the eighty-eighth key, chapter 19

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The Eighty-eighth Key

Part III

Chapter 19

____________________________________

“You know, I do hope I’ve not presumed too much by bringing you up here, but this just happens to be my favorite place in the world.”

“It’s truly remarkable, Avi.” Harry looked at the high alpine landscape – in winter – feeling a curious mixture of gut-busting fear, dread, and pure fascination. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and it seemed everywhere he looked there was nothing but pure, unblemished snow for as far as the eye could see. 

They were standing near the top of the funicular railway that leads from Davos Dorf to the Weissfluhjoch Station, perched high above Davos and in the central part of the Parsenn ski area. There were dozens of skiers scattered around, all busily putting on skis and adjusting goggles or gloves before taking off down the mountain, but what fascinated Harry most of all was Avi’s decision to bring him up here.

Avi had not asked once if he could ski, and standing up here in the freezing wind it seemed a dizzying assumption to have made. Or a very calculated decision.

But he had, in high school, traveled up to Tahoe more than a few times with June, and both had learned to ski at Squaw Valley just after the little ski area had hosted the Olympics, yet that had been almost twenty years ago. The skis he stood on this morning seemed only vaguely familiar, and his feet ached in the rigid plastic boots; Avi – on the other hand – moved about with practiced ease on his skis and spoke with arrogant confidence as he used his ski pole to point out several local mountain landmarks.

And it hit Harry suddenly. He was being measured by this man…judged. But as what? A man? Worthy of something greater? Or did Avi expect to find him wanting in some way? 

“How are your boots? Comfortable enough?”

Harry slid back and forth on his skis, forcing the blood in his legs to circulate, then he reached down and adjusted two buckles. “Good enough for a warm-up run.”

“Excellent!” Avi pushed off and made for one of the easier trails down the mountain, and Harry fell in behind and watched the old man ski. 

For his age, Avi appeared to be doing well enough, but even to Harry’s unpracticed eye, Avi wasn’t a particularly accomplished or gifted skier. The old man made long traverses and slow, mostly tentative turns, and he stopped more than once that first run to simply catch his breath – something Harry felt no need to do. Still, he understood Avi was at least twice his age, and that the old man lived in a country not particularly well known for alpine skiing, so he was still inclined to sit back and wait for the inevitable trap to spring.

When they made their way to the end of the trail Avi stopped and rubbed his thighs before he looked up and turned to Harry – and curiously, the old man was beaming.

“Do you know, Harry, that is the first time I have ever made it down without falling!”

“You looked a little uncertain at first but, to me, it looked like you’re pretty good at this.”

The old man smiled openly now. “You think so?”

Harry nodded, meeting the old man’s infectious smile with one of his own, yet he felt a little awkward when Avi stepped close and clapped him on the shoulder. 

“There is a very nice restaurant up top if you would indulge me. Are you up to one more run?”

“Absolutely. And if it warms up a little it might even be enjoyable!”

And they both laughed as they poled over to the funicular station for their second ride up the mountain.

________________________________

Frank Bullitt was with Captain Bennett and the Israeli intel officer at a small diner just outside of Santa Cruz; their eyes were cast down on bowl’s of a pinkish chowder, lost – as if each was lost in thoughts of mortal import, and their concentration appeared complete.

“You’re absolutely sure about all this?” Bennett said, still unable to look up from his soup.

The old Israeli shrugged. “I am never absolutely sure about anything in this business, but we have  two recordings now…”

“Not over land-lines…?”

“No, they’ve gone deep now,” the old man said. “Operating like old pros, which is what bothers me most of all.”

“Why’s that?”

“Well, Captain, think about it. They either have ex-intel people on the inside, or they are being advised – or directed – by an active intel operation outside your ranks.”

“Who has that capability?” Bullitt asked…and the old man grinned when their eyes met.

“Any nation or organization intent on destabilizing the region,” the Israeli sighed.

Bennett crossed his arms as he leaned back in the booth. “Destabilize…the Bay Area? Are you serious?”

The old man swallowed hard as he nodded. “There’s a tremendous amount of money in the region, as well as incredible academic energy. The climate is perfect, and there is ready access to international markets. Computer companies are relocating here as fast as they can…”

“So…?”

“Well, Captain…think about the long game…but think about why someone, or some group, would want to make their opening move with an infiltration of local law enforcement agencies.”

“You’re talking about an organization, aren’t you?” Bullitt said. “Or something else?”

The old man coughed once before he nodded. “My biggest concern right now would be a criminal organization backed by an interested nation-state. When the French first started to get a grip on the heroin trade setting up in Marseilles they first encountered Corsican operatives, but soon enough they began peeling back the layers of the onion…and what did they find?”

Bennett shrugged, but Frank knew the outlines… “First they traced the goods back to Afghanistan, then to Turkey…”

“But who was running the overall organization, Detective?”

Bullitt shrugged.

“It was a long trail, a trail that led from Palermo to Damascus, but there the trail grew cold and hard to follow. Ultimately, the French lacked the political resolve to follow the trail because they soon understood that the objective was not located in France.”

“Oh?” Bennett said. “Where, then?”

“New York City, of course, but even Interpol missed the common denominator. It was first detected anecdotally in Newark, then, with a little effort, operations were detected in smaller outlying suburbs surrounding New York City. Support personnel in various departments were co-opted – turned, if I may use the term – but even so, clear patterns emerged.

“Most police departments use women for dispatch duties, and these women are notoriously underpaid. As such, they are easy to recruit, though of course unwittingly. Other support personnel follow; records clerks, jailers, even maintenance workers. Once penetrated at these levels, agents assume positions either inside the organization or around its periphery, and once this is accomplished others already employed by the agency are identified as possible recruits. An aggrieved group usually emerges as the focus of recruitment efforts – racial animosity, as well as religious or ethnic strife – all are utilized.

“Once the shadow organization is in place, operational parameters can be changed almost at will. Instead of being agents of change, for instance, the organization’s actions can be reoriented to raising cash for a greater cause. You only need to use your imagination here, but once the nucleus of the organization is up and running your options grow exponentially.”

Bennett lit up a cigar and growled. “And you think this is happening now, in my city?”

The old man leaned back and shrugged. “I put this forth more as an idea you need to consider. Also, for such a complex organization to be at work in this region would mean that it has been operationally active for years. Penetration will be deep, and you must understand that if discovered, it will be found in the most unexpected places – and hidden deep within all levels of the established institutional and political hierarchy.”

Bennett chomped on his cigar, turning thoughts over in his mind as possibilities presented in his mind… “You mentioned an organization, a criminal organization, supported by a nation-state. And what was that about the French giving up…? At Damascus? You mean, in Syria?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Are you telling me the fucking Syrians wanted to take over New York City?”

The old man smiled, tried to resist the urge to laugh out loud. “Not at all, Captain. The French lost the trail in Syria.”

Bullitt grinned. “And that’s where you picked it up, right?”

The old man turned his head slowly and looked at the detective with something approaching respect in his eyes – but he only shrugged.

“And let me guess,” Bullitt added. “The trail leads north. Like…to Moscow?”

And again the old man only shrugged.

“You’re not going to tell us?” Bennett grumbled. “Right?”

“Captain Bennett, you must understand something. I am not here. My team is not here. This is not my country, it is yours – and yet we are killing people here. It is an almost impossible situation and one we would most assuredly not be in – if not for your Inspector Callahan. Because he is, in a way, family.”

“Family?” Bennett said, clearly confused.

Again, the old man simply shrugged away the question hanging in the air apparent – before he reached out to take the check. “You’ll permit me to buy lunch today, gentlemen?” he said as he stood to leave. “It has been a pleasure.” Then he turned to Bullitt. “You are very resourceful, Detective, but do not try to contact me again. If I have any need of further information, I will be in touch.”

Frank shuddered as he watched the old man walk over to the counter and pay the waitress.

“Maybe we ought to leave the tip?” Bennett sighed as he watched the old man disappear down a side-street.

“Ya think?”

“I got the impression he thinks we’re up to our asses in alligators.”

Frank nodded. “Money. Academic energy. Computers. Wasn’t that what he said?”

“Yeah. So, who’d want to control all that stuff?”

“The most important question right now, Sam, is who the hell wouldn’t want all that?”

“And?”

“It ain’t Russia, Sam.”

“Okay. Who, then?”

“Us.”

“What?”

“Us, Sam. The enemy is us. Somehow, someway, someone is trying to tear us apart – from within.”

“What makes you say that?”

“They know us too well. What our triggers are, where all our weaknesses reside, and where all the skeletons are buried.” Frank pulled in a deep breath, then slowly shook his head while he let the stale air slip away. “I think what he was telling us was we better get our house in order, and in a hurry.”

“Yeah, before we lose complete control.”

Frank looked at his captain and wondered how he was holding up. Their night on the town had shaken a few things loose but even now he could see the shadows playing out in Sam’s eyes.

“How’s Fran doing?” Bullitt asked.

“Better. Cathy has been a saint, you know.”

“That’s because she’s a saint.”

“Really? So, why does she stick with an old sinner like you?”

Frank leaned back and stared at the ceiling for a while…before a slashing grin split his face – just as a shard of memory might…in the last light of day.

___________________________

Seated inside the glowing confines of the Restaurant Weissfluhgipfel, Harry cast sidelong glances Avi’s way from time to time – when he wasn’t staring at the view – or at the gorgeous young fräulein seated at the table off to his right. She was enchanting, though when Avi took note of Harry’s interest the old man merely smiled before he looked away.

“I simply love it up here,” Avi said again.

“I can see why,” Harry sighed.

“Well, shall we have some wine? Or would you like a beer?”

“At this altitude? You’ll have to roll me down the mountain…”

“Ah, but isn’t that the fun of it?”

Harry smiled. “Maybe you’re right.”

Avi summoned their waiter and ordered a bottle of Piesporter, two salads, and a fondue. Harry tried, unsuccessfully, to not stare at the girl – until finally, he turned his chair to block the sight of her. 

This only caused Avi to chuckle a bit.

“What’s so funny?” 

“Hmm? Oh, Homo sapiens, I should think.” Avi looked at the girl, then at Harry. “You might be so forward as to ask her where she’s staying? Perhaps you might even ask her out for a drink this evening?”

“Who?”

Avi laughed loudly. “Who, indeed.”

And Harry smiled.

“At least you have good taste in women,” Avi added.

And just then, when the girl turned and looked at them, Harry seemed to freeze inside, and it felt like the cold hand of death had just gripped his heart.

“Are you alright, Harry?” 

But even though he felt light-headed, he also felt a line of perspiration form on his brow and along his upper lip, so as soon as their waiter poured a glass of wine he took a long pull, then closed his eyes – shutting out the flood of memory.

“Damn, that’s decent,” he said after he finished the glass.

“All that is good and decent about Germany can be found in that wine,” Avi said somewhat wistfully. “Eating an apple in the shade of a mighty tree, reading Goethe between bites of cheese. So many memories. So sweet the wine.”

“Avi, why am I here?”

The old man beside Harry sat a little more erect, comported himself to his assumed station in life. “How did your session go yesterday?”

“Well, your physicians seem to know just about all there is to know about me. I suppose I should congratulate you on your thoroughness.”

Avi smiled. “You’ll forgive me for taking an interest, I hope.”

Harry saw the girl looking their way again, so he turned to her: “If you’re alone, would you like to join us?”

The girl turned and faced him again. “Yes, I think I might like that.”

She spoke with a light English accent, the warm lilts very cultured to Callahan – who stood and pulled back her chair before helping her into the one between his own and Avi’s. More wine was summoned, another place setting arranged and food ordered. Introductions were made and suddenly Avi couldn’t have been happier.

“Can you imagine a more spectacular place?” he said to Harry and Sara Rosenkranz, visiting from Vienna.

“My parents used to bring us here every winter,” she said, adding, “I feel like I grew up on this mountain.”

“And yet here you are,” Avi said, his countenance now almost fatherly. “Alone in the Alps and so far from home. Are you running, perhaps? Or are you a little lost?”

There was no evasion or regret in the girl’s eyes, only a subtle understanding that this was a man who read people, and that there was no use hiding from him.

“I think a little of both,” she said.

“And what are you running from?” Avi asked.

“Life. And death.”

“Ah. So tell me…what have you lost?”

And only then did the girl turn away. Her eyes grew cloudy, a tear formed and ran down her soft cheek, and Harry almost wanted to turn away – so swift was Avi’s dissection.

Yet she came back to them.

“I went to Sweden a few…well, I went.”

“I see,” Avi said, his penetrating voice now tightly controlled, yet implicitly consoling. “And your life has not been the same since, has it? Not since your return?”

She shook her head. “No.”

“Was it a boy?”

She looked at Avi. “Who?”

“Your baby?”

And suddenly Harry was lost inside a landscape that made no sense, looking for signposts that pointed to a way out.

“Yes,” she said. “A little boy. My little boy.”

“Your parents? Did they make you?”

“No. A man at my office…”

Harry stood abruptly and walked away from the table and through the main door, out into the hard winter light; when the cold air hit his eyes he ran blindly across hard-packed snow until his lungs burned, until his own tears stopped flowing, and there he fell to his knees. With his fists bunched he began pounding the snow, first with his left hand, then with the right…over and over…watching the emergency room physician pounding his Looney-June’s chest over and over, over and over, over and over…

Until everything was over. Everything.

And then there was a shadow. 

An old man standing next to him, out here on the snow.

“Your hands are bleeding, young man. You’d better come with me.”

And then Callahan looked up at the man.

He was a short, old man, what you might call portly. His hair was ancient and white, almost yellow in places not shaded by an elegant if somewhat floppy hat. He was wearing a short cape that hung just to his waist, and he walked with the aid of a cane.

And Callahan felt the cane seemed somehow odd, too. The glistening wood was adorned with what looked, at first glance, like silver lightning bolts set inside the grain, yet as he stood next to the old man – what seemed most unsettling to him was that the bolts somehow seemed to be almost alive.

_____________________________

She walked the children along the rough cobbled streets to their school, and then she made her way to the Music House – where the small orchestra was allowed use of their instruments, and where many of the musicians practiced when they were not otherwise engaged with more pressing matters. Hauling bodies to the crematory was often pressing enough, and many of the orchestra’s men and women did so with depressing regularity, depending more or less of the severity of winter’s weather or the state of the ghetto’s food supply.

But there was a decent piano in the Music House, and Imogen spent her mornings with the instrument. As the contours of her new life came into sharp relief she began to put her experiences not in a journal, but into the music she created there, in her new home. Somehow she recreated life in the camp within her music, and in time her Third Piano Concerto emerged. The small orchestra rehearsed the piece just one time, and when the men and women finished this first arrangement they put down their instruments and openly wept – before they one and all disappeared into the night.

_______________________________

His hands bandaged, the old man in the cape walked Harry back into the restaurant, and they found Avi and the girl, Sara, still at the table.

“Ah, we were beginning to wonder what had become of you,” Avi said, before he saw the bandages on Harry’s hands. Then, when he saw them: “Dear God, Harry! What has happened to you?”

“He slipped and fell on the ice,” the old man in the cape said. “I am, by the way, a physician from town. I volunteer up here three afternoons a week, and as I was arriving I saw this young man slip and fall. Superficial scrapes, nothing more. He should be good as new by morning.”

“Really?” Avi said, apparent concern overtaking his surprise. “Will you be able to ski down, or should we take the funicular?”

“I would recommend the railway,” the old man in the cape imposed. “Best not test those dressings too soon.”

“I see,” Avi said. “Well, Doctor, would you care to join us?”

The physician smiled. “Another time, perhaps? Have a nice stay, young man, and I hope we’ll run into one another again, before you leave?”

“I’d like that,” Harry said. “Thanks again, Doc.”

The old physician left them to their view of the world, and Avi sat back in his chair and sighed. 

“Perhaps it is just as well,” he said. “A storm is moving in. The valley will be in cloud before we finish up here. Harry, have some salad, and I’ve ordered you a small schnitzel. Mind you, I think you’d better let me cut your meat…!”

Soon enough they made their way to the funicular, and there Avi sat next to an upper window – leaving Harry to pass the time with Sara as the car rumbled slowly down the mountain. 

She seemed a few years younger than himself, very white of skin topped with straw-colored hair that verged on copper, which set off her greenish eyes – that seemed limpid and soft – so that her face seemed almost a liquid, anything but static. Her fingers were shorter, her fingernails wide – almost like she came from a farming family – yet she held herself with care. Patrician was the word that came to his mind, and he was altogether smitten.

When he helped her off with her jacket the first thing he noticed was the hospital wrist-band from the psychiatric clinic in town, if only because he had worn one just like it the day before. Just inside the wrist cuff of her sweater’s left arm he could – just barely – make out the curled edges of gauze pads, and the inferences began coming together. An affair of some sort – gone bad, no doubt – perhaps an unwanted pregnancy. But unwanted by who, or whom? Ultimatums shouted in the night, the hasty decisions that followed leaving her feeling feral and cornered, shut off from a world she took for granted. A quick flight to Sweden, the short drive in from the airport full of passing strangers gliding across an emotionally barren cityscape, then through the clinic’s doors and into hospital gowns for a few tests and an interview. Two hours later and all her confusion was sitting in the bottom of a bucket inside a refrigerated lab case, then another ride to another airport and back to a place called home – but that didn’t feel like home anymore.

The easy way. Take the easy way out. A knife less sharp across the wrist, but that was only a plea for help, right? We’ll get her the help she needs, and those soft cooing voices trundled her off to the mountains. 

“Our baby girl. She seems so far away now.”

“Have we lost her?”

And so…a wrist-band. But every picture tells a story, if we can but open our eyes from time to time.

He listened to her, to the flat affect, to the barely concealed scars buried under each new word.

“Your uncle told me about what happened in San Francisco. I’m so sorry,” she whispered at one point, and Harry tried to smile a little but he realized he felt too ashamed for trying to take the easy way out himself.

“Sometimes life just gets too hard,” he managed to say, and he took a deep, ragged breath that seemed to last a little too long.

“He mentioned someone named June? Something that happened a long time ago?”

That cold grip around his heart? Would it always come on so hard and fast?

“We were young,” he managed to say before he looked away.

Then this stranger from a strange land leaned into his arm, and soon he felt her face leaning on his shoulder and the only thing left to do was turn and kiss the top of her head before he wrapped an arm around her. Time seemed to spin around a different axis for a while, like he was on a planet orbiting a distant sun and not even the sky was familiar.

Attendants from the hospital were waiting for her at the station, as was the old physician in his cape. He smiled at her, then at Harry, when they walked from the railway car, and as soon as she was settled in her wheelchair the attendants whisked her away to a waiting Mercedes.

“Did you have a nice talk?” the old physician said as he came up to Harry.

And Harry looked at the old man for a split second, before he turned and looked back up the mountain. “There’s something magic up there, isn’t there?”

“You’d not be the first to feel that way, young man.”

“Will I be able to see her again?”

The physician shrugged. “I hope so,” he sighed. “But we will see.” Then he held out his hand, and Harry took it. “We can talk about it when you come for your appointment in the morning?”

Harry nodded, then turned to find his ‘uncle’…

___________________________________

“The Russians are less than a hundred kilometers away,” one of the camp elders said, his voice trembling.

“Word is the British have broken through, that they are nearing Prague,” another said, somewhat hopefully.

“Where is that representative from the Red Cross,” another asked. “The Swiss man?”

“With Misha,” Imogen Schwarzwald replied quietly, and the others in the room turned to face her, if only because when this strange woman spoke – which was rare enough – everyone always stopped and listened. “They will return soon, so do not worry.”

She spoke with a preternatural steeliness in her voice, despite her obvious frailty. Despite her – ‘condition.’ Almost three months pregnant…but how had it happened? No one had been seen visiting her, not even once. Just the opposite seemed true, if anyone asked. Yet here she was, just showing and because of lingering conditions in the ghetto not at all well.

But…what if the Russians got to Theresienstadt before the British, or even the Americans? What would become of her – and her baby…?

The elders had come to respect this quiet woman’s gentle wisdom, yet even so most feared her. A physicist, she was educated beyond their understanding, yet she was of a cultured people, even if she was, obviously, a troubled soul, and so many of the less well-off regarded Imogen as something of a patrician, of being from a higher station in life, but this was their custom.

She had proven gifted with the children in her care and had even managed to keep clear of the Nazi officers in the camp…so the question remained: how had she come to be with child? Yet, when some suggested she was a collaborator these people soon disappeared from the camp. As a result of these disappearances, an aura of fear surrounded Imogen, even if that fear was cloaked in yielding respect.

“Imogen,” one of the elders asked yet again, “what of Palestine? Have you heard from your husband again?”

She turned away from the voice and shook her head. “Nothing new,” was all she said – before she walked to the window and looked at dark clouds gathering along the far horizon.

___________________________________

Frank Bullitt moved from the city, to the Sea Ranch area on the coast far to the north, though he kept his apartment near the marina, and he turned in his retirement papers.

Sam Bennett turned in his papers not long after, and when people spoke of Captain Bennett these days there was pity in their voice. Obviously a broken man, Bennett simply disappeared from the department at a critical time. When patrolmen drove by to check on Bennett’s house the lights were almost always off, though shadows could be seen moving about inside.

Delgetti and Carl Stanton each had several years to go before they could retire, but peers noted both men seemed completely unmotivated now…and they were soon regarded as shuffling their way to retirement.

And Harry Callahan? No one had heard of or seen any trace of him for weeks, then months. He had simply disappeared without a trace.

And yet, he was very much alive…living on the side of a Magic Mountain.

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[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 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 sources. Of course, the primary source material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two seminal Hollywood ‘cop’ 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. The Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson. The Samantha Walker character derives from the Patricia Clarkson portrayal of the pivotal television reporter found in The Dead Pool, screenplay by Steve Sharon, story by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw.  I have to credit the Jim Parish, M.D., character to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever come across (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only in searing non-fiction). Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as a few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to come up with something new – perhaps a commentary of the times. And the standard disclaimer also here applies: no one mentioned in this tale should be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred.]

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