The Eighty-eighth Key
‘What is the difference between a dream and a nightmare?’
Imogen turned the thought over in her mind, asking herself again if she would choose the nightmare – assuming she could step back in time and endure her latest conversation with Heisenberg once again. Why had he chosen to speak of her future in such stark terms? Had he seen her fate if she chose not to cooperate once in Leipzig? Worse, what if her role – stalling for more time – was uncovered? If it was discovered she had stalled Werner – and the Gestapo – long enough so that almost all of the Danish contingent from the University could escape the city?
Just what would they do to her then?
And if the worst happened, would Werner Heisenberg really stop protecting her? There was hardly anyone within the hierarchy of the German scientific establishment held in higher esteem than Heisenberg, but what were the limits to his power? She was a Jew, after all.
And now she was living in Leipzig, in an apartment just off the Augustusplatz, and she had two servants attending to her every need. And no doubt reporting her every movement to the Gestapo…yet even so she was still relatively free. Free to report to the labs. Free to attend lectures if she so chose. And free to teach…
And she was free to play the piano that Werner provided.
And so she played, working like never before perfecting her craft, soon playing even better than Heisenberg – who seemed to mind this most recent diversion not at all.
And when she began composing again, Werner soon began coming by her apartment with his wife, and they listened in rapt attention to her swelling progress. When her Second Concerto was finished Heisenberg took it to the conductor of the University Orchestra – who immediately agreed to a performance – and who with Werner agreed the work merited publication. After a month’s rehearsal, the concerto was performed at the old Gewandhaus on a cold January night, and the work was generally well-regarded by all who came – with the exception of a small contingent from the Reichssicherheitshauptamt. These men regarded Schwarzwald’s Second as yet another example of degenerate art, and they left the concert hall in a particularly foul mood.
And, oddly enough, all this was watched by a small, bespectacled man from Denmark – who seemed to watch the men in black leather overcoats rather more than the orchestra. He followed them out into a light snow, and though he kept to the shadows he still did his very best to avoid detection. The men, he saw, walked to Werner Heisenberg’s house and waited, apparently none the wiser that they, too, had a watcher.
Parish looked at bright splashes of pulsing strobes as the little jet bounced through yet another layer of cloud, then a vague cityscape cast in blues and blacks appeared just below, and when he saw the wing sprout all kinds of flaps and slats he knew they were landing…but where were they?
He looked at An Linh across the narrow aisle, and she seemed not at all concerned by the day’s twists and turns – yet how was that even possible? Pulled from the imploding wreckage of the country she had known all her life, thrust into the maelstrom of thousands of orphans being sorted like packages to be sent off to foster homes, and all the while under no illusions at all that the man she had endured all this for had just been murdered…?
And yet here she was – if anything looking more sedate than anything else.
Then he looked at the elder Callahan once again and saw the old man was looking out his window, too – yet looking anything but sedate. And who could blame him? His son killed – or so it had seemed until this morning – and now, this – escape? Bogus cops’ questions then Frank Bullitt’s spirited actions had dispelled the first notion, yet the next thing he knew he was being spirited away from his house and spit into this little jet to be carried away to…where?
Let alone his home was now occupied by what? …Commandos?
Parish looked at his watch, noted they had been airborne for almost five hours and he guessed – if the snowy landscape below was any sort of indication – that they were somewhere in the midwest, probably Detroit or Cleveland. One thing was certain, however: the Israeli commando up front wasn’t being any help at all.
He felt the kiss of tires on earth, felt their rumble diminish as the little jet began braking on the slushy concrete, and a moment later they pulled to a stop outside of a small hanger. The air-stairs opened and a blast of arctic air swirled through the cabin, and just then the Israeli motioned for them to come forward. Parish saw another van outside on the tarmac, this one with its door open and engine running, and he spotted a Quebec license plate on a passing truck as he led An Linh down the steps.
It took a half-hour to drive into the city, and after a bit of dodging the dense evening traffic the van pulled into a covered entryway to the Chateau Frontenac Hotel, and when the van’s door slid open Parish noted they were being met by an elegantly dressed older man, surrounded by an entourage of anxiously observant men who all seemed to be equipped with earpieces…
…and, Parish noted, the elegantly dressed older man seemed most interested in the senior Callahan.
“Ah, Mr. Callahan?”
“My name is Feldman. I am to see to your group’s needs for the next few days. Will you come with me, please?”
Parish looked this character over while he spoke and saw not one bit of deference as he spoke; indeed, he saw nothing at all in the man’s curious demeanor, not even a hint of curiosity as they fell in behind him. They marched along straight to a bank of elevators and rode up several floors in silence, then followed the man to a room at the end of a short hallway. He knocked on a seemingly ancient oak door, and, after a brief moment, the door creaked opened.
And there stood Harry Callahan.
Not a half-hour later, Saul Rosenthal watched a black Mercedes pull up to the Heisenberg residence just as the Gestapo team emerged from the stately house, only now, and more ominously, Werner Heisenberg seemed to be in their custody. Rosenthal had no way to follow the team so, keeping to the shadows once again, he made his way carefully to his preferred spot overlooking Imogen’s apartment building – and there he waited…in the gently falling snow. The lights were still off so he suspected she might not have returned from the concert hall, and, true enough – not an hour later he saw a car turn down her street.
And not a minute later he noticed the other car staking-out her return. They pulled up parallel to the car he suspected Imogen might be in, just as the first car pulled to a stop in front of her building’s entry.
And as Imogen emerged from the car the Gestapo surrounded her, then roughly pulled her to their car. Rosenthal watched and carefully noted the time, then slipped deeper into the shadows before moving again.
Parish stepped back as An Linh rushed past on her way to Harry’s outstretched arms, yet he was most surprised by the elder Callahan’s initial reaction. Lloyd at first registered astonished delight on finding his son alive, yet when the Vietnamese refuge soared by he seemed to focus on his son’s reaction most carefully, and only then did he wipe an errant tear away.
Jim Parish held his own feelings in check as he watched An Linh implode under the weight of such an unexpected shock, yet when he thought about his own reaction later that evening he found he thought about the reunion with a sense of wonder. How this tiny orphan survived a savage upbringing to land a job at the most prestigious bar in Saigon was only a tiny part of her tale; recognizing that in Harry Callahan – and Callahan alone amongst all the Caravelle’s varied patrons – she had somehow found a way to peace…and that was, in Jim’s mind, the most wondrous story of all.
The elegant old man, Leopold Feldman, was the Israeli consul, so it was under Israeli auspices that An Linh, Parish, and Lloyd Callahan would remain the next few weeks. Parish soon met and grew to respect Sam Bennett, but he was more than surprised to see that Bennett’s sister Stacy was madly, yet stoically in love with Harry.
That first evening the group went down to the Frontenac’s elegant main dining room, and they were seated next to huge, arched windows that afforded magical views of the Saint Lawrence River far below. An Linh seemed physically enjoined to Harry, while Jim Parish managed to grab a seat next to Stacy Bennett, leaving Sam Bennett to talk shop with Al Bressler and Lloyd Callahan. A gaggle of Israeli agents dined at several nearby tables.
Though Jim Parish didn’t feel too out of sorts when he learned Stacy was some sort of higher-up within the FBI, when he learned she was working out of the Boston office he instantly warmed to her.
“I miss Cambridge,” he blurted out when she mentioned she was working in Boston.
“Yeah, I did my undergrad and went to med school there.”
Stacy seemed impressed by this and turned away from Harry. “Harvard, or MIT?”
“And why not Radcliffe?” he replied.
“You don’t fit the profile,” Stacy said, adding: “Your ass isn’t big enough.”
Parish’s eyes lit up as he nodded his approval. “Well, Harvard it is, then. What about you? I take it you’re a Yalie.”
“Fuck you,” she sneered, “and the horse you rode in on.”
“Ah, hit a nerve, did I? Your boss went to Yale?”
“So, how’d you get mixed up in this mess?”
And so she told Parish about the vigilante squad working within the SFPD and the attempt on her brother’s life, then her role in Harry’s staged assassination, which led to more and more questions about Israelis and crooked cops…
“Sorry, can’t talk about that element,” she whispered. “And you’d do well not to even mention Israelis when this is all over with.”
“Got it,” Parish said. “So, what’s it like, being dead and all…”
She smiled: “Ya know…I kinda like it. There’s a sort of freedom I’ve never experienced before. I’ll miss it when this is over.”
“You have no idea how weird that sounds.”
“Oh, that’s right. You’re a surgeon, right? I forgot.”
“Yeah, I read your file a few days ago.”
“Do you have any idea how weird that sounds?”
“At least we’re speaking the same language.”
“Well, everything sounds weird to you. At least we’re…”
“Okay. Got it.”
“Oh? You’re pretty quick – for a Harvard puke.”
“Okay, I give up.”
“Loyola undergrad, Georgetown law.”
“The party school? I’m surprised.”
“How’d you know that? You from LA?”
“No, Oregon. My folks have a dairy farm outside of Portland.”
“You grew up – on a farm?”
“Don’t get me wrong…but I think that’s great…”
“Great? Why’s that?”
“That’s where I always wanted us to be…our family…when I was growing up. I thought living on a farm would be the bestest thing ever…”
“It was…different,” Parish sighed. “My folks are getting on, and Dad keeps asking me what he should do with the place after they’re gone…”
“God…keep it. Nothing like land…nothing…don’t ever let it slip away from you.”
Parish grinned. “He’d like you, I think.” – ‘And I think I’d like you to meet him,’ he thought.
She smiled as she watched him say those words, and at the way she suddenly felt about this chance encounter. “Really? Why’s that?” – ‘And I think I’d really like to get to know you better,’ she thought.
And all of this happened without Harry Callahan ever knowing what happened to Stacy Bennett, and how she slipped ever so quietly out of his life.
He had slipped into one of his better hideouts, an alleyway with a fine view of Leipzig’s secret police headquarters, so he could plainly see Imogen when they spirited her out of the building and into yet another waiting Mercedes. People were out and about on the streets now, most walking heads-down and hands-in-pocket, striding purposely-by on their way to work, and at an opportune moment Rosenthal slipped from the shadows and made his way through the rush and onto a waiting streetcar, this one heading in the same direction as the car. Though he didn’t know Leipzig well, he had a bad feeling they were taking her to the main railway station, and soon enough that fear was realized.
He hopped off the streetcar and followed Imogen and her S.S. guard to a distant railway platform – to a train with the listed departure for Prague – and so now he knew, his darkest fears had now come to pass. She was bound for Theresienstadt, the halfway point to Hell…but he knew that for the S.S. this choice made the most sense. The Nazis used the Czech ghetto-camp as a showcase of their ‘good intentions’ towards Jews, while artfully concealing the dreadful conditions within, and so Jewish artists, writers, and musicians often found their way to this shallow grave. Weaker, less useful residents were soon shipped off to the killing camps, so Rosenthal knew that if he was going to act he’d have to act soon.
Saul slipped into a coach near Imogen’s, and as the old steam engine huffed it’s way out of the station he sat back and closed his eyes. All he could do was hope his diplomatic passport and Red Cross credentials would get him through the border crossing. If not, he told himself, he’d be on the next train to Poland.
When Lloyd and Harry Callahan returned to their old house in Potrero Hills – with An Linh now always walking quietly beside her fiancé – all seemed as it had once before.
Harry was the first to discover several bullet holes in the kitchen – that had only recently been spackled-over. Then he found blood residue within the grout on the bathroom floor…and soon other telltale signs that a brief, fierce firefight had played out inside the house. Then he noticed neighbors looked at him coldly when he sat with An Linh on the front porch. Only when she grew tired and retired for the evening did his father join him in the last colorful splashes of evening.
In fading pastels of the day, Lloyd carried two rum & cokes out onto the porch and sat down next to his son.
“You look like you could use this,” he said to Harry as he passed the drink.
“Probably more than one, Dad. I suppose you saw…?”
“Yeah. A bunch of special forces types took over the house when the Israelis moved us to Quebec. I got the distinct impression they were setting a trap.”
“Looks like they were successful,” Harry sighed. “But I haven’t seen anything about it on the papers, or on the news…” Harry said before he looked up when a black Porsche 911 Targa slowed and pulled into their driveway, then he smiled when he saw it was Frank Bullitt. “Goddamn,” he whispered, “another fuckin’ Porsche.”
“How does he afford those things,” Lloyd asked.
“Cathy. She made partner at the new architectural firm she’s at. They bought a lot up at that Sea Ranch development. Gonna retire in style, I reckon,” he added as Frank bounded up the steps two at a time.
Frank walked up to Lloyd and shook hands. “Nice to see you again,” Frank said.
“Can I get you something to drink, or are you still on duty?” Lloyd asked.
“Whatever you two are having,” Frank said, turning to Harry.
“Two fingers of Mount Gay and a shitload of Coke,” Harry said to his friend.
“Got any lime?” Frank added.
“I’ll get it, Dad.” Harry stood and looked at Frank, who seemed a little agitated, before he walked to the kitchen. He made three more and walked back to the front porch, and he found Frank sitting beside his father. “Here-go,” he said as he passed around the drinks.
“This just might be the best front porch in the city,” Frank said as he looked at the Bay Bridge just as the lights flipped on. “Best drinks, too.”
“What the fuck happened in this house,” Harry growled.
Bullitt shrugged, then let slip a long sigh, and he seemed almost embarrassed when he spoke next: “I’m not real sure, Harry. The Israelis ran this show, almost from start to finish…”
“What?” Lloyd said, his voice registering more than a little surprise. “Last time I heard this was still the United States…”
Frank turned to the elder Callahan and nodded. “You remember all that shit in Munich a couple of years ago? At the Olympics?”
Lloyd looked down, nodded. “How could you not.”
“Well, the Israelis have teams out tracking down the perps, but when their government heard that Jews were being targeted in San Francisco? Well, someone over there called Doctor Kissinger, and Kissinger called the governor. Long story – short, we gave ‘em the green light to identify and take out these people, with the FBI putatively giving cover to the operation. They ran wire-taps all over the state, ran down the heads of cells in San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose and one by one they took ‘em out. They lured the San Francisco cell here about three nights ago…”
“How come there’s nothing in the paper about all this?” Lloyd asked.
“Nothing to report,” Frank sighed. “No noise. Silenced weapons, I assume. A contractor dropped by the next morning and cleaned up the mess.”
“How many killed?” Harry asked.
“More than twenty, Harry.”
“All cops?” Lloyd asked, and Frank nodded. “What’s been reported is being attributed to Black Panther-type gang activity, maybe offshoots of the SLA, too. We’re drip-feeding misinformation to the press, the hope being that with little so information out there the story will just go away.”
“So,” Lloyd added, “blame it on the blacks?”
“Is Dad safe here?”
Frank took a long pull on his drink, then nodded. “There’s no evidence anyone else is still operating in the Bay Area, Mr. Callahan. Even so, the teams working around the city will continue to do so for another week or so.”
“Are they keeping my place under surveillance?” Harry asked.
“You’re dead, Harry. Remember?”
“Not according to Israeli intel,” Harry said. “We were made over there.”
“So I heard. Fucking Bressler.”
“Not his fault, Frank. Just bad luck.”
“Yeah. Funny how bad luck always seems to work against the good guys.”
Harry finished his second drink then looked around. “Who’s ready for a refresh?”
Two more empty glasses hoisted, and Harry disappeared into the house.
“Frank,” Lloyd began, almost whispering now, “what are you not telling me?”
“I just have a bad feeling about all this, sir. I think Harry has been their number one target from the get-go, and we won’t have any good way to identify unknown members now that their leadership is blown. I think y’all came back too soon.”
Lloyd sighed. “Well, I’m headed out in a few days. Here to Hawaii, then on to Yokohama and Hong Kong…”
“How long will you be gone, sir?”
“Six weeks is the norm, unless we run across a typhoon out there.”
“Better you than me, sir.”
“Christ, Frank…are you kidding? With what you guys have to deal with day after day out there? Shit, I’d rather deal with a bad storm any day of the week rather than deal with the crap you two do.”
“I made these nice and strong,” Harry said as he came back onto the porch.
“Damn,” Frank said as he grabbed his glass and took a long pull. “W-wow,” he gasped, “I hope you never take up tending bar professionally.”
“Me too,” both Callahans said – in the same breath.
“Oh, before I forget. Sam’s having a weenie roast tomorrow night, and everyone’s invited.”
“A what…?” Lloyd asked.
“Oh, sorry,” Frank said. “Hot dogs usually turn out to be steaks, and lots of beer manages to figure into things.” Bullitt stopped and stifled a long belch…
“Don’t start with that bullshit again,” Harry growled.
“What bullshit?” Lloyd asked with one eye-brow arched-up.
“Dad, if you’re lucky, well, you won’t find out.”
Frank drove down to the wharf to pick up Harry and An Linh, and what impressed Frank most in that moment was that this tiny Vietnamese girl had absolutely no idea what a Porsche was, so had no idea what sort of status cars of this sort conferred upon the drivers lucky enough to own one. She simply slipped behind the passenger seat into the tiny bucket seat behind his, and once Harry was buckled-in he hammered the clutch and burned rubber for a few hundred yards.
The funny thing was, An Linh seemed not in the least bit impressed. Her face registered nothing, nothing at all: not fear; not excitement; not even mild curiosity…then it hit him…she had just come from Saigon, a fragile world where her day-to-day existence had been, quite literally, blown apart. And then an even funnier thing happened…
For the first time in his life, Frank drove the speed limit.
He shifted smoothly.
He made no sudden lane changes.
Because he realized that An Linh was looking at this new world as it passed by – yet still just out of reach – and he was the one person in this world given the opportunity to be, in a way, her first tour guide.
So he puttered down to the marina, then made an easy dash over to Golden Gate Park before winding through quiet residential streets to Sam Bennett’s house. He found a parking space within easy walking distance and the three of them walked along in the sunset, and still Frank marveled at the way An Linh seemed to be soaking up everything she saw.
“Everything must seem so new to you,” he said to her as they came to Sam’s house, “but I’m curious. What have you seen so far that impresses you most?”
She stopped and looked around, then turned to Frank: “How big everything is.”
“The houses. Even many of the cars. They seem so much larger than anything I expected. Even Mr. Callahan’s house. Yet it is a simple house, no? Or so Harry tells me, yet even so it seems impossibly big to me.”
“Harry, you’ll need to turn her over to Fran, let her show An Linh around the kitchen…”
“Why?” An Linh asked. “Is there something wrong I should know about?”
“Hmm, oh, no – nothing wrong. Cathy, that’s my wife, she just redesigned the first floor, and the Bennett’s had a new kitchen installed during the remodel. All the latest gadgets. Pretty cool, too.”
Frank led them to the side gate – and he gently slid back the latch, hoping Sam’s Golden wouldn’t hear – but he had no such luck…
He saw the golden streak in time to slam the gate closed and turn to meet the impact…
The retriever leapt into Bullitt’s outstretched arms and began systematically licking every square inch of his face – until the pup saw An Linh, that is.
Then the pup slid to the ground and eased over to her side and looked up expectantly.
“An Linh?” Frank said, leaning down beside the retriever, “this is Fred.”
An Linh knelt and let the pup come to her on its own terms, and Fred sniffed her outstretched hand once before he licked it, and then she lowered herself a bit more – and that was all it took. Fred sidled into her, then fell onto his back, offering his belly…
And she instinctively began rubbing the pup until everyone within earshot heard Fred’s moans and groans.
A taxi pulled up curbside and Cathy hopped out – just as Al Bressler came walking up the sidewalk, and Frank let them in before they all headed to the smokey backyard where Sam was intoning magical incantations over the grill, summoning the perfect mixture of coal and smoke. His youngest boy, Chip, was tossing the football with Dell and Stan – though rifling was a more apt description of the kid’s passes.
Al loved football more than police work so he drifted that way, while Harry saw that his father was already out here and standing beyond the smokey-blue veil enveloping the grill, a cold longneck already in hand. Frank was kissing Cathy so he looked at An Linh and smiled…
“Welcome to America,” he said, and when he saw the smile in her eyes he knew everything would be okay.
“So this is it? Backyards and bar-b-ques?”
“This is it, baby. This is what it’s all about. The best memories are made out here…”
“And the best rib-eyes,” Sam said as he walked over to hug An Linh. “So, how are you liking the city so far?”
“It is a most magical place, Captain Bennett…”
“Now, now, we’ve been through this before, Harry. She’s got to stop with all the ‘captain’ stuff. You are family now, An Linh, and family calls me Sam!”
But he had already turned away before she could say more, and she watched him marching back to his fire pit – not yet sure what kind of man this was.
“An Linh? This is Cathy,” Frank said, “and she’s volunteered to show you around the house.”
“Hello,” she said. “So, you are Frank’s wife?”
“Not yet,” Cathy said, feigning a deep scowl. “But…maybe, someday.”
“I see,” An Linh said, even though she clearly didn’t.
Harry and Frank watched as Cathy led An Linh through the side-yard to the kitchen, and both quite suddenly had an uneasy feeling about how things might go in there.
And just then the side gate opened once again; they watched as Stacy Bennett led Jim Parish into the yard…
…and Jim’s eyes perceptively brightened when he saw Harry, but then he literally ran up to his old friend with open arms…
“Christ, Harry! It’s sure good to see you!”
And Harry was at least as confused as Frank with this turn of events. “You too, buddy,” he said, scowling…then…
“We gotta talk,” Parish whispered conspiratorially after Stacy passed-by on her way to find her brother.
“Okay,” Harry said as he led Parish back to the gate, “what’s up?”
“Stacy’s up. I mean, I don’t know how the hell you handled her…”
“What do you mean?”
“She’s a fuckin’ nymphomaniac, Callahan,” Parish whispered, the words coming out in a frantic staccato burst.
“You heard me!”
“I don’t get it. I think we screwed maybe three times over the past couple of years…”
“Shit, Harry…we’ve screwed three times – since lunch! I touch her down there and it’s like a gushing oil well. Uncontrollable. My balls are too small to feel now, and they’re screamin’ like fuckin’ hell.”
“Blue balls, huh?”
“Cobalt, Harry. I never want to have sex ever again, and after six years over there that’s sayin’ something.”
“Jesus, Jim. I had no idea.”
“Fuck, man. Well, I was beginning to think you’re like Superman or something.”
“No…this is all on you, Amigo.”
“You know the worst thing of it all? She dragged my ass out to one of the dirty movie places down in the Tenderloin. Double fucking feature. Deep Throat and The Devil in Miss Jones…”
“That the one with Linda Lovelace?”
“None other, Ace. A real sword swallower, and there we were when the lights went down, and like bam! – down goes the zipper and down she goes right then and there. By that time my nuts were running on empty and nothing was gonna happen, so, of course, right about then my dick started getting raw, and then she decides to give me some teeth. I don’t know what happened next but I was running out the fire exit and down an alley before I knew what was happening, and when I ran out of juice there she was, about five steps behind with tears running down her face like a fire hydrant had bust loose…”
“No shit. And she wants to get married, Callahan. Me. To a fuckin’ federal agent. I don’t know what to do, Harry.”
“What are your options?”
“Take a fucking assignment in Korea, or maybe somewhere in fuckin’ Africa…”
“You know…? When you get excited you say fuck a lot.”
“Harry!” they heard Sam yell, “Get your fuckin’ ass up here and get a fuckin’ beer for your fuckin’ friend!”
Parish doubled over laughing – while Harry just shook his head…
An Linh sat down between the two Callahans at the huge, glass-topped patio table, barely able to contain her shock. The amount of food being prepared was simply outrageous, and that kitchen! She’d never seen anything like it before…all gleaming white with chrome accents everywhere – just like all the huge American cars she’d seen today!
Jim Parish was sitting next to Harry, and Al Bressler was sitting directly across from An Linh and everyone seemed to be talking at the same time about things she just didn’t understand – when suddenly she had a vision of a fish out of water…
“Miss Linh?” Fran Bennett said. “Could I get you something to drink?”
“Frannie?” Sam interjected. “It’s just An Linh. That’s her first name.”
“Oh, of course, dear. Sorry.”
An Linh shook her head. “Please, not to worry…”
“You speak such good English,” Fran Bennett said. “Where did you learn?”
And then all conversation at the table ground to a sudden halt.
“At home, Mrs. Bennett. Actually, I learned to speak French first, then English. Only when I went to school did I learn tiêng Viêt, what you call Vietnamese, but by that time I was also studying German and Russian.”
Chip Bennett burst in then: “J’étudie le français à l’école!”
“Et vous aimez vos études?” An Linh replied.
“Oui, mais c’est toujours très difficile!”
“Alright, Chip!” Sam Bennett barked. “Knock it off and speak English!”
“Yessir. An Linh, do you suppose you could help me? When you have some spare time, I mean?”
“Of course. It would be my honor.”
Fran poured iced tea for everyone – pre-sweetened Lipton instant in this case – and An Linh took a tentative sip, nearly gagging on the syrupy stuff.
“Too sweet?” Fran said.
“No, no, it is very different, but interesting,” An Linh said as Harry put a plate down in front of her. It looked like she had a two-pound slab of steak, corn-on-the-cob, and a hot, gooey mound of something Fran Bennett called Boston Baked Beans, as well as a few slices of tomato and onion, and when she looked up she saw everyone attacking the food on their plates with a look of something like pure determination in their eyes. But of course, she thought. How else could you eat so much at one sitting? She sighed and attacked the food on her plate, eating until she thought she was going to explode.
“So,” Fran resumed, “where are your parents, An Linh? Did they remain in Vietnam?”
She felt Harry stiffen by her side, and she smiled inside. “Yes, Mrs. Bennett.”
“Well, perhaps someday you’ll be able to go home for a visit.”
Then Sam and Frank went rigid – while Lloyd seemed to hover over burning coals – as they looked at An Linh.
“Yes, perhaps so, Mrs. Bennett. At least I hope one day that will be possible.”
Fran smiled politely. “Perhaps you could tutor Chip? We’d be happy to pay you, of course.”
“Oh, thank you so much, but it would be my privilege to help your son.”
“You know, Sam? They need language teachers at all the schools right now… Do you suppose we could see about getting An Linh a temporary teacher’s certificate?”
“I don’t see why not, Frannie. If it’s something An Linh would like to do?”
An Linh sucked in her breath a little, if only because being a teacher was a most noble profession – and certainly not one she had ever imagined for herself. Maybe America truly was a land of impossible opportunities?
They were sitting around an outdoor fireplace after the evening’s dishes were cleared, with Fran and Cathy in the kitchen washing up while Sam talked with Frank and his team about work. Harry was glancing at Jim, then at Stacy, trying to do the math…while Chip Bennett and Al Bressler talked football…all while An Linh tried to follow what was happening around the fire-pit.
“You know,” she heard Chip Bennett saying, “some guys in the locker room were trying to light ‘em off last week. It was fucking gross.”
“It’s all in your technique, kiddo,” Bressler said.
“What the hell are you talking about now, Bressler?” Harry growled.
Sam Bennett’s eyes hooded over while An Linh’s went wide. Fred’s eared laid back and he whimpered once.
“Excuse me, please?” An Linh said. “What is this – lighting farts?”
“Yeah, Al?” Harry snarled. “Why don’t you tell us all about it.”
“Now Harry,” Bressler moaned, “you wouldn’t…”
“Harry?” Captain Sam Bennett grumbled, “what’s this all about?”
“Well Sam, Al here is a world-class fart lighter, aren’t you?”
“No kidding?” Chip Bennett gleamed.
“Harry, please…” Bressler said, now almost pleading.
“Yes,” Harry continued, “Al is also a betting man. And one night in the dorm – this was during our academy days, Jim, in case you’re wondering, and Al made a little bet, and it went something like this. Who could light a fart and make the biggest flame? Isn’t that about right, Al?”
“God damn you, Harry,” Bressler groaned, his face buried in his hands.
“And before you ask, I wasn’t in the room when all these bets were being made, or when they were placed. No, I was in the library. Studying. Which, incidentally, was something Al should have been doing. So here I come, my hands full of books when I open the door to our room, and what do I find? Someone on my bed – MY bed, mind you – with their pants down and their knees curled up to their chin, and I see a zippo flicker and light…then…the biggest goddamn fart in human history came ripping out of Al’s ass. But this wasn’t just any ole fart. mind you. This was a Bressler Special…”
“It started kinda like this high-pitched whistle, you know, like blowing up a balloon and then modulating the airflow just so…”
“Then this liquidy-fluttering sound began building until this kind of ripping roar started, and right about then the methane hit the flame…”
“Harry? You wouldn’t…”
“And there it was, ladies and gentlemen…a great billowing ball of flame…about as big around as a basketball and just floating there – right by Al’s ass. And you know what the best part was?”
“The smell. The smell of a high octane fart mixed with burning ass hair. But no, that wasn’t all. No, because Al’s fart wasn’t the first in the room. Oh, no. There was already a toxic brew of farts and ass hair hanging in the air, yet Al’s was indeed the winning entry. Because all that methane had apparently settled on the bed. My bed. And right about then it ignited.”
Bressler looked up, grinning.
“Yes, ignited. A fireball like you’ve never seen before. Second degree burns on his asshole and up…I mean down…the backs of his thighs. My bed a flaming wreck. And then? Yup. The fire alarm went off. Our wing of the dorm…sprinklers going off…everyone running from their rooms…and their goes Al, a trail of smoke pouring from his ass as he beats-feet to the infirmary…”
“That was you?” an incredulous Sam Bennett asked as he glowered at Bressler. “We heard about that one down at division…”
“Second-degree burns?” Jim Parish, MD, asked. “For real?”
“You wanna see?” Bressler asked, getting ready to stand.
But it was too late.
As he began standing the Boston Baked Beans went to work…
And Bressler said, grinning: “Revenge, Callahan, is a dish best served hot…”
…and as the ripping sound began, Stacy Bennett stood and turned towards her brother before she fired off her own twenty-one gun salute…
When Fran and Cathy returned – carrying bowls of fresh fruit and ice cream – they found almost everyone writhing on the grass when Sam shouted…
“…beans, beans, the musical fruit…”
Then Chip piped-in…
“…the more you eat the more you toot…”
Followed by Bressler…
“…the more you toot the better you feel…”
Then in unison, a resounding chorus of…
“…so eat your beans at every meal!”
“Oh dear God,” Cathy said as the wafting smell hit. She turned and followed Fran into the house.
Fred was, of course, long gone by then.
Saul was asleep – or at least pretending to sleep – when three uniformed border patrolmen entered his car…and a moment later he felt someone shaking his shoulder.
“Papers, please,” an officious young man commanded.
Rosenthal pulled out his passport, this one a Swiss Diplomatic passport, and he handed this over to the guard.
“Inspection,” Saul said, stifling a yawn as he handed over his packet of official Red Cross documents.
The guard returned the documents after a brief inspection, and Saul resumed his sleep.
And as easy as that, Saul and Imogen had slipped into the dark belly of the beast.
© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | as always, thanks for dropping by…
[note: I typically don’t post all a story’s acknowledgments 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 brilliant screenplay. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’ storyline derives from characters originally found in that screenplay. Most of the other figures in this 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.]