The Eighty-eighth Key
He spent his mornings at the Tagesklinik, the psychiatric day clinic in Davos, and when the sun was out he skied with ‘Uncle’ Avi. When she was well enough Sara joined them, and she proved to be an able skier. In the evening, Avi disappeared for hours on end; Harry assumed Avi was talking with Imogen but little mention was made of these interludes.
After a week and with Sara remarkably improved, Harry took her to dinner at the Alpenhof.
They danced around the edges of their wounds as they talked, and they grew into the moment, seemed to check their cares at the door. He was mesmerized by the candlelight drifting through her story, within the carefree pools of her laughter, and they took drinks after dinner in a small alcove haunted by an ancient fireplace. And at one point he reached over and took her hand.
And it all came so naturally after that. This coming together that had eluded Callahan for so long.
One Saturday morning she joined him on the mountain and just the two of them skipped and danced across the snow; they met Avi at the Weissfluhgipfel for lunch, and even the old physician in his cape drifted by once, helping a young boy who had turned an ankle on the slopes. To Harry the universe seemed reborn, and up here in the sunlight, breathing the enchanted, wind-kissed and sparkling mountain air made everything about this new life feel alive with hidden promise.
And at lunch Avi watched his ‘nephew’ with renewed interest; when Sara excused herself he took the opportunity to say so…
“If I am not mistaken, Harry, you seem to be very much in love.”
Callahan picked up his Piesporter and took a sip, then dipped into his salad before he spoke. “I never knew life could feel this way, Avi. There’s something so sweet about waking up and knowing she’s out there.”
Avi nodded as a sudden memory passed on a breeze. “I felt that way too, once upon a time.”
And Harry watched the old man’s face, his eyes now as he spoke. “Mother?”
Avi nodded. “We would walk on this one beach, not far from the city…”
“Yes. The way the sun played across her face. The way she lifted my spirits. When you find such things, Harry, only a fool lets go.”
And Harry sat back, let those words roll around in his mind – at least until Sara returned.
“My, you both look so serious now,” she remarked as Harry pulled out her chair. “What have I missed?”
“Only the most intimate secrets of the universe,” Avi said, smiling.
“Ah, then it was of love that you were speaking?” she added, smiling.
“What else?” Avi said. “What else could possibly matter on such a wonderful day, with two such people?”
And then Sara turned to Harry. “And you, sir? Do you love me, even just a little?”
“More than just a little,” Harry said. “I can’t imagine anything nicer than the idea of waking up beside you every day for the rest of my life.”
“Careful, Harry,” Avi enjoined. “You’re making serious overtures now.”
“I am. True enough, Avi.”
“What are you saying, Harry?” Sara said as she took his hand.
“Marry me, Sara. Let’s just get away from this world and make a new one all our own.”
And she smiled. “We shall have to give the matter some special thought, no? Perhaps this evening? But first, we’ll need to find our way back down our magic mountain.”
Avi stood and dropped some cash on the table. “Well, you two take your time, but I’ve got to run down to the village. A few pressing errands to attend – before the day is out. Harry? I’ll see you at the house, before dinner I hope?”
“Goodbye, Uncle,” Sara said, letting slip her best, most defiant smile.
Avi looked at the gathering storm and sighed. “Harry? I’d head down to the Middle Station now, and keep away from the rocks.”
The followed Avi out onto the snow, then watched him go to the funicular station while they strapped on their skis; Harry looked at the clouds slipping up the mountain and frowned.
“I think we will have a white-out, don’t you, Harry?”
He nodded then looked at her. No fear. There was no fear on her face nor in her eyes, just an open willingness to take whatever life wanted to toss in front of her. He stepped over to her and kissed her once, briefly, then once again – and time passed slowly as an unforeseen electric feeling passed from his knees to his gut.
“I love you,” he said pulled away, but then he kissed her forehead. This time when he pulled away he saw a tear or two on her cheek and the sight literally humbled him.
And when she told him she loved him too? Well, all was right in the world, wasn’t it?
“So,” she said, “to the Middle Station?”
“You lead, I’ll follow.”
“I like the sound of that,” she said as she pushed off and skated down the first steep pitch.
“Jeez,” Harry said to himself, “not so fast…”
The first few hundred meters were on fading sunlight, then they entered a thick wall of cloud – before a heavy, blanketing snow filled the way ahead. He tucked-in a few feet behind and turned when she turned, traversed where she traversed, and when she grew winded he stopped beside her.
“How am I doing,” she asked, smiling.
“Beautifully,” he said to her radiant face.
“I think we’re about halfway now,” she added, and Harry agreed…then she pushed off and dropped out of sight.
He caught up with her and they fell into a surreal rhythm, carving delicate arcs across the face of the mountain in almost perfect unison, and Harry realized – quite consciously – that he had never felt so at one with another person, and the feeling was as unique as it was exhilarating.
The clouds thinned and he could see the Middle Station ahead, the valley floor beyond, and Sara’s streams of coppery hair leading him on.
All he really knew was that he wanted this moment to last forever.
Aircraft passed by low overhead during the night, and now there were reports of paratroopers in the woods outside the ghetto…British paratroopers…!
And now Saul Rosenthal slipped through those woods with Imogen in hand, leading them to a proposed meet-up with British forces. The two were traveling light now; the only thing Saul demanded she bring was her score of the Third Piano Concerto…because he knew this was a treasure beyond rubies.
They fell to the earth when a volley of machine gun fire ripped through branches overhead, and Imogen closed her eyes tightly as bits and pieces of twigs and leaves rained down on her. She heard tiny, scared voices off to the left, then the cries of children running in blind terror – before these were answered with even more machine gun fire. The heartbreaking echoes of children moaning in the darkness, then single shots followed by silence – and her nightmare was complete.
“Czech troops,” Saul whispered. “They are killing witnesses.”
Imogen buried her face in her hands, but she could only pray ‘her’ children were not among the dead.
Many of the elders had already been murdered by Nazi collaborators when word of the parachute drop reached Saul, so he made his move and collected Imogen. His plan, if he didn’t find the British, was to get her to the railway station and head south and west, away from the advancing Russians.
Then more machine-gun fire to the left to the right all around and now there was nowhere to go, no place to hide in the sudden crossfire. Saul pushed her into a slight depression beside a fallen tree and covered her with his body…until he heard men yelling, then running through the forest back towards the camp.
He remained silent and still, barely breathing, until he felt someone poking his leg.
“Yo! Mate! You Rubenstein?” a disembodied voice whispered.
“Uh…Rosenthal, but yes. We are here.”
“Well, let’s get a move-on, mate. Follow me – for the last train to Brighton!”
Saul felt a sudden wave of relief…until he tried to help Imogen stand. And standing there, even in the dark of night, he could tell she was bleeding – and badly, and when she started falling the paratrooper moved quickly to catch her.
Saul made sure he had the score safely stowed, then they made their way through the forest to a small clearing. As promised, a twin-engined was waiting for them, and a few minutes later a medic helped get Imogen onboard and settled.
“Next stop, Hamburg!” the medic said brightly as the plane rumbled across the meadow and took to the air, then, he spoke to Saul: “I can’t find an entrance wound. Any chance she was pregnant?”
Harry held Sara’s hand as he walked with her to the clinic, and as evening snow fell quietly all around them he realized there was so much he wanted to say…yet she seemed to have been reading his mind when she pulled him close…
“You go to your Uncle Avi now, get cleaned up and talk awhile. I’m not going anywhere, and when you’re ready we can talk and talk until we find the answer to us.”
He held her for a long time, soaking in her radiance like a flower turning to the sun…then he turned and faced the mountain, holding her close even so…
“What is it about this place, Sara?”
She sighed a long, hopeful sigh: “I think we found each other here. This will always be our special place.”
He nodded as he turned to meet her eyes. “I love you.”
“And I love you. Now…be off with you!”
He kissed her gently and he watched as she walked into the shadows, then he turned and began the short walk to the house Avi had rented for the winter.
But Harry did not see the four men who fell in behind him, and so preoccupied was he that the men followed him with ease.
No bombs had fallen around the University, and the Schwarzwald house looked, at first glance, relatively unscathed…but a deeper examination revealed troubling damage everywhere Imogen looked.
And the first thing she noticed was the absence of her family’s belongings – aside from a few paintings on walls here and there. All her possessions were gone, her parent’s too: clothing, personal effects…everything. And there were uniforms hanging in her father’s closet, Nazi uniforms. A high ranking officer, if she read the insignia correctly – but Saul wasn’t with her now and there was no one to ask.
She walked up the stairs to her room and walked to the window that had framed so much of her life, and the view she found waiting for her wasn’t really so different now. The same red tile roofs, and as there ever was…a few large ships tied up along the wharves loading and unloading the needs of the moment.
But these were ships-of-war flying the Union Jack, and all around the harbor there was evidence that real war had indeed visited Copenhagen, and more than once. She spied a warehouse with its roof a splintered jumble of charred timbers, and out beyond the middle of the harbor a small German patrol boat lay drunkenly on its side, aground on a sandbar and with black smoke still faintly streaming from yesterday’s aerial attack on German positions.
The last thing her father had told her was that he would not abandon the city of his birth, and now it looked as if that was the fact of the matter. Still, she wanted…no, she needed to know the truth of his story, and – even as she stood there, framed in the light of truth – she could feel the tortured vibrations of his end throughout the house. Now completely unbidden, music began taking shape in the air all around her and, as she closed her eyes, she surrendered to the insistent force, grabbing chaos from the sky and imposing order through the chromatic notes and chords the Old Man in his Cape had taught her once upon a time.
Harry bounced in the doorway and found Avi waiting for him by the fireplace. A small fire was burning, but not a single lamp was one – so the effect on the space was almost primitive…like he had entered a cave.
And when he saw Avi’s flickering face, even standing in the dim evening gloom, he knew something was wrong.
Because just then Avi turned to face him.
“You are an imbecile!” Avi screamed. “An impotent, self-absorbed imbecile!”
And then he saw another man sitting across the room. A hard man, twisted into windblown form by brutal experience. “I simply don’t understand,” this man began saying, “unless you are so truly addled you are no longer capable of thinking like a man.”
“And fuck you, too,” Callahan hissed.
And on hearing those words the hard man stood and walked over to Harry, and then – in a flash of hands he tossed Harry across the room.
“Fuck you?” the hard man said, his voice now a ragged, coarse whisper. “You couldn’t fuck your own hand if it was all you had left in the world, you simple, stupid oaf.”
Harry pulled himself up and looked at the old man, then at Avi…
But just then the front door opened and in walked four men surrounded by swirling snow…
“What the hell?” Harry whispered as he looked at Frank Bullitt, then to Sam Bennett and Al Bressler. And there behind them all – was that Stacy Bennett?
© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[and now, a brief note on sources: 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 current circumstances (a certain virus, not to mention a madman in the White House springing first to mind, and let’s just agree right here and now to not talk about age…) so that might not be the best way to proceed; and with my thinking along these lines first in mind I’d hate to have this story stop ‘unexpectedly’ without some mention of sources relied on here. 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 screenplay for 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. Steve McQueen’s grin was never trade-marked, though perhaps it should have been. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’/vigilante storyline derives from characters and plot elements originally found in that rich 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 first seen in the Vietnam segments to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – and as found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, a book worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever read (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only featuring a blazing sense of irony conjoined within a searing non-fiction narrative). 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 create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared? 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, though I’d be remiss to not mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan. Talk about the role of a lifetime…given life by an actor for the ages.]