the eighty-eighth key
The morning’s headlines were filled with news of several San Francisco Police Department officers that had been killed overnight – murders described as thoroughly brutal assassinations. The first of these reports savaged the climate of fear that had enveloped the Bay Area as a result of an apparent Death Squad operating at the heart of one of the most storied police departments in the country, then these articles went on to recount the rise of Briggs’ original group of vigilante cops, then Harry Callahan’s take-down of this group and then, finally, the emergence of an even bigger network of renegade cops cloistered within departments all around the Bay Area. Callahan’s ancestry was then cited as a possible motive for several recent hate crimes perpetrated against him by members of his own department, and for his murder overnight. Callahan’s associations with Captain Samuel Bennett, also struck-down within the past week, were then detailed, and then the murder of Bennett’s sister Stacy – which for some reason was highlighted in unusually graphic terms – rounded out these initial articles. The murder of Callahan’s roommate from the academy, Albert Bressler Jr. and from the department’s Vice detail, was also mentioned, and in context with the broadening ring of retribution-style killings echoing throughout the SFPD. An editorial concluded with the news that the chief and the mayor were to meet later in the week to discuss the creation of a Blue-Ribbon Commission to get to the bottom of all these terrible events…
At about the time the Chronicle’s late morning edition was being put to bed, just after all the breathless reporting about the explosion on the 101 was complete, an unregistered Lockheed Jetstar took off from SFO – bound for Zurich.
Or so said the flight plan.
Harry sat in the very rear of the aircraft, alone now and very tired.
He watched Bressler putting his stale moves on the stewardess upfront, yet he was unsurprised how interested this beautiful young creature seemed in everything Bressler said.
“Poor Al…” Callahan sighed. “He’ll be clueless ’til the very end.”
Captain Bennett was hunched over a small table amidships, lost in conversation with Avi Rosenthal. No doubt they had been working on this operation together, and probably for quite some time; at least Harry had surmised as much as when he saw the Jetstar on the ramp at SFO.
Stacy was asleep across from him in a facing seat, and without realizing he was doing so he realized he was studying her features. Big-boned, just like her brother, and painfully smart, her long brown hair was just showing the first signs of gray here and there, and he smiled a little when he noticed she had just undergone another electrolysis treatment to thin the dark facial hair on her upper lip. Her right index-finger was heavily calloused – just like his – from endless hours of pistol practice at the range, and he noticed her forearms were at least as heavily muscled as his own. He knew from recent experience that she had runners’ legs, because – again, just like he did – she ran at least five miles every morning. She was, he suddenly realized, just barely feminine – and he didn’t find her attractive in the least. Which was, he now understood, a very good thing…if only because she had become his very best friend.
He looked up, looked past Sam to Avi sitting under a tiny reading light, and he was surprised to see that his ‘step-father’ looked like he had aged a lot over the last three years…and for some reason he found this unsettling.
How would, he thought with no small amount of dread in his heart, his mother look?
When he’d last seen her she was settling into her piano once again and taking an interest in writing music, but only after he’d passed along all he knew about Gershwin and Joplin and all the other colossal music of the Roaring Twenties. In other words, all the music she’d once found cringeworthy when she heard him playing…
He stood and walked upfront and the stewardess turned to greet him.
“Yessir?” she asked in a modest accent that sounded faintly German. “Can I get you something?”
“Coke. Maybe with a splash of rum.”
She smiled and disappeared into the Jetstar’s tiny galley – and Bressler turned to face him.
“Harry? I’m in love. This is it. The real deal.”
“Al, you say that after every date you’ve ever been on. All three of ‘em.”
Al scowled, then grinned. “Not this time, Harry. This is the real deal, I’m tellin’ ya.”
“Al, she’s a stewardess. She’s supposed to make you feel special.”
“Yeah, I know. She works for El Al, Harry. She’s the real deal, man.”
Harry sighed as the stewardess returned, and he smiled at her as she passed over the drink – complete with a thin wedge of lime – and he noticed the way she smiled at Al when she came back. He turned to leave and Bressler dove back in wherever it was he’d left off when Harry walked up.
“Well, I’ll be dipped,” Callahan said to himself as he walked past Avi and Sam to his seat, and he was surprised to see that Stacy wasn’t in her seat – until he saw the little amber ‘occupied’ light by the head door. He sat and buckled in, waited for her return.
He smiled when he saw her, smiled in spite of himself, and then he realized that he always felt that way whenever he saw her.
“Where are we?” she asked as she buckled in across from him.
“Greenland,” he said as he pointed out the window past the left wing-tip. “You slept through Toronto.”
“No shit. I think you were more than a little tired.”
“I couldn’t sleep on the flight out.”
She shook her head. “No, not really. More like a lot of stuff going on at work, trying to tie up as many loose ends as I could without arousing suspicion.”
“Well, how do you like being dead?”
She grinned then shook her head. “Probably about as much as you do.”
They talked about anything and everything except what was really on their minds, namely what was going on back in San Francisco, then Bressler walked back their way, beaming as he bounced along in the turbulent motion of the little jet.
“I’m tellin’ ya, Harry. She’s the one. The real deal.”
“Al, have you met Stacy Bennett? Sam’s kid sister?”
“No shit? You’re the one with the Bureau?”
“No shit,” she said, her puzzled expression making Harry smile even more.
“God damn, Harry, she even sounds like Sam.”
Harry smiled but he noticed Stacy didn’t, so he changed course.
“So, did you two set a date yet?”
“Huh? Oh, Debra. No, not yet, but that’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“No, dickhead. She’s offered to take me up to Jerusalem to see the sights, and I thought maybe you two would like to come along. Ya know, like a double date kinda thing…?”
Harry looked at Stacy, who nodded her head noncommittally, tossing in a little grin at the end just to keep him off guard.
“Sure, Al. Why not.”
“Great! I’ll tell her we’re on,” he said as he bounded off for the galley.
“That guy is like a hard-on with legs,” Stacy said under her breath.
“You have no idea.”
“How long have you known him?”
“My roommate in academy. He’s ambitious as hell, but maybe just a couple of bricks shy of a full load.”
“Ah, well then, he’ll go far. Probably make chief one day.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised. Unless he marries an Israeli flight attendant, that is.”
“Bressler? That’s not a Jewish name is it?”
“Al? No way – he’s a dyed-in-the-wool, old school mackerel snapper; altar boy, knees are calloused from Sunday mass. Never missed a Sunday, even during academy. Went with him once. He takes those little talks with God seriously.”
“Oh well. Kismet, I guess. So, what does your step-father do?”
“Avi? Ya know, I’m not real sure, but I think it has something to do with military intelligence.”
“We don’t have anything on him in our files, Harry. I mean, zip. Only that he is registered as an accredited Israeli diplomat. His file is maintained in the Director’s office, marked Eyes Only.”
“What does that mean?”
“He’s big cheese.”
Harry nodded. “Figures. We’ve never really talked about stuff before.”
“Maybe it’s time you did. Know what I mean?”
He looked past Sam once again, focused on Avi this time. The old man had a relaxed, confident face, but the face of a man used to the exercise of real power. A dangerous man, Harry thought, but the idea bothered him not in the least.
Then Stacy’s voice dropped into a measured, conspiratorial whisper as she got to the heart of the matter: “How’d he get involved in all this, anyway?”
“Frank, I think.”
“After the ‘kike’ thing, he…”
“Some patrolman called me a kike, and I turned him in…”
“You’re kidding, right? Why, I mean…how would he know…?”
“Yeah, exactly. Anyway, Frank thought Avi should know…”
“Uh…why would Frank be dialed into…unless Avi asked Frank to keep an eye on you?”
Suddenly Stacy looked up – as her brother approached. “Hi, Sam. How’s the arm?”
“Throbbing like a sonofabitch. And I can’t have a drink, either. I’d kill for a rum and anything about now.”
“Painkillers?” she asked.
“Yup. So what are you two yakking about?”
“I asked Harry how the Israelis got involved.”
Sam looked her in the eye and Harry watched how Stacy backed down to her big brother’s presence. “Simple. I told Frank to get in touch.”
“Simple as that, huh? A San Francisco homicide dick just calls up the Mossad and presto! An Israeli jet whisks us away to Israel?”
Sam sat on the arm of Harry’s seat, then crossed his beefy arms over his chest before he spoke again. “Judge Perryman was Jewish. Then all this vigilante stuff pops up and Harry is right in the thick of it, so I had Frank make the call through our back door.”
Sam shook his head. “You don’t need to know, Stacy, so don’t ask.”
“Okay Sam, but at least tell me this much. Is the Mossad going to handle this, or the Bureau?”
“Stacy, don’t get too smart right now. Play dead like a good girl. Go to the beach, work on your tan and, if everything goes as planned, we can all go home in a few weeks.”
“Oh God, Sam,” she whispered. “What have you done?”
Sam met her question head-on. “That’s right, Stacy. I’ve sought authorization for the intelligence service of a foreign country to conduct an operation on U.S. soil.”
“Authorization? From who, Sam?”
And when Sam handed her a letter, Harry noticed it was on White House stationery. He watched as Stacy read through all three pages, then she handed them back to her brother.
“Well, Sam, I guess I only have one real concern.”
“I don’t have a swimsuit.”
At about the same time that Sam and Stacy and Harry were talking in the back of the Israeli Jetstar, a U.S. Air Force C-141 was landing at the Alameda Naval Air Station located just across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco. This last flight of hundreds of Vietnamese orphans was met by literally thousands of Red Cross volunteers, and then the American medical personnel who had accompanied these kids walked out of the cargo jet into a peculiar, heavy overcast. Among this last group was a young army major, Jim Parish, MD.
Parish helped gather all these kids into their assigned groups, then assisted the legion of volunteers as they helped load these groups onto buses. Each bus was assigned to a separate medical facility where each orphan would be examined before meeting their new foster parents, and Parish joined the last group to leave the base.
The bus driver had been reading the late morning edition of the San Francisco Chronicle when his bus was called to begin loading, so he’d tossed the newspaper onto the seat behind his just before the tidal wave of kids started coming up his bus’s steps. Parish brought up the rear and slipped into the seat behind the driver, and then noticed a familiar face just under the headlines…
He scooped up the paper and read through the article detailing the circumstances of his friend’s assassination, his hands trembling all the while, then he skimmed through all the associated stories that covered recent events within the San Francisco PD. By the time he finished reading his eyes were burning, and he looked down while he covered his eyes and tried to hold back the anguish sweeping over him.
Then he turned and looked for that familiar face somewhere in the back of the bus…
Yes, there she was. An Linh…as always sharing her irrepressible joy with yet another frightened child. How could he tell her that now, after so many years of constant struggle to reach these shores, the one man who had given her life meaning had been stripped away from her – almost as she arrived…
And so ends Part II
© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | as always, 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 story 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.]