the eighty-eighth key
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…”
“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.]