the eighty-eighth key
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?”
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?”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.
“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?”
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.]