man asked softly, his voice now a kindly visitor from the past, “or you think maybe I should just throw it away?”

“I’d better take it,” Stacy said as she gently took the envelope from the old man, “until Harry’s calmed down.” 

The old man looked down, though he shuddered once as the envelope left his hand: “What happened in all that,” he whispered to Stacy as he trembled, “shouldn’t have ever happened to another human being. Your mother is a strong soul, Harry, and don’t you never forget it.”

Then the old man came out from behind the counter and walked up to Harry Callahan, and without words coming between the two men they hugged for the longest time, both of them crying again, then the old man pushed away, wiping away his eyes. 

“A lot of us didn’t make it, Harry. They almost got me too but she saved me, Harry, just like she saved so many of us, and she sacrificed herself to do it. When you play the Sonata, the unpublished one, you read this again and you think about what she did. As God is my witness, Harry, I beg you to think about the price she paid every time you even look at this music. Now please, leave an old man in peace, would you?”


They walked side-by-side through the park, both her arms wrapped tightly around his right, yet they both tried to ignore the weight of history hovering in the air just overhead – and somehow just out of reach. Harry thought about the old man sitting in the Jetstar, thinking about the destruction of his home once again, and the impossible, suffocating reality both Imogen and Avi had endured just to get where they were today. Just to have a little peace before their time on earth was up…

The choices that had been forced on them…the lasting and almost unendurable suffering she had visited on herself…

He hailed a taxi and they rode in silence to his apartment, and once upstairs he took the smaller envelope and placed it in a dresser drawer, then he took the music out and sifted through the bound volumes until he came to the unpublished sonata, and he opened the cover…

The pages had yellowed a little, and the ink had faded some as well, but here it was – exactly as it had been on a very dark night more than thirty years before.

He looked at the notes on page and played them in his mind.

Startling simplicity, yet fresh chords he had never seen spiraled into view and suddenly all he wanted to do was get his fingers to the keyboard…

…but then…there it was again…

He looked towards the Golden Gate and saw a storm rolling in.

The city grew dark as clouds rolled in from the sea, and time itself seemed to dissolve as lightning pierced the sky, followed by thunder that rumbled across the bay, and Stacy joined him by the window.

She winced involuntarily. “That sounds awfully close. And powerful.”

He nodded, if only because the power seemed so familiar.

“It is powerful, Stacy.”

“It’s like a huge hammer – striking an anvil.”


She looked at Harry, and the faraway stare in his eyes, but she’d never seen anything like this look before. “Harry? What is it? Is something wrong?”

He turned and looked at the piano, then walked over and sifted through the music once again until he found the unpublished sonata. He opened to the lead and formed the chords in his mind…

“The hammer of God,” he whispered.

“What,” Stacy said as she joined him by the piano. “What did you say?”

“It is a hammer. The hammer of God.” He sat, then pulled himself up to the keyboard and placed the music on the stand, staring at that first chord and wondering where it came from. He thought of her forming such power out of nothingness, her music like the splitting of an atom…but no, that wasn’t quite right, was it?

“No, Stacy,” he said as he moved his hands to form a hammer in the air above the keys, “it’s the hammer of an angry God.”

Across the city thunder rolled and rain fell from a very dark sky, and in a small music shop near the Golden Gate Park an old man fell to his knees and cried, before he leaned back and gazed into the abyss one last time. He raised his hand and made a fist, then he shook with all the fury of an angry God. “I’m coming now, you bastard!” Saul Rosenthal cried. “I’m coming for you now!”

He clutched his chest and settled on his heels, only to smile when he heard the chord – as he heard her infinite music at play amongst the clouds once again. He smiled as the pain grew – until at last the white light came – then he stood strong and pure, ready for the eternal fight to begin again.

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

[note: I typically don’t put all a story’s acknowledgements until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need until the work is finalized. Yet with the current circumstances that might not be the best way to proceed, and I’d hate to have this story stop ‘unexpectedly’ without some mention of these sources. Of course, the source material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two Hollywood films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s screenplay.]

the eighty-eighth key, chapter 9


the eighty-eighth key

part 2

chapter 9


James Parish, MD hardly ever made it to Saigon anymore, not since his little epiphany, anyway.

Which came one night a few months after Tet, and not long after Callahan was sent packing. 

It had been a rough night, with non-stop casualties arriving every fifteen minutes from C-Med’s three forward aid stations. They’d been taking sustained fire all afternoon and into the evening, and yet the operational tempo just kept getting faster and faster. He’d been on his feet in the OR for so many hours he’d lost count, and he knew he had it bad when he went out expecting to find the noonday sun only to find it was well past midnight.

Then real fighting flared-up around Hué City, and soon all the helicopters headed to Phu Bai began diverting to C-Med; before long the parade of Hueys became a nonstop torrent as word of a new offensive reached Parish and the other surgeons huddled in the OR.

Then C-Med began taking fire.

Mortar rounds at first, then a first human wave going for the wire.

More mortar rounds, one just outside the main OR tent, hit inside the perimeter – then something larger than a Huey came in low overhead and the tent started to come apart at the seams – just as more rounds hit and the dirt from each new explosion began raining down on both the surgeons and their patients. Generators went offline and medics were holding flashlights over open chests, and Parish – then desperately trying to resection a perforated bowel – just felt the concussive heat of an explosion milliseconds before the blast-wave hit.

He was thrown across the OR and landed in a heap of something wet, but it was pitch black now – whenever now was – and then he realized he had absolutely no idea when or where ‘now’ was…

Someone tripped and fell on top of him – which is probably what saved his life. Several Viet Cong stormed inside the tent just then and lay down a continuous barrage of fire, killing most of the doctors and all of the wounded inside…just before the noise level went up even more as several jets arced in, dropping napalm just outside the perimeter…providing cover for dozens of helicopters arriving to offload reinforcements.

When help finally got to what was left of the OR, Parish was found face down in an open belly, pinned under an overturned operating table, yet he was alive. Barely, he thought, because his ears were ringing and that had to be a good thing.

He’d been hit in both thighs and lost a lot of blood, but all he was aware of was someone swabbing his arm then starting an IV – before he realized he was in a Huey, before he faded away inside an impossible new world.

When he opened his eyes, he saw the Constellation out an open door and watched the Huey flare over the stern of the carrier – then he winced after the helicopter came down hard. More hands lifted his gurney and he could feel the heavy sea air washing over his soul – and just as suddenly he knew he was going to die…

‘What a waste,’ he thought. ‘All the things I could’ve done, the people I could’ve helped…’

He squinted as corpsmen muscled him through a hatch and then around densely-arrayed medical equipment, and he swallowed hard when he saw the huge domed surgical lights suspended from the ceiling. 

“He’s one of the docs from C-Med,” he heard someone say. “A surgeon, I think. Heard he was in the main tent.”

“Jesus…” another disembodied voice said: “He’s lucky to be with us tonight.”

Then he saw a masked man leaning over, shining a light in his eyes. “Got a bleeder in your thigh, doc. We’ll patch you up and get you on your way…”

“So…this is it,” Jim Parish thought. “This is what it feels like to die.”

His eyes closed and that was that.


“So, you’re Callahan,” the woman stated matter-of-factly. “Heard you had a pretty fucked-up afternoon.”

Harry, trailing Frank and Cathy, had just walked up to Captain Bennett to stand behind the coals – and to postpone the inevitable for as long as possible – when Stacy Bennett sidled over to the brick grill.

“Yup,” Harry said as leaned over and plucked an ice-cold Oly from the open tub of ice. “And who might you be?”

“Harry, say hello to Stacy. She’s visiting for a few weeks, so try not to scare her too much, okay?”

Callahan blinked twice and scrunched-up his nose while he held out his right hand. “Howdy,” he managed to say, but he was still scoping her out, trying to get a bead on her…and trying not to let his first impressions run away screaming into the night…

“So,” she began – apparently wanting to dive right into the deep-end, “Sam tells me you nailed that Scorpio fucker today?”

Callahan nodded before he took a long pull from the beer, and then he tried – unsuccessfully – to stifle a huge burp.

Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked at Callahan, who turned away – red-faced.

“Hey, bring it up again and we’ll vote on it…” Stacy said, grinning. “That was really impressive. Do that on all your first dates?”

The word ‘date’ registered and Harry turned – wide-eyed – and looked at Captain Bennett.

Who grinned and shrugged, kind of all at the same time, before looking away and turning a steak on the grill.

Harry was beginning to think this girl was into sports, like maybe she played linebacker for the Bears or the Packers, but he still hadn’t figured her out yet – and that bothered him. Too many mixed signals, he thought, so he reached into the tub of ice and plucked out a longneck and handed it to her.

“Your turn,” Callahan said, inexplicably throwing down a gauntlet.

She popped the cap with practiced ease and took the entire contents down in one go, then she leaned back a little and shook her head before letting it rip…

The Bennett’s dog stopped dead in its tracks – the hair on the back of its neck standing on end – then the pup inched away from the eruption before finally turning and running into the house.

“Holy shit, Stacy,” a stunned Captain Bennett muttered under his breath, “they heard that one over in Oakland…”

Callahan nodded in approval, then watched as she reached into the tub and handed him another bottle. He looked at Bennett – who was shaking his head and trying not to smile – then noticed Frank had just walked over with one of Bennett’s boys in-tow.

He popped the top and guzzled it down, then pinched off his nose and hopped up and down a few times before letting his chin drop low, then…

…he opened his mouth just a little and let it begin…

It started as kind of a high-pitched tearing sound before Callahan formed a wider ‘O’ shape with his mouth, and this modulated the magmatic rumble somewhat – before the main thrust burst across the back yard.

Neighbors stopped what they were doing in their backyards and looked up at the sky.

“Way to go, Callahan,” Frank beamed. “That sounded just like a sewer main breaking in half.”

“Smells like it, too,” Captain Bennett growled, still shaking his head.

“So?” Callahan said, looking Stacy Bennett right in the eye. “You concede, or do we continue?”

“Uh, Harry,” Frank said, coming to his side and taking him in-tow by the elbow, frog-marching him to the sidelines. “Look man, you gotta watch what you’re doin’ here. You get three or four beers in that broad and you ain’t gonna know what hit you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Look, man, just don’t do it… You’re playin’ with fire…know what I mean?”

“Uh, no…I don’t.”

Bullitt shook his head. “Okay man, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

When they got back to the grill Stacy was downing number three – and Bullitt looked-on in wide-eyed alarm as she started hopping across the yard on one leg…then she leaned back to prime the pump…

…and fell backwards onto the lawn, laughing all the way down – with a stream of beer flying out her nose…


Dinner was more of the same, if a little more sedate, until Bennett’s son asked if anyone had seen the new Mel Brooks movie that had been out a few weeks. “It’s called Blazing Saddles, and it’s got the funniest scene ever,” he said.

“Oh?” Captain Bennett looked up, wondering what the punch-line was.

“Yeah, a bunch of cowboys sitting around a campfire eating beans, then one by one they all start farting. It’s like the biggest, loudest farting contest of all time…”

Captain Bennett’s face turned ice white, then he saw Stacy scorching around in her chair, getting ready to lift a cheek…

“Stacy!” Bennett roared. “Don’t you do it! Not in my house…”

But of course, he spoke too late.


He woke some time later in a sun-bathed, wind-swept room, tall palms swaying in a gentle breeze just beyond a wall of tall windows. He looked around the large room, trying to make sense of his surroundings – until he figured it all out and a stream of unwanted memory came crashing down, swamping his soul.

‘This is a post-op floor,’ he said under his breath as his eyes swept the familiar contours of a military hospital ward, then he remembered someone on the Constellation saying he’d be moved to Hawaii…

“So here I am.”

“No shit, Sherlock.”

He turned to the unseen voice, saw half a man propped-up on a hospital bed, the not-yet-healed stumps where both his legs had been amputated in full view – and in a flash of dread he reached down and felt for his own…

‘Still there,’ he sighed as he turned to his roommate. “How long have I been here?”

“They brought you in last night, from Subic…I think.”

He felt for the catheter he knew must be there and just as quickly he wanted to talk to somebody, anybody, about his wounds and the proposed treatment plan…but most everyone in the ward was asleep and he couldn’t see a nurse or any other attendant on duty. “Anyone working the floor?” he asked his neighbor.

He saw the scorn behind the man’s derisive laugh and knew the score. After Tet, and especially after Mÿ Lai, recruitment had fallen off a cliff – and now almost all medical staff had to be drafted – or otherwise induced to serve. He shook his head, because all he could think about was getting back to C-Med, to his responsibilities and duties there.

An orderly walked by a few minutes later and Parish asked the kid to stop – but he walked on by without even looking his way. A few minutes later the kid returned and a seething Parish barked a command to the kid…who skidded to a stop this time.

“Private, I’m Captain James Parish,” he yelled, “United States Army Medical Corp, and I need to see the physician in charge of this ward –– and right this fucking minute. Do I make myself clear?”

The kid scoffed as he shook his head on the way off the floor, and Parish’s neighbor leaned-back and sighed. “Man, you better just sit back and enjoy the ride ‘cause your regular army rules don’t work in this place. B’sides, you a short timer, so might as well just lay back and chill.”

“What do you mean, ‘short-timer?’”

“This a Navy hospital, Cap. They sending you someplace stateside.”

A minute or so later a Navy ensign walked onto the floor and over to Parish, looking over a chart as he came. The ensign looked up as he stopped by Parish’s side, but the man looked more than a little angry. “What’s on your mind, Captain?”

“I’d like to know my condition and, if you don’t mind, anything else you can tell me about what’s going on would be appreciated.”

By this point all eyes in the ward were on Parish, even the kids on morphine had propped themselves up to take a look at this new floor-show…

“So, you want me to read out your labs, maybe? Like you’d know what the fuck I’m talking about…”

“Try me.”

The ensign laughed at that. “Yeah? And where’d you get your fuckin’ MD?”


The ensign stiffened a little: “Excuse me?”

“You asked where I got my MD. Stanford University. I did my internship at Mass General and had just finished the second year of my residency in thoracic surgery when I got my invitation to this little party.”

“You’re a physician,” the ensign said.

“Oh, you’re a smart one,” Parish barked. “You’ll go far in this world. Now, would you let me have a look at my chart, or do I need to call my father? Oh, by the way, he’s chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, if that helps.”

The ensign blanched as he handed the clipboard over, and he watched as Parish flipped through the surgical notes and his post-op records.

“Let me take a look at the wound,” he said when he’d finished reading and had just looked up at the ensign.

As the ensign bent over and pulled away the gauze the smell hit them both; Parish already knew what he’d find but the red streaks running up his thigh and into his groin startled him nonetheless.

“Could I use your pen, please,” Parish asked, then he started by writing down the names of all the soil microbes he’d been exposed to at C-Med – and how to treat them. “I’d recommend you start treating by…”

And by the time the ensign left the floor Parish felt like he’d just taught a quick course in tropical medicine – but suddenly he noticed all the kids on the floor were looking at him. A few were smiling, but for the most part the rest looked scared as hell – because the doc taking care of them apparently didn’t know jack – and just as suddenly Parish knew he was responsible for their fear.

The ensign returned with a couple of nurses a few minutes later and began hanging bags on his IV tree, then the ensign surprised the hell out of him – and everyone else in the room:

“If we can get you into a chair, could you help me with rounds?”

Parish crawled back into his bed ten hours later.


Callahan sat up in bed and yawned, then he stood and made his way to the can…

His eyes were lost somewhere between dead and half-shut, so he thought about making coffee – until he heard someone snoring…

…and all in a rush he remembered taking shots of tequila – an impossible number of them – with Frank and Cathy. 

And – Stacy Bennett?

He spun around and looked at the inert mass in his bed, then down at his dick…

“How could you do this to me, you asshole?” he said to his now flaccid member.

“Hey man,” his dick replied, “I just go where the driver points the car, ya know?”

“But…but…how COULD you?”

“Look Dude, I got some hot 4-1-1 for you, but they all feel alike to me. You got that?”

Callahan shook his head and jumped into the shower, wondering what the etiquette was in a situation like this…as the scalding hot water beat down on his traitorous…

But then he heard someone sitting on the pot, a tequila-soaked stream blasting the bowl before the inevitable flush. Then the curtain parted ways and Stacy Bennett stepped into the shower with him…and his first instinct was to run. To run like hell.

She was almost his height and he guessed she had ten pounds on him, then he remembered her sitting on his face and he wanted to recalibrate this thinking, maybe work on that number a little…

Then, with a bar of soap in hand, she began washing his sodden dick – and against his wishes he felt the thing stiffening in the breeze…

“What are you doing, Peckerhead!” he screamed at his dick.

“Hey Amigo, mi casa es su casa…know what I mean?”

Callahan closed his eyes, tried to remember Mr Kohl’s Algebra II class and how to work through quadratic equations – backwards – but it was no use…

“You worthless prick!” Callahan screamed at his dick. “What the fuck…?!”

Then she was on her knees, taking him in her mouth; violent swirls led to buckling knees and just as surely as one thing leads to another and faster than you can say ‘Jimmie-crack-corn…’ she was hitting the short-strokes and Callahan was clawing at the shower walls…

She stood a moment later and smiled at him, her mouth a spume-filled chasm that defied further description, and then he realized she was moving-in to kiss him…

The shower curtain-rod exploded into a million pieces as he fell out of the bathroom, but then he realized he was naked and didn’t even know where to run…


“I come across like that,” Stacy said, her eyes still red from crying, “and I guess because I grew up in a house full of cops.”

“Look, I’m sorry about…”

“Harry, you don’t have to apologize. I know I’m not Twiggy, but dammit-all, I like men. I like being with men, spending time like we did last night…”

“Look, about last night…”

“Harry, stop it. It’s not like I expect you to propose, so just calm down…would you?”

He nodded, but even so he was finding it hard to look her in the eye.

“Anyway, I liked last night. Not the sex – which was great, by the way – but just shootin’ the shit with you guys. Even Cathy was fun to be with…”

“She’s having a hard time with Frank and the whole police thing,” Harry added.

“Not as hard as you might think, Harry. Besides, she loves Frank about as much as one person can love another, so I wouldn’t worry too much about them.”

“You’ve known them for a while, haven’t you?”

She nodded. “Yeah. He was one of Sam’s first recruits to work homicide. He rebuilt the whole division around Frank after the whole Fanducci and Dietrich thing…”

Callahan looked down at his hands and shook his head…

“No one blames you, Harry. Especially not Sam. But ya know, he’s got a lot riding on you guys. Dell and Carl, Early and even some of the old hands like Frank DiGiorgio. He’s building a team around you guys.”

“Pardon me for saying so, but you seem to know an awful lot about the department. How so?”

She looked away for a while, then turned and looked Callahan in the eye. “I help Sam with stuff.”


“Look Harry, I really like you, ya know? I don’t want anything to get between us, if you know what I mean.”

Callahan shrugged. “No, I’m not sure I do.”

“I come to the City a couple of times a year to see the boys, usually Christmas and Thanksgiving. I wouldn’t mind seeing you too, ya know?”

He was studying her as she spoke, her eyes for the most part. Deep brown with little green flecks here and there; she had strong eyes, a strong face. Character, he thought. Even her hair – deep brown with a few silver streaks just showing up – somehow seemed intrinsically honest…then it hit him…

“Are you a cop?” he asked, and he watched her turn away again. ‘Bingo,’ he said to himself.

Then she turned to face him again, but now she looked defeated.

“So? What department do you work for?”

“I work in Boston.”

“Boston PD? That’s cool…” But he stopped talking when she shook her head.

“I work for the FBI, Harry. I’m the assistant SAC – in Boston.”

Callahan nodded.

“So that’s it, huh? No more Harry Callahan, I guess,” she said as she reached for her purse…

But Callahan put his hand out and covered hers. “I didn’t say that.”

“No, you didn’t.”

They looked at one another, each afraid to break the spell, each afraid of their past, afraid for all the right reasons, but Harry kept looking into her eyes, and the more he looked the more he liked what he felt.

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

[note: I typically don’t put all a story’s acknowledgements until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need until the work is finalized. Yet with the current circumstances that might not be the best way to proceed, and I’d hate to have this story stop ‘unexpectedly’ without some mention of these folks. Of course, the source material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two Hollywood films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well as Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s screenplay.]

the eighty-eighth key, chapter 8


the eighty-eighth key

part II

chapter eight

Imogen Schwarzwald grew up in a room filled with the sunny warmth of late spring mornings, even though the world she looked over was decidedly mercantilist. When she was just old enough to take a peek and see this world for herself, she would push a little step-stool to the window and climb-up onto the ornate sill and look out the room’s large window – over a sea of red tile rooftops to one of Copenhagen’s commercial waterfronts. The masts of a few large sailing vessels were still visible in those days, though steamships had by the early 1920s replaced most of them, yet these wharves in the 1920s were nevertheless hives of bustling activity. Of more import to Imogen’s story, a music conservatory was located just behind the Schwarzwald residence. So, consider her mercantilist view of the world was often framed by mesmerizing orchestral works, and as such her worldview developed within this contrapuntal sonata.

And it did not hinder matters that her mother was a pianist, not to mention a composer of some modest repute, so Imogen’s early weltanschauung was well-informed by an atmosphere of early musical training, not to mention broad musical accomplishment. Perhaps this never-ending cascade of sight and sound contributed too much to her development, but that’s something we’d hardly be in a position to know from our vantage point, but consider how the frenetic music of commercial activity stood beside the measured cadence of Bach day in and day out before you draw your own conclusions.

Yet of equal, and perhaps of even greater importance, Imogen’s earliest artistic nature stood in stark relief to her father’s. 

Aaron Schwarzwald had been a physician all his working life, and though originally trained as a surgeon, an accident and brutal injury left him little recourse but to pursue a career in psychiatry in later life. Confined to a wheelchair and always in great pain, he’d spent a good deal of time with Imogen when she was a child, and had taught her all that he could – which was indeed a magnificent bestowal by any measure.

So imagine if you will a seven year old girl who by that tender age was very nearly fluent in the languages of Beethoven and Einstein and who, on the occasion of her seventh birthday presented her first composition, a modest piano concerto, at the music conservatory behind her father’s house. Her work was at the time hailed as the product of an uncompromising genius, and she remembered an old man in a cape that night – and for many years thereafter – who told her that she was destined to enjoy a glorious career in music.

Which, curiously enough, impressed Imogen Schwarzwald not at all.

Because already her life was caught between two opposing tides – the artist’s more decadent world of light and shadow and, because of her father’s tireless influence, the unyielding precision of scientific hypothesis and experimentation – yet in the end she was her father’s daughter most of all. His settled view of the world, patient and methodical in the extreme, proved a more comfortable fit to the young girl…much more so than the often dilettantish phantasmagoria of Copenhagen’s fin-de-siècle haute bourgeoisie. 

But there is an uneasy cohesion between the water’s ebb and flow, isn’t there; surely one cannot have one influence without the other?

Imogen was born the year after the first Great War began to slowly fade from view, and so it came to pass that she developed within one of the most potent eras of intellectual achievement the world has ever known. And though you may not know this, Copenhagen was one of the most important – no, vital centers of academic free-expression in the world – and further, consider that by the 20s Copenhagen was a city in very good company indeed. London and Berlin, perhaps, were more advanced centers of scientific investigation at the beginning of this period, Vienna and Paris perhaps so as well, and of course those in America would be nominating Boston’s inclusion on such a list, yet the point to be made here is a far simpler one: Copenhagen was a center of academic research second to none and, during the first thirty-three years of the new century, research into the nature of the subatomic world blossomed here.

And it was to this other world that Imogen Schwarzwald belonged most of all.


The birth of the scientific worldview that came to dominate the twentieth-century coincided with a brief, last flourishing of Jewish culture in Europe, and more than a few historians have gone so far as to claim that, rather like the tides, one simply could not have existed without the other. Steeped as it was in the religious constructs of the Old Testament, this community had long valued the cohesive spiritual needs of family and community like few before and, perhaps, this cohesiveness grew into, over time, a fount of virulent resentment – but such statements are rife with stupefying, even offensive oversimplification. And let us just add that by the 1920s anti-semitism was, and not for the first time, growing into a divisive populist force within European culture and politics, so let us resolve here and now to accept European anti-semitism as fact and simply leave it at that. What good does it do to dwell too long in the darkness?


If your eyes are not yet accustomed to such darkness, perhaps you might understand that this anti-semitism was hardly a salient part of young Imogen Schwarzwald’s life, because in Denmark such hateful things tended to happen elsewhere, in cities such as London and Berlin, Vienna and Paris, and yes, even in such egalitarian ‘cities on a hill’ as Boston. Even so, by the time Imogen was thirteen years old, the darker undercurrents of this resurgent illiberal virus were once again surging into view. Standing around the precipitous well of the past as we are now in the early years of the twenty-first century, peering yet again into such darkness is not so easily imagined, yet it was certainly even less so for a young girl who had grown up assiduously protected from such things.

But please, do keep in mind that as you fall into the well, as your mind struggles to adapt to the darkness as you fall, you may very well see flickers of light as time passes, yet it is best to understand that people see what they want to see even as they fall, and that there is no light at the bottom of the well save what you carried with you on your way through the depths.


The Arts, or more broadly speaking painting, music and, perhaps not so sadly, literature, have come to represent to many people a peculiar form of decadence commonly associated with a pervasive loosening of social mores. Think Caligula and pre-Christian pole-dancing during the waning days of the Roman Empire and you’d not be too far off the mark, but recall that the Arts have been well represented through time by people of all creeds and ‘races,’ and that ultra-conservative fascists of the 1920s and 30s, in Russia, Germany and elsewhere, tended to view most artists with more than a little suspicion. And consider this as well: for these leaders Art was either something that could be harnessed and used to advance the objectives of the state…or it was problematically much more subversive to the aims of the state and had to be pushed aside.

And you might ask why? Why…the need to be crush Art? What is it about a painting or a piece of music that can be so overwhelmingly subversive that the full power of the state is required to weaken its influence…?

Why, indeed…?


Perhaps in different times and space other little girls have experienced the same forces, if only from slightly different perspectives.

Take, for instance, a little girl in South Vietnam. A girl we’ve come to know as An Linh, and to most who’d known her she was indeed a Peaceful Soul – though to many men, to the soldiers and reporters who frequented the Caravelle Hotel’s bar, she was and always would be known simply as Cat. An Linh, like all the others in her family, lived in the shadow of her father’s career working for the French legation in Saigon, so when the war for reunification began in the early 1950s, such ‘collaborators’ were among the first targeted. An Linh, if nothing but a Peaceful Soul, soon found herself all alone in the world and growing up in a series of Catholic ‘homes for unwanted children.’ Turned-out on the street just after her fourteenth birthday, An Linh possessed a basic education – she could read and write French and, to a degree, Vietnamese. Yet there had always been those around her, even in those impressionable days before the Americans came, who had convinced An Linh that her greatest attribute was her astonishing physical beauty. Any number of men, mainly older men from France but other round eyes from Europe too, engaged An Linh’s services as a model when an agency signed her, and for a few years she made enough to get by, though nothing more. Yet consider this: for a teenager this degree of self-sufficiency was intoxicating, and it forever colored An Linh’s worldview.

Even so, An Linh remained a curious creature of South Vietnam’s hazy gray shadowlands. Many orphans were branded – some with justification, depending on your point of view – as the children of collaborators. Not a daft girl, she remained an elusive, fearful soul, never living in one place for long and growing justifiably suspicious when strangers asked about her whereabouts. Her modeling assignments became less frequent as a result, her economic self sufficiency much less resilient – yet what she still possessed she could deploy with great skill.

So, An Linh became, for a time, the type of model most often seen in less reputable magazines – if that turn of phrase suits your world view more comfortably. At first, and for much less money, she appeared in glossy pictorials that featured lots of slinky underwear, and little else. Soon enough, though for more money, such clothing disappeared. Within a few months she found her prospects taking off, literally, when she agreed to take off all her clothing in front of a motion picture camera. Then, inevitably, she was asked to ‘perform’ with another man, and it all came so easily after that. One man, then two or three, then a man and a woman…until the only thing left was two women, or sometimes more.

And she became self-sufficient once again, and for a time, even prosperous. But this is an old story, isn’t it? Just one more torch-lit mirrored-hall we see in the darkness as we fall, because you’ll always find such places in the well of the past.


Imogen Schwarzwald began university soon after her fifteenth birthday. She was, as we’ve mentioned, already considered a prodigy in music, but we should mention also in mathematics, though by the time she entered university, music had all but disappeared from her life – yet this drift away from music might be seen as, perhaps, the oddest part of her story.

She was ten when this change came about. An age when life still presents little mysteries from time-to-time, before we finally grow jaded and unimpressed by such things as ghosts and goblins and circus clowns. She was with her father for two weeks that summer, down at their little seaside cottage on the island of Ærø. There were vast strands of white, sandy beaches on the island, and cool ocean breezes blew in off the sea almost every afternoon, yet what most impressed ten-year-old Imogen was the variety of clouds that formed in the noonday sky – and how they morphed during the afternoon into shapes both benign and, well, sinister.

Her father’s cottage was a pastel melange of creams and pale yellows, though topped with the obligatory red tile roof, and there were still gaslights along the boardwalk that led into town, and to the railway station. She loved to watch the lamplighter as he came along in the evening, setting all the little globes ablaze as he passed. And after all the late afternoon insects disappeared in the darkness, men and women could soon be seen strolling down the boardwalk, a few hand-in-hand but most just swept up in the moment…

One evening, just as the lamplighter passed, she watched a spry old man walking along with a bird perched on his shoulder, and she immediately assumed he was a sea captain. She was sitting on the cottage’s front porch at the time, watching the clouds in their sky as night came and stole away all the day’s best colors, but the sight of this unexpected old man was something new and utterly strange.

As he drew near she saw he was dressed all in black, even the short cape he wore was the shade of deepest night, and she shivered when she saw the bird on his shoulder – for it too was the very same black. Who, she wondered, walked with a raven on their shoulder…?

He stopped once and looked out to sea, and then the strangest thing happened.

The old man walked with the help of a cane, and just then he tapped the cane on the boardwalk twice – and Imogen jumped when two bolts of lightning flickered somewhere along the far horizon.

Then the old man smiled at the sky – as if he alone had commanded the lightning.

She watched as the old man resumed his walk a moment later, but when the hair on the back of her neck tingled she felt like running away and hiding under her bed. Still, she remained frozen in place as he came along the boardwalk, coming ever closer to her father’s cottage in the night.

“Well, hello there,” the old man said as he came to the little white picket fence guarding the house. He studied her for a moment – almost quizzically, with a wry twinkle in his eye and a sly grin forming in the shadows. “I think I know you.”

She was too afraid to speak, too fearful of the immense power she felt radiating from inside the man’s eyes, but she managed to shake her head.

He brought a manicured hand to his face and stroked his chin for a moment, as if the act of divining would somehow spur forth the memory. “Let me see,” he sighed. “Ah yes, the conservatory! Imogen Schwarzwald! I was at the very first performance of your concerto! What a brilliant piece, so many cunning transitions!”

His words seemed to draw her out, as if his awareness of her abilities made him somehow less threatening. She smiled at him, seemed to curtsy in the smallest measure possible.

“And where is your father? Isn’t he with you this evening?”

She nodded. “He’s getting tobacco for his pipe.”

“Ah. A fine evening it is, then. Very fine indeed. Were you watching the clouds just now?”

She nodded again, looked away to the horizon – but all was quiet now. “How did you do that?” she whispered, then she turned to look the old man in the eye.

“How did I do what?”

“With your cane. Did you summon the lightning?”

He laughed at that. “Oh, indeed. Yes, of course I did. Would you like to see me do so again?”

She nodded her head, wanting to believe such things were possible – yet at the same time hoping it could never be – then she saw him studying the sky, as if waiting for just the right moment…

With his cane in hand he gently tapped the boardwalk once and then pointed to his left with the brass handle, and lightning barely flickered far out to sea – exactly where he had pointed – then he turned to her: “Is that what you wanted to see?”

She nodded again. “Yes. How do you know when to tap the cane?”

“How do I…” he said, genuine disappointment on his face. “But…I don’t – know. I command, and the sky obeys!”

And then she shook her head. “That’s not true. Nobody can do that.”

“Ah…is that so?”


“And how do you know that? Have you not seen someone do that before?”

“No one can do that…”

And on hearing those words the suddenly angry old man swung his cane in a violent arc across the sky, then hammered the brass tip into the boardwalk…

…and an enormous bolt of ragged light arced from the tip of the cane into the heavens above…

The effects were cataclysmic, knocking Imogen off her feet, scorching flowers in the garden by her side, and she lay there – in shock – blinded by the light and struggling to breathe…

And then she saw him standing overhead, looking down on her as if he was studying an insect on a leaf. “And tell me, Imogen, what have you just seen? Do you not believe what you have seen with your eyes, or perhaps this has this been nothing but a child’s dream…?”

She found herself sitting up in bed, sweat rolling down her face. A violent storm was raging outside, her wide-open window letting gales of wind pour into her room, the little lace curtains fluttering to a ragged cadence called down from above. She ran to the window to pull it tight, then staggered back as soon as she saw the old man down there on the boardwalk…walking away into the night – waving his cane at the sky as bolt after bolt of lightning cracked across the darkness…


He was out of his jurisdiction now, truly well and gone and almost completely out of his mind, too. Standing on a Southern Pacific railroad trestle, watching the yellow school bus as it exited the 101…

He timed his jump perfectly, dodged bullets through the roof as the bus careened to a stop near the gravel pit…

He chased Scorpio through the works – then out to a pond beyond the slag-heaps, confronting him when he took a little boy hostage, shooting him in the shoulder once – then once again – center mass.

When all was said and done he threw his shield into the water, watched it sink as small fish gathered near the corpse’s eyes and began their unexpected feast.

What a waste… what a waste… what a waste…

The words kept tumbling out of his mind as he ran through the calculus again and again…

In a world full of lawyers, and worse still, in a world of, by and for the lawyers, what chance did civilization have? Yeah, sure, in the abstract man had rights, had to have rights, but Scorpio wasn’t a man – any more than Hitler or Stalin were men. They were monsters, ego-driven soul-crushers who had forfeited all such rights in their mad quests to control – everything. Once you’ve identified a monster, law enforcement has been civilization’s first line of defense, and it was up to the cops to either take them out or let the monsters loose to roam free and untouched through the criminal justice system…

But the system was imploding, self-destructing under the weight of too many internal contradictions, this withering away of safeguards orchestrated by all those deranged men and women in their black robes…

He sat there, the sun beating down on his neck, listening to the sirens and waiting for the inevitable questioning by internal affairs, then the guessing and second guessing by rooms full of lawyers who weren’t there on the scene and who could never really understand what was really at stake out here.

“What a waste…” he said to Scorpio, the man’s silent eyes a muted accusation. Then he felt footsteps coming out the little jetty…

“Harry? You alright?”

It was Frank. The only friend he had in this world. “Yeah. I’m tactical.”

He felt Bullitt sit down by his side, heard him take-in a deep breath. “Nice shot, Harry. And I really like the expression on his face. Did you go in and fix it like that?”


“He looks like a fuckin’ frog, man. You do that?”

Harry laughed, started to come back to the world, then he thought about the kid…

Callahan stood and jogged over to the boy, held him tight while he cried it out, then he helped the kid gather his fishing gear and walked him over to Delgetti and Stanton. “Better get his statement,” Harry said before walking back to the pond.

Marin County deputies were pulling up on-scene now, even a local from Sausalito appeared, and Callahan gave them statements before driving back to the city with Frank.

“Bunch of people saw it go down, Harry. No doubt what happened, so I doubt this will go to IAD or the grand jury.”

Callahan shook his head. “I threw away my shield, Frank. I’ve had enough.”

“Gonna call it quits, huh?”


“So, what are you gonna do. Get a job playing in a cocktail bar? A tip jar, maybe, to call your own?”

“I dunno.”

“Well, you might give it some thought before we get to Bennett’s office, but personally I don’t think that’s such a hot career move.”

“There’s no way we can win this war, Frank. There are too many lawyers out here, to many rules, and none of them are working out in our favor.”

“Yeah? So fucking what? If you’re thinking we’re never gonna win this ‘war’ – if that’s what you really think this is – let me just tell you right now you’re one hundred percent right. We’re not supposed to win or, for that matter, lose. If anything we’re stuck in the outfield playing defense; it’s the umpires calling the plays, Harry. You got to wrap your head around that, and in a hurry, or you’ll go out of your fucking mind.

They were southbound on the Golden Gate and the afternoon fog was just forming a few miles out, the falling sun shining on the bay and the skyline beyond. “It’s a beautiful city, ya know,” Harry said.

“Yeah, and it’s worth fighting for, too. Worth saving, don’t you think?”


“We didn’t make the system, Harry, but I guess we play by the rules – until we can’t. Then we have to bend them a little. Know what I mean?”

Harry looked at that face-splitting grin and nodded. “Yeah, Frank. Thanks.”

They pulled into Division a half hour later and Bennett debriefed Callahan, took a few notes then called the mayor’s office. When he was done he turned to Frank: “Hot dogs at seven-thirty sharp. Bring Cathy if you want,” Bennett said before turning his attention to Callahan. “You got a girl yet, or have you decided to join an order?”

Harry shrugged, tried to deflect the tone in Bennett’s voice by turning away – but Bennett wasn’t having any today.

“Well, my kid sister’s in town and will be with us tonight. Would you mind keeping her company while I handle the coals?”

Harry gave a brief, noncommittal nod – though he caught the look in Bullitt’s eye too late to help, then wondered if the girl looked like a water buffalo – or worse, like Captain Bennett…

Frank and Harry walked out of Bennett’s office to the elevators and it was all Callahan could do to keep a lid on it; when the doors slid shut he turned to Bullitt…

“Okay, what gives?”

But Bullitt just flashed his grin. “You’ll find out. Want us to pick you up on the way out, or have you finally decided to buy a car?”

“I told you, I’ll buy a car when I can find a place to park it.”

“Okay, so you’re never going to buy a car.”

Callahan grinned. “So, you’ve seen this sister of his before?”

“Yeah, you could say that.”


Bullitt shrugged. “We’ll pick you up out front at seven,” he said as the elevator doors opened – then he disappeared towards the garage…before Callahan could get another word out…

“Swell,” Callahan muttered, wondering just what the hell he’d gotten himself into this time.


She saw the old man in the cape two nights after their first encounter, but this time she was sitting on the front porch with her father.

The old man stopped and leaned on his cane from time to time, and as he appeared to be having trouble breathing her father had taken note and begun to follow his progress along the boardwalk…

“What’s wrong with him,” she asked when she noticed her father’s attention now focused on the old man.

“Looks like heart failure. Can you see his lips, how blue they are?”

“Yes? What does that mean?”

“Oxygenated blood isn’t getting to more distant parts of his body…”

“Like his hands and feet?” she added.

“That’s right,” her father said as he looked from the old man to his little girl. “You’ve been listening to my little lectures after all, haven’t you?”

“I always listen to you, Papa. To everything you say.”

“I know you do, Imogen. No man could ask for a more perfect daughter.”

The old man continued his halting way along the boardwalk until he was just about at her father’s house, then he stopped again to catch his breath…

“Do you see his nail-beds?” her father asked.

“His what?”

“The tissue under his fingernails. See how blue it is? That’s oxygen deprivation, caused by blood leaving via the pulmonary artery without enough oxygen in it. The poor sod won’t last much longer in this state…”

The old man resumed his walk until he came to their gate – then he paused yet again – only this time he turned to face her…

…and now he didn’t look in the least bit ill. No, far from it. His eyes were drenched in cold fury and wings of rancid anger suddenly beat the air over their little front yard; she turned to look at her father but he was very still now and she grew very afraid.

“It was him, wasn’t it?” the old man said.

“What have you done to my father!”

“He’s the one.”

“The one – what?”

“You stopped playing the piano because of him.”

“That’s not tr…”

“Do not lie to me, child,” the old man thundered, suddenly swinging the cane overhead and summoning a wall of boiling thunderstorms out of the clear blue sky. He slammed the cane onto the walk and a hideous wail seemed to peal from the air itself, then jagged bolts erupted from the earth and leapt to the sky.

His furies spent a moment later, the old man’s eyes locked on hers once again.

“He didn’t do it!” she screamed. “It was my choice! Mine!”

“Liar!” came the old man’s deafening reply, and this time great gouts of blue-white power radiated from his eyes – as if some sort of cruel power was building up within the earth itself.

“No! Please, no!” she cried. “What can I say? What can I do to convince you?”

And at once everything was as it had been, only now the old man was bent over from his disease, blue-lipped and desecrated, a line of sweat forming over his ragged breath…

…then her father stepped from the porch and went to the old man…

“May I help you, sir?” Aaron Schwarzwald said as he stood beside the old man, taking his wrist in hand and feeling for a distal pulse.

“I know you,” the old man said. “Schwarzwald, isn’t it? You’re a surgeon at the Rigshospitalet, are you not?”

“Yes, that’s correct. Do I know you, sir?”

“Oh, we met once upon a time. Years and years ago I think it was, when you were still quite young, but I last saw you when your daughter played her new piece, the piano concerto.”

“At the conservatory?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Ah, yes. I think I recall seeing you there. What a strange…”

“Coincidence?” the old man said, smiling. “Perhaps so. Do you think I could hear Imogen play this evening? It would mean so much to me,” he said, his voice now almost ingratiating – even if disingenuously so.

Aaron wanted to protest but the look in the old man’s eyes stayed the looming objection. “Certainly, sir. Please, lean on me. Imogen? Could you put the water on for some tea, please?”

She felt light-headed, like the ground she was walking on was about to give way underfoot as she led the way into her father’s house. She watched them climb the steps, watched as they stepped inside and as the old man took a seat in her father’s favorite chair, the smile on his face distorted with cruel purpose.

She held her hands to her face and looked at her fingers, not yet fully understanding the power she beheld, not yet sure why the old man was here now, sitting and waiting for what she knew could never be.

No, she could never let it be that way again.

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